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Lady of the Lake

by Albert J. Manachino

Dr. Kidneystone laid aside his hefty walking stick and made himself comfortable on a pile of broken masonry. He sat in front of a hole in the floor that was approximately three feet in diameter. The hole was as black as pitch. No one knew what lay beneath the floor. It was said that bats flew out of or returned to it at different times of the day. Personally, the doctor doubted these stories. He had fished there for thirty years and never seen a bat, robin or sparrow fly out of the hole. The only thing that had come out was a dubious echo.

Kidneystone opened his tackle box. From it he drew a length of cord and several fishhooks of differing sizes. Kidneystone selected an especially large one and threaded it carefully onto his line. He sneaked a cautious look about him, one might almost be tempted to say “a furtive look.” The coast was clear, just the way he liked it.

This was his favorite hole. He fished it as often as time and a busy medical practice permitted. It was in the area spoken of as The Wilderness, where nothing obtruded onto the view but twisted steel girders and shattered stonework of what once had been an imposing building technically referred to as a skyscraper in the terminology of archeologists and historians.

Nothing deterred vagrant breezes from entering through blasted walls and shifting the hummocks of masonry dust from one location to another. Fog hid many of the holes in the floor, and at that time it was dangerous to be afoot. Once, the doctor had witnessed a phenomenon spoken of as the sun. He shuddered at the fate of those who fell through unbarricaded holes and became victims of predators lurking beneath the floor.

Dr. Kidneystone finished assembling the fishing line. He baited the hook with an apple and dropped it into the hole. The line ran out until a marker improvised from a strip of orange rag came into view. Then he secured it to a protruding arm of rusty metal. The doctor leaned back with a sigh of satisfaction and withdrew a worn briar and tobacco pouch from bulging pockets.

“This is the life,” he thought, while filling the pipe. “Now if only my patients refrain from catching the pistoons or the brumbles... at least for this afternoon.”

“Hello, Doc! How are you doing?”

Kidneystone almost dropped his pipe. Two passers-by had crept up unnoticed while he was busy lighting it. The doctor turned and realized his worst fears. If he had a choice as to whom he’d bump into accidentally, Martin Casserole would be at the bottom of the list.

Casserole was a professional rival of sorts or at least a member of the same calling. Admittedly, he practiced the theoretical side of medicine; Casserole specialized in diseases of the stranch. He stood weighed down by a tremendous backpack and a suety grin.

Casserole was accompanied by another backpacker who was vaguely familiar though Kidneystone was at a loss to determine why. The doctor suspected he was an archeologist; all of Casserole’s friends were. The mystery was resolved.

“You remember Bishop Pigwright, don’t you? He presided over the Anchovial Mass last Extember.”

Kidneystone shook hands with the newcomer and lied. “I remember you very well. How go the diggings?” The last was pure guesswork.

“Very well!” Pigwright enthusiastically levered the doctor’s arm up and down as if he were priming a well pump. “I’ve uncovered evidence of religious paranoia at the Chickenhenge site. My find should prove that the ancients practiced some form of religious observance, such as gravitating toward longitudinal logarithms, and that sort of thing.”

The bishop’s physique was negligible above the waist and massive below it. It gave him an appearance of being a carefully centered cactus in an earthenware pot. Kidneystone feigned enthusiasm for a subject that alternately bored and bewildered him.

He said, “That’s very interesting. Don’t let me hold you up. I know you’re very busy...”

Pigwright ignored the hint. “I base my conclusions on several artifacts that have definite religious connotations such as the aluminum deeplers and the fact that they worshipped an orderly chaos.”

Casserole explained, “Deeplers are asmotic symbols cast in caluvian metal.”

“No!” Kidneystone gasped in genuine astonishment. “I didn’t know they were that advanced.” He had no idea why he said this.

“The reverend bishop is also chairman of the Environmental Protection Association.”

“The Environmental Protection Association,” Kidneystone repeated. “What do they do?”

“Oh, you know... we watch and try to prevent brutal treatment to our animal friends,” the bishop said.

“That’s right.” Casserole added proudly, “The bishop has actually thrown himself in front of overloaded drays to protest the treatment of horses.”

“We also prevent illegal hunting and fishing,” Pigwright added, eying the doctor’s line. “Do you have a license?”

“I certainly do,” Kidneystone replied indignantly. He produced a much-rumpled paper which Pigwright examined.

“It looks all right,” he said reluctantly, returning the paper.

“Don’t you, a grown man, have anything better to do than to spoil the enjoyment of a simple pleasure,” the doctor asked resentfully. “Why aren’t you digging up mummies instead of harassing me?”

“We are attempting to preserve animal species you conscienceless hunters and fishermen would wipe out without a second thought.”

“Conscienceless, is it?” the doctor exploded. “You have the nerve to stand there and preach my wrongdoing and yet I’ll bet you wouldn’t think twice about having a piece of fish or game for your breakfast.”

“He’s got you there,” Casserole told his companion. “You ate a meat sandwich less than an hour ago.”

A pull on the doctor’s line provided a timely diversion. The line shifted frantically from one side of the hole to the other, as whatever was hooked sought to free itself. Kidneystone seized the line in both hands and called for assistance. “Come on, you two. Lend a hand!”

Casserole remained immobile while Pigwright drew back in fear and disgust. “Oh, dear! Must you?”

Cut your line,” Casserole urged. “Let it go.”

“Let it go? Waste my whole day! You wishy-washy...”

The line was suddenly taut as if it had wound itself around some unseen obstruction at the bottom of the hole. The doctor dug his heels in and pulled with all his might. It gave, and what seemed to be a head and an arm broke the surface of the floor. Whatever it was disappeared at once.

“I’ve hooked an iffit,” Kidneystone cried in excitement. “It’s a female.”

“Let her go! Let her go!” the bishop pleaded. “It has never harmed you.”

“And lose a nice broiled dinner... Oops!”

The iffit broke surface a second time. It clung desperately to the jagged side of the floor. She had Kidneystone’s hook in her mouth and the barb protruded cruelly under the lower jaw. Kidneystone yanked hard and she screamed. Forgoing her hold on the floor, she wrapped both hands around the line. He was able to drag her out of the hole.

She started to get up. The doctor kicked her feet out from under her. She rolled frantically toward the hole. He seized his walking stick and brought it down twice on her unprotected head. They heard the skull crack.

“There!” Kidneystone said a trifle breathlessly, “she won’t give us any more trouble.”

Pigwright bent over her. “She’s so young. No more than sixteen or seventeen.”

“What of it? The younger, the more tender.”

Kidneystone opened the tackle box for his filleting knife. First, he cut the hook out of her jaw. Casserole and the bishop turned away when he eviscerated her. The viscera was kicked back into the hole... the doctor had a deserved reputation as a tidy camper.

“A beauty!” he said, viewing the catch. “I wish I’d thought to bring a camera.”

“They look so much like us,” the bishop said sadly.

“Oh! So that’s what’s bothering you! A number of the animal kingdom resemble us... the monkeys... the apes.”

“The resemblance there is superficial,” said Casserole, who had never seen either except in books.

“Nonetheless, there is a resemblance to us. The natives of the countries where they abound eat them if they can be caught.”

The bishop fingered the tattered rags still wrapped around the silent body. “And they wear clothing... as we do.”

Kidneystone snorted. “Insects and other field vermin creep under leaves and into debris at the onset of winter. That is their equivalent of clothes. Yet you’d never consider them human because of that distinction.”

The doctor’s catch lay near the edge of the hole. He busied himself coiling his line and returning it and the filleting knife to the tackle box. He looked up in time to see the catch slide silently across the floor and vanish into the hole.

Kidneystone swore furiously, ending his diatribe with, “Her mate must be nearby. I saw a hand on one of her ankles.”

The bishop said in an emotionally charged voice, “And you still maintain that they aren’t human... as we are!”

“They are not human like us!”

“And you don’t think they’re civilized beings?”

“Of course not!” the doctor retorted. “You’re spouting nonsense. I’ve fished here for thirty years and have never once seen them perform a single civilized act...” He interrupted his declaiming and bent over the hole to deliver a ferocious expression into its depths.

At that moment, a spear flew out of the opening and caught him neatly between the eyes. At least two feet of spear, ending in a sharp metal point, protruded from the back of his skull. Kidneystone fell heavily to the floor.

They dragged him away from the edge.

Pigwright finished the doctor’s sentence: “...until now.”

Copyright © 2010 by Albert J. Manachino

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