She had been walking around the lake upon her return from work, a routine that had started to dwindle as the season changed. The forecast had been noted and heeded by the local populace, and the lake was empty of visitors around its edges apart from her. She almost felt like it existed for her and her alone at that moment, as if the body of water might cease to have substance were she to cease witnessing its being there.
Eulalia liked the rain, she liked the feel of it, found it refreshing in the warmer months, and hardly anything to fear in the colder ones. She did not carry or even possess an umbrella. An umbrella to her was an encumbrance; useless in an even moderate wind and more a contribution to than relief from inconvenience. But this time the rain came so suddenly and with such violent impact, Eulalia found herself hurrying for shelter beneath the covered seating of the currently closed Oaza. The rain hammered furiously on the roof, clamouring to find an aperture through which to leak. The ground threw up backsplash in liquid explosions that made Eulalia think of the fireworks she had heard the day of the sighting. And then, the memory jogger acting like an antecedent, the splashing upon the ground was joined by further splashing, more urgent, coming from the lake itself.
She knew, somehow Eulalia knew, that she would see the fish again at the very moment her eyes scanned the waters. And there it was. There it was.
As conspicuous and unmissable as if it were a permanent feature, the watery beast lolled upon the surface, surely less than a dozen metres from where she stood sheltering. Immediately she stepped forward, out from under the shelter, instantly drenched by water pummeling her with force enough to sting.
The fish rolled over and over, revealing a gargantuan body covered in scales that she saw now were iridescent. Over and over and around and around, it rotated its body as if dancing for her. And those colours, they were scintillating, opalescent, positively aglow as if there were light issuing from within the creature’s body. Those hues, coming in such rapid succession, ranged from azure to electric indigo, then from copper to robin egg blue. Just as she thought the repertoire was over, a new colour broke up the sequence, a vermilion of such brilliance, it seemed for an instant the fish was made of fire. And then it ceased its rotation, swam out into the centre of the water, then turned and headed back Eulalia’s way. As it came it seemed to come out of the water to such a degree, it was if the creature were floating just above the surface, though telltale trails of wake confirmed it was somehow still buoyed by the lake.
Eulalia, her clothes drenched, hair saturated, face agleam with streams of the downpour, had ceased to feel the rain at all.
The creature moved its enormous tail left to right, its body gracefully curving as it propelled itself along. She was struck by two things. The full glory of its seemingly all but fully surfaced form, and the scale of it, the sheer overwhelming volume of the behemoth. It was an impossibly beautiful, impossibly proportioned, monster.
Upon its head, unnoticed by her the last time she had seen it, a dorsal fin surely the size of a man in height was flanked either side by two smaller fins, like crests, like manes, resplendently decorative. Eulalia was uncertain of what practical usage they could be in the design of the great fish. These fins too sparkled as they underwent flash after flash of ever morphing tones. Partly it put Eulalia in mind of a Chinese dragon, though its movements were less sudden and it was more intricate and beautiful than any synthetic creation could ever be. The hornlike protrusions gave it an extraterrestrial aspect, above eyes of such depth and character, they seemed not in the least bit like they belonged on a fish. And they held her in their gaze, knowing, feeling, omniscient in their empathetic mesmeric depths.
A thought occurred to Eulalia, an idea had suddenly dawned upon her, and her hands were moving of their own accord, faster than her conscious mind in their understanding. She reached for her phone, for her digital camera.
The fisherman had advised her to keep the sight to herself. Said it was an omen. A good omen. Something upon which to make a wish.
But her wish had not borne fruit. She had gained nothing from listening to the fisherman, why should she heed his words now?
The fish was changing direction, turning away.
Eulalia’s hand snagged the phone inside her pocket, tried to wrestle it free of her coat.
The fish changed direction to face her one more time. In those eyes she saw something like disappointment.
She had the phone out. Hands shaking, she wrestled with the touchscreen, desperately trying to operate the camera setting.
The fish turned tail and started swimming away. It swam fast, astonishingly fast. And as it swam, its bulk started disappearing beneath the water again.
She aimed the camera as best she could in her haste. She started snapping. Photo after photo she reeled off, checking the creature was in frame as she did so.
The fish was making for the south bank, less and less of it visible above the surface now.
Eulalia ran in pursuit, desperately trying to get herself closer to the fading sight, holding the camera out in front of herself as she did so, unmindful of the torrential rain, clicking and clicking and clicking snap after snap after snap.
The fish was still in sight, even though it had now succumbed to the sasquatch/chupacabra/cryptid fuzzy blobbiness that keeps Animalia Paradoxa so deliciously arcane.
Eulalia was stumbling around the perimeter of the lake, keeping the thing in sight, keeping it in her camera’s winking eye. And now, now it seemed like it was turning yet again, this time coming back her way.
She sploshed to a standstill and urgently turned the phone to video record mode. She was hell bent on filming it as it swam toward her. Hello, Jednotka, this is that crazy bitch, you remember? Only this time I’ve got the scoop of the century.
And here it came, straight toward her, once more breaking the surface, parading itself, showing itself off in all its hypnotic splendour. Oh yes, my beauty, come to me. This is the perfect, perfect recording.
Eulalia’s foot came down awkwardly. Something had forced her to stumble. There was a jarring sensation in her back and the next moment her leg had given way. The momentum of her body kept her in forward motion and suddenly her balance was lost. She made a last bid to regain it but it only helped throw her off it more.
She felt herself tumbling over.
Instinctively she put out her arms to protect herself.
The camera was suddenly airborne.
Eulalia hit the wet ground with a splash and a splat. She was instantly winded.
There came the noise of something hitting the water with a splash.
The splash of Velky Drazdiak swallowing her camera whole.
No! No no no! NOOOO!!!
Immediately she righted herself, grunting for air, wincing at the pain that ran down her leg and back.
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