Gerald Cummings and his friend of thirty years running, Sammy Dodger, had left the cabin early this morning, heading towards Lake Ponder in hopes that their early rise would catch the wide-mouth bass and croppy off guard. It was a beautiful morning, the air dry and mild, and the horizon a canvas of new morning colors, orange and dark purples, spread out like oily patterns in the sky. The old pickup came to rest several yards from the bank. Gerald threw himself excitedly out from the driver-side of the pickup and grabbed his tackle and rods, while Sammy unloaded the cooler, filled with light beer and bait, from the back of the truck. Their rubber boots squelched in the mud, still wet from a late-night rain, as each made his way to the bank where dark waters awaited them. The two friends prepared their rods, bating their hooks, with fat healthy looking meal worms, and chatting up a storm about who would reel in the bigger fish. Sammy cast his hook deep out into the waters, reeling the line slowly to garner attention of nearby fish. Gerald, a self-proclaimed reel master, waded out into the water waist deep, and then cast his rod towards a shallow bank in hopes of luring skimmers.
"Did I ever tell you about the time I caught a red-mouth around this time of morning? Son of a bitch weighed close to 30 pounds and 'bout damn drowned me for my efforts!"
"I doubt that. Your ego alone would have kept you afloat."
Gerald eyed him, threatening his next cast to hook an ear, turning his attention back to the end of his line, feeling it tug against his reel.
"Think I might have a bite." He said.
Gerald tugged at the rod, pulling up towards him as he reeled, feeling the hook catch.
Once his rod jerked him forward, he knew that whatever he had caught was big, pulling the end of his rod like a weather cock caught in a tornado, his reel grounded out and he could feel his boots beginning to slip in the mud below.
"Whoa! This bugger is not going down without a fight. Hey, Sammy, some help over here!"
Gerald flashed his friend a quick look. He stood with his back turned to him and his arms drooping at his sides, the look on his face unknown but clearly concentrating on the water just in front of him. Gerald fought with his catch, calling out to Sammy without any luck, concern growing for his friend. Was he having a stroke or heart-attack? Gerald dropped his rod and waded through the water towards him. Gerald moved within four feet from Sammy when he noticed it mixed in with driftwood and debris of long forgotten storms.
"Do you see it?" Sammy whispered.
It protruded out from the water, partially covered in mud and algae, bent and twisted as though it had been caught in a whirlwind, fractured and petrified and reaching upwards towards heaven.
"What in God's name..."
"It looks like a wing." Said Sammy, his voice cracking beneath the words.
It reminded Sammy of the time he laid eyes upon his first dead goose, which stuck with him for the rest of his life because of how he had stumbled upon it, lost in the corner of a pond that rest behind his father's factory, the fowl floated lifeless and bloated towards one side like an abandoned shipwrecked tanker, with its singular filth ridden wing outstretched as though its last moments were in merciful begging of someone's attention. This wing however was much bigger than a goose, or any known bird of feather. It was otherworldly. More frightening than this was what the morning sun brought with its removal of the last remaining shade, confirming the impossible.
"It can't be!" Said Gerald.
He took a few cautious steps closer, eyeing the water around him, fighting his mind that was certain something would at any moment jump up from the murky waters and snatch them both.
"Looks like it has been here a long while."
"Too long." Said Sammy. His voice now somber and his temperament more mournful than cautiously afraid like Gerald, "What should we do with it?" He asked.
"I bet we could fetch a pretty penny with one of those tabloid papers."
Sammy found that spark of curiosity inside him that motivates one to do things they would not normally do or say, wading past Gerald, he found himself next to the wing, his hand inching out to touch it.
"Don't touch it!" Gerald cautioned.
Sammy eyed the broken wing. Once, he imagined, when life still flowed through it, plush with large white feathers that spread like a peacock's tail, great battles that took place on both land and air. Mythical battles depicted in biblical books and in stories by preaching clergy, surrounded by their worshippers that told of great bravery and greater sacrifice. Sammy was struck by the imagery his mind displayed, considering his faith in the subject were non-existent, his stomach ached and his head pounded by how sudden and surreal it all was.
He removed his hand, shaking ancient memories from mind, throwing his hand up in cautionary pause.
"I'm fine. Don't come any closer!" He said.
"I'm calling the police." Gerald said walking back towards the bank for the pickup where his cell phone was located.
He waded quickly to the banks, turning back to Sammy who was still mystified by their discovery, reaching the pickup. He knew that more fishermen would be arriving soon as this was a popular fishing hole, and he did not want to share in whatever rewards would come with such an enormous discovery. He found his phone in the driver-side visor and flipped it open. He anxiously awaited for someone to answer at the other end, keeping his eye on Sammy who was still out in the water with the wing, when he noticed something else.
"Lake Ponder Sheriff's office." A woman's voice answered.
Gerald squinted his eyes, lowering the visor to block out the sun, gazing up along the tree that shadowed the area where Sammy stood. There, wedged on a large naked branch, lay what could only be a body, limbs twisted and broken, mostly decomposed, lost to the world like a forgotten piñata. The tree was healthy and mostly full of leaves, except for where the body lie. Had it not been for the dead spot in the tree and exposure from the sun, he would've surely missed it.
"Hello? Is anyone there?"
Gerald closed his phone. Later, he would question himself about his next move. But, for now, he considered how lucky he truly was being here at this moment at this time. He had come to fish for game and instead of reeling in a fish, he had caught fortune. The wing aroused a fear in him not felt since his combat days, adrenaline driven sweat beading across his wrinkled forehead, forging an Instant Riches scheme in his head, pushed out from the pickup, inspired by the skeletal remains of a being far from human and its broken wing partially submerged in the shallow waters below. Gerald's heart raced, his eyes swelled with insidious fury brought on by a force unfamiliar to him. His legs moved him towards Sammy, stopping at the bank, kneeling by the tackle box first to retrieve his old combat knife used to cut fishing line and fish hooks from the mouths of fish. His heart increased in beat. The fear overwhelmed him now, realizing these actions were not his own, but the actions of another.
When he attempted to speak, his words went no further than his own consciousness, as though her were thinking to himself rather than screaming them, to warn Sammy that something was seriously wrong, that he was no longer himself. Oh god, he thought as he entered the water, what am I going to do? "Would you get a load of that," Gerald said, pointing up towards the tree.
Sammy turned his head, seeing Gerald point upwards above him. He turned and looked up, met by a torn and ragged arm draped over a large branch, with skeletal fingers swaying just enough in the wind that Sammy wondered if it were alive. This, combined with the broken wing, cemented the fact he was part of history, part of something that will forever change the landscape of humanity, with one quick flick of his wrist it would be his alone to cherish.
"Gerald. I think we need to call the authorities, man. Whatever that thing is, it is way beyond you or me." He said beginning to take two steps back.
Sammy felt the resistance at his back, the words spoken in his ear, "Beyond you maybe." and then pressure against his throat as one arm coiled around his neck like a snake, pulling his head upwards, cutting off his air. He grabbed at the powerful arms, fingers digging into flesh trying to pry himself loose, fighting the urge to faint and cope with the reality of what was happening to him. Sammy threw himself forward, trying to gain leverage over his attacker by hoisting them up in the air, reeled back in by powerful arms that he had witness many times, during tournaments, adding an element of terror never before felt. In the struggle, Sammy lost his slight grip on the choke-hold that allowed Gerald to lift his head back against his left shoulder, freeing his hand to take hold of the serrated combat knife, fighting futilely to stop his right arm from moving out in front of Sammy, the morning sun glimmering along the blade, slipping it under his left ear.
"Wrong place, wrong time!"
Sammy felt the prick of the blade pierce his skin and sever his larynx in half, warm blood gushed sprayed from the wound and rushed down and over his sport vest, his bladder emptying as his lungs began to collapse under the weight of his own death here in this pond, by the hands of his life-long friend who fought just as hard as he had himself to try and stop it. The body fell limp into Gerald, who eased it down into the water, pushing it beneath the surface, eyeing his prize that rested above him.
Gerald could not help but notice how heavy a waterlogged body was, dragging it hastily across the bank, always keeping a watchful eye on any approaching traffic, contemplating his next move and trying to ignore the voice in his head. The voice that belonged. The voice that mourned for his fallen friend. The voice that wanted nothing more than to wake up and see that this had all been just a terrible dream. It felt to him like a movie, witnessing the grotesqueness of it all, knowing what was coming but keeping it to himself so not to spoil it for anyone else. Powerless to stop what was happening, Gerald tried to recollect how it all started. To even think his plan was to wake up this morning and ultimately kill his best friend in cold blood was simply inconceivable. He loved Sammy like a brother. He fought with him in two wars. Each of them were the other's best man at their weddings. He had come here to Lake Ponder to fish. The both would leave in the morning and return to their homes with their wives and grand-children
He stopped. The mud beneath his feet was soft and squelched easily under him. He had come to a point along the bank where lake water met brush, which, combined with rising waters and hot summer days, forged mud huts. Hollowed out crevices beneath the ground where a network of roots entangle and jock for positioning making the perfect mating ground for croppy, and a perfect place to stash a body long enough to get what he had come for. The entity controlling Gerald came without fear, without regret, without remorse. Devoid of any human emotion, which allowed it to so easily take control of Gerald, capitalizing on the one mortal flaw that almost always allowed demonic possession to occur: Greed. Satisfied with his burial, he hurried over to the broken wing, plucking it from the mud, holding it out in front like he was sizing up a shirt for a fit. He was surprised by how sturdy the wing was, expecting it to crumble in his hands, knowing how long it had been there, fossilizing into stone instead of decomposing like all other things.
Now he remembered. It was the moment he noticed it. He had turned to Sammy, fighting the incredible force yanking the end of his fishing line, spotting the broken wing in the water, what it symbolized; a mythical artifact that brought to the surface everything he believed as a child and a man. That is when he felt the jolt in his hands. A tingling that went unnoticed by a rush of adrenaline, which he did not realize how deadly a discovery it would be, until now. He looked to his hands, blackened and blistered as though they had been plunged into flame, the cuffs of his sleeves stained red with Sammy's blood, attempting to will them into the water so that he could wash away his sin. The long nightmare continued, retuning to the pickup for his phone, setting his prize in the passenger side. He dialed a number, expecting it to be the police, praying for it to be the police. It rang several times and finally, "Who is this?"
"Flesh is nothing more than a vessel for the soul," he began. "The soul is infinite. You should now this better than anyone," Gerald heard himself say, "It was only a matter of time before some monkey came snooping around and you know what happens to curious monkey's don't you, John?"
There was a long pause. Then the voice belonging to "John" calmly stated, "Enjoy your time here, for I will be ushering you back to hell very soon."
Gerald then heard a thunderous roar emit from his belly, echoing across Lake Ponder, unsettling perched birds from treetops and dispersing resting geese nearby. It was then Gerald knew, with a great sense of relief marred by guilt, that it was not he who killed Sammy, but something far more nefarious and selfish with human life. The demon looked into the rear-view mirror, half a smile dictating who was in control, and reminded Gerald that, come what may, he was nothing more than a soul without a place in this world now.
"Ah, you have come to peace with this? Good. It makes things easier for me. Although, you should know that I could've chosen any one of you. Your friend, however, doubts whereas you rely solely on faith alone. It is for this reason I chose you; your faith, allows us to transcend realms, even in a state of death. I tell you this for I want you to know the truth in which your mortal curiosity strives for, knowledge of an afterlife and hope that you've done enough to dwell there. Your answer is, yes. The afterlife holds a place for you. For us all. Even the monkey whose throat I slit, will be there, waiting for you, to cherish in all that you desire. Does this truth make you happy?"
It did. Gerald could not shadow this. The demon was inside him. It knew his thoughts and desires. It knew everything about him. It was him. Relief was different in death. Unlike in life, his relief did not express itself in the form of an exhale or nervous laughter. It was an intangible mutation that comforted his soul, like the chemical reaction of a solid changing into a gas only to be replaced by a growing hatred for his unwanted visitor whose grin grew large in the mirror as he said, "Because it is all a lie." And with this admission, Gerald felt himself fade away. He cursed the demon with his last conscious moments, and this pleased the demon so. Picking at his teeth in the mirror, he made a sucking noise with his mouth and then laid back peacefully in the seat. He eyed the tree and the shell that was once his body, considering his next move.
He dug in the visor for the keys, starting the pickup and throwing the gear into reverse, backing out onto the dirt path that would lead him back to the highway. He switched on the radio, adjusting the tuning knob, finding a song that had always brought a devilish smirk to his face. It was the Rolling Stones, "Sympathy for the Devil" that had fit the occasion beautifully, overtly used in every situation one could imagine that involved demons or anything hellish of nature. He simply could not help himself. Cranking the volume as loudly as it would go, he placed his hand upon the broken wing, content with possessing an advantage over his enemy that he did not have before. His fingers drummed along the steering wheel, lips pursed together whistling along with the song, plotting and scheming how to go about his wicked ways.