The following tale, “Legend of Rockface,” can be found in Ivy Love Brown’s short story anthology, Mr. Lotman.
“WHAT I’M ABOUT TO TELL YOU AIN’T NO TALL TALE. It’s true. Every line. I’ve fished this here water my whole life. I’ve seen every bit of ribbon that is the Tennessee River. I know these Tanasi waters like the back of my reeling hand. I’m a master navigator of the blueways. I bleed blue. You could say fishing is my religion. I know where to go catch and where not to. I can winnow out a minnow as good as the next, but if you’re gonna fish these waters son, then, you need to learn ‘em, too. I need to teach you ‘bout the dangers. As a fisherman, I have learned not to disturb the balance. Consequences come to those that do. The Cherokee knew that. They knew that the water was sacred. It’s the bringer of life, but, it can also be the bringer of death.”
He looked out at the waterfront.
“It’s a two sided coin.” I half closed an eye.
“There is a creature left over from the time of the dinosaurs that protects it ─ a catfish.”
“A catfish? Left over from the time of the dinosaurs?” The boy burst into laughter. “Ha! That cain’t be true.”
“It’s true alright.”
“But they’re extinct! They all died out a long time ago…” he insisted.
“Most did, but some didn’t.”
“You sure ‘bout that?” my boy asked, squintin’ like I do.
“Sure as sugar,” I replied, somethin’ sweet liftin’ my eye.
“How’d it stay alive this long then?”
“How does any catfish live fer as long as they do? It’s a mystery.”
“Is he big Daddy?” my boy asked.
“He’s big alright.”
“How big is he?” my boy asked.
“Bigger than a VW Beetle.”
“How much bigger?” he fished.
“He’s ‘bout as big as the yellow school bus you ride. Maybe bigger,” I added.
“Good gravy!” he said whopper-jawed. “Does this monster catfish have a name?” he asked flabbergasted.
“Well, what’s he called then?” the boy impatiently asked.
I glanced over at him while slow trolling my line. “He’s called Rockface,” I said taking my time. I eyed him with the stern squint of my lazy eye. I had an expression of face that always looked like I was staring directly into the sun.
We set for a few minutes, reflecting in the boat, looking out at the surface water. The name Rockface seemed to echo, reverberating in his questioning mind like wake off a fast boat.
“Rockface? What kinda name is that?” my fair haired boy wondered aloud.
“It’s the kinda name you get when you sit for almost forever. With his eyes shut, he looks just like a rock, hence the name. He lives at the bottom base of the Fort Loudoun Dam. He stays asleep most the time. Except when he’s hungry. When you hear the siren sound, you can be sure Rockface is opening up his mouth. He knows that sound means it’s dinner time. He depends on those generators to bring him his feed. If you’re not careful, he’ll suck you in.”
He looked at me, my boy, with big golly god eyes.
“So, you better not be in the water then,” I said squinting a keystone. “Don’t swim here. Alright? Best not to swim anywhere in this water at all, actually.”
I casted out again. We were sitting in some pretty steady water. I looked over at him.
“It’s not safe. Understood?”
He just nodded.
“Not this close to the dam that is. Looky here! He’s ornery. Don’t let his size fool you. Just because he’s big, doesn’t mean he’s slow. That mud cat’s quicker than hot grease out of a skillet. Watch it now, his jaws clamp tight as a trap. Not to mention those poisonous whiskers he has. Let me tell you what, he’d paralyze you before you’d even knowed you were stung. And I just don’t think I could take that. I’d be deep in the wallow-well for sure if anything ever did happen to you.”
He thought about this a long minute, then started to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Nice try Daddy, but I ain’t skeered! I don’t believe you and your fish tale.”
“Nope. Not one fin.”
“It’s been a coon’s age since I last saw you,” Game Warden Jim called out.
“Been a few moons,” I agreed.
“Howbeit?” Warden asked.
“Not exactly top of the totem pole.”
“I can understand that,” said Warden.
“Can you?” I asked matter-of-fact.
He didn’t reply. He looked up at the sky for answers. Reckon he didn’t know what to say. Who would?
“Nearabout cain’t find you anymore, Wade Atwater,” declared Warden.
“Cain’t never could…”
“Heard that,” said Warden.
“How you been Jim?” I asked pulling myself back to the present.
“Fair-to-middlin’ partly cloudy.”
“Any chance of rain?” I asked.
“Possible,” he forecasted.
“Fishin’s always best before the rain─” I said trailing.
“I didn’t know you still fished this honey hole,” he mentioned after a moment’s grace.
His words drew me back.
“Not fer a long time.” I cut a clean caliber over the calm crown of topwater. “Me and my boy used to come here and sit. Keller Bend. Reminds me of him─”
“Didn’t know you still fished at all actually,” admitted Warden offhand. His words, once again, brought me back.
“What can I say? My hand’s a reel.”
“Wade? I want you to know I tried my absolute best to find him. I swear I did. I had all my men search. Dredged this entire lake. I sent in several groups of divers, too. Looked plumb ever’whur. Never did find anythang. Not nothin’.”
My eyes burned on the water.
“Awefullest thing. I cain’t tell you how sorry I am that we didn’t find the body. I always felt bad about that.” He shook his head.
“It’s not your fault. Cat got ‘em.”
“He was sittin’ cattywampus. My boy thought he was asleep. But, he was just playin’ ‘possum. There’s no body to find,” I aired while casting out. “Rockface ate him,” I said with bated breath as I set the rust hardened hook deep into the jaw of a big one.
Visit Ivy Love brown’s website where you’ll find she is “native to Florida, is an emerging author in East Tennessee, home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Greatly influenced by her dual time spent around the ocean and the mountains she was inspired to write.” Her stories are captivating and she weaves endings that haunt the mind well after reading them. Visit her website and follow her on Facebook.
**Featured Image: “Photo of a broken-hearted-man on the shore of a foggy lake” – pixyorg