All the Time, the Screaming – Austin Malone
The Angler rises, opens his cupboard. He gathers the biscuits and jerky, wraps them in a scrap of pale leather, places the bundle in his creel, and retrieves his rod from beside the door. Rod and creel in hand, he emerges into the perpetual twilight of the fishing grounds.
He looks neither left nor right, does not acknowledge his fellow fishermen, ignores the row of identical huts that dot the riverbank. In silence, with single-minded purpose, he strides to his designated place. The black waters suck at the bank, their hushed susurrations inaudible beneath the tormented shrieks that rend the thick air. All the time, the screaming.
A low mutter rumbles his stomach. He retrieves a strip of jerky, chewing as he unspools his reel. The flavor is bland, the texture fibrous. It brings him no joy. He is hungry. It is food. His teeth grind away at it as his hands secure the hook. It is an ugly thing, heavy, multi-pronged, bristling with barbed spikes. It is perfect. It feeds him and clothes him, and he is fond of it. He is not fond of the next piece of equipment. None of the fishermen are.
The Angler swallows as he withdraws the lure, and his face contorts with disgust. He squeezes his eyelids shut, guides the bauble onto the hook, and the thing explodes with radiance. Even with his eyes closed, the light pulses blood-red behind his eyelids, searing his flesh. Whimpering, he pulls his arm back and whips it forward. The plop of the hook landing in the water is followed by the cool relief of the lure sinking into the depths.
He sighs, eases his eyes open, and waits. He does not wait long. He never waits long. The rod bucks in his hands. He counts silently to ten. Then he reels the line in, slowly, steadily.
Black water runs in rivulets down the fishing line as it emerges. The top of the hook appears first, followed by the lure, its glow muted now. Then, like pale, wriggling worms, his catch begins to rise into view, skewered by the bottommost row of hooks.
He hauls on the line, dragging the thing up out of the river. The wriggling appendages resolve into fingers, the attached hand pierced by the barbed spikes. More emerges. A thick arm, muscles corded. Heavy shoulders, a broad chest, meaty thighs. Then, the thing’s head lolls forward, and its scream joins the cacophony. It dangles above the riverbank, thrashing, water-slick hair plastered to its scalp above too-wide eyes and an even wider mouth. And all the time, the screaming.
The Angler holds the line aloft with one hand, and reaches for the knife at his belt. The noise will cease soon. Then there will be fresh meat to prepare. Bone meal to grind.
The knife goes in, tugs down. The thing’s final cry fades to a burbling whimper. It falls silent. And all around him, the screaming continues.
All the time, the screaming.