Some people said it was a monstrous eel. Some people said it was a landlocked sturgeon, an ancient creature touched by dark magic. Others said it was some sort of mutant, an abomination that should never have been. All were agreed, however; fishing for the demon fish was folly.
All were agreed that is, but one. A local businessman heard the tales: reports of ducklings sucked under Deepdale Pond’s surface, tiddlers hooked by local children plucked savagely from their lines. He suspected the demon fish was no more than a big pike. He took the other stories; whispers of a curse befalling anyone who hooked the demon fish, a darkness falling over them and their endeavours, as superstitious nonsense. The demon fish was a pike and the businessman was going to prove it.
One Saturday morning the businessman – an experienced fisherman – set himself up on the bank of Deepdale Pond. The pond was big, more of a lake in truth, but he had the whole day to move up and down the waterside, to search for the monster pike in every reed bed and deep pool.
Dog walkers, picnickers, children with dinky little rods, all asked the businessman what he was doing with such bulky tackle as they visited the pond throughout the day. When the businessman explained that he was out to catch the demon fish they warned him off his charge, but he would not be deterred.
As night began to fall the businessman found himself fishless and alone by the waterside. But he wasn’t going to be beaten. All the visitors to the pond throughout the day, surely their clamour had simply put the big fish off? Spooked it into hiding? But now it was dark and calm the businessman might finally be able to claim his prize. Knowing now was his best chance, he reached for his bait box and attached the biggest, smelliest mackerel fillet he had onto his hook. He cast it out into the deepest part of the pond and waited.
He didn’t have to wait long. A monstrous take and the businessman was in, line screeching from his reel as he fought to keep the beast at bay. It had to be the demon fish!
Moving along the bank to get the best purchase and keep the fish away from snags, the businessman gave as good as he got. He wrestled the fish this way and that, all in an attempt to tire it. Minutes past, then an hour, then longer. Still the fish would not relent. The businessman even started to doubt the fish was a pike. Pike were ambush predators he knew – sprinters not distance runners. And this fish had serious stamina.
Just as the businessman thought it would never give in, the fish finally allowed itself to be pulled towards the bank. Even in the darkness the businessman could see its immense flank break the surface; by far the biggest fish he had ever caught. But he couldn’t quite make out what the fish was. Just a couple of feet closer and he would have his identification. A few inches more, an inch, and then, TWANG. With one last burst of energy the fish powered towards the deep water and snapped the businessman’s line clean. Close, but not close enough.
Back home and without an identification, witness or photograph, no one believed the businessman’s story. And that simply would not do. Not after all he’d been through.
The next Saturday he was back with better tackle and more bait. But wherever in the pond he tried, and whatever bait he used, nothing. Night bought no bites either, nor did the next morning. So the next weekend he came back again, and the next, and the next after that too.
Soon he found himself fishing the weekday evenings, and then during the weekdays themselves. His business began to dwindle, and then fail. He didn’t care, the demon fish had one over him and he needed to settle the score.
His wife told him he was becoming obsessed, she left him. That didn’t matter, the fish was more important. Soon the businessman was spending more time at the pond than anywhere else, all to no avail. Next he stopped sleeping, eating, all to give himself more time with a bait in the water. It couldn’t go on.
Eventually, sick with exhaustion, the businessman collapsed by the side of the pond. A dog walker found him the next day and, half-dead, he was rushed to hospital.
The demon fish had won.
Jack Croxall is an author and blogger living in Nottinghamshire.