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Snapper Lake

By John Colvin

The sun had just set when I reached Snapper Lake, and the turtles were worse than ever. As I walked across the parking lot, the small ones crunched underfoot. The larger ones shifted and backed away, threatening me with their open mouths. Some of them I had to walk around or kick aside. I passed one as large as a sofa. Its wicked mouth hinged open and it hissed at me like a cat. I could easily have fit my head into that maw. I gave it a wide berth.

Only one other person stood at my favorite fishing spot, an old man with a long white beard worthy of Jehovah.

"Have any luck?" I asked as I set down my tackle box.

"Not much," he said, and opened his creel to show me. It was packed with mutilated fish, heads and bits of tail and fin in a sea of guts. It looked and smelled like chum. I gagged and backed away a step.

"Sorry," the old man said, and closed the lid

"I don't know why we bother," he said. "There's hardly anything that's fit to eat. It's all rotten sushi. I make a kind of chowder out of it, with lots of horseradish and hot sauce, but even that isn't very good."

"There still should be a few good fish out there," I said. I played some line out from my fishing rod and lowered a silver hook to the squirming ground. Despite everything, I was always hoping for a good fish.

"Maybe. It's not like the old days. The turtles chew everything to pieces. What a mess."

I raised my hook from the ground. A dozen turtles had clamped on, the largest big as dimes, the smallest tiny wriggling specks like baby spiders. Perhaps, I thought, there were others too small to be seen.

"Just how small can a turtle be?" I said.

"Small as you can imagine," said the old man. "It's just turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down."

I cast my line and neither of us said anything for a long time. Darkness was falling. It was unnaturally silent: no birdcalls, no chirping crickets, no screaming frogs; everything had been eaten by the turtles. There was only the dry rustling of the tiny turtles underfoot. Every so often I had stomp my feet and shake a few loose. If you stood still too long in that place, they would eat right through your shoes.

I reeled my line in and found my little clump of turtles had latched onto a fish tail. It wriggled palely in the dying light. I wrenched it free and threw it back in the water.

"So," said the old man, "What faith are you?"

"Faith?"

"You know, religion. Are you Baptist, Catholic, Buddhist? Jewish, Muslim, Mormon? What do you believe?"

"I don't see what that has to do with fishing," I said, casting my line again.

"It has everything to do with fishing," he said.

"I don't know," I said. I always had been tormented by the question of religion, never really able to believe or disbelieve.

"You wouldn't, by chance, be a Devil-worshipper?" he said.

"Lord, no!"

"Yes! Yes! That is a wonderful name for Satan! We should all worship him as the Lord of No!"

"No, I mean, no, that's not what I meant. I'm…I guess I'm an agnostic."

"Oh," he said, "I'm sorry to hear that. That's worse than believing in nothing."

I had nothing to say to that. I started to slowly reel my line in. Somewhere out there, a stubborn little cluster of turtles twirled in the water, not one of them letting go of the hook or each other.

"Well, I guess I'll head back," the old Satanist said. "It's getting dark. The stars are out." And he left me alone.

I stood there a long time, casting my line and reeling it in, catching nothing. Then I searched the sky until I found it, the constellation that my father, that old atheist, had first pointed out to me when I was a child. The star that glistened in the evil red eye, the other stars that formed the gaping mouth: The Sky Turtle, the real Lord of Nothing that is forever descending upon us, swallowing. Perhaps someday it will swallow everything, and we all will find ourselves deep within the labyrinth of its dark reptilian entrails.

 

 

John Colvin lives and works in sourthern Indiana. His fiction has appeared in Word Riot, Hiss Quarterly and Ghoti.

Photo "Sea Turtle" courtesy of Tom Denham, Palm Bay, FL.

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