Wrinkled hands, spotted by an age of outdoor living, reeled in the line. The fisherman squinted as he watched his line dart across the rippled and sun-dappled surface of the pond. He pulled back. The reel squealed. His fishing pole bowed into a steep curve. The tip pointed outwards and flicked around as the line moved.
Something leaped in the water about twenty feet from the shore. Something big. It shined a multifaceted reflection of golden sunlight.
“Ha! You’re a big one, ain’t you? C’mon baby. Don’t fight it.” He held his breath and let out a little slack, worried the line would break from the strain.
The reel whined as the fish ran out towards the center of the pond. Once the line stopped moving, the fisherman inhaled and pulled back on the pole again. The fish struggled, but not quite as hard as before.
“That’s right. C’mon over here baby.”
The fish gave up the fight, and he was able to reel it in. He bent down among the reeds lining the muddy shoreline and reached into the water to pull out the bass. It was the strangest bass he had ever seen. It was as golden as sunlight; it reminded him of how his wife’s blonde hair had shimmered back when they were still young and used to swim in this very pond.
He reached down to grab the fish by the mouth.
“Excuse me.” The fish said.
The man fell back on his rump. Reeds and mud cushioned his fall, protecting his fragile hip (it had just been replaced six months ago). “What the –“ He pulled his pole up and began slamming it against the fish.
“Ow! Cut it out! Damn it! Stop it!” the fish screamed.
The man began to yell himself now. “Dang demon! What the hell!”
The fish tried to swim away, but could not. The line was tangled among the reeds. The hook was caught in its lip. “Stop it, old man! I can grant you wishes!”
The man paused, his pole held up above his head. “Wishes, huh?”
The fish looked at him and nodded its head by contorting its body. Scales glistened. “Yes. Three wishes. That’s how this thing normally works, right?”
The fisherman shook his head. He thought to himself that he needed to check the side effects of his new cholesterol pill. He could not remember the warning label saying anything about talking fish.
“So?” The fish looked up to him expectantly. “What’s your first wish?”
The old man thought about his wife, he thought about his kids and grandkids, he thought about the warmth of the sunlight beaming down against his bare scalp and soaking into the t-shirt on his back, and he paused to listen to the songs of grasshoppers and cicadas. He shook his head and began beating the fish once again with vigor.
“I don’t need you, demon. I gots all I need!”
Shining scales littered the pond. Like rising ghosts, steam filtered up from the dissolving golden flecks along with the smell of corruption.
The fisherman nodded his head, spat into the water, packed up his tackle, and turned towards home. He smiled. He knew his wife would be waiting on the front porch with a smile and a nice glass of iced tea.