It was your typical county fair. The air was thick with the smell of cotton candy, corn dogs and beer. The sound of small engines powering various amusement rides, along with carnival music, made it almost impossible to hear the voice over a loud speaker as he announced the next contestant of the tractor pull.
At a booth, Bob Clemens laid down his five dollars, and the cashier handed him his entry ticket for the next days fishing tournament and said "Good luck."
Bob nodded and tipped his baseball cap and said "thanks", and put the tickets in his shirt pocket. The fishing tournament was the main reason he had come to the fair today. There were no "last minute" registrations, so Bob had decided to register early. He decided to take the long way around, and look at the other game booths and displays before leaving to go home and get his fishing tackle and other supplies together for the next day. He also planned on getting to Specter Lake early enough to check out all those little things an ardent fishing type person likes to take into account, like weather, water conditions, and also, he wanted to be sure he would be among the first there, so he could stake out his fishing spot.
As he walked, the hawkers called for him to try to "Toss a coin inna wine glass, winna prize!", "Tossa dart, pop a balloon, winna teddy bear for your girl!", and so on. Then there were the displays of various garden contests, largest water melon, pumpkin, gourd, sweetest sweet corn. Of course, there were the winners of the the cooking contests. Best apple pie, cobbler, jelly, jam, and cakes. Bob did stop at the "Best Chili", and bought a bowl of "Ernest Meadow's 'Call An Ambulance', Super Charged Jalapeno" chili. Despite it's name, Bob found the chili spicy, but not so spicy that he needed to call an ambulance. But it was good chili, none the less. He decided to have a second bowl and a cola.
As he sat and ate, sipping the cola, he looked at the other goings on, and at the people who were also evading hawkers, sampling the wares of the cook-off winners, and the near by booths and tents. One of the tents caught his eye. It wasn't so much the tent, so much as the hawker in front, calling to the passer by's to come in. It was a lovely youngish woman with long pitch black hair, dressed in what looked like a "dark age" dress. It was full length, modest but with a gold belt that tightened the waist to show her figure.
From what he could hear, and from the sign, he figured she was hawking a fortune teller. As he watched, the young woman glanced in his direct, and Bob, not wanting to be caught staring, instantly looked back down at his bowl of chili and dug in for another spoon full. Glancing up, he saw the woman still looking at him. Again, he concentrated on the chili, but every time he glanced up, the woman was still looking at him, or would instantly turn to look at him whenever he glanced up.
Finally, it got to the point where no matter how much he scraped his spoon in the bowl, he could not scrape out any more chili, and no matter how much he sucked on the straw in the cup of cola, no soda was forthcoming. Yet, every time he glance at the woman at the tent, she would look at him, and although they were about thirty or forty feet apart, their eyes would lock.
Finally, he said to himself, "Time to go Bobby boy! It's a carny trick of some sort." Getting up from the table, with the thought of going home firmly entrenched in his mine, he tried to walk in a direction that would lead him away from the woman at the Fortune Teller tent. Instead, he ended up walking almost directly towards her.
As the distance between them closed, he could read the sign better. "Master Seer Carlos the Wise! He knows you past! He knows your present! He knows you future!" proclaimed the sign. Below it was a price list, ranging from guessing your age ($5.00) to "Guaranteed Stock Market Tips" ($50.00).
As he reached the "Kill Zone", the distance that the hawker could get his attention, the woman smiled and executed a curtsy, and said, "The Master Seer is ready to cast your fortune, good sir! Let the ancient wisdom of the ages clear your vision of tomorrow!" To his own amusement, Bob stopped as a thought suddenly popped into his mind.
"My vision of tomorrow?" He looked at her more closely. She had a Native American look, or more likely, a Creole from the bayous of Louisiana, judging from her accent. He glanced at the "menu". "What will Tomorrow Bring?" ($20.00).
Bob smiled, and said, "Okay, I'll bite." The woman opened the tent flap, and Bob entered, and the woman followed. As the tent flap closed, it became pitch black, and Bob stopped. He sensed the woman walking past him, and the interior of the tent brightened. Bob was amazed by two things. The woman had lit a torch, something that Bob was sure was expressly against the Fire Code for carnival tents (He was a member of the Franklin County Missouri Volunteer Fire Department), but what really set him back was the way the interior of the tent looked like a stone walled room with a vaulted ceiling.
"Whoa! Who's your decorator?". The woman only smiled.
In the center of the room was a table with two chairs. In the center of the table, a glass sphere was placed. In the glass sphere was another glassy looking sphere perched upon a small pedestal. Bob knew that may people would recon him to be a "country bumpkin", but he wasn't so "back-woods" that he didn't know a Plasma Lamp when he saw one. But he kept quiet and sat in one of the chairs anyway.
"The Master Seer will be in shortly. Please be seated, and clear your mind of all doubt and worrisome thought." she said. Then she went to the far side of the tent "chamber" and knocked on a wooden door. "One who seeks your wisdom is present, master Seer Carlos." she said, Then she walked back past Bob as he sat at the table, and then left the chamber. Bob turned to watch her leave, and again, to his amazement, saw that instead of a tent flap, she exited another wooden door.
Bob sat and stared at the door, when he heard the sound of rusty hinges. He turned to see the other door opening. Out of the darkened opening, a black robed figure emerged. All Bob could see of the person was his head and hands that he held up over his chest, clasped together. Bob was only slightly taken aback by the mans face. His head was shaved, he wore eyeshadow that made the eyes themselves stand out, and he had lightning bolt-like tattoos on his cheeks. Bob figured he must do double duty, haunting the Haunted House ride when the fortune telling business was slow.
Without a word, the "seer" sat down at the table opposite Bob. Suddenly, he spread his hands, and at the same time, the Plasma Lamp lit up, it's blue and red plasma streamers arcing from the surface of the inner sphere to the inner surface of the outer sphere.
"You seek the future. Tomorrow. The fishing tournament."
Bob's jaw dropped. "Uh, Yes. How..."
The Master Seer waved his hands, and Bob stopped. Then the seer placed his hands against the globe, and the plasma streamers arced to where his fingers and hands contacted the sphere. "Oak Stump Bay. There you will find the largest Blue Gill. Piny point is the largest trout...."
Bob's jaw dropped even further. Specter lake had several points and bays, being nestled in a valley of the Ouachita Mountains, but only a few of them had any official names. To make things more interesting, the locations the seer named were private names Bob had given to various locations on the lake for his own use. As far as he knew, he had not told too many people of those names, and certainly not anyone who would have told anyone associated with the Fair, or the fishing tournament! Earlier, he had also been thinking about going after Blue Gill, Trout and Catfish.
"....If you wish the largest catfish in the lake, Grid fifteen by twenty three holds a sixty five pound catfish." Then the seer looked up from the plasma lamp, and looked Bob in the eyes. "Use One Hundred pound test line, wear your floatation device, and always practice your safe boating. That is all."
Master Seer then took his hands off the plasma lamp, clasped them in front of his chest, and bowed. Without another word, he stood, turned, and started to leave.
Bob couldn't stand it. "Just a second, how did you know...?"
But the master did not stop, but went back into the door, which closed behind him with a rusty squeak and a thud of finality.
Bob sat for a second, then got up. As he turned to leave, the "door' he had entered opened, and the bright light from outside dazzled him, but he could see the silhouette of the woman hawker in the opening. Walking towards her, he decided he'd ask her some questions.
Outside, he turned and reached for his wallet, and started, "How did he...?"
"The Master Seer is a Twelfth Generation practitioner of the Arcane. He knows all.."
Fumbling with his wallet, Bob fished out a twenty dollar bill. "But how...?"
"I do not know. I am only his humble servant." She looked down to see the bill in Bob's hand. Cupping her hands around his, she pushed his hands back and said, "The Master Seer Carlos does not accept payment until after his prophesy is fulfilled. Come back the day after tomorrow at around six PM."
Bob looked at the woman again, then put the twenty back in his wallet. "I thought the Fair left tomorrow evening?" he said, though he was a bit amazed at the way payment was made, after the prediction came through? "You must be pretty confident..."
"The Master Carlos is almost always right. The only time his visions fail, are when the seekers are deceptive in some way." She bowed again and turned, and began calling to other passer by's. "Master Seer Carlos knows all, sees all. Let Master Seer Carlos enrich your life, answer the question you want to answer!"
Bob turned to leave, still slightly in a daze. he heard the woman call back to him, "By the way, I am Creole." Bob turned to look at her again, but she had already turned away and started hawking again.
Bob left the fair. He barely noticed the other hawkers or even that in order to leave the fair, he took a shortcut through the livestock barn. He only vaguely noticed the odor of cow manure, and only heard in passing the "moo's" of the cattle, the "snicker" of horses, the "baa's" of sheep and goats, or the "oinks" of pigs.
Bob eventually found his pickup truck in the parking lot, and when he got in, he took off his baseball cap, and was still wondering how the seer knew he had entered the tournament. Then he glanced back at his hat on the passenger seat. It's "Bass Pro Shop" logo hitting him square in the face. He looked down at his shirt pocket. The stub for the tournament were sticking out of the top of his pocket.
Holding the steering wheel at the proper "ten and two" position, he brought his head down on the horn button several time, saying "Bob (honk) You (honk) Gullible (honk) Hayseed (honk)!" Angrily fishing his keys out of his pants pocket, he started the truck with a sneer on his lips, and continued to curse himself until he got out of the parking lot, and onto the country road. The he calmed down and realized that the whole fiasco was minor, amusing, and wouldn't cost him anything.
When he got home, he went straight to his garage and started loading his boat with his gear. He stopped at one point and looked at two of his spare reels. Looking at the line of one of them, he remembered he had loaded it with 120 pound test, and put it into his tackle box.
Afterward, Bob went to bed early so he could get up early the next morning. As he drifted off to sleep, he was thinking of the tournament, and dreamed a dream of fish, and a strange encounter with a Creole Mermaid that he never could quite recall at the time.
Bob awoke to the sound of his alarm clock. Scratching his head, he took a shower, shaved, got dressed in his "good luck" fishing cloths, and after a quick breakfast, went out and backed his truck up to the hitch of his boat trailer. At one point, he recalled a dream about a mermaid, but was too early in the morning, and the caffeine from the coffee had not kicked in yet. He did one last double check, and climbed back into his truck, and drove to Specter Lake.
Only two other contestants where there, along with the contest officials. Bob checked in, gave the person at the booth his ticket, and received his documents to record what kind of fish he caught, and and a map to show where. The latter was on a Xerox copy of the lake. The map also had a grid overlay.
"The first ten get to stake a claim. Tournament ends at 5 PM."
Bob nodded, looked at the map, and circled what he called "Piny Point". Bob pointed at the map in the booth, and said, "That point there." The man nodded and circled the finger of land with a red marker and said, "Good luck."
Bob walked toward his truck, and waived at two teens that were stationed at the boat landing to assist in launching. back in his truck, Bob started up, and using his mirrors backed the boat and trailer into the water. The two teens both said "Ho!" at the same time, and Bob stopped. the two teens waded into the lake and moved the boat back a bit, and the one on the driver side waived, and Bob puled the empty trailer out and pulled into a parking slot. When he got back to the ramp, he handed each of the teens a five spot, and climbing aboard his bot, started the engine. One of the teens commented "Life vest!" Bob gave the youth a "thumbs up", and pulled on his vest and velcroed the straps. Giving the engine a short twist of the throttle and a sharp turn he pointed his boat towards the lake.
It only took him about ten minutes to reach Piny Point. Cutting the engine, he drifted toward his spot. Picking up his anchor from the bow of the boat, Bob quietly lowered it into the water and then let the anchor rope feed through his hand until he felt the line go slack. Tying it off on the anchor cleat, he reached for his rod and reel and tackle box. Looking at the lures, he said, "Largest trout, my butt!" Even so, after looking at the surface of the lake, which was glass smooth, he chose a frog "surface popper".
Bob attached the lure, and cast it onto the lake. it was a good cast, probably about fifty feet away. Working the rod and reel, he slowly jerked the lure back towards the boat. Each jerk caused the lure to "pop" slightly, sending out an advertisement to any lunkers that may be hiding below.
After three casts, the water around the lure exploded and the line went taunt. It hit with such suddenness that it almost pulled the rod out of Bob's hands. Pulling back, then letting off and reeling in the line, Bob fought the catch. Whatever it was, it was good sized, and wanted to fight back. At one point, the catch broke surface, and Bill saw that it was a trout. And it was big. Not world record big, but big enough. Bob redoubled his efforts, and just as the fish was about ten feet from the boat, the line snapped!
Bob let out a moan of anguish. "Dammit! Dammit, dammit, dammit!" Pulling back on his pole, he looked at the end of the line. "Dammit!" he said again. Then he did what almost everyone does when "the big one" gets away. He looked over the boat into the lake water to see if he could see the "one that got away". As he was gazing into the water, there was a "thud!" at the back of the boat, followed by the sound of something bouncing around. Turning, he saw the trout, lure still stuck in it's mouth, flopping around. Bob instinctively dove onto it, grabbed it by it's lower jaw, pulled out the lure, and looked around. "No-body's going to believe this!" he said to himself. Unhooking the fish, and put it into the "live well" cooler and started the battery powered air pump after he closed the lid.
Bob sat back down since standing up on a smallish boat was not a good idea. He thought a bit more, then untied the anchor rope, and pulled the anchor up. Almost in a rush, he went back to the outboard, started it up and pointed the bow across the lake towards Oak Stump Bay. He passed several other anglers, who shouted in protest because Bob was pouring on the gas. He waived apologies and throttled back and proceeded more slowly. When he got to Oak Stump Bay, he saw someone else was there. They waived him in.
There were two people on the boat. Bob recognized one of them as Bill Wild, who everyone naturally called, "Wild Bill". The other was a young boy, Bill's son, "Wild Bill Junior".
Wild Bill held up a Blue Gill that was at least 18 inches long.
"Looks like a Specter Lake record!" said Bob. On the inside he was saying to himself, "Rats!"
Wild Bill nodded, and said, "Just like the man said! I'm heading back in. Later!"
As they left, what Wild Bill had said registered. "Just like the man said!" Bob looked back at the departing boat and it dawned on him that he might not have been the only angler to have paid a visit to "Master Seer Carlos". Then he heard another splash and a thump, and what sounded like something flopping around in the front to the boat. Bob looked over his shoulder, and saw a 20 inch Blue Gill flopping around.
Even so, Bob jumped onto the fish, grabbed it by the jaw, flipped open the lid of the cooler, and dropped the fish in, then slammed the lid shut. Then he heard what sounded like a giggle and a splash. Turning around again, and scanning the shore line, he saw nothing. There was, however, an expanding ring of ripples about ten feet from his boat. "What the devil is going on here?" he asked himself. Then he took out the map again. "What was that map grid?" he asked himself.
"Fifteen. I remember 'fifteen'... twenty...twenty three? Twenty four?" Bob gunned the engine again, went hard to port, and again sped across the lake, only slowing when he saw another boat near by. Looking at the map at the same time, he slowed when he got to what he reckoned was the proper grid location. "Catfish. Hundred pound test. One twenty will have to do.." he said as he unloosened the lock ring and swapped in his "Big Reel", an old Zebco. Grabbing his tackle box, he grabbed the bottle of "Stink bait", specifically made for cat-fishing.
He also grabbed a plastic grub lure and a 1/4 ounce snap-on sinker. Bob opened the bottle and wrinkled his nose at the stench, and dipped the lure into the bottle. "I'm sure glad they don't taste like what they eat.." he said, then capped the bottle and swung the rod over the edge of the boat, and pressed the release button and let the weight carry the line down. When the line went slack, he wound the reel lever until it clicked, locking the line.
Bob waited. Then he waited some more. Nothing. As he waited, he tried to put things together in his head. It still didn't make sense. It still sounded unbelievable. Especially, the bit with the Blue Gill. Several time, he lifted the lit to look at the two fish. he still couldn't quite wrap his mind around it. Still, Bob continued to wait. Eventually, he looked at his map again, was sure he was at grid fifteen by twenty three, but off towards twenty four, just in case. Looking at his watch, he saw it was close to four PM.
Four thirty, nothing. Bob then looked over the edge of the boat, and tried to pierce the water and see the sixty five pound catfish. All he saw was water with some aquatic bugs and a few minnows swimming by. On impulse, he suddenly turned, and saw the water erupt, and a huge catfish come flying up and landing with a "thud" in the boat. he also saw why the catfish had come flying out of the water. A dark haired woman floated in the middle of the ripples. Their eyes locked. "I might have known." he said out loud.
At first, the woman looked at him in shock. Then she smiled. "Go ahead and tell. nobody will believe you!" she said with a smile, then did the classic "disappearing mermaid" thing. the last he saw was her tail fin as it slapped the water.
Bob didn't even stop to reel in the line, but grabbed the catfish by the gills, avoiding the spines, and kicked open the lid of the cooler, dumped it into the chest. It was so large, it didn't fit into the chest completely. Bob didn't worry about that, but instead, fired up the outboard again, and headed back to the contest landing. Most of the other anglers had apparently headed back in, since nobody complained about his speeding across the lake.
Bob didn't even slow down when he reached the boat launch, but killed the engine and ran up the ramp, sending the two teens scattering. Jumping out, he called to them, "Give me a hand with this!" as he tugged on the cooler handles. The two came back over and one hopped onto the boat and lifted the other handle. "Right good catfish, Mr. Clemons!" he said.
"I also got a right good Blue Bill and trout in there too!" said Bob.
"Sounds like another bunch of records for Specter lake" said the other teen, as they lugged the cooler off the boat.
As the three carried the cooler, Bob kept his eyes on the catfish and concentrated on his footing. one of the teens said, "Mr. Clemons, you know a lot about fish, don't you?"
"A fair amount.. Why?" Bob asked.
"is there such a thing as a 'fresh water shark'?" he asked.
"Umm, I think I read that there are some in a lake in Panama."
"Told you!" said the other teen.
"Why?" asked Bob.
"'Cause Wild Bill brought one in. I just didn't know they had put any in the lake."
Bob almost dropped the cooler. "What? No. There aren't any sharks, fresh water or otherwise, in Specter Lake."
By now, they were close enough to the judging station that the teen pointed behind Bob. Explain that, then.
Bob turned and did drop his end of the cooler.
The judges were standing around, scratching their heads. Family members and more than a few news photographers were taking pictures of anglers and their catches. On-lookers were talking in amazement.
On various makeshift rigs were displayed the catches of the tournament. A ten foot white tipped shark. A twelve foot long Blue Marlin. A five foot long Tuna. Add to that several more fish that Bob didn't recognize right off the bat, but fish he knew shouldn't be in a fresh water lake.
Bob looked at his watch again as he drove down the road. At just a few minutes before six PM, he turned into the empty field that had held the fair, earlier. He saw that there was someone else parked in the field, close to the place where the Seer's tent had been. It was Wild Bill. When he drove up, he saw a crow fly away, and Wild bill turned, saw Bob and waived. Bob shut off his truck, and Wild Bill walked up. "Damnedest thing I ever heard."
"You and me both." said Bob.
"See you around." said Wild Bill, and without another word, got in his own truck and left. Bob looked around. He was here to pay the Seer, but there was now nobody around. Then a crow landed on the mirror. Their eyes locked and a cold chill went through his spine. Pulling out his wallet, he pulled out the twenty, and held it out. His eyesight went all fuzzy, and the woman hawker was standing in front of him. She bowed and took the twenty from Bob's limp hand. "How..?"
The woman shook her head and said with a smile, "See you next year, 'Hayseed Bob'."
Bob's vision went fuzzy again, and the crow was on his mirror again, a twenty in it's moth. it winked at bob, and flew away, leaving Bob to ponder the mysteries of the Universe.
"I reject your reality, and substitute my own!" Adam Savage, Mythbusters