The fly drifted gently downward through the air, the graceful arc of its movement broken by the surface of the stream below. Circle within concentric circle rippled outward from the point of impact, merging and eventually disappearing amongst the other disturbances which warped the river’s glassy exterior. The fly landed on its side, but was seized by the current and quickly righted itself, soon becoming one with the movement of the tea-tree stained waters, just another piece of tiny debris captured by the coastal stream. The boy watched and waited. There was no rise. There was no strike. Reluctantly he began to retrieve the floating line, the whirrs and clicks of his reel disrupting the monotony of forest sounds with the harshness of mechanical precision. The boy sighed, another unsuccessful cast completed, and jerked the rod back with a sharp movement of his right forearm, both line and fly sent high into the air as the process began once more.
It had not been a successful day. The pair had set out early in the morning, before even the sun had risen, and tiredly navigated the ocean-side road for what seemed like an eternity (but was probably no longer than an hour). When at last they came upon the river’s mouth, their eagerness to begin was such that they blindly stumbled through the campsite which straddled the waterway, waking in their haste a number of holiday-makers who failed to see the same amount of humour in the matter as did the boys. They made swift progress along the rocky track which followed the winding stream, and after thirty minutes’ hiking through the chilling tendrils of morning mist, they had reached a favourite location and begun fishing.
Now, though, it was growing late, and regardless of several changes of location and lure alike, they had struck no luck at all. The highlight of the day had been the repeated sighting of a platypus, which inquisitively followed their movements up and down the rocky tributary, seemingly mocking the boys by catching two small brown trout itself. And whilst one of the two had maintained an enthusiastic (if artificial) mood for the day’s entirety, the other had opted for the more downtrodden reality of the situation, his muttered grumblings now almost as constant as the teasing splashes of the fish which refused to bite.
His pessimistic disposition was compounded by the fact that he had earlier lost his favourite lure to the overhanging eucalypts and tea-trees. Their soft, wispy foliage had been the source of much frustration not solely to they, the taller boy noted, as he jumped high to retrieve a tangled mesh of discoloured line, remnants of a cast gone awry, from the lush greenery above. Working swiftly, knife in hand, he salvaged what little rusted tackle he could from the brittle, weathered mess before disposing of the useless line into his green canvas bag.
The fly landed once more on the icy waters, its decidedly more violent impact reflecting the deteriorating patience of its caster. Yet as it started its familiar voyage downstream, the boy noticed that the ripples which now disturbed the watery reflections of surrounding flora did not pertain solely to his lure’s crude impact. He glanced upward at the increasingly hostile sky, his worries confirmed as several droplets of rain met his disheartened face.
The reaction of the pair to the imminent downpour was hurried and urgent, not so much for fear of dangerous consequence, but rather from desire to abandon the river which had so completely defeated their endeavours. They promptly began the return hike, each aware, but not yet concerned, that they were half an hour from safety in potentially troublesome territory.
The forest in a storm inherits a different ambience. There is no longer the welcoming call of the bird, nor the gentle rustling of the leaves, but rather the consuming sound of the wet all around. The light comes not from above, instead seeming to radiate arbitrarily from the drenched surrounds, and all signs of life are suddenly vanished, leaving nothing but the overwhelming wet from all directions. An overwhelming, yet eerily lonely, wet.
The storm’s first lightning strike was so close to the boys that the noise alone shocked both into leaping from the rocky path, and one into losing his footing upon a shaky landing. Thunderous echoes reverberated off the surrounding cliff-faces and mountain walls, and periodic flashes illuminated the forest with a glow that insinuated alien movement amongst the scrubby surrounds. The boys came to a halt, lowering their rods so near to the ground that when they moved on the tips brushed and clipped the rocky path; the desire to protect their fragile graphite tools was now superseded by a desire not to attract the attention of the electrical blazes above.
The boys pressed onward through the now foreign environment, each becoming more apprehensive with every step that led him blindly onwards, yet neither game to admit his angst. They did not speak it, but a far greater (and decidedly more irrational) concern than that of the lightning began to devour the pair. The mind is dreadfully wonderful when it comes to terrifying its owner, when given the time, through mental idleness, to wander over all those horrifying thoughts and images which it alone knows has the ability to mortify. Trudging along, heads down, each boy’s mind was set free to explore its suppressed cavities of fear. Perhaps they should have forced conversation, if only to cease these awful journeyings through past terrors. But instead they just continued on in silence, held captive by their brainchildren of fright. And all the while the cracks of thunder deafened the hapless two, the ghostly blazes of light suggesting, but never confirming, the presence of someone, or something, other than they – hiding, and always just out of sight, in the ubiquitous, and increasingly petrifying, wet.
The smaller and more pessimistic of the two boys was hit by the final lightning strike of that violent storm. The lightning, his friend would later recall, had originally struck high in the forest canopy before spilling down into the tip of the boy’s rod, which he had momentarily raised in a reflex action to maintain his balance on the ever more problematic path. The boy was launched from his feet by an impossibly powerful blow which slammed him into one of the dense walls of vegetation enclosing either side of the trail. There he lay slumped on the rocky, unstable ground which now pulsed with the trickling of fresh water. His impact left a temporary indentation in the closely packed intertwining of branch and leaf where he struck, but it was quickly swallowed up by the pliable, adaptable strands of undergrowth.
The boy’s rod had been sent high into the air by the same invisible force, and now, lodged in the branches above, it dangled precariously from the very same foliage that had earlier captured his favourite lure. Its tip swung back and forth with the dying breezes, remnants of the passing storm, and cut pendulum-like lines through the surface of the crystal river. The reel had been melted beyond function, and spools of line fell freely and gently to the water below, silently drifting downstream on the current. The fly, still attached to the damaged line, bobbed up and down as it navigated a gauntlet of eddies and rapids. In the background, a boy lent over his dazed companion, helping him to his unsteady feet, stumbling, trembling, sobbing, but alive.
Eventually the uninjured boy began to gather the pair’s scattered belongings. He searched far from the strike with some success, retrieving singed bag and tackle-box, both flung great distances from the incapacitated boy. He was turning back to his friend when he caught sight of the contorted rod hanging over the water’s edge. Leaping high again, he loosed the deformed reel from its leafy captors and began to pull in the line which had extended some way down the placid stream. He reclaimed the line by hand, as the reel was beyond repair, but hesitated as he encountered some resistance, stopping to determine just why it was refusing to return without event. A foray of sharp pulls from the opposite end answered his uncertainty, and he hastened his retrieval to find at the line’s end a thrashing rainbow trout, deceived at last by the lightning-altered lure which had glided so accidentally downstream.
He stared into the face of the stunned trout, usually a moment of triumph, now seeing only an echo of the terrifying blankness and lifelessness which had engulfed his friend just minutes earlier. He held the fish longer, and it opened mouth and gills wide in a futile attempt to acclimatise to the deadly atmosphere. Finally he lowered the trophy which he had been seeking all day long back into the cool waters, not releasing his grip until the fish recovered enough strength to kick clear and glide off into the safety of the depths below.
The storm clouds overhead had passed as quickly as they had gathered, and the late-summer sun now glistened welcomingly from every droplet in the drenched forest.
The boy returned to his shaken friend, and, placing a hand gently on his back, the two began the slow walk home.