Yellow Eyed Devil A Short Story By Alfonso K.

Ajello

E-Mail: alkajello@yahoo.com

Wes hit the beach a little after lunchtime. He rolled up the cuffs of his jeans and left his shoes & socks at the bench by the beach path that led from the lot through the dunes. The sun was blinding and the sky clear, but an afternoon that he had earlier perceived as an Indian summer disappeared into artic blasts raking across his face. The fishing pole seemed to weigh a ton after the walk to the surf; he assembled it and plopped it into the sand. Winds ripped the bag that contained a fishing lure and receipt out of his hand and sent them up the beach. He attempted to stand the rod up in the sand as you would a beach umbrella, but it fell over. He bent over it and fed the fishing line through each guide of the rod’s nine foot length, then tied on the lure with doubled up square knots. He picked up the rod, ready to start fishing, but the lure just sat in the sand, and the wind peeled coils of line off the spool. After a few ineffective cranks the reel ground to a halt. He blew at the reel, thinking that cleaning the sand off the exterior of the reel would bring it to life. “Never put a spinning reel down in the sand,” a man said who happened to be walking past. “What?” “Your reel. Never plop it down in the sand like that. You’ll ruin it. Throw your hat down, lay your reel into it…you know, to protect it from the sand.” “I don’t have a hat, no fishing hats at least.” “They’re all fishing hats,” the man said.

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Wes thought for a moment, about his collection of college basketball lids, all with the tags and holographic stickers still affixed. He couldn’t imagine them covered in sand, scales, and swim bladders. “What am I doing wrong?” “Everything,” the man said with a laugh. “Shoot!” “First time?” “Yea…maybe this was a mistake,” Wes said. “Nah! Fishing is never a mistake…here, hold my rod,” the man said. “I’ll rig you up.” Wes smirked at the idea of holding the man’s rod. He stood for a moment in an awkward silence watching as the man stood with the posture of a question mark fiddling with the reel and the tangled line. The man looked out of character on a beach. Sure, he donned a beaten up baseball cap and chest waders with all sorts of gadgets hanging from his belt, but he didn’t strike Wes as a hardcore fisherman. Wes could see him as a janitor in a school polishing the floors, or sweeping the front sidewalk of a neighborhood deli. “Yea, catch some fish for me too,” Wes kidded. “Ah,” the man said. “See, the line has to go under the bail in order for it to take line, see.” The man demonstrated. He flipped the semi-circular wire on the front of the reel. “See, this lets you release line, flip it back and then the reel takes in line, it wraps the line onto the spool.” “OK, Seems simple enough.” Wes said as he watched the man as he fed the line through the guides. “You having any luck,” Wes asked.

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“No luck, it’s all skill,” the man said laughing as he tied the plug on to Wes’s main line. Wes laughed with the man. “No, I mean any fish?” “Ahhh! Yellow eyed devils,” he mumbled as he handed the rod back to Wes. “Thanks! Now what?” Wes said laughing. “Start casting,” the man said. “Here watch.” Wes watched closely as the man demonstrated how to cast breaking the processing into three steps: catch the line pinning it to the handle of the rod with an arthritic index finger, flip the bail, and then cast, simultaneously releasing the line. Wes tried it, following the man’s directions. He brought the rod back then swung it forward violently. The two men had to duck for fear that the lure would take one of their eyes out, but the lure landed harmless in the sand behind them. The man laughed from behind gritty teeth. “Piece a’ crap,” Wes said. “Here watch me, three steps, grab, flip, cast. The key is don’t worry about casting to Normandy, take a little off the fastball, until you get better.” The man flipped his lure far past the breakers. Wes marveled at how effortless it looked and how much distance was achieved, especially from such a wiry guy. He let his lure sit out their, for a moment then began retrieving it. “Practice it, you’ll get better.” After a few more miscasts Wes did get better pitching it out beyond the breakers then retrieving it as fast as he could. “Slow down,” the man said. “What, this yellow piece of garbage,” Wes said.

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“That’s a fish catcher. Hooked many a fish on those…It’s all in the presentation, how you work it. Here let me show you.” Again the men traded rods. The man’s rod seemed much different than Wes’s. He took extra care with it only because it seemed to be more of an apparatus that should be handled with great care, rather than just a “sporting good”. Wes wished he could have taken a picture of the guy standing their shaking that rod between his legs as he demonstrated how to work the lure. He held back a laugh as the man placed the butt of the rod between his legs and his right hand between the handle of the rod and the largest guide. He reeled slowly, at the same time shaking the rod tip causing the lure to pop & gurgle on the surface. Wes marveled at the action that the man imparted to the lure. “Bring it in slow, then pop it, chug it...then let it sit…like walking and chewing gum, remember, slack is your enemy…the key is you gotta emulate life…trigger the hunter’s reflex to attack.” Wes took the rod back, and followed the man’s directions, placing the butt of the rod between his legs, popping the lure, chugging it just as the man said. “This is hard work,” Wes said. “I know.” “Now we just need some fish!” “Easy as ABC, always be casting…can’t catch a thing unless the bait’s in the water…see,” the old man said. “Fish aint dumb…they want a shady spot, and an easy meal…they don’t wanna expend any extra energy unless they have to. They sit with their

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faces to the current and wait for the food to come to them…for the most part. They are ambush artists” “Yea?” “Then they move from place to place seeing where the food is.” “Kinda like us.” “Yea that’s right.” “What kinda fish are out here?” “Stripers! We’re right in the heart of the striper run, mid November to Christmas time.” “Stripers?” “Striped bass, yea bass, blues…occasional weaks.” Weaks?” “Yea Weakfish.” “I aint gonna catch anything!” “Why not?” “Cause I can’t get it way out there where you are.” “The fish are in the suds, no more than knee deep, you know how many times I fish with guys who are out there wading up to there chest and I’m catching fish behind them. Find the current, the rips, let your bait get taken, pop it, chug it like I said.” “How’d you learn all this?” “My father…we fished together till the day he died…and a lot of hours out on the water on my own…and with my sons…and buddies.” “Ahh! There aint no fish out here,” Wes said.

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“Don’t kid yourself,” the man said. “This is good water. See the way the waves are kind of crashing into each other out there.” “Yea, it kind of looks like a hair lip?” “Yea…and out behind it…see that set of breakers out there, that’s a bar…see how they smooth out then start up again, that’s a break in the bar. Big fish’ll cruise in and out looking to trap bait…just keep tossing that plug out into that neighborhood, you’ll see.” “What’s the frigging point, though? What’s the big deal?” “You know…the most important thing my father taught me about fishing? He told me…it aint so much about catching fish as much as it is about being in a beautiful place, with people you love, friends and family, just hanging around talking, having some laughs…I think he told me that to keep me quiet when I wasn’t catching anything…but, now that I think about it, it makes a lot of sense.” “Cool,” Wes said. “This is a beautiful place to be…maybe some day I’ll bring the wife & kids. He marveled at the horizon and the sunset. “If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of bait are you using?” “Bucktail with pork,” the man said. “Pork?” “Yeah, pork rind trailer.” “If you don’t catch any fish at least you can make a sandwich out of it,” Wes kidded. “Yea right! Oh well, I’ll see you around, I’m gonna keep moving…maybe I’ll catch you later. My name is Salvatore by the way.” “Wes.”

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“Good to meet ya…Wes.” Wes continued casting and after a while he seemed to be getting the hang of it. A tear came to Wes’s eye as twilight approached and the wind died down. The ocean welled and swayed. It really is beautiful, Wes thought, “I never want to leave this place,” he said aloud to himself. He never wanted to go back home, to the foreclosure notices and the job search that had extended now to over eighteen months, the credit card bills and the debt, the embarrassment he felt when he looked at Jan and the kids and his friends in town, the sick feeling in his gut when he wondered -- each morning, every minute of each day, and as he lay awake each night -- what the heck are we gonna do? After a while Wes realized what Salvatore was saying about the current, as he could detect it moving left to right. When his plug landed beyond the breakers, he just allowed the current to carry it as he popped it and chugged it. When the bait got to the far right he walked following it popping it and chugging it through the suds slowly retrieving it and casting again. He just kept casting until darkness fell and the beach got spooky, and only the lights from the nearby streets lit the beach. Each of the next dozen or so casts he tried to label as his last, and at that point in time he determined right then and there that he would adopt fishing as a hobby that he could enjoy for the rest of his life, as something he and his boys could do together. Suddenly everything locked, jammed, as if the reel froze. Wes struggled to turn the crank. He looked to the sea, at the fishing rod, bent over, the tip of it pointing to some indiscriminate point amongst the waves. He realized nothing was wrong with the rod or reel, he hooked into something, and whatever it was yanked back at him stripping drag whenever he attempted to take in line -- at one point it almost yanked the rod out of

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his hands. Wes defied his foe and did what ever he could to antagonize the force that was battling him from beneath the surf. “Sal,” Wes shouted. “I got one! I actually got one…freakin’ thing is strong!” But, the darkness didn’t answer. After few minutes he was in the drink up to his knees, waves slamming into his thighs and soaking him up to his crotch. He shivered and considered throwing away the fishing rod, wishing that whatever it was would just go away. He looked for someone on the beach, “Sal,” he screamed. After a while Wes was able to back out of surf. He began to reel angry, just wanting to get it over with, horsing his opponent, dragging it out of the surf. Whatever it was more than just thrashed about; it felt as if a helicopter got tangled in his line. He had to extend the full nine feet of the rod and a full arms length to keep the swinging treble hooks away from his legs and feet. He decided that the easiest way to deal with it was to stand around and watch and wait for the fish suffocate and fall motionless. Wes dragged the fish up to the sand closer to the road where the light from the street made it easier too see. Wes couldn’t believe it. The fish was longer than his entire arm and flashed silver. “Sal you gotta see this! You gotta see this freakin’ thing.” Wes examined the fish as closely as he could in the light from the streets. What the heck am I going to do with this thing, he wondered – bring it home, toss it in the trash, burry it in the sand?

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The two treble hooks of the plug were imbedded in the jaws, cheeks, and gills of the fish, and Wes was surprised at the amount of blood that was spilling on the beach. He didn’t think it was a striper, there were no stripes, not that he could see. All he could think was that the thing looked like a silver locomotive. Wes reached down in an attempt to free the hooks from the face of the fish. He grabbed at the hook but the fish twitched. Wes jumped back. He tried again to get a grip on the hook but the fish flopped. “Dirty little whore,” he yelled and stomped the fish below the gills as hard as he could. The fish spasmed, and again Wes stomped it repeatedly, this time saying awful things about the fish’s mother and sister. He pinned the fish with his right knee, grabbed the hook and began working it in circles trying to free it from the jowls, he continued to twist until the mouth of the fish opened wide giving him more room to maneuver. He rotated and twisted the hook, the bones of the mouth snapping & clicking until suddenly the fish flipped throwing sand in Wes’s face, and the jaws slammed shut. “Teeth” was the only thought that popped into Wes’s mind at that moment. He couldn’t see them, but he felt them driving all the way to the bone. He screamed -- he couldn’t believe the thing would have teeth and be able to bite with such force. He attempted to stomp on the head of the fish with his bare foot but the plug and the treble hooks were in the way. Wes panicked and lifted upwards, dragging his fingers out of the jaws, the teeth raking and grating his flesh. He was free of the jaws, but the breeze against the wound brought him to his knees. He was afraid to look at it so he attempted to he bring it into his gut and wrap it in his sweater. It took him a moment to realize it but he was still attached to the fish by way of the plug being stuck in his jacket sleeve.

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He just ripped the thing out. Wes then wrapped the fishing line around his good hand and ripped the plug out of the fish’s jaws, spiked it into the sand, and began stomping the fish as hard as he could with the point of his heel. He stomped on the head until it was undistinguishable and mashed into the sand. He wrapped his hand in the stomach of his sweater and staggered back to the Hummer. When he went to lean his fishing rod against the front quarter panel he realized that the hooks were again imbedded in his sleeve of his bloodied hand. He surmised that it must have happened when he retrieved his shoes. He struggled with his free arm to get it out. “Mutha…,” he shouted as the more he struggled to free the barbs from the fabric the more embedded they became and the more the pain intensified. Again, he ended up just tearing the hooks from his sleeve. He spiked the rod & reel on the macadam, the spool of the reel rolled away leaving a trail of fishing line spiraling behind it. He headed for his vehicle but he was tripped up, the lure was again attached to him, this time in the cuff of his jeans. He grabbed the body of the plug, hyperventilating, and again just ripped it from the fabric. He then got in the Hummer, started it up using only his good hand, and drove over the rod and reel repeatedly, forward then reverse until he was satisfied they were completely destroyed to the point where nobody would ever be able to use them again. He backed into the spot he originally inhabited, put the truck in park. He struggled to look at the wound, but the stomach area of his sweater was now cemented to his hand with coagulating blood. He tried to examine the configuration of the bite, but he could still feel the teeth still and had to look away. The worst of it was to the second knuckle on the middle finger of his right hand. In the uncertain light it

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seemed to be hanging off at the joint, and his finger, from the bite to the tip was tingling. Wes cursed because the wound wouldn’t stop bleeding, what am I a hemophiliac he wondered. He had to get it cleaned up. Nasty little muther, Wes thought. His eyes clouded with tears that seemed to come from everywhere, he tried to hold them back but realized no one could see him. He rewrapped his hand in the stomach of his sweater and sobbed out loud. * * * *

Wes didn’t drive to a hospital for treatment or to bar to kill the pain. Instead he drove straight home. Jan was startled when she heard the thunder of his Hummer in the drive way. She bustled about as if she was about to have unexpected company and had to make the house presentable. A lump grew in her throat. She never knew what to expect with him lately. She decided not to hide from him but instead to greet him face to face. This time she was fully prepared for whatever mood he was in. “What happened to you,” she shouted. She got the chills as she saw the blood stains on his sweater. “Nutin!” Wes walked over to the sink. “Is it your hand? Let me see…” “Get off me!” Jan stepped back. I’m sorry…it’s just that it hurts, and my sweater is like all stuck to it.” “What happened?”

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“You’ll never freakin believe it.” “Can I see? Wes extended his hand. He avoided looking at it, but she took hold of it and examined it without a flinch. She sprinted to the first floor half bath and retrieved the Betadine as well as some anti-bacterial soap, gauze, and bandages. She proceeded to rinse the hand in cool water releasing the fabric from the wound, then sudzed a light soap into the wound cleansing away the caked grit, blood, and bits of fuzz. “Freakin’ hurts!” “Gotta get it cleaned out, all this sand.” “Owwwww!” “I know. Gotta get all the crap out of it so it doesn’t get infected…” She paused and puzzled over the configuration of the cuts on Wes’s fingers. “What’d something take a bite outa you?” Wes smiled. “Yea.” “What?” “A fish.” “A fish?” “Yea, a fish.” “What kind of fish?” “Yellow eyed devil fish…I think?” “Why would a fish wanna bite you? Wait a minute. How?” “I went fishing!” “Fishing? With who?”

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“By myself!” “By yourself? Since when are you into fishing?” “You know what! I got fed up with the foreclosure notices and the classifieds and I took off! To the beach!” “What, do you even have a fishing pole? “No! I just needed to clear my head” “But why fishing?” “I don’t know! I don’t know why…I can’t explain it, it was an impulse! I saw the guys out there with their fishing rods and I wanted to be out there too…it seemed cool, like a really cool thing…you know…to do.” She smoothed Betadine over his wounds then gently wrapped his hand and fingers in gauze. “I’ll tell you, it’s really fun, it’s a really cool activity or hobby or whatever you want to call it.” “And how’d you pay for the fishing stuff?” “I put it on the card.” “Oh Wes…” “I know, I’m an idiot! But I figured, what’s another hundred or so dollars, on top of everything else.” “That’s nice! Great,” she barked. How’d this happen? I don’t understand…what kind of fish could bite you like this, a piranha, a shark?” “I was just casting my bait out there, you know…and, bang! I get lucky! I catch this fish that was about as big as your leg…this thing was big…and it was freakin nasty.”

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“So, how did it bite you?” “I don’t freakin’ know… I must have put my finger to close…and triggered some kind of involuntary bite reflex…I don’t know, it was dark. I just screwed up, that’s all. Where are the kids?” “Jake is at Adam’s house, and Katie’s in the basement watching TV.” Wes marveled at the dressing that she did on his wound. He grabbed her and brought her into his chest and embraced her. He waited a moment, to feel her arms around him. After a moment he felt her arms encircle him just below his rib cage. He squeezed her tight and awaited her response. She constricted tightly around him increasing the pressure until he felt as if his spine might snap in half and his kidneys might explode. He kissed the top of her head and burrowed his nose and lips into her raven hair.

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