Why don’t you just leave me alone?
Jake tapped the ice with his foot. Usually he’d hear the lake answer, vibrate back like a violin string, but today the ice was harder than cement. The few inches of snow that landed over night swirled in the wind piling up like sand dunes.
The boy blew hot air in his hands and glanced at his father who was almost done digging the ice hole. There was something about the old man that made him looked vulnerable every time he wasn’t staring. Or talking. Hunched over, grunting as he drove the tool through the ice–
“Jake!” his father shouted, throwing him a sideways look. “Don’t just stand there. This is not a playground, you know? This is food. Remember? What you eat every night.”
Jake exhaled deeply and walked to the toolbox. He kicked the trailer cable’s hook to the side – their only safety measure in case the ice were to break – and sat on a stool.
His father wiped the sweat of his face. “Prepare the lines, we ain’t got all day here!”
Jake opened the different boxes, breathing heavily. There was no reason to answer the old man; he didn’t need any more yelling. He still wasn’t over the talk he had heard a week before – it rang in his head as if it was yesterday.
“He shouldn’t even be here,” his father had said with a grunt, as he threw the empty bottle of whiskey in the sink. “You wanted all of them, now you put food on this damn table.”
Jack sighed and unconsciously waved his hand as though to chase away the memory of that night.
“Almost,” Jake answered, tightening a knot on the line.
His father pulled the cork out of the ice, cracked his back and took out a pack of cigarettes.
“Leave that,” he barked, “come scoop some of this ice out. We need room.”
Jack grabbed the special ladle and walked to the hole. The temperature was so low, the surface of the ice was already freezing. He stared at the tiny ice crystals floating in the water.
His father lit his cigarette and gave him a shove on the shoulder. “Go on, fish ain’t gonna wait till you ready.”
Jake began to scoop out the floating ice and scrape the edges of the hole. He glanced back towards his father walking to the truck, parked by the edge of the lake. The old man was bent forward, hands in his pockets, looking down. Like that, he didn’t even look angry.
“It’s okay,” his mom had told him the other night. “He didn’t mean it. He’s not like that.”
Maybe he wasn’t, Jake thought. When he was sober.
A bubble of air popped on the surface of the water inside the hole, throwing pieces of ice upward. Jake recoiled, startled. He looked closer. The darkness beneath the surface was deeper than the night sky. Another, smaller bubble, popped.
Jake got up and hummed.
“What’s up boy?” his father said, returned with another stool in his hand. “Scared?”
“No,” Jake answered. “I saw–”
“Bring the lines,” his father interrupted him and spat to the side. “Too much talkin’.”
Jake curled his lower lip and trudged toward the lines. From the corner of his eye he saw another bubble burst in the hole.
“But I saw something,” Jack mumbled to himself.
He picked the lines off the ice and got up, but as he turned half way, the ice shuddered. Jake’s blood froze in his legs. The ice shouldn’t shudder, not at this temperature.
But there it was again. It quivered, as though something was pushing it from underneath.
Jack looked up at his father, who was staring inside the ice hole, hands in his pockets.
“Dad, look out!”
Before his father could turn his head, something burst out of the ice hole – a green, dark column that thrust up towards the sky, enlarging the hole as it rose, throwing ice, snow, and water up in the air.
Jack’s father fell on his back, and Jake dropped to his knees, watching the creature raise higher, spinning. The boy was numb, as though he had become one with the lake. The creature was now up at least twenty feet, a giant eel, its body wider than an oak trunk.
“Dad,” Jake shouted, “run!”
His scream must’ve distracted the beast, because the giant eel turned its head toward them. The beast curled in the air, waving its scaled body, mouth wide open, revealing white, sharp teeth.
Jake’s father was on the ice, facing down, covering his head with his arms.
Jake ran and slid over the ice, positioning himself between his father and the beast. All the hair on his body stood on ends and a fist clumped in his stomach as he looked up toward the eel monster.
The beast opened a mouth wider than a truck and thrust forward with a bellow.
Jake stood ground. He glanced forward and for a fraction of a second his eye met his father’s eye. The old man peeked under his arm, glued to the ice and shivering.
Before Jake could make a move, the ravenous mouth grabbed his body, and he felt his bones crack and his lungs emptied of air. The stench coming out of the beast’s mouth was sickening, and Jake’s right hands slid on the slippery, wet skin, unable to help him budge. He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth.
The monster rose up again, waving its head left and right in the sky. Jake opened one eye, barely able to breathe, clasped in the close grip of the beast’s mouth.
Somehow up there, stuck inside the eel’s mouth, when everything seemed final, Jake let go. He unclenched his muscles and exhaled the last of his air. For a second, he smiled, imagining that’s how it must feel to be up in a ride at the amusement park.
The mouth tightened around his body and the head shook harder. Feeling his ribs snap, Jake finally cried.
He wanted to say a prayer, just like his mother had taught him, but before he could utter a word, his whole body got jerked forward. He fell from the sky, still in the grip of the monster’s mouth. The ice drew closer, approaching. He closed his eyes as both beast head and human hit the frozen surface of the lake.
The power of the hit made Jake lose consciousness for a quick moment. When he came to the ice kept sliding in front of him, and the grip of the monster’s mouth turned loose. With a grunt, he pulled his left hand out and was able to stretch it forward, touching the ice, as he was sliding over it.
Then the mouth opened more and Jake flew forward, propelled by the momentum, rolling on the ice and smashing into the snow mountains by the edge of the lake. He felt as though every bone in his body had been shattered, but he didn’t feel the pain.
He jumped up and wiped a stream of blood dripping down his face. He watched with wide eyes as his father’s truck pulled the giant eel, the metallic trailer cable coiled around its body, dragging it away from the lake. The truck stopped short a few yards into a nearby field.
“Dad!” Jake shouted.
His father came out of the truck carrying a pick axe.
“Don’t you touch my family,” the old man shouted and threw the harpoon towards the beast’s face.
The weapon ricochet off the creature’s scales without damage.
For a few seconds everything stood still. The eel stared at Jake’s father, mouth wide open, dripping white saliva. Jake shivered, watching his father holding his arms open, no weapon in sight. His father turned his head and their eyes bridged the distance of a few yards. For the first time, it wasn’t an angry glance. It was a scared one and a happy one.
The beast snatched Jake’s father’s body in one bite and slithered out of the cable’s grip. Jake covered his mouth, swallowing his cry, as he watched the eel snake back to the hole, his father’s boots shaking by the side of his mouth.
A moment later the tail of the monster disappeared into the ice hole. Jake ran there and looked down. A few smaller bubbles of air popped at the surface. A few seconds later, the water began to freeze again.
Jake cried and his tears froze over the ice in tiny droplets.
Maybe he wasn’t like that.