an excerpt from GONE FISHIN
Long before the sun comes up, Larry and Andy meet at a roadside diner out by the interstate for breakfast.
Andy pulls into the parking lot at half past four to find Larry sitting behind the steering wheel listening to the fishing report on the radio.
Largemouth’re down in the creek beds spawnin. Spots’re out on the points. Striper runnin deep by the dam. Hybrid’re showin some topwater action in the mouths of the rivers. Bait fish’re
“Mornin Boss,” Andy says, slamming his hand on the hood of Larry’s truck.
“Jesus, Andy!” Larry snaps. “You scared the shit out of me!”
“Shoulda been payin attention,” Andy says with a grin.
“You shoulda gotten here on time. I been waitin half an hour.”
“Aw quit your whinin. Let’s go eat.”
Larry throws open his door, climbs out the cab and slams it shut. The two men walk into the diner, where they can smell their breakfast already cooking on the griddle.
“Mornin boys,” the cook shouts over the fan.
“Mornin, Sam,” Andy hollers back.
They take their seat in a booth by the window.
“I’ll be right with ya,” says the cook.
In a second, the cook’s at the table with two mugs of freshly-made coffee in his hands.
“Y’all goin fishin this mornin?” he asks, setting down the cups.
“You bet yer ass we are,” responds Andy.
The cook smiles and turns around and crosses the diner to the griddle.
Andy notices that Larry’s staring at something behind him.
“Whatchu lookin at?” Andy asks, turning around to see for himself.
“Them men over there,” Larry says suspiciously, nodding his head in their direction.
At the counter that faces the griddle are three men drinking coffee. They are wearing coveralls and steel-toed boots, and on the countertop in front of them, each has an orange hardhat with a decal labeled LOWCOUNTRY BRINE.
“You seent em before?” Larry asked.
“Nope,” Andy responded.
“I ain’t either.”
Andy slurps his coffee loudly and turns around to look at the men again, but sees that the cook is on his way with their breakfast in hand. He sets the plates down carefully on the table in front of them: two eggs over easy, hashbrowns scattered, covered and peppered, dry wheat toast and a side of bacon for Larry. Steak and eggs for Andy.
“Hey Sam,” Larry says, just as the cook is about to turn around.
“What is it, Larry?”
“Them men over there. You seent em before?”
“Nope. They came in late last night. Parked their truck outside and been sippin on the same cup of coffee for hours. Guess they’re just passin through.”
“Well I certainly hope so. I don’t like no outsiders.”
“I don’t mind em,” Sam responds. “Long as they got money, I don’t give a damn where they’re from.”
Larry sips his coffee, picks up the salt shaker and turns it over onto his food. Andy grabs his fork and knife and starts on his steak.
Tammy, the night-shift waitress at the diner, walks in from out back with a garden hose in hand. She’s spraying down the floors for the morning shift, so that the crumbs and the grease are cleared off of the tiles. When she gets to where Larry and Andy are seated, she asks them to lift their feet up, which they do politely.
With their knees touching the bottom of the table and their boots dangling above the ground, the two men watch as the dirty water washes down the tiles and runs into little rivers along the grout, to where it finally empties into an open drain in the floor.
On their way to the pond, they pass a truck on the highway labeled INLAND OIL.
Larry checks his rear-view to double check the plates, but the road’s too dark to see anything. He flicks on his brights, scanning the shoulders for deer, as the fishing report continues on the radio.
At the boat ramp, he eases the trailer down into the water. Andy jumps out the cab, unhooks the carabiner and climbs aboard. When the prop of the outboard is submerged, he fires up the motor and throws the throttle into reverse, sending the boat out into the swamp while Larry parks the truck.
Andy looks out across the water and sees a turkey buzzard perched up on a nearby bank. The swamp is completely still, except for the small wake made by the boat. Patches of fog are scattered across the surface, and there’s a breeze that’s blowing through the cypress trees, causing the Spanish moss draped across their branches to sway.
At the sound of Larry’s shoes on the dock, Andy spins the boat around and picks him up. The two men sit at the console while Andy cruises through the blackwater at full-throttle.
They slide into a cove and cut off the engine. Andy hops up to the bow and lowers the trolling motor, then picks up his pole in the side of the boat. He waits until they’re close enough to the shore to cast, then he flips his top bug onto the bank and wiggles it on in.
Larry’s at the stern twitching a zora spook through a cluster of stumpheads. The sun’s starting to rise at their backs, lighting up the swamp little by little, until the fog slowly begins to lift.
Somewhere in the back of the cove behind the trees, a motor starts running. Within seconds, they hear a chainsaw cutting through a thick tree trunk.
“What the hell is that?” Andy asks.
“Sounds like a chainsaw to me.”
They listen to the sound of the wood cracking and then the tree toppling to the ground.
“Hm,” Larry grunts. His gears are spinning. “Who owns this land?”
Andy looks out at the lake, then back at the trees. “This property right here used to be owned by Uncle Delment.”
“Used to be owned?”
“Yup. He was propositioned a few weeks ago. Just sold it off this weekend.”
“Some boys down south.”
“Well I’ll be goddamned,” Larry says through clenched teeth. “I wonder if them boys at the diner this mornin are in on this too.”
“In on this? What the hell you talkin bout Larry? Them boys bought that land, they got the right to do whatever the hell they want with it.”
“To hell they do. Don’t you remember what happened at the golf course a few years back?”
“You mean Gnat’s Landing?”
“Yeah. Them folks bought that land from the Hendricks. Then they went to tearin up the land and fillin in those ponds. Before they knew it, goddamned ground opened up and swallowed that country club whole, Andy.”
“Well that ain’t their fault, Larry. They said the -”
“I don’t give a goddamned what they said. Them folks tore up that land and made a bunch a money. Then they flew the coop, Andy, and left us a mosquito-ridden cesspool to deal with.”
The chainsaw is running again, and every few minutes, another tree topples.
“Now I’m serious, Boss,” Larry’s tone had changed. He expressed genuine worry to the other angler in the boat. “We don’t know what them sons a bitches are up to.”
* * *
When the sun casts no shadow on their rods, Andy pulls up to the shoreline beneath a towering oak tree and ties a rope around the trunk. Larry reaches down into the cooler and pulls out two brown paper sacks with fried chicken sandwiches inside. The two men take their seats at the helm, fold back the foil and sink their teeth into their lunch.
“Not bad,” Andy says, wiping the mayonnaise from his mustache.
“Not bad at all,” Larry echoes. “That Kickin Chicken sure as hell knows how to fry up some bird.”
“You got that right. But you know it ain’t Kickin anymore.”
“Watchu mean ain’t Kickin anymore?”
“It’s Lickin.” Andy explains. “Lickin Chicken. They went and changed the name after that lawsuit with the franchise.”
“You’re shittin me right? I knew they was bein sued, but wasn’t sure what for.”
“Next time you drive by their trailer, take you a look at that sign. They still got that K there, but they’ve got it rigged so that at night, when it’s lit up, it says Lickin.”
Larry grabs a beer out of the cooler, shakes off the moisture from the lid and opens it up. He takes a slug and looks out towards the trees.
“Wonder where they’re gettin their chicken from,” he says.
“Prolly Canoochee Chicken,” Andy answers, pulling a beer out of the cooler for himself.
“I sure as hell hope so. Everybody else in town has already switched to Holyfield. Say the chicken’s bigger at a lower price. Cain’t say I blame em, but what are we supposed to do once the plant closes down?”
“I could get you a job at the bakery,” Andy reassures him. “This town still orders bread from Aura Lee.”
“It ain’t just me, Andy. You go up and down these roads and what do you see? Chicken houses. Dozens of em. And for every chicken house, they’re filled to the brim with tens of thousands of birds. Now if the processin plant goes under, we ain’t gonna have no town to order any bread.”
Andy throws back his beer can and finishes it. He crumples up the sandwich wrapping, throws the trash in the hull of the boat and lies down in the bow.
“Well hell Larry. I don’t know. And to be honest I don’t really care. I could give two shits about this town and the people that live in it. Way I see it, if Canoochee Chicken goes under, we’ll have us a chicken fry bigger than you could ever imagine. People’ll come over from all corners of this country to feast on our deep fried breasts, thighs, legs and wings. And I’m sure there’ll be some money to be had. That is a guarantee.”
Larry props his feet up on the console and reclines in his chair. He pulls another beer out of the cooler and throws back the brew in a swelling gulf.
Andy’s kicked back in his seat too, his head in the clouds. Above, there’s a turkey buzzard slowly circling.
The sound of chainsaws and falling trees had stopped about an hour earlier, giving way to the loud buzzing of cicadas and the occasional splash from a jumping fish. The two men had had a few bites, but had not caught anything all day. Now that the sun was high in the sky and their bellies were full of chicken and beer, they knock off for a few hours until the heat subsides.
* * *
Larry and Andy wake up in the late afternoon with headaches, so they crack open the bottle of whiskey and take turns taking sips from the jug. Andy unties the rope from the tree trunk and drops the trolling motor down into the water, then picks up his spincast baited with a crankbait and throws it out into the middle of the cove.
At the stern, Larry’s biting off his Carolina rig and tying on a helicopter lure. He casts out to the bank and immediately starts reeling, waiting for a largemouth to lunge at the skirt.
Andy pulls out two cigars from his shirt pocket and passes one to Larry. As the two men unwrap the plastic, they hear a large engine roll over in the woods, followed by the sound of a motor running.
“Now what in the hell could that be?!” Larry asks.
“Beats the hell outta me,” Andy responds, biting down on the cigar in his mouth.
“Cain’t be a chainsaw. Too damn loud. Cain’t be a tree splitter. Don’t hear nothin bein split. Gotta be somethin bigger.”
They crank their reels and listen in, trying to identify the noise coming from the trees and echoing across the lake.
“Could be a drill,” says Andy.
“You mean like a wellin drill?”
“Yup. My great grandmother was a well witcher, and my grandfather had him a drilling business. To me, that sounds about like a drill borin down into the dirt.”
“I’ll be goddamned,” Larry says. “Ain’t you worried about this?!”
“Not really. Sounds to me like somebody’s drillin a well, Larry. Must’ve cut them trees down to clear out the plot.”
Larry shook his head. “Well that’s all fine and dandy if that’s what’s really goin on. But I think there’s somethin else cookin up here. Them boys this mornin at the diner, they had them hardhats with company logos on em. LOWCOUNTRY BRINE. Then on the way to the boat ramp, I could’ve sworn I saw a truck that read INLAND OIL on the side.”
“What in the hell does any of that have to do with well drillin, Larry? Besides, we ain’t even sure that’s what’s makin this noise in the first place!”
“You think if I knew the answer to that question I’d be so shook up?! Somethin just ain’t makin sense here, Andy. And I’m gonna get to the bottom of it.”
Larry reels in his spinnerbait and throws it out again towards the shore.
“Son of a bitch,” he says, seeing that he had overcasted and got his lure hung up in the oak tree’s limbs. “Take us over there Andy, I’ve got a goddamned bird’s nest and my lure’s caught in that there tree.”
* * *
After the sun sinks down into the trees, Larry and Andy decide to try their luck at night fishing. They mount flashlights around the hull of the boat to lure in the fish, and tie circle hooks onto their lines baited with dead shad bought from the tackle shop. Larry has a moon pie in one hand while he steadies his rod with the other. Andy’s pole is in a holder while he empties a bag of pork rinds.
“Andy,” Larry says. “Where’s this water come from?”
“This water here,” Andy answers, “is just runoff.”
“Runoff? From where?”
“Just about everywhere,” Andy responds with a laugh.
“You tellin me this swamp is a retention pond?”
“Well yeah, Larry. What’d you think it was? You know there ain’t no natural lakes around here.”
“Course I know that. I just assumed y’all dammed up a creek. Diverted a spring. Hell I don’t know.”
Andy was chuckling again.
“That’s why we ain’t catchin nothin! Shit, Andy. You stock this pond?”
“Uncle Delment used to. We used to catch a lot of fish. Catfish, brim and carp. Largemouth, spot and bluegill. Gar -”
The two men hear something rustling in the bushes on the shore. Andy picks up one of the flashlights and surveys the bank.
Perched up on a low-hanging branch is a turkey buzzard, staring right at them.
“Well would ya take a look at that,” Andy says.
Larry says nothing. He’s thinking about the drain ditches that line the highways.
They hear another sound up in the cypress trees behind them. Andy shines the light in that direction.
“Well I’ll be. Another goddamned turkey buzzard.”
He points the lantern down to the surface of the water and sees that the stumpheads are crawling with turkey buzzards.
Andy stares into the eyes of the birds. Larry’s thinking about the drainage pipes at the poultry plant that empties out into a creek that runs behind the parking lot.
Andy picks up another flashlight and scans the shoreline. Sure enough, there are dozens of turkey buzzards all along the banks. They’re down in the mud and up in the trees. He stands up and hollers at the birds.
“What in the hell you turkeys doin?!”
While Andy’s voice echoes across the swamp, Larry hears a gurgling noise beside the boat. He looks down and sees that the surface of the pond is bubbling beneath them. He sits his rod down in the holder and reaches down into the water.
“Andy,” Larry says calmly. “Shine your light down here.”
The two men watch as the oil bubbles up to the surface, leaving a shimmering film from where the boat is anchored for as far as they can see.
It was then that the turkey buzzards descended.
Alex Gregor is a writer, editor & teacher currently living in Rome, Italy. He is one of the founding editors of OOMPH! Press and the curator of PERM PRESS. His chapbook, MARGINAL COMETS, was selected as a semifinalist for the Radioactive Cloud Chapbook Open Reading Period (2018); his chapbook, FAUCET, was selected as a finalist for The Atlas Review Chapbook Series (2015). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Queen Mob’s Tea House, NOÖ, DELUGE, Entropy, Jacket 2, Real Pants, Fanzine, Deer Bear Wolf Magazine, Muse /A Journal, Dream Pop Press, GLITTER MOB MAG and elsewhere. He has a MA in English from Georgia State University. Follow him online at www.marginalcomets.com