Frank let the oars hang loose in the locks as the current pulled the boat towards the takeout. The day had started early but fall days also end early and Frank was looking forward to a cold beer, reheated pizza and fast forwarding through commercials on the DVR.
As the bow of the boat grated against the bank Frank hopped out and steadied the craft. While Frank's attention was focused on ensuring that neither of the sports went swimming he couldn't help glancing up the road to the empty space where his truck should have been parked. Had Seth left him stranded?
Not wanting to trouble the anglers, Frank chatted them up about the better fish of the day hoping that while he was stowing the gear Seth would roll in. After fifteen minutes of stalling he finally let the sports in on the problem hoping it won't affect his tip.
"No worries" they older man said, "I'll just call a cab".
Frank shook his head at the lunacy of the idea. Calling a cab is only half as crazy as the notion of getting a cell signal in the valley. Frank nodded towards the porch light in the distance. He popped them each a beer and walked out to the main road to find a phone and figure out what went wrong with the shuttle.
Along the way, Frank passed the shuttered bones of long ago abandoned homes. This valley, once a mix of prime agriculture and industrious mills, now only served a few tired beef cows and a handful of folks who preferred seclusion and peace over the convenience of town.
About halfway to the house Frank heard a car approaching from behind. The car slowed even before its headlamps reached Frank and he turned to see a Yellow Cab pull into the turnoff. The sports gave a wave in the dim light, climbed in, and departed in the direction of town.
"What the....", Frank thought, and then, "I hope they left a tip on the boat."
Half a mile away a light shone at the front of an ancient farmhouse. Frank recalled that it was the place where the old man loaned him a gallon of gas when he ran out a few years ago. Frank had offered payment but the man had said to pay it forward. That's old school kindness. Perhaps he could press upon the man one more time.
The night was cool and silent and the front gate's rusted hinges screeched as Frank pushed up onto the front walk. The large beech in the front yard, devoid of leaves, shimmered and rustled as a full moon edged above the valley's rim. Entangled in the lower branches were dozens, perhaps hundreds, of fishing lures tethered by short pieces of mono. Mepps, Rapalas and spoons of every sort swung in the evening’s breeze. Frank thought at first that the lures were there as some sort of decoration but then realized they were haphazardly placed just as if snagged on a stream side branches.
"Quite a sight," the old man said from the front porch. Frank nearly jumped out of his skin, not having noticed him as he walked up. "We gave up lures years ago," he continued "but they'll be there for a long time." He motioned Frank up onto the porch and turned to go inside.
Frank entered the home. Inside tired furniture filled the sitting room. A candle sputtered on a side table. Frank dropped his keys and phone in the bowl on the side table.
At the back of the house, down a short hallway, the glow of a television could be seen and hoots and howls punctuated the silence. The man appeared in the doorway limned with the TV's glow a spare PBR in his hand. Frank took the beer and entered the room.
On the far wall a large monitor glowed brilliantly. The image of a steelhead clearing the water at the end of a line immediately set Frank's heart to pounding. Crammed on every horizontal space were hooting and howling anglers. The action packed video continued almost without end; an impossible series of hook-ups and fights and landings. A slender, stunted man sat at a laptop in the corner and dialed up another video as soon as one ended.
Fresh, dripping PBRs appeared as quickly as they were emptied. Images of beastial Browns were followed by Muskies and then Alaskan Rainbows and Tarpon and Bones and Permit. The images and beers were endless.
The last video was of a mouse pattern being cast by moonlight tight against banks. Trout hammered these offerings and the anglers were driven to a frenzy by the carnivorous fish. The gathered mass arose chanting "Mouse, mouse, mouse" and proceeded conga line style to the front of the house.
In the front hall, the dwarf doled out eight weights already strung up with mouse patterns. Frank, last in line, was given an ancient fiberglass rod with a deer hair pattern sporting a tattered tail.
"That was my boy's rod," the old man said suddenly appearing next to Frank. "He's gone from the valley now. I'm glad you could stop by to limber it up a bit." Frank smiled weakly and followed the line of anglers out across the road and down to the river.
They stretched out in a long line along the banks of the run disappearing and reappearing in a low fog that hugged the water. The splat of mice on the water was followed by the swirls of trout taking the irresistible treat. Frank landed countless trout bending the glass rod deeply with every battle.
As the deep blue of the coming dawn creased the valley's rim Frank noticed that he was alone. He glanced towards the road and caught sight of another angler heading back to the house. Frank strung up and followed.
A short way down the path he caught the sound of a winch's ratchet and veered in the direction of the sound. Beyond a grove of maples he came upon the little person working the crank of an ancient winch on a battered trailer. Frank's boat was slowly making it's way up onto the trailer.
The little person turned to him and said in the old man's voice "Breakfast'll be hitting the table soon," pointing towards the house. Frank nodded and turned weaving his way past many other trailered boats. On the front porch the old man took the rod and passed Frank a plate full of eggs and bacon. A biscuit dripping gravy swam in the plate's center.
Frank handed the emptied plate to the man.
"It'll be light soon", he said, "You should sleep."
A spoon dangling from the beech spun in the light breeze catching the first light of day.
"A fine place you have here, old man." Frank said.
"I love having my boys about," he said turning back into the house.
Frank awoke well after dark. The muffled hoots of excited anglers reached up to him from downstairs. Frank put on his waders, grabbed the fresh beer on the night table, and wandered downstairs.
Steve Zakur can be found tossing mice throughout the wee hours of the night on the rivers of western Connecticut. He also writes at sippingemergers.com and for various magazines.