I usually don't put warnings on stories
as mine are all mild. But this one does deal with the mention of the brutal
death of a child. I tried to handle it in a tactful way.
This is dedicated to my dad and a little boy who touched his life when they met at a pond fishing. Dad told me about this boy while I was visiting last week and it made me want to write this. The pond they met at is named after the boy, but in respect to him, I didn't use his name.
By Audrey W.
Johnny set his tackle box down near the edge of the lake and glanced around at the beautiful scenery. This was his first real vacation in awhile and he was enjoying the great outdoors of Northern California.
As he set up his fishing rod, an old man in his seventies came wandering down the trail leading to the lake.
“Hey there, young man,” he said as he smiled and waved. “Any bites yet?”
“I’m just settin’ up,” Gage explained. “I’ve never been here before, but I heard from some of the locals that it’s great for fishin’.”
“Ah, yes it is.” The old man held out his right hand. “Jesse McDaniels. I’m one of the locals who love to fish here.”
Johnny reached out and shook Jesse’s hand. “John Gage, from LA County.”
“So you’ve never been here before, huh?”
“Not to this lake.”
Jesse smiled. “I come here as often as I can. Gives me a chance to be with my grandson Jarrod.”
Johnny looked in the distance behind the old man, expecting to see a boy come into sight. But there was just the empty trail. When Jesse noticed Johnny’s reaction, he set down his tackle box and rod, and began to explain.
“If you’re looking for Jarrod, you won’t see ‘im.”
“He couldn’t make it today?”
Jesse nodded. “He’s here. He’s always here.”
Gage was puzzled.
“I come here because it was his favorite place to fish and I know he’s still hanging around to keep an eye on Fred.”
Seeing his new friend from LA County was even more confused, the old man continued to explain. “A year ago we caught a big fish and Jarrod wanted to keep it. He wanted to take it home and get it mounted. But I told him there was even a more rewarding thing to catching a big fish. To turn it loose and see if he could ever land the big one again. That way there would always be somethin’ special about this lake that we could share between us.” Jesse sighed. “It became our game each time we were up here. And if we didn’t see ol’ Fred . . .that’s what we came to call our big fish. . . well . . . it was just relaxin’ to sit back and discuss what he might be doin’ at the time.”
Johnny remained silent, sensing Jesse needed to talk.
“Jarrod was always talkin’ about Fred while we were up here.” He looked out across the calm lake. “This is now Lake Jarrod, named after my fishin’ buddy.”
“What happened to your grandson, if you don’t mind my askin’?”
“Don’t mind at all. He was up here with his dad one day. . .my son went to get a cooler out of their car and left Jarrod here with the fishing gear. When he got back, the boy was gone. After searching the area for hours, a couple of Rangers found him about two miles away, tucked away in some bushes. Jarrod had been strangled.” Jesse shook his head as he swiped at the tears pooling in his eyes. “Ten years old, and someone took his life.”
Johnny didn’t know what to say. Murder of a child wasn’t a common thing and he hoped it never would be.
“I’m sorry,” Jesse said. “An old man rambling on.”
Johnny held up a hand. “No . . . no. It’s okay.”
“Well, you came here to fish and so did I. So let’s fish!”
The dark-haired paramedic smiled.
“Let’s see who can catch ol’ Fred today,” Jesse said.
“You got a deal.”
The two men finished setting up their fishing rods and spent the afternoon discussing how Fred was probably watching them, playing his game of keeping them wondering.
Back on duty, Johnny walked into the dayroom where the others on his shift were already gathered.
“Well, look who’s back!” Chet exclaimed, getting up from his seat at the table. “Man, has it been quiet around here without you.”
“With you still here?” Johnny snorted. “I doubt it.”
“Hey, how was the fishing?” Marco asked. “Did you catch anything?”
Gage nodded. “Yeah. I caught a big one.” He then smiled, thinking back to the day. “But I let it go back in the water.”
“You? Let a big one go back?” Chet scoffed. “Now that’s a fish tale if ever I heard one.”
Johnny scowled, then looked on to his partner who was sitting on the couch with Henry the Bassett Hound.
“How’d it go working with Brice?”
Roy moved the dog aside, then got up and walked over to Gage. “Same as usual. I wanna hear more about this fishing trip. You really threw a big one back?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“Why? Even if you didn’t wanna eat it, you could’ve mounted it or something.”
“Because this way, I can go back up sometime and try to catch him again.”
The men in the room exchanged puzzled looks as Johnny headed out of the dayroom and into the apparatus bay to wait for roll call. He felt good knowing he’d done the right thing by Jarrod when he let ol’ Fred go free in the water after catching him. Watching the fish swim away free and disappear into the lake was like seeing Jarrod there along with it. And he’d found a good friend in Jesse, the two of them planning to get together again when time permitted.
Gage strolled over to the open bay door in the front of the building and glanced up at the sky. Jarrod had touched his life through Jesse and Johnny would never forget either of them. He gave a thumbs up and winked.
“You’re still doin’ your thing down here, kid. Thanks.”