A Crazy Old Man and a Stinky Old Fish: A Short Story by cam
Three boys stared at the bloated body as it baked in the searing, midsummer heat of Indiana. Flies crawled around the eyes and mouth looking for a good place to lay their eggs.
“Who’d just leave a fish that big layin’ on the ground?” asked Rodney, who at age ten was the youngest of the three boys and brother to Rick.
“Ever since I first seen that fish jump one day, the thought of catchin’ him’s been the only reason I keep comin’ back to this pond,” said Rick.
“Twenty-one inches and five pounds, I bet,” said Tom. “Probly’ll never be another large mouth bass like that one in this quarry pond. If we’re still campin’ out, then I’m buryin’ that fish. I ain’t smellin’ the rotten thing all night.” Tom found a soft patch of ground and began digging with his bare hands.
“Just kick it into the water,” said Rodney.
“I don’t wanna bump into that maggot farm when I’m swimmin’. Help me dig this hole big enough so we can cover him up good.” The boys soon had a sizable hole, so Rick began nudging the bass toward it with his sneaker. Blow flies rose from their feasting and egg laying, but kept hovering nearby, hoping to reclaim their prize.”
“That’s the nastiest thing I ever seen,” said Rodney, holding his nose.
“Really?” asked Tom. “Did you forget about that dead cow back by the creek? She was blowed up like a hot air balloon.” The bass tumbled into the hole, and the boys pushed the dirt on top, patting it down firmly.
Rick and Rodney lived near the farm owned by Tom’s mother and father. The three spent most of their time playing in the big barn and fishing in the creek that ran through the property. The pond was about a half mile away and belonged to a neighbor who didn’t like the boys hanging around. When he knew they were fishing in his pond, he’d grab his shotgun to shoot a few shells into the air. Then the boys would run off, laughing and shouting, calling the farmer a crazy old man.
The trio walked into the woods that bordered the south side of the pond and picked a campsite where the crazy old man wouldn’t be able to see their fire from his house. They caught several, small bluegills which they filleted, then put into an old skillet over the hot embers. After they finished eating, the boys sat around their fire, talking.
“What must it have been like to catch a fish that big?” said Rick. At that moment they heard a vehicle driving toward the the opposite side of the pond, coming in from the road.
“Quick, put the fire out,” said Tom. Rick and Rodney kicked dirt into the flames while Tom brought water from the pond in a rusty bucket. After the smoke and steam died down they turned their attention to whoever was ruining their evening.
“Think it’s the old man?” said Rodney. “I hope he ain’t got his shotgun with him.”
“Let’s grab all our gear and hide back there in the trees,” said Tom. The boys gathered their sleeping bags and frying pan and fishing poles, then ran deeper into the woods. They ducked down behind a fallen tree just in time. Two men stepped out of the trees into the campsite the boys had just vacated.
“Told you I seen a fire over here, Jess. Wood’s still wet and warm,” said one of the men.
“Probly just some kids who is hightailin’ it back to wherever they live right now,” said the one named Jess. A flashlight beam passed along the dead tree that hid the boys. They stayed low and quiet, resisting the urge to run. The light moved on, panning the area for several more minutes.
“Shut the light off, Billy. We don’t want old man Simmons seein’ it,” said Jess. “Let’s get back to the truck. We got plans to make if we’re gonna steal his money tonight.”
Tom, Rick and Rodney didn’t move after the two men had left the campsite. Rodney was close to crying, so the other two waited till he was breathing steadily again. They put their heads close together so they could whisper and not be heard.
“Let’s git outa here now before they come back for another look around,” said Rick.
“We can’t just let them rob that old man. We may not like him much, but we gotta do somethin’,” said Tom. “Heck, they might even kill the poor guy.” They sat in silence, pondering the possibility that a murder might be about to happen. Finally, Tom rolled over and began crawling along the length of the tree.
“Where you goin’?” said Rodney.
“We gotta get close enough to those two losers so we can hear what their plan is,” said Tom. He continued crawling in the direction the men had gone. Rick and Rodney looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and fell in behind their friend.
The three boys crept along as quietly as they could. After a few minutes, the aroma of roasting rabbit reached their nostrils. Low voices were mumbling as burning wood cracked and popped ahead of them. A battered old pick up blocked and covered their approach. Looking under the truck, they could see the campfire, four denim covered legs ending in two pair of worn out brogans and a growing pile of rabbit bones. They could hear the voices of Jess and Billy very well.
“I sure wish we was eatin’ that bass I caught this mornin’,” said Jess. “I hate rabbit. But you had to go an’ leave the fish layin’ on the tailgate of the truck when we left. It bounced off and there went our dinner plans.”
“I said I was sorry, didn’t I?” said Billy.
“A fox or coon must’ve drug it away, cause I didn’t see it when we drove in here tonight,” said Jess. “But forget about that, we need to make up our plan for stealin’ the old man’s money. Tell me one more time everything you heard at the barber shop last week, Billy.”
“Well, I was waitin’ for Sam, the barber, to cut my hair. While he was busy cuttin’ old man Simmons’ hair, which he ain’t got much of, they was talkin’ about money an’ banks an’ stuff like that,” said Billy. “Simmons said he didn’t like banks since he lost all his money in one durin’ the Great Depression. Sam asked him what he done with his money if it wasn’t in a bank an’ Simmons says he has a real good hidin’ place. Sam asks him if he’s gonna tell him how much money he’s got in that good hidin’ spot an’ Simmons just laughs an says he ain’t gonna say nuthin’ ‘cept that he’s been savin’ since the depression.”
“Hmm, It’s been forty years since the Great Depression,” said Jess. “That’s a lot of savin’. An’ he didn’t say nuthin’ about where his money was hid?”.
“Nope, not one word about it,” said Billy.
“Well, by the time we is finished with him, he’s gonna be beggin’ us to take his money an’ leave,” said Jess.
“This is gonna be fun. I ain’t never beat up an old man before,” said Billy. “We headin’ over to his house right now?”
“No. We’ll wait a couple of hours till Simmons is sleepin’ real good,” said Jess. “Then, when we wake him up, he’ll be all confused. We’ll just say our truck broke down on the road, an’ we want to use his telephone to call for help.”
“That’s when we beat the old man up, Right? An’ when he tells us where the money is, we grab it an’ leave. Oh, we is gonna get rich tonight, ain’t we, Jess?”
“We’ll kill the old man before we leave, though,” said Jess.
“Huh?” said Billy. “I ain’t never killed nobody before.”
“We’ll dump the body in the pond with one of them cinder blocks I got in the back of the truck tied to Simmons’ ankle. Then we’ll leave.”
“Jess, your plan just keeps gettin’ better ’n better,” said Billy.
Tom, Rick and Rodney began crawling backward into the trees where they stood and ran as fast as they could run.
On the far side of the pond, Tom stopped.
“Why’d we stop?” said Rick. “We oughta keep runnin’ all the way home.”
“An’ let those two good-for-nuthins kill old man Simmons an’ steal his money?” said Tom. “You two go on if you want, but I’m workin’ on my own plan now.”
“What plan?” asked Rodney who was on the verge of tears again.
“First thing we’re gonna do,” said Tom, “is dig up that stinky old fish.”
“A couple of hours later, two figures stole away from a beat up old truck parked on the road, toward a farmhouse where no lights burned in the windows.
“Let’s nose around a bit before we wake the old man up,” said Jess. The two men entered a small tool shed, looking around for a good hiding place for forty years worth of cash. The shed was half filled with wood boxes containing old parts for farm machinery. On a workbench along one wall, Billy found a pocket knife he fancied and Jess pocketed a nice pair of clamping pliers. “Ain’t no money in here,” Jess said. “Let’s go to the house and wake up old Mr. Simmons.”
They stood on a cement slab outside the front door.
“What about the shotgun, Jess?” asked Billy.
“He’s an old man. I think I can manage to take a shotgun from a little old man,” said Jess.
Spring peepers chirped in the darkness as Jess raised his fist to knock. The door flew open and Jess found himself staring into a pair of three quarter inch black holes, the bores of a double barrel 10 gauge shotgun. The old man walked boldly forward while the two, would-be thieves stumbled backward. Jess and Billy turned and ran as Simmons emptied the first barrel into the air above their heads. In the truck, Jess shoved the gearshift into drive, tires screeching as they spun on the paved road. Another blast from the shotgun took out one of the tail lights.
“Those look like cop car lights comin’ toward us way up ahead,” said Billy.
“I’ll take the next side road,” said Jess as he shut off the truck’s headlights. “We’ll be long gone by the time that cop talks to old man Simmons and comes lookin’ for us.
“How’d the cops get here so fast?” asked Billy.
“I don’t know,” said Jess, “but what’s that goddam smell?”
“Smells like rotten fish,” said Billy. “An’ it’s gettin’ stronger, like it’s cookin’.”
“It’s burnin’ my eyes,” cried Jess. “I can’t see where I’m goin’.”
The pickup weaved back and forth across the narrow, country road, into the ditch on the left, then turning sharply, crashing into the ditch on the right, just as the Sheriff’s patrol car rolled to a stop.
Back at Simmons’ house, the old man waved a wrinkled, but steady hand toward the tool shed. Tom, Rick and Rodney walked out the same door that Jess and Billy had just used and crossed the gravel driveway. Simmons handed two, one dollar bills to each boy.
“Did those two scoundrels take anything when they were in the shed?” asked Simmons. The boys told him about the pocket knife and the clamping pliers. “That and trespassing should be enough to hold them for a few days,” he said.
“From now on, as long as you stop by and ask for my permission first, you boys can camp by the pond and fish whenever you want. It’s the least I can do in return for what you did for me tonight.” Simmons looked down the road as the Deputy Sheriff pulled Jess and Billy out of the wrecked truck and cuffed them. “I wonder what made them lose control of the truck like that?” He shrugged it off and turned back to the boys. “Now git goin’,” he said, “You stink like rotten fish.” The corners of the old man’s mouth turned up slightly, brightening a weathered and wrinkled face.
The boys walked down the road as the patrol car slowly passed them on the way to Simmons’ place. Jess and Billy glared at them from the back seat. When they reached the pickup, Tom stepped into the ditch and lifted the hood. By the light of the moon, they could just make out the smoldering carcass of a very large fish on top of the engine block. The smell hit them in the face, and Tom let the hood drop with a crash that momentarily broke the silence of the summer night.
“Which do you wanna do before we sleep?” asked Tom. “Swimmin’ or fishin’?”
“Swimmin’ for me,” said Rodney.
“Me too,” said Rick. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat fish again as long as I live.”