It felt like I had drifted into space.
As a kid, you think no darkness rivals the stars and their jeweled streams of atomic energy. You think space is the ultimate dream/nightmare, waging an eternal war of life and death on a cosmic level. Endless possibilities await you on the other side of an hyperspace engine or wormhole, but only if the vacuum doesn’t crush the condensation out of the lug-nuts holding your ship together like Legos. However, outer space isn’t the only place you need to travel to find the otherworldly begging to be noticed.
It was my first time fishing on Leech Lake in Northern Minnesota. The lake was large enough to erase all visibility from the horizon. You could stand at the end of the dock, which seemed like a squared tongue laughing, and strain your eyes at faded shapes. It looked like unfinished matter, like right above the water someone hadn’t completed the world. Trees, houses, and boats drifted apart. It was similar to in a video game when you reach the boundaries of a level, and the setting turns incomplete, like a stack of under developed photos.
You could tell there was too much water for the air to handle around the lake, it stunk of sour plants and stagnant waves. Boats buzzed back and forth like bugs on their backs. They left trails everywhere. Sound didn’t catch up too easily though, and everything seemed to be echoing across the lake. Thanks to a blueish lack of detail on the water, everything adopted this color. Rows of trees marked the edges of the lake as you traveled, but they seemed bored and complacent against the blinding majesty of the water.
Leech Lake was the first fishing trip I could remember with clear detail. I remember being shocked at the sheer amount of liquor being consumed by my uncle, grandfather, and father. They didn’t seem to sleep the entire trip, just fish and drink. Our first night there, they had a bonfire. We were staying in a cabin, a dusty relic from the 70’s, with rickety beds and stale pillows. I remember getting up at 4 am and looking out the window at the fire. It looked like those illustrations from prehistoric days where a bunch of cavemen are blankly staring at one another, like the mystery of flame had launched them into some sort of existential crisis.
In the morning, we went out on the lake with our little fishing boat, which looked like a toy against the waves. Blue was everywhere. You could almost smell and taste it, except the air actually stunk of fish guts and aluminum. Fishing on a large lake for a nine year old boy isn’t an easy task. You require skill and patience. These two traits aren’t synonymous with children. For most the day, between the howl of interrupted wind and distraught seagulls, I didn’t even get a hit on my line.
It wasn’t until we were ready to pull up anchor that something finally seemed interested. My rod bent over like the gravity had plummeted. My little hands felt like they weren’t attached to my wrists. My grandfather and father started to shout nonsensical instructions, which caused the fish to become even more annoyed. After about twenty minutes of getting pulled around the water like that scene in jaws, the rod loosened. The fish came up quickly, and without my family even helping with a net, I pulled the leviathan free from the lake bottom.
It felt like I had unplugged Leech Lake. The cork had been wrenched out, and we’d be sitting on a lake bed at any moment.
As it turns out, what I pulled out of the water looked like the gunge you clear out of a drain. It was long and narrow like a snake, only it had a belly to it, like something had permanently been digesting there. It had fins, though they were so serpent-like they barely separated from the body. A pattern of light brown blobs were painted across its scales, like bits of bacteria beneath a microscope. The fish was at least 10 lbs, which meant it was close to three feet long. I held the exhausted creature above the water for my family to see. I reached out and grabbed the white jig attached to its round jaw, which grimaced like a guilty child. Its eyes were a perfect black, like the type you see spinning just beyond the Event Horizon.
“An Eelpout?” My grandfather said.
“A big one,” My dad said.
Then, as if hearing its eel-like namesake, the Eelpout wrapped itself around my arm in a slimy vice. It coiled and thrashed around my arm like a living tempest. I remember the tickle of its violent tail beneath my screaming chin. It knew it wasn’t supposed to be there. Everything in its body fought against me. It felt like it was in my clothes, like it had been living beneath my skin and not the bottom of the lake.
I fell into the water.
It was like I was thrown into some sort portal or gate. A storm of bubbles rushed past me, and my consciousness quickly followed. I didn’t breathe in the water, but my body wanted to. I had to stay calm. The Eelpout shot away from me like a painted arrow. The fishing rod followed, an unhappy fiberglass extension being reluctantly pulled to the depths like a stubborn dog. In a few twisting moments it vanished into that dark blue gloom like it had never existed.
I blinked my eyes a few times to look for it. The water didn’t burn or sting. There, beyond my drifting fingertips, was a void. A limitless shadow, spread below the water that the sun couldn’t touch. I was in some sort of purgatory, drifting between two worlds separated by the hull of a boat. It was pure nothingness. Oblivion was just waiting, not amongst the stars, but here on earth. The endlessness made me panic, and I quickly scrambled upwards towards the bits of sky reflecting against the surface.
I couldn’t stop thinking, as my family reached for me in the water, how many worlds were there on this earth of ours?