Solemnly promised to his dying wife, in her terminal bout with cancer, Mike Gladdock swears he will buy the old Morris shack, where they dreamed of spending the rest of their lives. Deep in Michigan’s North Woods, it sits on a bluff overlooking some of the best brown trout pools in the Au Sable River. His brother Wayne and he fly fished the big pool since childhood, become irretrievably angry at the intrusion, when they find the property sold and even more resentful that postings on the gate suggest preclusion of future access. Long laid plans for the remainder of Mike’s life—hopelessly crushed—the brothers investigate and find the new owner, a retired general may be using the site as a proposed assembly location for stolen military weaponry Go along with the Gladdocks in their intensive quest for answers and with Mike, in a new relationship that arises out of his desire to incriminate the general. Listen to the moral guidance he receives from his deceased wife, and be a part of their plans to derail the general’s activities.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)|
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To Cast A Fly
By Douglas E. Templin
AuthorHouse LLCCopyright © 2014 Douglas E. Templin
All rights reserved.
He rubbed tired eyes, first the left and then the other, opened his window periodically, and shook his head often, to maintain a decent level of vigilance. A nagging, circuitous array of pros and cons; his bundled thoughts seemed naught more than insoluble swirls of confusion.
So disorganized and shallow they were; Mike could not decide. Would a one eighty and a turn toward home, stop the torment? An idea he negated and followed too many times that evening; he grew tired of repeatedly transiting the same terrain, given his whimsical changes of mind. It seemed that each segment of several miles, or period of fifteen to twenty minutes, fostered a recurrent urge to stop. He would think about it, and then reverse course, north to their cabin, or back south—the easy way out—to their home, where he began the trip at the end of a tiring workday. Mike Gladdock resisted the latter urge as it strongly conflicted with a deeper and more compelling desire.
I simply must continue, his internal voice finally concluded, and at the least, try to enjoy this badly needed five-day break from work. I'd be freed, too, of the nauseating—though well meant—sympathies from bereaved relatives and friends.
Mike Gladdock's thoughts turned audible as if she listened. "How can I possibly savor this otherwise lonesome, nighttime drive, as I did in our past, without the cheerful company, our lively conversations, and her happy chatter of the river? Should I bite the bullet and press forward, despite the pain from her absence?" He shuddered with the notion that he could be so indecisive.
Michigan's open spaces soared by, though in a seemingly dismal and definitely disappointing blur. Stubborn snow patches, on the upswing as the miles rolled north, offered assurance that the toasty days and balmy nights of an early summer, while they loomed with possibility, might take their time to ignite.
Deciduous trees along the line where forest darkness began, glared in his headlights like weathered barber poles; they stood defiant, and still refused to dance in their brilliant yellow-green, spring clothes. Something far more severe birthed Mike's apathy; not just the weather-borne dither of bursting buds, or the lazy recession of winter white's every trace.
Meg died the week before. His loving wife joined the great beyond.
The emptiness that gripped so tenaciously, and that alone, forced the deviations from his usual wild-eyed anticipation during the commute to their place in Oscoda County. "So much sullen brown everywhere," he muttered aloud, "and all those bland grays that crowd the evergreens—outside thermometer too close to the thirties—a faster jump to more pleasant conditions looks awfully doubtful."
For the first time, Mike felt the physical pain that he would face again and again, until denial could be supplanted by the stark reality of her passing. Entirely different from the norm, it was his only venture in many a year without Meg, to their erstwhile cozy, second home. While they stayed there over the occasional winter weekend, they better used their pride and joy for longer breaks, during the other seasons. While there, the couple passed countless days on and about their beloved Au Sable River.
Farther back than his memory stretched, Meg was with him, cuddled alongside. Head on his shoulder at times, she kept him awake with stimulating colloquy, slept lightly, or she hummed to music he played at high volume, to keep alert in the abject darkness of the smaller byways. Mike leaned forward, tried to nudge aside painful reflections, hugged the wheel with both arms, and peered cautiously through the low blanket of mist that clouded his visibility.
Moisture droplets collected, slid to the side, and distorted his view of the road ahead, as fast as the sweep of wipers erased them. An incessant cadence, the hypnotizing flip flapping hindered concentration more than he liked, and to his greater disdain, encouraged drowsiness. He squinted and blinked more often than normal, while his mind worked hard to expunge itself of so many unpleasant distractions. No matter, he could not disconnect.
She took that turn for the worst, just up and died ... so fast ... she did. Why the deuce did I think I could do it alone, so soon after her demise? I might have avoided wallowing in this huge muddle, this stack of unsettled feelings, if I delayed departure a bit longer. Weekend warriors—hunters and anglers by the droves—soon to crowd highways and byways, would have reduced the woeful solitude and worked to dispel the unpleasant sense of impending despair that engulfed his thoughts.
* * *
Six foot-three, bare heels on the floor, to many he seemed a virtual tower. That included the loss of nearly an inch of his younger height to a congenital spinal curvature that just began to take its toll. The past year or so, Mike's body frame bent some from back pain, after cutting firewood or mowing. Broad chest and rock-solid arms, however, almost masked the ailing spine, and his abdominal musculature still rippled. Beneath his comparatively youthful physique, Mike's sixty-two years stayed fairly well concealed. Almost wrinkle-free, though pasty from the paucity of sunshine through the long winter; his complexion looked healthy and ever rosy-cheeked. Curly, brown and receding some, Mike's hair was long enough that it ruffled from beneath the red baseball cap that stayed glued to his head while in Oscoda County. His personal flag, the Detroit Tigers fixture topped off normal weekend attire: faded Levis, a plaid, long-sleeved woolen or cotton shirt—depending on the season—and laced woodsman's boots. Adorned with ever-present lenses, Mike's face seemed somewhat hollowed from its younger fullness, but his grin was genuine, broad, and natural, and he used it often, along with his magnetic laugh. Soft of voice and compassionate to a fault, he lived to hunt and fish for the myriad bounties offered by the region in which he was born, raised and, surely, would die. Deer, game birds, trout from river fly fishing, and salmon caught deep water trolling in nearby Lake Huron, kept his freezers and those of friends and relatives, well stocked with meats of the seasons.
Who would succeed in his footsteps? Mike wondered, as he massaged his right temple with stubby fingertips. He did that to stay attentive while driving at night, when he often ruminated over the son who never came along, to whom he might have passed the lore of his native woods. He hoped for a boy after the first daughter, and suffered only slight disappointment with the arrival of Jennifer, his younger girl. Just twenty-seven, a graduate of Michigan State, she moved west not long before, to teach high school French in Northern California. He sorely missed her, for she did enjoy her fishing when a youngster. Judith, his eldest, lived close by, with husband and two kids, but never shared Mike's passions for the outdoors.
While proud of and devoted to his two girls, Mike's thoughts drifted to further speculation about the son he never had. He glanced in the darkened rearview mirror. His wrought and saddened expression, a window to his troubled soul, likely brought on the continued musings.
Brilliant, just like Jennifer, Mike Junior—we'd have called him—tallest in his class; would have played ball as I did. Certainly, he would have been a fine fly angler by the time I finished with him, and a one-shot hunter by the age of twelve, as I became after Pop's endless coaching. Oh, Jennie liked the woods, but her penchant for the chase, probably just to please me, never quite matched mine. Didn't like shooting game ... always cried when we approached the dead animal. "Poor thing," she'd say, no matter their excess numbers would starve during our long Michigan winters. I wonder what Jennifer's doing out there tonight? If she only knew how Mom and I ... dern, how I do miss her.
The last thought startled Mike from nearly ramming a doe and her fawn as they nimbly, but boldly, crossed the black-as-pitch, double lane road ahead. Since he turned off Interstate 75 to the more isolated eastbound State 55, he sighted dozens of the graceful animals that grazed on barely emergent grass along roadside margins. Preoccupied with diversions, though, he missed these two until the last few seconds.
Tires screeched, the front end slid sideways over the moist pavement, and the car shuddered to a fast halt on the shoulder before he collected himself. When the dust cleared, he looked in all directions, and assured no impacts occurred.
"Jesus Crisp! That was close ... too close," Mike shrieked loudly, as if Meg sat with him in the front seat. "Did you see that scrawny fresh born stagger behind its mother? A tiny one, spindly little legs; it looked so innocent." He rarely swore, especially in front of her. Mike almost apologized as he turned to his right, expectant that Meg awoke from the commotion. Meg was not there, and would never again go north with him. Can't believe she's gone! I never anticipated feelings like this. So blamed eerie—thoughts so out of control—well beyond my grasp. Paused a few minutes to recover wits and watch the unconcerned deer saunter into a thicket on the other side of the deserted byway, Mike shook his head in disbelief, how oblivious the animals were to their near-death experience. There might have been suffering, or death could have come quickly. We are here for such a short time, to plow along and do what we can to survive.
He stopped the turmoil of dissociative thoughts for a few moments and took some slow, deep breaths. The brief digressions helped him organize ideas as they burst forth and merged with his inventory of older, more troubling reflections. Two well-placed and quick shots; they would have died without warning ... no advance worries ... no grieving family. Why is it that some beings suffer and others do not? Why are some taken before their time, and others, not? Why did my love have to hurt like that? If only she.... He suppressed the internal taunting again, as he did every minute since the funeral, when forced acceptance of her demise spawned the new and inescapable truth.
How can I separate myself from the sadness and not relive her loss, day after day? Strangely, though, it seems she's here—smack dab with me in the front seat. He glanced to the passenger side, sensed her presence, the warmth of her body against his, even the familiar aroma of her perfume. Cheeks dampened, however, with the sight of three inanimate grocery bags stacked against the passenger door. He became acutely aware, once again, of the vacuous space which surrounded him after she died.
Mike loved Meg's medium length, wavy blond hair. He chuckled at her habit: having it highlighted every forth Wednesday at Bonnie's Beauty Center, her cousin's shop, a short walk from home. He often waited for her there, after work. So many things he would miss: childlike dimples when Meg laughed, her bright and inviting blue eyes, increasingly notable forehead wrinkles that, of late, bothered her, but added character, he thought; the turquoise sweatshirt she usually wore to the cabin; and the faded tennis shoes she dyed to match.
Before leaving home for this solo vigil, Mike hastily grabbed a dishtowel to wipe his eyes, after an upset that erupted when he noticed the neat stack of her folded clothes. Garments for the cabin, she kept them together in the hall closet, to permit quick breakaways whenever they left at the last minute.
A set of oncoming headlights spurred his thoughts. Have to get on the move, back on the highway, keep on going, and spend some good time at the cabin. He feared that, if he didn't and right away, he could dissuade himself from using the retreat they painstakingly built over the years—a future retirement residence—where they would have whittled away the rest of their lives. They both referred to the place as "Up North," from the day escrow closed in August 1975. Jennifer was but a toddler; Judith just finished first grade.
He started the engine after the close animal encounter and slipped Meg's favorite CD into the player. Singing as best he could and the tap of his left foot to the classics in Elton John's, Greatest Hits, raised his awareness. The music allowed him to focus on needed projects: things he could do to spruce up the cabin, prepare for fishing, and most importantly, to determine whether the Morris shack at the end of the old dirt logging road, might still be for sale.
Perched right on the Au Sable, old man Morris' property—a piece of imaginary heaven, ever there were such a place—captivated Mike since boyhood. His brother Wayne and sister in law, Nell, still lived nearby in the small town of Tawas, where they were raised, at the Lake Huron shore. Streams of local gossip wafted through the small grocery store Nell managed. Rumors hinted that Morris heirs might sell, after the family patriarch's recent death. When she realized their excitement at the opportunity, Nell struggled to get Mike and Meg inserted at the top of an interested buyers' list. "Could I actually go through with it now, without Meg?" Mike queried himself loudly. Then he buried his words, and went on to himself: the excitement, anticipation, and the allure; could they come anywhere close to our dreams, without her participation?
Mike and Meg always admired the oddly shaped slice of land, probably no larger than ten acres or so; they never checked. What counted was the enviable and isolated position it occupied, deep in a dense and verdant section of the Huron National Forest. Poised on a bluff, just shy of twenty feet above the meandering Au Sable—midst heavy growths of poplars, red and balsam pines, maples, firs, oaks, and yellow birches—the shack, as they called it, stood above a bend in the river that harbored huge brown trout. First taken there by his father, as a young and curious boy, his dreams of eventual ownership were born.
He grinned broadly at a pleasing collection of memories that flashed before him as might a two-act play at the old opera house. Pop always described it as, "Da big pool ... only bend in the Au Sable, scooped by God, deerectly." He claimed it was the deepest one for miles in either direction. Mike's musing turned to the old man who died more than twelve years before. He lapped at the clear remembrance, however, as if yesterday—the first time he put eyes on "the shack" and the enchanting scene it overlooked.
"Dere she is, Mikie, da spot where you'll fish from now on," his father said proudly, with an unchecked grin. They scurried down the bank to the first growth fallen cedar tree that allowed the bend to retain its depth, even in low water times. "You will never see a better series of fishing spots dan these. Dat one dere," he continued excitedly, as he pointed to the largest just below the shack, "dat's da one to dream about from now on ... probably as long as you live."
Mike gazed with relish at the enormous log, stripped of its bark, bleached near white, and devoid of branches from countless high-water lashings. He viewed it immediately as the perfect throne on which to seat himself for a day's fishing.
"I blanched and refocused—crestfallen, though," he said loudly, and to his surprise, "when Pop assured me; big browns that hunkered in the nearby depths would spot my silhouette, long before I thought of climbing out on the dead tree."
His father's words rang loudly as he further reminisced. "Me Boy," he said back then, with the patience of a good math teacher, "you'll only catch Mister Brown by sneaking quietly down da river, upstream from the pool." He thusly referred to each brown trout landed, before he released lucky ones to endure for another season. "Den ya works down current; through da rushes, you will sneak unnoticed. Dat's where you'll learn to drop your fly. See dere?"
His father pointed to the wide girth of water plants, behind which grew no intruding willows or saplings. "Dat's where dey be a waitin'." Mike's head cleared with the sprouting of more vivid pictures: dusk, cool, still night air, and swarms of mating caddis flies fresh from their hatch. They came in clouds from protective trees, and flittered down to hover en masse over the water. He felt the sloshing, rancid-smelling muck as he stepped, softly as possible, through the reeds. New waders the old man gave him for his birthday that April left him proud; the sacred fishing secrets of the Gladdock family were about to be shared.
Excerpted from To Cast A Fly by Douglas E. Templin. Copyright © 2014 Douglas E. Templin. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
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