Fishing for Legends
I didn’t come to visit my hometown very often. The people here always seemed to believe that growing up together made friendships mandatory. That having a location in common meant more than opposing interests, or the fact that we’re all adults now with varying views on life, and different standards for relationships compared to when we were five. Back then you could make a fart sound with your arm pit and I was hooked to be your buddy, but now I needed a more compelling form of conversation. Things change and not everyone this town needed to know about it.
No, it was not the people that lured me back for a visit, in fact, they were the reason I stayed away for so long. I didn’t plan on staying long either. With less than a couple thousand people in this small town, news spread pretty fast. I would have to leave before anyone dragged me into the bar for a few beers and a game of catch-up.
What brought me back was the local lake. It was a man-made contraption, which made the locals lovingly call it “Dredger Lake” instead of by its more long-ass official name “Schwarzach-Valley Lakes for Relaxation and Recreation”. The lake was actually divided into three separate pools of water. The most popular section was the one made for swimming and fun. It had a beach, changing booths, and outdoor showers to rinse off the fish poop. It even had a restaurant that would serve delicious fries if you ate them before the wasps got you surrounded and asked where you thought you’re going with those tasty ‘taters.
The other two lakes were designed for fishing and nature preservation. Ironic, since I’m pretty sure they wiped out a decent part of nature to create it. They were all connected through some kind of stream; I knew that because I had the pleasure of a few fish sliding around my legs when I least expected it. But for the most time the fish stayed in the quiet waters, away from screaming children.
As I crossed the wooden bridge to the beachside of the swimming lake, I tried to remember the first time I heard about the “Dredgerdile”, our very own Loch Ness Monster.
It was all over the news. And by “news” I meant the local newsletter and some regional weekly papers. The story read like this: two fishermen were on their boat, scouting the lake for aquatic game when they came across something large in the water. Unsure of what could be so huge in such a relatively tiny lake, they started throwing rocks at it to scare it away. However, instead of fleeing from the attack, the creature swam towards the boat. Fearing for their lives, the fishermen went back onto shore, called the police and that one dude who was in charge of the animal control department. The fishermen believed this to be a crocodile, since it swam towards them after they threw rocks at it, instead of being scared off.
Now, they were out at the lake at night, which was the first I ever heard of people going night-fishing at Dredger Lake, but then again, I was never a fisher type, so I didn’t question it. This also explained why they didn’t get a good look at the creature. The same night, a search crew equipped with high-beams ran up and down the lakes to try and find the crocodile or anything that would fit the description. They found nothing.
This could have been easily brushed off as two drunk rednecks hallucinating in the dead of night, but somehow it caught traction with the earlier mentioned local news. After all, if not much happened in your small town, anything that seemed to have happened was newsworthy. And thus, the Dredgerdile became viral. There was no need for critical thinking. No one asked how on earth a full-grown exotic reptile could appear in some random farm-town surrounded by mountains in the middle of Europe and then disappear the same night without a trace. No, the mere thought of the possible loose crocodile on the dawn of a Sunday, the busiest day for recreational activities in this town, was enough to get people riled up. People were scared to visit the lake until they knew for sure that the Dredgerdile was dealt with.
I walked along the beach and was grateful for wearing shoes as I skittered along the gravel. As a kid, my feet were too sensitive for this kind of terrain. It was a big turn-off for me, but it was the only lake I was able to get to by bike. Maybe my bad experiences here piled up and developed into the grudge I now had against pools of water that weren’t surrounded by smooth tiles. That would explain why, as soon as I got my own car, I never came back here to swim with friends and visited the neighbouring city’s indoor pool instead.
I passed a few of the change rooms made out of logs and turned towards the trees and bushes at the back of the beach. A trail closely hugged by birch trees lead me along the outskirts of the lake and soon I would reach the fishing section. That was where the legend began and lived on in the back of the minds of all residents, even though the local government tried to shut the rumours down immediately.
It was the mayor’s statement that first attempted to discredit the fishermen. When the incident was first brought into light, the reporters didn’t question the witnesses involved. They were too eager to run the story, and maybe a little background research would not have hurt. I was sure a quick look into the high school yearbooks would have revealed all the necessary information to either reinforce the men’s claims or shut them down.
Since the press wouldn’t do it, the mayor probably thought he would have to take it into his own hands. After all, the money spent at the Dredger Lake was a big part of the town’s revenue, especially in the summer, and of course even more so on a beloved Sunday.
In an interview with one of the local weekly newspapers, the mayor made it clear that his hired forces didn’t just disregard the incident. They had taken measures to see whether it truly was a crocodile. Apparently they had set “sand traps” of some sort. If the animal was a crocodile, it would have left prints in the sand when it returned to shore. The mayor went on to say that there were no prints found and therefore they concluded that the creature in question must have been a catfish. He gave a short description on how a method of catfish “hunting” was to use bats to slam the surface of the water and thereby luring the animal closer to the boat. There was no addition on to what the next step would be in this method. Would they just whack the catfish with the bats until it was dead? Like I said, I was no fisherman.
With that explanation, the mayor thought to have filled all plot holes of why the animal swam towards the two men when they threw rocks at it, and added that the witnesses were “inexperienced” in their hobby. Catfish could also grow to impressive sizes, which on the surface of a lake in the middle of the night, might be mistaken for something with much sharper teeth.
That would have been the end for the Dredgerdile legend. A wrong interpretation from some wannabe-fishermen that lead to a brief panic but was resolved within days. Only a few things did not add up the way the mayor would have preferred to and the issue continued to come up.
I kept walking on the trail and passed the fishing lake. Through the birches, I could see two boats out in the water. So many years had passed since the sighting of the Dredgerdile that nobody cared any more. A crocodile of such a massive size would have been discovered by now. There was nowhere to hide for it without running into a human or leave some other kind of evidence. Dead or alive, if there was a crocodile in one of these lakes, eventually they would have found it. The problem was, they never found the catfish either.
The mayor’s statement produced public demand for another search, this time looking for a big-ass fish instead. They wanted his claims to be backed up by evidence rather, and when the search came out inconclusive, it caused a big rift among residents. People argued day and night about what kind of creature roamed the lakes but managed to stay hidden from the search teams.
How could they be sure it was a catfish if they couldn’t even find it? The lakes weren’t huge, and unlike a crocodile, a fish couldn’t flee onto shore, run through acres of farmland, and find refuge in the neighbouring town where it would start a family and write a book about its mistreatment at Dredger Lake. No doubt the mayor would have not been re-elected with that kind of bad press.
On top of that, during the initial search for the crocodile, the team claimed to have used high-beam lamps that illuminated the lake all the way down to the ground. Even if that big-ass fish was just taking a nap at the bottom of the lake, which wasn’t very deep either, they should have found it.
The fishermen, whose reputations were in question ever since the mayor’s statement, defended their original statements. While they couldn’t be absolutely certain it was a crocodile, they said it was definitely not a catfish. They also went ahead to call out the mayor for his own inexperience in fishing and that he couldn’t know better than them from just a few trips to the lake once or twice a month. From what I’ve experienced, to most members of our community, being called a lousy fisherman was the absolute peak of insults.
I reached the final lake at the end of my trail. It was intended as a nature preserve, but only to produce more fish to migrate into the fishing lake. A breeding pond would be a more fitting description. When I didn’t feel like swimming and walking on gravelly beaches, I came here to just enjoy the peace and quiet. This was where I have seen the creature of Dredger Lake, several weeks before the fishermen did.
Back then, parents didn’t care what their kids did late at night and where they went. Especially in a small town like ours. So there was no concern about me hanging out by the lake after sunset. That one evening, I was reading a book, leaning against the birch trees. Just when I was about to finish the last paragraph in chapter five, I heard a splashing sound coming from the lake. I looked up and could not believe my eyes. An enormous snake breached through the water’s surface. It shot straight up in the air and when I thought it would come down again, it spread two bat-like wings on each side and began to fly across the lake, summersaulting and looping around through the air like a dolphin playing underwater. I watched it slalom through the birch trees at the edge of the shore, effortlessly avoiding any sort of collision. It submerged back into the lake as quickly as it came out.
It took me a few minutes to process what just happened. I dropped my book and ran home, forgetting that I biked to the lake. I wanted to tell all my friends, but the more I thought about what I saw, the more I realized that no one would ever believe me. They would frame me a liar or that my imagination went out of control from reading all these damn books.
But I had to tell someone, so when I got home exhausted from that non-stop sprint, I ran up to my dad in the living room. He was watching a pre-recorded Formula One race and paused the TV to listen to my surprising story once I caught my breath. My dad listened to every word and didn’t interrupt me. In fact, once I was done, he ensured me that he believed me.
About every three to five years, I’d come to visit this lake in the hopes of seeing the creature again. I wasn’t trying to catch it or take video footage of it. Nowadays, you could fake such an encounter better than a real video would ever look. I had nothing to gain from this, other than to proof to myself that it was real. I needed to see it again to know that it really happened, and that I was not going crazy.
When my father first told me that he’d seen the creature, too, I thought he was messing with me. But before I even told him what it looked like, he described the same creature. He told me that it had been living in Dredger Lake ever since it was built. My father believed it to be a friendly spirit, a guardian of this man-made nature preserve, to ensure that it would be preserved indeed. He even heard its voice sing in the night when it flew across the lakes. I asked him why he never told me about it and he replied that he wanted to protect the creature so it could continue to protect us. He asked me to do the same. I honoured his request to this day. But the doubts were eating me alive with every passing year.
I followed the trail back, passed the fishing lake, passed the beach of the swimming lake, back across the wooden bridge, until I reached the parking lot. Another car just had pulled up and unfortunately I didn’t get into my vehicle before the man jumped out and greeted me.
“How’s it going?”
“Good, how are you?” I searched my pockets for the car keys.
“Pretty good. Nice weather and all.”
“Yup, yup.” I found the key and unlocked the door.
“Say, don’t I know you from somewhere?”
“Nope, I’m not from around here.”
“No, wait, I got it”, he said just as I was about to jump into my seat. “You’re that mayor’s kid.”
“Uh, no, Sir. I don’t know your mayor.”
“No, not from now, but from, oh what was it, fifteen years ago? Your dad was the only one who ran for two consecutive terms. I remember him well.”
“Right”, I sighed, disappointed in the highly accurate recognition levels of the locals.
“I heard about what happened to him.”
“I wonder when it all really started. Do you know?”
“With all that hearing voices?”
I jumped into the car and started the engine.
“And seeing things and what not?”
The tires swirled up a cloud of dust as I tried to get quickly out of the gravel parking lot. Why did it always have to be gravel here?
I did not need to talk about that right now, not with a total stranger. It didn’t matter that he recognised me after all these years. There’s a difference between recognizing and knowing someone; and he did not know me. He was not a close friend of mine or an old acquaintance. I did not owe him a private conversation. That’s not what I was here for; not for the people.
But what I came for was either long gone or never there in the first place.
Based on a true story
Don’t get me wrong, this is a work of fiction. But it is grounded in certain real events from my hometown back in Germany. The events resonated with me and I felt the need to compose a short story around them.
So, here are the facts:
There was an incident of fishermen thinking they saw a crocodile in our local lake that warranted a search for the reptile in the whole town
The mayor did release a statement that the crocodile was a catfish, even though they didn’t find the catfish either. He also called out the inexperience of the two fishermen.
This, however, put an end to the mystery, and eventually nobody cared anymore.
Here’s the fiction:
Everything else, basically. The mayor didn’t have schizophrenia and wasn’t my dad. Although, fun fact, including my actual father, all three of us share the same first name.
I changed the name of the crocodile because the actual one our town’s people decided on was stupid. We called it “Schnappi” as in “Snappy”. You might think this is based on the thing crocodiles do with their mouths, but no, that would have been acceptable on it’s own. It’s based on an annoying kid’s song that for some reason got insanely popular in Germany.
As a final note, here’s a link to the website of the actual lake and recreation where all of this went down. If you ever end up visiting this small town somewhere out in nowhere, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the legendary monster.