This story is by Carmine DiCostanzo and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Watching from his front porch Jack developed a nervous twitch. It was Rodney coming up the dirt road, and he was going to walk past Jack’s house. Rodney was the town delinquent, sixteen years old, always in trouble, and still in ninth grade. Jack’s parents had told him he couldn’t hang out with Rodney. He felt the urge to leave the porch and go inside, but the mystery of Rodney rooted him in place. Rodney stopped when he reached the front of the house. “What are ya doin’ today — Jack?”
Panic gripped Jack’s throat. Rodney is talking to me. Say something. “Nothing,” Jack said. “Why do you want to know?” He cursed the nervous quake in his voice.
“Going fishing,” Rodney said, his long greasy hair hung over his eyes. “Seeing as how you just sitting there doing nothing, I figure you would want to come with me. I’m going to Lucky.”
Jack couldn’t tell Rodney he was not allowed to do anything with him. He stalled, “What’s Lucky?”
Rodney squinted his eyes in a Clint Eastwood type look. “It’s a secret fishing hole, deep in the woods where huge trout lurk, waiting for me to catch em. I’m the only one who knows about it.”
Jeez thought Jack, he wasn’t allowed to go into the woods either. Man, he really wanted to go fishing. How could he say no to fishing deep in the woods with the bad ass Rodney? What if his parents found out though? That would be really bad, and he’d be in big trouble. Why won’t they let him do things on his own — like Rodney does? He pushed a stray pebble around with his foot. “Nah. I think I’ll stay home. I got things I need to do for my mom later.” He grimaced thinking that he shouldn’t have mentioned his mom.
“Come on, there’s no harm,” Rodney said. “I ain’t showed no one this place.”
“I’d better not,” Jack said. “But thanks anyway.”
Rodney shook his head. “What are you Jack, five years old?”
“Very funny,” Jack said, distress in his voice as it rose. “I’m twelve.”
“Sure don’t seem like it. I get why the other kids make fun of you. You’re a wimp who can’t think or do for himself. Everyone will crack up when I tell em about it. Your loss, little baby.” Rodney continued on down the road and, at the end of the block, disappeared into the woods.
Crap Jack thought. He stood up and went into the house, closing the door on Rodney, Lucky, and probably whatever friends he had left.
Jack was up the next morning at dawn. During the night he had played his conversation with Rodney over and over. He decided he would go to Lucky and hope his parents didn’t find out. He slipped a Twinkie in his pocket and quietly slunk out the front door — a fog had descended on the little town of Douglas. He entered the woods about where he saw Rodney go and followed a faint trail for what seemed like an hour, stumbling over tree roots, and one time stepping into a bog filling his boots with water and mud. At last he heard the sounds of a rushing creek. Then, after passing into a dense stand of spruce trees, there it was — Lucky. He knew this was the place. On his left and above, the creek tumbled down over scattered boulders then smoothed out into a large deep pool before once again rumbling off to his right below. It was so large Jack couldn’t throw a rock to the other side. Rising mist merged with the fog then meandered among the trees. Jack sat on a large, moss-covered boulder and watched creamy patches of foam float by before disappearing over the outfall. He had made it and it was wonderful.
On his way home, a sour feeling gnawed at his stomach. He had been gone a long time and was covered in mud. How was he going to explain that? He tried to sneak into the house, but his eagle-eyed mom saw him and, of course, asked where he had been. His face contorted with panic and, knowing he couldn’t lie, sadly confessed.
“Oh Jack,” she said with disappointment. “Go to your room and wait until your father comes home.” After dinner, as Jack was helping his mom clean up, she told him his father would like to see him.
His dad was in the living room recliner de-stressing from his usual busy workday. A veil of cigarette smoke clung to the ceiling as Jack waited to find out his punishment. “What the hell were you thinking?” his dad asked. “You know you are not allowed to venture into the woods alone.”
Jack explained about Rodney and Lucky and how other kids make fun of him for not being able to do anything. He never built a tree fort, caught a toad, or gone camping — nothing. Jack could hear himself whining. When he finished, he said, “I’m sorry dad.”
For a long while his dad had a pensive look and Jack wondered if his dad had heard any of what he just said, then suddenly his dad roused from his thoughts and said, “Come with me son.”
In the basement, his dad rummaged around before pulling out a long tube. Inside was a honey-colored bamboo fly rod. It looked really old. Jack’s eyes glistened at the beauty of it.
“This belonged to your grandfather Jack. He gave it to me when I was a boy and now I’m giving it to you. I figure we could go to Lucky tomorrow and I’ll show you how to use it. What do you say?”
This was so unexpected. Jack hugged his father and his eyes brimmed with tears.
Sunday morning Jack led the way to Lucky, pausing to point out where he tripped on a tree root, and where he sank up to his knees in a bog. When they arrived he said, “Here we are, dad. What do you think?”
“It’s beautiful son.” His father opened his box of flies and selected a black gnat. He showed Jack how to tie it to the leader, strip out some line and when the line had drifted downstream he lifted his rod tip and flipped it in a circular motion. The line rolled through the air and the fly landed at the head of the pool. When the fly drifted the length of the pool he repeated the move.
“Now you try it,” he said.
Jack took up the rod. His first attempt was a laugher, but after a few more he was able to get the fly halfway to the head of the pool. Another five casts and he made it.
“You’re doing great,” his dad said. Jack beamed proudly.
His father shook out a cigarette, fingered it for a bit, but instead of lighting it, he slipped it back into his pocket. When they returned home an excited Jack said, “Can we go again, dad?”
“You bet son. Next weekend, and we’ll catch a big one.”
The next week seemed to go on forever. Friday finally came, but when he got home only his grandmother was there. Her eyes were red and Jack could tell she had been crying.
“What’s wrong grandma?” he asked. “Where’s mom?”
“Oh Jack, I’m so sorry”, she whispered through tears. “Your father was at work, he had a heart attack, and Jack, he passed away.” She shook with grief as she held Jack. “I’m so, so sorry.”
Jack was stoic at the funeral. Family friends offered condolences and he managed it with the grace and dignity of someone much older. It seemed like the whole town was there. In the days afterward, he spent time alone in his room, staring not thinking. After a couple of days, he asked his mom if he could go to Lucky.
“Of course you can dear,” she said. “Would you like me to go with you?”
“No. I’d rather go alone.”
At Lucky Jack sat on a boulder absorbing the tranquility of its dark amber pools and lush green moss. Just when he was opening a Twinkie he heard someone coming. It was Rodney. Sitting next to Jack, Rodney didn’t say anything, then finally he said, “Hey, can I look at your fly rod?”
Jack handed him the antique rod, “It was my dad’s.”
“It’s beautiful,” Rodney said.
Jack turned away trying to hide the tears pooling in his eyes.
“You see that big rock, Jack? You cast a Woolly Bugger into the eddy and boom, you get a giant trout. I know cause I caught him a bunch of times. I named him Charlie.”
Jack blinked away a few tears, “You want half my Twinkie, Rodney?”
“You bet pal. I love Twinkies.”