Happy Halloween! The fourth and final chapter of The Tale of the Haunted Muskie was written by Lisa Waldner, a mother of two who manages a moving company in Worthington, Minn. All unedited submissions for Chapter 4 are available to read, including an imaginative conclusion by 8th grader Riley Roberts of Rosemount. You can also read the four-chapter version I wrote at the start of this serial. (Had to be prepared in case nobody offered entries, but that turned out to be unnecessary!) Thanks to all of you writers for offering your imagination for this children's ghost story.
THE TALE OF THE HAUNTED MUSKIE
CHAPTER 1, published Monday, Oct. 10: Once every October, Charlie Jackson’s family drove north to an old smelly cabin on Lake Belle Taine. There was something very familiar – very boring – about the trip. It usually followed the fourth or fifth call from Charlie’s principal. This time, Charlie’s mom and dad were so fed up, they barely let him talk the whole four-hour drive.
“Mom,” Charlie protested, “You don’t understand. If I didn’t pull the fire alarm, the whole school was going to explode!”
His mom, Wendy, didn’t respond. The only noise was the muffled music from his big sister’s headphones.
“Another classic story from the bone-brain,” Lisa shouted.
The car rolled into the town of Nevis, like it did every year. His father, Bill, started walking into the local gas station, like he did every year. But then he turned around, like he did every year.
“Lisa,” he said, “watch your brother. Charlie, stay in that seat!”
Nevis was boring for a 10 year old like Charlie – well, almost boring. Across the street from the gas station was a giant fish – the Nevis Tiger Muskie. Charlie climbed inside its gaping mouth when he was six, only to hit his head and need stitches. He climbed on top of it when he was eight, then slipped off and sprained his right arm.
With his parents out of sight, Charlie got out of the car and walked across the road to stare at the great and mysterious plastic fish.
Something wasn’t right. He squinted.
The fish’s bulging eyes were narrower – meaner. It wasn’t in the right place either. Charlie knew the fish was supposed to be two steps from the closest picnic table, because that was how he jumped on top of the fish. The picnic table hadn’t moved, but the fish was four, five steps away at least.
Charlie looked around the town. Had anyone noticed? Across the street, an old man was staring out a storefront window. At the gas station, two teenagers were giggling. Inside the car, his sister hadn’t even noticed he was gone.
Charlie whirled back around at the Muskie. What was that?! Had it just winked? Nooooooo. The fall wind whipped in from the lake at the edge of town. Charlie shivered.
CHAPTER 2, by James McAlpine, published Monday Oct. 17: Charlie turned and headed for the car, hoping to avoid the watchful eyes of his father. As he reached the door, a voice whispered “see you on the water.” Charlie snapped his head around, finding nothing but the old man across the street staring back at him. Charlie convinced himself the wind had played tricks on him.
His father drove out of town, traveling on the hilly road to the cabin. The sensation was like a roller coaster for Charlie. He remembered in years past getting car sick from this part of the trip. But now, something was different. The leaves were scarce on the trees, leaving a view of the lake as they traveled. Charlie stared between the trees, seeing the spots he had fished before, and picked out new spots he wanted to fish. And there was only one fish Charlie had in mind.
The car pulled in to the woods and up to the cabin. It was as he remembered: plain, dusty, cold and waiting to be brought to life again with the last visitors of the year before winter arrived. Charlie took his fishing gear down to the shore. He traveled a well-worn and familiar path, carrying his Muskie poles and oversized net down to the dock. The wind blew hard across the lake causing a small light aluminum blue fishing boat to bump against the dock.
“What are you fishing for, son?” a gravelly voice asked. Charlie turned to find an old man with a weathered face in overhauls and flannel shirt peering at him. Startled, Charlie dropped his gear and replied “Muskie!”
“Ah, the fish of 10,000 casts” the old man said, nodding his head. The old man’s eyes narrowed and he looked at Charlie. “I’ve been the handyman at the resort next door for 50 years and fished Muskie even longer. I can tell ya, right now, they ain’t biting. Why don’t you go on home?”
“No way.” Charlie said. “We’ll get em.”
“Tell me something, son, what is your name?”
“Charlie,” the old man repeated. “Well Charlie, you going out in that little fishing boat?”
Charlie nodded. The old man walked closer and leaned forward.
“Bit of advice Charlie,” he said. “This year, don’t fish too late for Muskie, and get off the lake by sundown.”
Just then the boat crashed hard into the dock and one of the ties came loose. Charlie turned and ran to get his father. As he dashed up the path, he heard the old man shout, “Remember, not past sundown!” Charlie turned back at the top of the path. The old man was gone.
Chapter 3, by Mark Merrell, published Oct. 24, 2011: Charlie’s dad came racing past with his fishing vest on and carrying his huge tackle box, straight-legging it down the hill looking like he was going to fall with each step.
“Come on Charlie, it is getting dark!”
Charlie bounded after him.
Half an hour later they reached their favorite spot, just south of the peninsula that jutted out from the shore opposite their cabin to the north. Thick pine trees blocked their view of the resort’s lights. Dusk was falling.
“Dad, an old guy was by our boat just now, and he told me to get off the lake before sundown.”
His dad said, “He probably saw what a serious fisherman you are and wanted to make sure you didn’t catch any of his muskies tonight.”
“I dunno dad, he seemed pretty … concerned.”
“You know what I’m concerned about Charlie, YOU. I mean, pulling the fire alarm at school? What were you thinking?”
“I know dad, I’m really trying…”
Just then, Charlie saw a flash of white 30 yards away.
“Dad, did you see that?”
“It looked like, like a white muskie!”
Charlie’s dad laughed, “An albino Muskie. If we catch him we’ll be in the paper for sure.”
“There!” Charlie pointed to the other side of the boat. His Dad whirled around but it was gone again. They sat in silence. Charlie noticed his hands were white gripping his fishing pole.
Splash! Out of the water jumped the biggest, whitest fish Charlie had ever seen. It was a muskie all right. It was ghostly white, and Charlie saw its sharp shiny teeth right before they bit hard into his dad’s arm.
“Aaaagh!” his dad screamed, thrashing his left arm side to side. It seemed to Charlie like forever, but finally the fish let go, and floated back down to the water. It looked at Charlie and winked, then slid back under the surface.
Charlie had started the motor and steered the boat back to the resort. His dad’s arm wasn’t bleeding much, but there were a dozen red tooth holes in his skin. He was hanging half off his seat, legs stretched across the boat bottom, moaning.
They were coasting into the dock and Charlie was going to scream for help when he heard splashes in the water behind him. He turned slowly around and saw at least fifteen white muskies staring back at him! His hand clasped over his mouth. He thought of his poor dad, and when he turned back to look at him, he was covered in scales and his eyes were morphing into giant fish eyes.
Charlie screamed – a scream that came from deep inside his very soul. A scream so loud that it echoed back from the forest across the mile-wide lake. A scream that didn’t stop his father from flopping into the water, a human-sized, fully-formed, muskie.
Chapter 4, by Lisa Waldner, published Oct. 31, 2011: Charlie could scarcely comprehend what he had just witnessed. It was like something from a weird and twisted movie. What was he going to do?
Charlie knew two things. One, he had to overcome the fear that gripped him or his father might be lost forever. Two, he had to find the old handyman from the resort. There was no question in Charlie’s mind that the old man and the mystery surrounding the Muskie were connected, but how?
By the time Charlie arrived at the resort he was out of breath and he had a terrible stitch in his side from running. To calm his nerves and collect his thoughts, Charlie took long, deep breaths, circulating oxygen throughout his body. He needed a clear head.
Charlie found the old man in the dining hall balancing on the highest step of a ladder, trying to replace a burned out bulb in the chandelier. Had this been a happier more carefree moment, Charlie might have jumped out and yelled “Boo” just to see what the old man would do. But this was not a happier moment. It was a grave moment and Charlie needed help.
Clearing his throat, Charlie said, “Excuse me, Sir, could I speak with you for a minute? It’s about …”
Without looking away from what he was doing, the old man interrupted, “I know what it’s about Charlie.”
Charlie was not surprised that the old man already knew. Relieved that he didn’t have to recount the horror that had taken place earlier, Charlie simply said, “What can I do to save him?”
The old man replied, “Charlie, your fate was sealed the first time you insulted the great Tiger Muskie by climbing in its mouth. They took your father to get your attention. You have to go back to the beginning, where it all started. Climb into the mouth of the fish again and wait. Offer yourself and your father will be released.”
Charlie whispered, “How do you know this”?
The old man walked over to Charlie. He rolled up his sleeve and showed Charlie the faint scars on his arm. “You see Charlie,” he said, “I know this because my son did the same thing for me.”
The old man took Charlie back to the town of Nevis and the giant Muskie. In the darkness, they said goodbye.
Charlie climbed into the mouth of the fish, sat down, and waited. He wondered if it would hurt much. With a loud bang, the mouth snapped shut.
When he opened his eyes, Charlie was stunned to see his father smiling back at him from the front seat of the car. What? How? But?
His father said. “Sorry I took so long paying for the gas. I’m glad you took a little nap Charlie. Are you ready to go catch some muskies?”
As they left the gas station, Charlie looked back at the fish but it was gone.