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a hook out of the fleshy part of his palm, he spat into the darkening twilight. He heard the gob hit
the river, reached for his bottle, poured just a tad on his bleeding hand and took another deep drink.
“The mist,” he muttered, “comin’ in fast.” He watched the fog creep from White Creek into the
main channel of the Wisconsin River. At night, the mist often collected around the river bottoms,
sloughs, and 600 foot bluffs that made up this section of the great United States. This night was no
different. The fog never rose from the great rivers. It always started in the backwaters and small
creeks that fed them. As the mist crawled over the banks of the tiny tributaries, it made its way down
to the rivers Wisconsin and Mississippi, just like it was doing this evening.
Walter knew this was going to be a very foggy night. He imagined the ranger at Wyalusing State
Park just south of Prairie du Chien, where the rivers ran together, had already radioed over to Iowa’s
Pike’s Peak State Park [named by Zebulon Pike who paused on his way west and figured he
wouldn’t get another chance to name any hill so high] and claimed that by midnight the tips of the
bluffs would be the only feature the stars would reveal.
Dipping his fingers into the bait pot, Walter grabbed another moldy cheese ball and stuck the
hook through it, correctly this time. Just love fishin’ for the Great Cat, he mused. Lots of big catfish
in the river, but not one worth catching except the silver beauty he had stalked since he was a kid.
Must be over a hundred and seventy pounds by now. Its silver skin shimmered luminescent in his
dreams. Like the mystical fish from the old country, Walter was sure the Great Cat would bequeath
him wisdom, but more importantly, would give him status with the folk in Tinker’s Grove. Catch
the Cat, he thought, and they won’t think me a loser no more. He was obsessed. Thus, the fishing
trip in the fog.
He figured he had about fifteen more minutes before he had to get off the river. Shouldn’t
really be here though, it being the entrance to White Creek and all. Everybody stayed away from this
place. Haunted, holy, whatever one wanted to call it, most folks stayed away. Unexplainable things
sometimes happened here. Bad things.
Not that he was afraid, mind you. Grandma Swift Deer, his foster-mama in the absence of his
real mother, God rest both, told him that memories as old as the hills clung to the land and water
around here. Earth and good old H2O were not ordinary in this part of the country. The water and
the land—they remembered. Not like people do with thoughts that dart about like fireflies on a hot
summer night. No sir. The memories were etched into the very landscape by Mother Nature, a
sculptor with the patience of time. Each raindrop, every track of an animal or human, even a sliding
pebble making its way to the river made its mark, and the place remembered. The southwest corner
of Wisconsin and the northwest parcel of Illinois had a memory that stretched back farther than any
of the lands in the northern United States. Walter remembered that from geography class oh so
many years ago. This part of the earth had never felt the last of the numbing glaciers that crept
across the northern states so long ago, wiping out the accumulated landscape of centuries like a
stroke flattens the face of its victim.
“Walter, you hear me now,” said the old Indian woman in Walter’s mind. In fact, he could
almost hear her voice whispering through the mist. “This land and the waters around it hold secrets,
and us poor humans that walk and swim barely know the stories they can tell, or the mysteries they
He chuckled for a moment, wistfully, remembering Grandma Swift Deer, last Winnebago
Indian in the tri-state area. Yep, thought Walter, she died when he was just eighteen. Sure do
remember her, sitting on her porch in Tinker’s Grove, signing postcards of her in her pretty bead
worked costume. Man, she looked ancient of days. But she always had an ear to listen and wisdom
Why that time she gave him some change to walk across the street to Mike Delahanty’s service
station, where the best soda pop in town could be found, she had some choice words for him. She
didn’t like him going over there; rather he had gone to the Burke Hotel. She thought it had a better
clientele. He didn’t think the same. Just a bunch of old toothless railroad men sipping coffee—Walt
the kid felt really out of place there.
Spitting in the river again, he remembered. Couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven, but
more than he hated the Burke or loved the service station’s ice cold Coke in bottles, he loved the
rattle snakes that Delahanty kept in a wire cage right in the same garage where the cars were fixed.
Always had six or seven Timber Rattlers hissing and striking and rattling. Cool stuff. He
remembered the mingled smell of oil and gas and musty reptile along with the fear smell of the mice
Delahanty had in a cage—lunch for the pets. Used to watch the help throw a mouse in, see it get bit
and roll in pain, and then get snarfed down by the biggest rattler. There was the day he reached in
and picked up one of the smaller snakes. Whipped out his knife and cut off the rattle. Old Mike
never saw. But the snake—why it looked at him with green eyes, if you can believe it, green eyes!
And he knew, even at that young age, what the rattler hissed. “Going to get you for that Walter
Johnson. Going to get you for that.”
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