It was the warmest of days in Briarfield, Illinois that they had seen in the spring of 1978. It was May, specifically, and the small town located on the banks of the Kaskaskia River was preparing for a normal summer. School was letting out and most of the crops had already been planted. All that remained was to wait.
Bobby Hutton drove his Ford pickup into the parking lot of the The Duck Blind. It was a bar that served locals and he knew he’d meet his lifelong friend, Jacob. He did. Jacob sat at the end of the bar drinking a Schlitz beer and practicing his flirting with a bartender who knew perfectly well that he was married. Jacob knew it wouldn’t go anywhere—like all the times before—but enjoyed the game.
“Jake,” Bobby said, “Why don’t you give this girl a break and take a look at what I got. It’s in the truck outside.”
“I don’t know that I really want to see anything in your truck. I kinda like what I’m findin’ right here.” Jacob replied.
“Naw, seriously now,” Bobby said, “we got work to do. I think I got something here that you’re really gonna like. I think I got somethin’ that’s gonna change things.”
Jacob didn’t understand at the time, but Bobby was right. He had something that was going to change things. But change cuts both ways, as they would find out.
Jacob grudgingly paid his tab and followed Bobby outside. They had been friends for a very long time—since grade school. Jacob suffered terribly at the hands of a local bully and was beaten often when they were young. One afternoon, Bobby took a scratch-all from the toolbox of the school’s maintenance man’s toolbox and put it to the throat of Keith, the bully. He made it quite clear that Keith was going to leave Jacob alone and punctuated his message by lunging down and stabbing Keith through his left foot. Keith shrieked like any twelve-year-old would and fell to the floor. The teacher on duty (there was only one as there were only 400 students in the entire school) was horrified. Bobby’s parents were contacted, and so was the local Sheriff, but no charges were brought. Bobby’s father was a terribly hard man and had no patience for the matter.
“Seems to me that these boys worked it out.” He said.
The school went no further and, in time, Keith’s foot healed. All was well.
But, on this day, Bobby revealed a far different implement. He took Jacob out to the boat he had towed into the lot and reached in. With some effort, he pulled out a spool of shiny, stainless steel cable.
“You know what this is Jake? Bobby asked.
Jacob looked for a moment, “Looks like you got a spool of cable there, Bobby. Now what am I supposed to make of that?”
Bobby laughed. “This just ain’t cable. I got this from my uncle Bert who works at the Air Force base. This cable?” He said. “It’ll lift your truck off the ground. There ain’t nothin’ that’s gonna break this. If we run our trot lines with this, there ain’t a snapper in that river that will bite through it.”
Jacob looked over the spool and gazed around Bobby’s boat. “So, you want me to run some new lines with you tonight?”
“You’re goddamn right!” Bobby exclaimed. “We’ll have more fuckin’ catfish than you ever caught in your life!”
“Well, let’s get out now then.” Jacob conceded. “Sara’s gonna want me back for dinner and I got work in the mornin’.”
And so, they headed out. Bobby had a home on the banks of the Kaskaskia that included a dock and a dirt ramp that led to the river’s bank. It was a short drive and, in less than twenty minutes they were on the water. Bobby cranked up the aging Evinrude engine and they headed out into the channel. They had very little rain that spring, so the river was a bit lower than normal, but ten minutes around the bend and they came to a familiar cove that was populated with a handful of dead trees. It was the perfect place to run trot lines, which they knew. They had done it so many times before.
“The thing about this cable is, it’s flexible. We can knot it and I got some heavy duty swivels we’ll use for the hook lines.” Bobby explained.
Both men were very efficient in their work. They picked their trees, ran their lines while dropping hooks every three feet or so. It wasn’t an exact science. They marked the lines with empty milk jugs at regular intervals. This was done not only to help them find them later, but also to let others know that the lines were there. Bobby would navigate the boat to a tree, Jacob would wrap the cable around it twice and knot it and then they would slowly make their way to the next tree, where Jacob would struggle to cut the cable with a rusty pair of snips.
“Goddamn Bob! You’re right about this cable. I can barely cut through the damn thing.” Jacob said.
Bobby smiled. “Anything gets on these hooks and they ain’t gettin’ away.”
Each man took turns reaching in a bucket of bloody chicken gizzards. That’s what draws the flatheads from anywhere in the river. It can be a messy business, but just after an hour, they had three lines properly strung and marked. If all went well, they expected at least six to ten catfish and maybe a snapping turtle or two. Tomorrow evening, they planned to be cleaning the bounty.
They got back to Bobby’s dock just a bit after dark. Bobby didn’t bother to put the boat on the trailer that night. He just secured it to the dock and left everything in place. It was one of the luxuries of a town like Briarfield. There was virtually no theft. People who had spent their entire lives together didn’t tend to steal from each other and, if you did, it wouldn’t take long for everyone to know it. So, they left the boat at the dock.
The next day, Jacob left his job at the trucking company just a bit after 4:30 and met Bobby at his home. Bobby worked nights at a warehouse thirty miles away, so he had slept through much of the afternoon, but he was clearly excited to see the results of his innovation.
“Whatta ya think we gonna find, Jake? I put the big cooler in the boat and stuck a good-sized block of ice in it. I think we’ll have more catfish than you can eat.” Bobby said.
“Think you might be right. As hard as it was to cut that damn cable, I know those lines didn’t break. I just wonder if maybe the metal lines spooked the fish. I guess we’ll see.” Jacob replied.
As they had done before, the two men headed down river to the cove and started checking the first line. And, Bobby was right. The fish weren’t averse to the cable and by the end of the first line they had two large flatheads and a channel cat. Bobby was delighted. They baited the line again and moved on to the second. There, too, they hauled in a worthwhile catch—three more flatheads with the largest topping ten pounds.
“Damn! This is getting’ better and better.” Jacob said. “I think you’re on to somethin’ here, Bobby. How much of that cable do you have?”
Bobby grinned. “We could run six more lines if you wanted.”
But something was a little off with the third line. Two of the jugs were underwater, with only the third—which was tied to the tree—visible. Unlike the other lines, Jacob couldn’t simply reach a few inches into the water and grab the cable. Something held it down deeper than his reach.
“There’s somethin’ goin’ on with this one.” Jacob said as he looked over his shoulder at Bobby. “I think you might have that snapper you was hopin’ for. Get me up to the tree and we can pull it from there.”
Jacob reached his arms around the tree and felt down until he got to the cable. He grabbed it and did his best to pull the cable up out of the water—something you would commonly do to see where along the line you had fish. The boat lurched to one side as he struggled to get the cable above the waterline. The line moved ever so slowly towards him but was barely six inches out of the water when it jerked suddenly. Jacob kept his grip but his hands went back into the river.
“Holly shit, I think we snagged something. Whatever’s on this line weighs as much as a car and it ain’t budgin’. I guess it’s snagged…but it seems to be movin’.” Jacob said.
Bobby left his seat at the engine and went to help. He, too, plunged his arms into the river and grabbed the line and, while the two men fought it, neither noticed that a wave was building in the channel. It wasn’t the current. It moved against the current and was steadily making its way into the cove.
“I can’t hold this damn thing anymore.” Jake said. “Maybe we could cut it and try to tie in up at the bow and tow it out?”
The words had barely left his lips with the boat was rocked from beneath so violently that both men were thrown to the floor. The fourteen-foot john boat was spun and nearly capsized as it was dragged towards the channel. Bobby was initially dazed but got to his knees and crawled back to the motor and began frantically pulling the starter chord. As he did, the boat rushed sideways into the river with such force that water began to pour in over the side. After what seemed like an eternity, the outboard fired up and Bobby gunned the engine to regain control. The water suddenly settled as Jacob, still lying on his back, pulled himself up and both men hastily made their way back to the dock.
“What in fuck’s sake was that?” Bobby asked over the noise of the engine.
Jacob sat silently. Bobby pulled into the dock and tied up and they both lifted the cooler out of the boat and headed to a cleaning table just a few feet up the shore.”
“What the hell was that Jake? You ever been shook like that?” Bobby asked.
Jake pulled out his fillet knife and went to a nearby well where he pumped out a full bucket of water. He diligently went to work on the first catfish.
“Are you listening to me, Jake? That was not normal.” Bobby said.
“I don’t know, Bobby. I mean, strange shit happens on the river. Maybe the current brought a tree under the boat.” Jacob replied.
“A fuckin’ tree?” Bobby exclaimed. “That was no tree! There was somethin’ movin’ that boat and would have to be a big somethin’! I mean, we were gettin’ dragged against the current, Jake. If we’d run up on something I….I mean it just wouldn’t work like that.”
“Let’s just get these cleaned.” Jacob replied. “I’ll get back with you tomorrow night and we can check those lines again.”
Bobby looked at Jacob with dismay. He couldn’t imagine how his lifelong friend could dismiss what happened so easily. And, he thought about tomorrow night. He looked out at the water and thought about how hard he fell to the bottom of the boat. Something wasn’t right and he wasn’t sure about going back.
The following day, Jacob left early and called Bobby to tell him he’d meet him at the The Duck Blind. They would have a beer and then go back to check the lines. Bobby was hesitant, but he agreed to meet him.
Bobby walked into the bar a little after 4:00 and found Jacob at the corner of the bar talking to the owner, Ernie. Ernie was a Korean War veteran whose face was worn far more than his years should have wrought. Some people in Briarfield thought he wasn’t entirely right in the head, but he ran a good bar and knew how to settle the younger men down when things got heated.
“Bobby,” Ernie said, “over here. Jake was just tellin’ me that you boys ran into some rough water last night.”
Bobby pulled up a stool with a somber look on his face.
“It was the damndest thing, Ernie.” He said. “I been goin’ over it in my head and I can’t really understand what happened.”
Jacob looked down at his beer and smiled. “We know what happened, Bobby. The river just pulled something up and we ran up on it. Hell, it might’ve been what that last line was snagged on all along.”
Bobby gave Ernie a grim look. “That ain’t quite how it went down. Somethin’ moved in on us out of the channel. It spun the whole boat around and was draggin’ us out.”
He then paused. “Can I get a beer Ern’?”
Ernie didn’t appear the least bit shocked by what Bobby suggested as he walked back down the bar and pulled a beer out of the cooler.
“And,” Bobby continued, “I didn’t tell Jake last night…but I saw somethin’.”
“What did you see, Bobby?” Ernie asked.
Bobby took a long drink from his beer. “I don’t want to hear no laughin’ about this. I know what I saw. I saw a hand come up and grab the boat. And, it wasn’t no hand like I ever seen before.”
Jacob’s eyes widened and he leaned back on his stool. “Now, Bobby, I told you about that day drinkin’ didn’t I?”
Bobby’s head darted to Jacob. “I knew not to tell you last night. I knew you’d think I was crazy, but I saw what I saw. When you were floppin’ around on the bottom of the boat I seen three long fingers come up over the side of the boat. They had claws like a gator.”
Ernie was strangely serene.
“What do you make of this, Ern?” Jacob asked. “You think we got a gator out there in the Kaskaskia?”
Ernie took a deep breath. “No,” he replied, “I just think you met the Markers.”
It was at that point that Willard Coop, another old-timer sitting at the other end of the bar perked up.
“Now Ernie!” Willard said. “Don’t you go startin’ about that old wife’s tale again. There ain’t no monsters out in the goddamn river.”
Ernie shot Willard a quick look and then returned to Bobby. “You ever hear about a pontoon boat that went down in the river around 1961? The Wilmonts, the Shepherds and the Gents all lost family members. You know those folks, right?”
Bobby nodded to the affirmative. “Yeah, I heard a boat sank. Capsized in bad weather, as I heard it, but nobody ever told me about any monsters.”
Jacob was still grinning. “Ernie gimme a shot of whiskey. Sounds like we got story time goin’ on now.”
Ernie reached under the bar and poured the shot. He slid it over to Jacob and continued, “It went down as a boat accident, but I heard otherwise.”
Willard spoke up again. “You know damn well Chuck Sisk was never sober a day in his life. I can’t believe you’re tellin’ these stories!”
Ernie had lost his patience. “Shut the hell up, Willard, or you can go drink at home. Chuck was the only one who made it off that boat alive and it’s only ‘cuz he hid on that boat until we got out to them. He told me what happened straight to my face and, if you’d looked into his eyes, you wouldn’t call him a liar.”
“What happened, Ernie?” Bobby asked.
Ernie walked around the end of the bar and sat next to Bobby on the opposite side from Jacob.
“The first thing you gotta understand is, “ Ernie started, “there wasn’t no bad weather. It was a perfect day and that’s why they all went out in the first place. The river was smooth as glass and they pulled out just a little north of here. It was Edmond Wilmont and his wife, Danny Shepherd, Ronnie Gent and his gal and Chuck Sisk. They were just gonna cruise down the river and have a few drinks. Didn’t even plan to fish. But when they passed by your place, Chuck said that Eddie saw something in the water. Chuck said it was different from everything he ever knew. It was about the size of a large catfish, but it had a fin down it’s back and….and I swear he said this…it had four arms with hands. It swam up to the boat and was just lookin’ at them. It had big black eyes and very sharp teeth that extended from its mouth. Chuck couldn’t believe what he was seeing.”
“Aw now, Ernie!” Jacob said. “We been fishin’ that river for decades. Don’t you think we’d know about something like that?”
“I’ll tell you what I think. I think they keep to themselves.” Ernie said. “And, I think they would have that day too but….”
A very serious look came over Ernie’s face.
“But what?” Bobby asked.
“Ronnie Gent was already drunk. He was always an asshole. When he saw it, and it swam up to the boat, he gigged it. He took a gig off the deck and stuck It right in the side. Chuck said it let out a scream like no fish ever could. Ronnie said, ‘Help me get this up on the boat and folks will pay us to see this damn thing!’ But he was wrong. He was very wrong. It was then that the river went crazy. Chuck said the boat was immediately thrown over and most went into the water. Chuck was lucky to pull himself up after it rolled over and he just held on, but he told me he could see the others carried away. They were drug away one by one. And….he saw the blood.”
Willard spoke up again, “Now, you know that’s all bullshit.”
Ernie responded, “Did they ever find the bodies, Willard? Did they ever find the fucking bodies? Between both of us, we probably know about a dozen people who’ve drown in that river and, sooner or later, they always found ‘em. You drown on the river and you’re gonna wash up sometime. And what about the marks? You saw the marks yourself, carved right into that boat.””
Willard went silent and Bobby’s eyes went back to his beer. “Chuck said it had arms?”
“Yeah.” Ernie said. “He said it had four arms with claws but swam just like a flathead.”
Bobby looked at Jacob. “I ain’t goin’ out tonight. Somethin’ just don’t feel right.”
Jacob looked back at him and smirked. “Did you see those catfish we got? We’ve got three more lines waitin’ for us! I don’t give a shit what this old man says. We both know that goddamn river and all we had was something the current run up against our boat. That’s all it was! Now….let’s go get our catfish.”
But Bobby wasn’t going to be moved from his seat. “No, Jake. Not tonight. It wasn’t no goddamn tree than run up under us.” At that point, Bobby’s face went cold. “I saw a hand.”
Jacob laughed loudly. “You saw a hand?” He asked. “I didn’t see no goddamn hand….What the hell kinda hand did you see, Bobby?”
Ernie didn’t laugh, but he poured Bobby a shot of bourbon.
Bobby downed the shot. “I’m just telling you that while you were tryin’ to collect your shit at the bottom of the boat I saw somethin’!” He shouted. “I saw somethin’ come over the side of the boat and it was a hand!”
Jacob stopped smiling. He looked his good friend in the eye and saw him shake. He knew it wasn’t bullshit but he couldn’t bring himself to believe that anything happened other than a twist in the current. He finished his shot and beer and stepped away from the bar.
“You give me a call tomorrow when you wanna run those lines again.” Jacob said.
Bobby nodded to the affirmative and Jacob left. Bobby stayed, and drank his beer while Ernie continued to stare at him.
“You go check your lines tomorrow.” Ernie said. “But, if you fucked with the Markers, you’re gonna find they’re real. And….they’re gonna fuck back.”
Bobby slammed the rest of his shot. “I don’t know what to think, Ernie. I really don’t. We ran new lines with steel cable. I just thought it’d mean that no turtles would bite through ‘em. I think I was wrong. That last line had somethin’ on it. We couldn’t see what it was but…I got a bad feelin’, Ernie. I think I messed up.”
Ernie took a moment and rubbed his face. “Steel cable?” He asked.
Bobby nodded, “I got it last week….ain’t nothin’ can break it.”
Ernie looked him hard in the eye. “You might want to get those lines out of the river. We might not have peace until you do.”
Bobby finished his drink and left the bar. The sun was still high on the horizon.
It was warm when Bobby returned home. He pulled his truck up to the small frame house at the edge of the river and froze when he emerged from the cab. He saw his youngest, Will, and his oldest child, Carly, swimming happily off the dock. His heart stopped as he ran to the dock.
“Will!” He screamed ten yards from the dock. “Will! Get your ass out of the water. Get out of the water right now!”
Will was confused, but knew better than to oppose his father. He was only eight years-old and quickly made his way to the shore. But, Carly was older. She had swum out further and was twenty feet from the end of the dock.
“Carly!” Bobby screamed with desperation in his voice. “You gotta get back in here now! Just…..Just swim to me now!” He pleaded.
Carly was wrapped in an old inner tube and splashing gleefully in a peaceful stream. She didn’t understand.
“Carly, babygirl!” Bobby repeated, falling to his hands and knees on the dock. “I need you to swim to me. You gotta swim to me right now. Get outta the damn tube and swim to me! I need you to come to me!”
Carly turned to her father and her smile fell away. She knew something was wrong. Will had already made It to the shore and was walking out on the dock to join his father. But Bobby saw something that made his blood run cold. He saw something he recognized. He saw a swell build in the channel and he saw it begin to move to the shore.
There was a cry in his voice. It wasn’t punitive. It was fatherly. Bobby was begging. “You gotta get in here right now Carly! I need you to swim. Show me how you can swim goddamn it!”
She spun to face him. “That’s a bad word, daddy. Mom wouldn’t like that.”
He coaxed her every way he could. He slapped the dock and cheered her in every manner. And, she responded. Carly rolled out of the inner tube and swam to the dock. Part of it was dog paddling, but at the end she swam with full strokes and made it just ahead of the swell that she had no idea was rolling behind her. Bobby grabbed her left arm and yanked her onto the dock. He embraced her and rolled on the wooden planks. And, then, when he knew she was safe, he looked over the edge. Something passed under the dock. It was larger than anything Bobby had seen before. It was no catfish. It was no gar, or carp, or sturgeon. It wasn’t anything he’d seen before. It was brown—a perfect brown. It was exactly the color you would expect from a beast that had evolved for thousands of years in a river that regularly collected the runoff from countless acres of rich top soil. It moved elegantly, with a coordinated combination of arms and fins. It was, in many respects, beautiful.
But that’s not what stuck with Bobby on that day as he held Carly closely. That’s not what burned into his consciousness. Bobby saw something else when he glimpsed this beast. He saw the teeth. He saw the claws. But what he really saw was a look—a look. It wasn’t the utilitarian gaze of a primal beast. He made eye-contact and knew he was looking at something with a mind. He was looking at something sentient. He’d met a Marker.
“Daddy you hurt my arm!” Carly whined.
“I know baby. I’m sorry.” Bobby said. “I needed you in here. I needed you to get back.”
The swell subsided. Whatever had ventured in had returned to the channel. The beast was gone. But, as Bobby got to his feet and lifted his daughter up, he noticed something else. He noticed there were marks on his boat.
“Carly, you take Will up to the house. I’ll be up there soon.” He said.
Carly was still confused about what was happening and she looked out as her inner tube floated to a nearby mass of reeds.
“You gonna get my floatin’ tube back?” She asked.
“Yeah, babygirl.” Bobby said as he scanned the surface of the water. “Don’t you worry about that. Just get your brother up to the house and clean up.”
She did as she was asked and led Will up the hill. But Bobby stayed back and looked at his boat. The marks were scratched in to the side and pierced the galvanized coating. He looked at them carefully. These weren’t accidental marks. They weren’t formed by any random encounter with a tree stump. They had meaning. And, then, he saw the markings on the outer edge of his dock. Something had scratched deep into the wood piling that anchored the end of his dock. And, the marks matched. He was terrified at that moment.
“I’ve done somethin’.” He thought to himself. “I’ve fucked up and now they know it’s me. They know where I am.”
Bobby went back to the house and cleaned up for dinner. He didn’t tell his wife, Annie, what was on his mind. Carly ate her hamburger macaroni and told her mom that daddy made her get out of the river. Annie was quick to follow-up.
“What was wrong, honey?” She asked.
Bobby looked up from his plate. “The current just got a little stiff. I didn’t….I didn’t think it was safe. I just wanted the kids to get out.”
Annie was aware that Bobby didn’t sleep and he called in sick to work.
The next day, Bobby gave Jacob a call. “Hey Jake, I could sure use your help. I think I need to get them lines out of the water.” He said.
Jake took a deep breath. “Buddy, I can’t help you this evening. It’s Sara’s mom’s birthday today and we’re havin’ a little something at the VFW hall. I can’t miss this.”
“I understand.” Bobby said with a quiet tone of resignation. “You got family stuff. But I gotta go out there. I gotta get them lines. I think Ernie was right and I think we fucked up. I think we caught one of them Markers and they done marked me. They’ll come for me or my kids if I don’t make this right.”
Jacob threw his head back. “Bobby, Ernie’s a drunk who was talkin’ shit. The only thing you’re gonna find at the bottom of that line is a big, fat, fuckin’ turtle. You had a good idea and we caught a lot of fish. I think you’re gonna find more tonight. Just go check your lines. I don’t know what you mean about bein’ marked , but I think you’re letting Ernie get in your head.”
Bobby’s voice was somber and steady. “There’s marks on my boat and on my dock….and they match. And, Jake….I saw it. I actually looked it in the eye. Ernie wasn’t lyin’ to us at all. There’s something in the river we never knew about.. I’m goin’ out and cuttin’ them lines down. If you don’t hear from me tomorrow….I want you to call Annie and check-in.”
“You just give me a call tomorrow.” Jacob said. “You ain’t gonna find anything out there but flatheads tonight. There ain’t no Markers. Now, I gotta get myself ready. We got her mom a new crock pot and Sara’s gonna want me in jacket and tie.”
“Yeah….” Bobby said, wholly defeated. “I’ll, um….I’ll call. But don’t forget, if don’t, I need you to check in on Annie.”
Jacob agreed and the two hung up the phone. Jacob went on to shower, and shave and put his best dress shirt. Bobby went down to the dock and made sure he had his trusty snips. He was determined that he would retrieve ever line they had strung just a few nights before. He kissed Annie goodbye, as well as Carly, and told Will he’d be back soon. He told both children to stay out of the river. And, then, he took his boat out into the channel, made a right turn to head towards the cove, and never returned.
Annie called Jacob at 11:00 that night, not long after he had returned from his mother-in-law’s party. “He ain’t back, Jake! Bobby ain’t back and somethin’ really ain’t right!” She cried.
“Now just calm down, Annie. Bobby knows what he’s doin’ on that river. If somethin’ went wrong, I’m sure he’s fine. I’ll get up at five and call Frank up at the Corps and we’ll get out and find him. You just keep your kids calm.” Jacob assured her.
Five A.M. came sooner than Jacob would have preferred. It was raining and there was a thick fog over the water. But, Jacob called his friend Frank at the Corps of Engineers and both agreed to meet at Bobby’s place with Jacobs boat. Jacob also called the town Sheriff, Erskine Mandel, and asked him to join the two of them. By six A.M., all three men headed into the river. They slid into the river and headed into the channel. Jacob had a larger boat than Bobby—it was a sixteen-foot john with a slightly larger engine. They moved expeditiously to the cove where Jacob’s new the lines were, but found nothing. So, they headed further down river. The clouds began to clear and the sun burned the fog away. They were a good three miles downstream when they saw it. They saw Bobby’s boat softly grinding against a downed tree that had managed to capture it. There was no sign of Bobby. Jacob pulled his boat up alongside and all three men inspected the contents of Bobby’s boat. He had, indeed, recovered two of the steel lines they had ran, and there were dying fish in the cooler.
But, Jacob quietly noticed something more. He noticed that the third line—the troubled line that they were unable to clear—was missing. It had an orange detergent jug, and that wasn’t present. Bobby hadn’t retrieved the third line. And, he saw the marks that Bobby had referred to on the exterior of the boat. He didn’t mention this to the other men. The three of them towed Bobby’s boat back to the dock….and Annie met them on her knees. She saw from a distance that Bobby was not with them, and she cried unconsolably.
“I’m so sorry!” Jacob said, but his words only drifted down the river.
Annie fell flat on the dock. She let out a lament that echoed from the far bank.
Jacob came out on the dock and bent down to hold her. She was sobbing uncontrollably.
“What could’ve happened?” She asked. “What could have happened to my Bobby?” She asked as her children, Will and Carly, emerged from the house.
“We don’t know.” Jacob said. “We don’t know….We don’t know yet. He could still be out there somewhere. Bobby’s a tough guy and maybe he made it to the shore. We just don’t know.”
The other men noticed as Jacob held Annie in his arms. There had been rumors for years. Annie and Jacob were a pair in high school, but they drifted apart and Jacob found Sara, a charismatic divorcee who had moved to the area six years ago. Jacob made up his mind and didn’t look back. He and Sara were a pair and he was genuinely happy to see that Bobby and Annie got together. There was nothing that remained between Jacob and Annie, but people talk.
“I’m callin’ you tomorrow,” He said. “We’ll go take another look. We’ll find Bobby.”
As he spoke these words, Jacob knew things had changed. He now had doubts. “What if Bobby was right?” He thought. He didn’t really believe that Bobby was still alive. The river had a way of taking people and there was something about that boat they found. It wasn’t capsized or tossed. All Bobby’s gear was still in place and the fish were still there. He had cleared the first two lines and cut them loose. This wasn’t the result of a terrible accident. Jacob knew that Bobby was pulled from the boat and he knew it had everything to do with the third line—the line they couldn’t check.
The following afternoon Jacob pulled his truck into the lot behind Bobby’s house and began to back his trailer down the dirt path to the dock. Bobby’s boat was still tied to the dock, but there was room to move around it and Jacob lowered his boat into the river. Annie was waiting and came from the house wearing faded jeans and one of bobby’s tee-shirts. It was overcast and threatening to rain, but she took the tow rope and held the boat as Jacob pulled out and parked the truck. Neither one spoke as they climbed into the boat and Jacob started the engine.
“You know where to look, don’t you?” She asked.
Jacob nodded. “I know where the last line is. We can start there.”
The trip to the cove took much longer than Jacob remembered. It seemed to take forever. But, upon arrival, he saw the bottom of the missing jug bobbing just inches from the tree to which it was anchored.
“There,” Jacob said, “that’s where we gotta tie up. You take that rope up front and get it around the tree.”
As she did that, he shut off the engine and moved to the front of the boat. In switching places, they were closer than they had been since high school. He took the rope from her hands and pulled the boat the close to the tree before securing it. Jacob looked at Annie, who was now sitting behind him, and took a nervous breath.
“Gimme those shears.” He instructed.
Annie handed Jacob the oversized shears but asked, “You’re not just gonna cut it loose, are you? We’re gonna pull it up, right?”
“I’m gonna try, Annie. But,” he added, “if things go sideways, I might need to cut it.”
Jacob submersed his arms in the water and, after a few moments, he found the cable. It maintained a steep trajectory—nearly straight down along the tree. Jacob began the arduous task of pulling the cable from water and, at first, it would budge. It wasn’t easy, but he could get the cable to give and whatever weight was holding it beneath the waves was slowly surrendering.
Until it wasn’t. As Jacob retrieved nearly two feet of cable, there was a sudden jerk and all progress stopped. In fact, it reversed.
“Goddamn it! Goddamn it!” He exclaimed. “I think I snagged something….”
But Jacob was lying. Jacob had fished his entire life and he knew it wasn’t a snag. Something had taken hold of the cable and a terror took hold of him.
“Don’t let go!” Annie pleaded. “Maybe we can tie it to the boat and pull it up?”
Jacob struggled to his feet for a moment and, with his right foot on the bow, yanked at the cable with all he had. Then, the cable yanked back. Jacob was thrown forward and nearly fell overboard. If he hadn’t braced himself against the tree, he would have gone into the river.
“It’s cutting through my fucking hands!” He cried.
Annie could see it. She could see that his hands were beginning to bleed severely as the cable drug his arms below the waterline.
“You gotta give me the shears, Annie!” He pleaded.
She froze. “Tie it to the boat, Jake! You can’t let go.”
“I can’t even get my hands above water!” He screamed. “Give me the fucking shears!”
She scrambled towards him and acquiesced. He reached blindly with his left hand and took the shears from her and, again, plunged his hands underwater. His first effort failed. The cable was stronger than he recalled. But with his second effort, the cut was made. The cable whipped from around the tree and slid through his hands. Jacob fell backwards with blood coating both forearms as Annie reached for him and, together, they saw the jug bob once, and then swiftly disappear in the direction of the channel.
Annie released a scream that descended to a cry and Jacob turned to put his arms around her.
“That was my Bobby!” She cried. “That was my Bobby down there!”
Jacob rocked her in his arms. The river steadied and then it was time to soberly untie the boat and make their way back. Jacob removed his sweatshirt to reveal a shoddy tee-shirt beneath and wrapped his left arm, which was bleeding heavily. Nevertheless, he started the engine and the two removed themselves from the trees, exited the cove and made the trip to the dock. Rarely would they ever speak of that afternoon again.
Bobby was never found. In the years that followed, many rumors would swirl about the town. Most suggested that Annie and Jacob were having an affair and one, or both, of them had done away with Bobby. Some stories were far less scandalous and simply suggested that Bobby had chosen the wrong night to go out on the water alone.
But, there were two people who knew the truth, though they never said it out loud. The first was a crusty, drunken bartender at The Duck Blind who knew exactly what Bobby had faced. He knew of the claws. He knew of the teeth. And he knew of a penchant for vengeance that was previously assumed to be limited to humans alone.
The second who knew the truth was Bobby’s best friend. A quiet member of the town who remained, as he always had, true to his wife. There was no affair. There was no murder. However, on the warmest of days, he would sometimes roll his sleeves up to reveal, on his left forearm, the most curious set of scars a person would ever gaze upon.