I used to go fishing with my father on occasion, when my mother made him take me with him.
For him, fishing was a solitary experience. Not so much communing with nature, but just being away from all the crap he had to deal with in everyday life. I think I was one of those things.
Still, in the interest of male bonding, we made a handful of these trips.
On one occasion, we stopped at a small roadside creek and sat just beneath the overpass. At the time I didn't think it odd, but now I realize this was probably a half-hearted trip he was taking me on instead of actually going to the ocean.
I barely knew how to operate a fishing rod, thanks in no small part to my father who barely taught me anything.
Still, I pulled my weight. I baited the hook no matter how bad I felt about spearing small creatures through the brain. I had even tied the hook on myself.
I didn't get any bites that day, at least not that I could feel - but I on two occasions during that trip I DID reel in... something.
On these two occasions, I found a small, pale, fleshy orb affixed to the end of my fishing line. The perfect sphere of pink, gelatinous goo glistened in the sunlight as it completely enveloped the bait and hook with no sign of how it had even grabbed on.
When I asked my dad what the things were, he shrugged.
"An organism," was his flat reply.
He would then cut the line and plunk the small orbs back into the water.
I feel like my father had purposefully understocked the trip so we'd have to end almost as soon as we began, because the bait ran out quickly.
Having caught nothing, and eager to impress dad and get ANY sort of reaction out of him, I decided to catch some of the glimmering, tiny fish that dances along the edge of the water, daring to taunt the dry land the creek lapped against. They'd make good enough bait.
I had my hand in the water for a few minutes. I could feel the fish slipping between my fingers, and it seemed like I just couldn't get a grip on them. My father laughed every time I clutched empty water, and that just made me more intent on succeeding.
Finally, I felt a fish's mouth actually wrap around one of my fingers. It must have thought the digit was a worm.
I drew my hand back with glee, only to have that sense of happiness quickly fall away.
There, on my pointer finger, was an organism.
The thing began sucking its way up my finger, from fingernail to knuckle, to the next knuckle, with alarming speed. It felt like someone was closing my finger in their fist.
I screamed in shock and revulsion.
The thing quickly stretched further up my finger, to the last knuckle. Now it was becoming more oval-shaped, and I felt my finger bones within its shapeless lack-of-mouth slowly and painfully separating.
The sound of popping joints and fracturing bone was accompanied by a high-pitched whine the thing was making, like someone squeaking a balloon.
It was then that I had the first sign that my father actually cared about me... that he loved me and wanted to protect me.
He held me down as I thrashed and screamed.
With a plunk, the organism went back to where it came. Finger and all.
Time passed. My hand healed. The relationship with my Dad was bad to begin with, so I guess that eventually returned to whatever it was. He did the necessary, minimal amount of buying my happiness and defending me when kids would get on my case for being "crippled".
Honestly, there are times I don't notice the missing digit. Don't get me wrong, the bitter reminder was there on many occasions and even now as I type this it's abundantly clear that I'm inhibited. Still, you find your own "normal". The mind and body adapt.
It was just under a year after this incident that there was a horrible drought. Farms fought to stay productive, wildfires were everywhere... and that roadside creek ran dry.
They... whoever THEY were... found something in the parched creek bed.
The local paper ran photos. There were several dried out, dessicated little orbs... shapes that were all too familiar to me from that horrible event I had been trying to forget.
They were front page news not because of what they were, but because of what they looked like.
Some had a single fish fin jutting out of their now leathery, dusty flesh. Others had three to five crawdad claws or jumbled clusters of crustacean eyestalks.
The one they were most interested in...
It looked like it was growing a human hand.
The reporters wanted to know what had caused this... if it was some unsettling, yet completely natural anomaly... or if the military camp up-stream had some strange connection to the things.
I didn't care about where they had come from, however.
With those fins... those legs... a hand identical to my own... Call me crazy, but I was more concerned about where they were planning to go.
I still wonder if some of them got there.