I can scarcely remember how I came to this place.
When I was young the water flowed all around me. The swift current swept bugs and small minnows through predictable paths, and I ate recklessly. When the small bugs tried to fly, I jumped through the air and caught them in my mouth. But I only rose for the small bugs, never the big ones. The monsters ate the big ones.
The monsters were scary. Some had disfigured jaws. Some had scars from battles with ospreys and eagles. And at unpredictable times they ate little fish like me. So I hid.
Someday I would be like them. Someday I would eat the big bugs. But before that day came — and for a reason I don’t remember — I followed the flow of the river and swam to this place. For three years I’ve been living in this dark motionless water eating crayfish and minnows. Now I am big and I want to return.
The others aren’t ready to go. It is only July, and they won’t leave until late August or September. But I ache for the rush of the water. I yearn for the current to bring me food. I want to eat the big bugs from the surface.
The resident fish scatter as I move up the river. Some hide under the banks. They are big, but they aren’t monsters. A tangle of logs and branches blocks my way, but I fly through the flow and land in a deep pool on the other side. The small fish flee.
I fear nothing. I stop occasionally to eat the bugs, and I mock the small fish who spend all of their life in this river. They will never follow the flow and become a monster like me.
Some of the fish look different. The freckles on their sides are covered by pale red stripes. They will follow the flow one day and become monsters. I’ve seen them in the big water. But the little ones scramble in fear when I swim through the riffles.
This is where I want to be. The small fish hide under the bank, but I fin in the middle of the stream. The water is deep enough to protect me from the eagles and hawks, but I can easily spot the bugs that dare to float over me. I eat them all.
I see a bug that is different than the others. Colorful. Fat. Suspicious. But I can’t resist, and I suck it from the surface. Something is wrong.
The bug pulls to the left, so I jump from the water and try in vain to spit the attacker from my mouth. I swim upstream, but the bug tightens its grip. I turn and dash under the bank. The small fish scatter in terror. The bug pulls me toward the middle of the stream. I jump again, but the bug holds firm. I hold in midstream. I still feel the bug’s bite. I am losing.
Something lifts me from the water. I try to escape, but a monster — bigger than any I have seen before — is clutching my body. The monster holds me in shallow water and removes the bug from my mouth. I am too tired to swim, but water brings oxygen to my gills and I slowly regain my strength. The monster lets go and I swim away.
© 2011 Timothy Schulz
If you like this perspective on a story, then check out this wonderful — and inspirational — collaboration by three outstanding artists: The Trout in Winter.