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The Monster of Draždiak

Within twenty-four hours, what had seemed like such a liberating, divine spectacle now began to feel like a curse, a torment, and by the time she had closed up the shop for the day and begun her walk home, the familiar cloak of depression was felt folding its dark self around her shoulders, its thick impenetrable fabric getting heavier with every step.

Eulalia walked the same path as the previous evening, the path she had walked time and time again, a journey she knew like the back of her hand, a journey that now felt alien in its topography, or as if she were the alien outcast, the crazy woman with the medical records to prove it, not crazy enough to be committed, just cursed to spend her days as an outsider among the self-congratulatory sane.

The path led her back to Drazdiak, and she found herself at its banks faster than she had anticipated, the reverie of her thoughts having led to her operating on autopilot.

Eulalia circled the lake, just as she had done at around the same time the fateful evening before. She paused for more than half an hour at the spot she had seen the enormous fish, but it did not reveal itself again. Somehow she knew it would not.

Twice she walked the entire perimeter of the lake, its waters alive with over a dozen swimmers, along with a few paddling dogs. As she was making her final lap, she drew level with an angler, and decided to sit down beside him and enquire about what type of fish life there was to be found in the lake.

The fisherman was congenial enough, and did not appear to mind in the slightest as she sat herself down beside him, a plastic tub of squirming multicoloured maggots at their feet. The fisherman informed her he had been fishing where he sat for around fifteen years, on and off.

‘Tell me, please, what kind of fish can be found in the lake.’

‘Well, there are carp, of course. Trout. Catfish. Bass. A few pike.’

‘What’s the biggest fish that could be found here?’

‘Maybe catfish. Pike might grow to the biggest dimensions too. Depends on how much food they have access to as well, of course.’

‘What’s the biggest fish you have caught here?’

‘That would have to be a catfish, caught him back along, mind. Forty kilos, he was. As long as this from nose to tail.’ The fisherman spread his arms as wide as they would go, tipping her a wink in the process. Eulalia smiled, though had to force it a little. ‘Say, miss, you seem awfully interested in the fish here, and yet you don’t seem like the fishing type.’

She shook her head. ‘I was…just curious.’

‘Well, there must be something making you as curious as you are. Now you’re making me curious as well.’

‘What’s the biggest fish you’ve seen in the lake here? I mean, not caught, but seen. Seen breaking the surface?’

The fisherman held her in a weighty gaze, although Eulalia’s eyes purposely stared out across the water, avoiding his. ‘I’ve never seen anything bigger than that catfish I caught. Of course, there has been the odd mention of something really big in the lake. But I don’t hold much truck with that myself.’

He fished in his pocket and produced a battered pack of cigarettes. He stuck one in his mouth without offering any to Eulalia, and set about patting down his pockets for a light. Something about the way he did it looked staged to Eulalia, as if he were making a show for some reason. ‘Seems to me like you been and seen something yourself though.’ He found the lighter and brought the flame to the smoke, his voice matter of fact and seemingly only half-interested. But Eulalia believed he was now concentrating on whatever she would say next very carefully.

And so, throwing caution to the wind, beyond the point of caring what he thought of her in return, Eulalia told him, her recounting as faithful as she could get it, careful not to leave any detail unsaid. Though hesitant and cumbersome at first, the words soon began to flow, and her eyes shone as she finished her account, letting the words settle in the air, not pushing for a reaction either way.

‘How big did you say the fish was again?’

‘Ten of metres, it must have been. Maybe thirty metres.’

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