The Fisherman - John Langan

Part 1

Men Without Women

I

How Fishing Saved My Life

Don’t call me Abraham: call me Abe. Though it’s what my ma named me, I’ve never liked Abraham. It’s a name that sounds so full of itself, so Biblical, so…I believe patriarchal is the word I’m after. One thing I am not, nor do I want to be, is a patriarch. There was a time I thought I’d like at least one child, but these days, the sight of them makes my skin crawl.

Some years ago, never mind how many, I started to fish. I’ve been fishing for a long time, now, and as you might guess, I know a story or two. That’s what fishermen are, right? Storytellers. Some I’ve lived; some I’ve had from the mouths of others. Most of them are funny; they bring a smile to your face and sometimes a laugh, which are no small things. A bit of laughter can be the bridge that lets you cross out of a bad time, believe you me. Some of my stories are what I’d call strange. I know only a few of these, but they make you scratch your head and maybe give you a little shiver, which can be a pleasure in its own way.

But there’s one story—well, it’s downright awful, almost too much to be spoken. It happened going on ten years ago, on the first Saturday in June, and by the time night had fallen, I’d lost a good friend, most of my sanity, and damn near my life. I’d come whisker-close to losing more than all that, too. It stopped me fishing for the better part of a decade, and although I’ve returned to it once again, there’s no power on earth, or under it, could bring me back to the Catskill Mountains, to Dutchman’s Creek, the place a man I should have listened to called “Der Platz das Fischer.”

You can find the creek on your map if you look closely. Go to the eastern tip of the Ashokan Reservoir, up by Woodstock, and backtrack along the south shore. It may take you a couple of tries. You’ll see a blue thread snaking its way from near the Reservoir over to the Hudson, running north of Wiltwyck. That was where it all happened, though what it all was I still can’t wrap my head around. I can tell you only what I heard, and what I saw. I know Dutchman’s Creek runs deep, much deeper than it could or should, and I don’t like to think what it’s full of. I’ve walked the woods around it to a place you won’t find on your map, on any map you’d buy in the gas station or sporting-goods store. I’ve stood on the shore of an ocean whose waves were as black as the ink trailing from the tip of this pen. I’ve watched a woman with skin pale as moonlight open her mouth, and open it, and open it, into a cavern set with rows of serrated teeth that would have been at home in a shark’s jaws. I’ve held an old knife out in front of me in one, madly trembling hand, while a trio of refugees from a nightmare drew ever-closer.

I’m running ahead of myself, though. There’s other things you’ll need to hear about first, like Dan Drescher, poor, poor Dan, who went with me up to the Catskills that morning. You’ll need to hear Howard’s story, which makes far more sense to me now than it did when first he delivered it to me in Herman’s Diner. You’ll need to hear about fishing, too. Everything’ll have to be in its proper place. If there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s a poorly put-together story. A story doesn’t have to be fitted like some kind of pre-fabricated house—no, it’s got to go its own way—but it does have to flow. Even a tale as coal-black as this one has its course.

You may ask why I’m taking such care. Some things are so bad that just to have been near them taints you, leaves a spot of badness in your soul like a bare patch in the forest where nothing will grow. Do you suppose a story can carry away such badness? It seems a bit much to hope for, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s true for the little wrongs, you know, the kind of minor frustrations that you’re able to turn into funny stories at parties. For what happened at the Creek, though, I doubt there’s