The Tale of Bartlebus Jones – a lost fable

I came across this while checking out my ancient xanga blog.  it’s a short story I wrote in 2001.

….reading it here… it doesn’t look so short.

ENJOY!

I’ll tell you the tale of Bartlebus Jones.

Bartlebus Jones was a fisherman. Not the big outrigger deep sea fisherman, but a home town creek, or “crick” as he would say, fisherman. He didn’t do it for profit. he did it to get away from his wife. As in most fairy tales. It is the wife and her mother who drive men to do strange and unusual things. This one is no different. Only… Bartlebus wasn’t driven to do anything. Everything just sort of happened to him. It wasn’t his fault. He really wasn’t in control of his life and that never bothered him. The only thing that bothered him… was his wife, and her mother.

Bartlebus never contemplated fate, or destiny or anything too complex like that. As a matter of fact, Bartlebus never really thought at all. Fishing is one of those things you can do without putting forth too much thought. Bartelbus didn’t want to cloud his mind with complicated matters of politics and business. He didn’t know much about science or philosophy. What he did know was fish. He knew the fish before they would bite. He knew where they were. He knew exactly how big they were. He knew if they were male or female. It’s almost as if he had a sixth sense about fish. He sure as hell couldn’t smell them. Fish stink, but only out of water.

Bartlebus grew quite a reputation as a fisherman from the back woods. Every season a new crop of “yunguns” would creep up the crick behind him. Wherever Bartelbus would go, the yungus soon traveled. This didn’t bother Bartelbus, he simply moved on to the next bend in the crick and found better and deeper holes with bigger and better fish. at the end off the day, as the sun would set, Bartelbus would bring his fair share of catch out to the roadside and the yunguns would always ask, “Where’d you catch those, Bartlebus?” His answer was always simple. “Up around the bend” He’d say.

“Up around the bend.” That’s how he was known. Somewhere in the middle of rural America, that is where he was… but now, he’s up around the bend. This is exactly the sort of thing that got him into trouble.

Early one morning, he awoke with a smile. The sun wasn’t quite up yet and the fish were dying to be caught. What a great day this was. He slipped out of bed, before his wife, Honey, would even stir for her morning pot of coffee. He tip-toed into the kithcen to brew a thermos full for himself… but was caught by surprise. There, standing half naked in the kitchen, was his mother-in-law. Bathsheba. A ninety-pound, ninety-year old witch of a woman. Her nose was as crooked as her arthritic fingers. Her hair was tattered and thinning white, slicked back to her scalp so tight that it seemed as if little white bits of her skull was showing through. The mole above her lips began to speak.

“Ther’ll be no fishin’ today! You gots to take me to Doc for an ‘appirtnment’” She spoke in a tone that no one would question. Even though her words droned in his ears, Bartlebus knew he was trapped. When Bathsheba spoke the little tiny hairy mole quivered. Bartlebus shivered in fear. All was lost. Unless…

“There WILL be fishing today.” His voice boomed in the tiny kitchen. A deep growl unlike anything he had ever spoken. Bathsheba stepped back in shock. Then her mole twisted a little and it was anger on her face, not shock. Bartlebus had never stood up to her in his entire life.

“You WILL take me up to Doc you no good sonofa-”

Just then, Honey stepped into the room. Despite her cranky mother’s size, Honey filled the room. She was so large it was almost as if she had eaten any siblings she may or may not have had.

“What in THE hell is going on out ‘ere?! Caint you see that people are tryin to sleep out here?” Suddenly both Bartlebus and Bathsheba stepped back in shock. (and fear)

“It’s all right, Honey. I was just tellin’ yer mother that I was goin’ fishin’ for the day.”

“He was sayin that he airn’t taken me to see Doc, that’s what her weres sayin” Bathsheba rebutted before Bartlebus even closed his mouth.

“I am going to get some beauty sleep…” Honey started.

“You’re gonna need it” Bartlebus whispered.

Bathsheba slapped him hard across his fuzzy face. “I heard that you fat sonofa good fer nothin whore. Nobody talks to my honey that way.”

Honey grabbed them both by the scruff of their collars. “You WILL take my momma to see Doc. And then you can go fishin. If you aint takin momma fishin then don’t bother comin back at all.”

Wait a minute, Bartlebus thought. In her apocalyptic rage she mispoke. She said take momma fishin. She really said “Take Momma fishin.” He tried to tell her. “But, Honey…”

“Shut yer trap and get outta here. You take momma outta here and then bring back some dinner.”

He smiled to himself. Bathsheba hadn’t heard the slip up either. This was turning out to be a wonderful day after all. All he had to do now was get rid of Bathsheba so he could spend his day in peace. It wouldn’t be hard. After all, he was “Up around the bend Bart” Once he got his feet under him. No crick could keep him down. He could lose Bathseba in that forest so fast, she wouldn’t know what to do.

As he loaded the truck, he did nothing but grin. What a perfect day. Losing his mother-in-law in the woods, and having a nice peaceful day of fishing, up around the bend.

“What the hell are you grinnin fer?!” Bathsheba shouted as Bartlebus loaded her into his beat up pickup truck. He just smiled behind his ratty beard and went on to load his gear. Today, he put two fishing poles in the guun rack of his truck. After all, that was the best way to carry them.

“You don’t needs two fishin poles! I sher as hail ain’t gonna be caught dead fishin some crick with you by my side.”

“Shut up momma. Of course you won’t be caught dead fishin with me, but yer goin anyways.” Again, Bartlebus smiled.

the truck fired it’s way out of the trailer park and down the dusty dirt road. Before long Bartlebus wheeled into his favorite crick. Only this time, something wasn’t right. He knew it right away.

“What’s goin on here? What are all these cars doin in my hole?” He said.

“Keep on drivin sonny. Don’t even think about stopping. You gotta get me over ta Doc’s.” He didn’t hear her. His eyes were fancied on the circle of cars all along the roadside. All along the crickside. “Are you listenin ta me?” She started in again. Her voice shook him like fingers across a cheese grater.

“Shhh…” was all he answered. He slowly pulled the truck forward to see what all the commotion was about. There were cars everywhere. Half of the entire town had wheeled themselves into his favorite fishin hole. Then he saw it. Two men on high ladders strung a banner between two trees.

“First Annual Fishing Derby” He said aloud.

Bathseba slapped him. “Don’t even think about it.” it was too late. He had already grabbed his pole and was out the door. The truck instinctively rolled into a rutted parking spot. She knew where to go. Bathsheba huffed, crossed her arms, and sat there, her eyes darting back a
nd forth as she muttered swear words under her breath.

Bartlebus ran into the midst of the entire town. “What is all this? What are you doing here?”

A smarmy young boy turned to him. “It’s the first annual fishhing derby. This is the best place to have it after all. Everyone knows this is where you catch all yer fish”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Bartlebus was a little saddened by his lack of invite. His entire life he had dreamed of winning the trophy fish in a fishing derby.

The boy had a very simple answer. “We knew you’d be along early this morning. You are here everyday. We didn’t have to invite you. You are the reason the fishing derby is here.”

“You expect me to win?” He asked challengingly.

“No, we expect you to point everyone in the right direction. We don’t want too many people filling up all the good holes. You know this crick inside and out. Spread everyone out so they don’t take too many fish.” The boy spoke, as if he knew what Bartlebus’ response would be.

“You actually have a job for me?” That was one thought that hadn’t really crossed Bart’s mind… although, very few thoughts ever did.

“The thought had crossed my mind.” The boy answered. It appeared that many thoughts crossed this young man’s mind. Most of them seemed to be settled on Mrs. Bennigan’s cleavage, but, Bart didn’t mind. Hell he even caught a glimpse himself.

“I’ll do it.”

In a matter of moments. Bartlebus was commanding his army of fishermen to various locations. Each one was up around the bend from the last. It wasn’t long before he ran out of spots. There was one person left as he turned over his shoulder. One person and no more spots.

“Well,” He called back, “that’s the last one. I guess you’ll have to come with me and we’ll explore a little bit. I don’t know where to go, but there’s got to be something bigger up around the bend.” He kept walking and he heard the footsteps behind him.

The forest and underbrush grew unusually thick threw here. Bartlebus had to bend over and nearly crawl to get through. Ever so often he would call back, “Just a bit farther”. The voice behind him would grumble… but it was still there. “I’ll find you the best spot. I promise.” More grumbling.

That’s when the forest opened up around him. There were huge cliffs of shale sprouting from the ground and severing the sky hundreds of feet overhead. Water trickled down the shale and the slightest rumble of a voice would send tiny stones dropping to the water from hih in the sky. Bartlebus knew shale was very loose, especially in areas like this. When they were wet, and it overhung the way it did… the slightest slip up would sent the rock wall into the water and all fishing would be lost there for weeks.

And boy oh boy, was this spot sweet. Beneath a tiny waterfall, a giant pool filled this entire valley. Bartlebus had never been here before, but he knew. He knew this was his favorite fishing spot. He could see the fish in the water. He could sense every minnow as they struggled their way out of a stagnant pool of riverbed. He knew this spot. And he knew it was his. He could NEVER give it up to a stranger for a fishing derby. And then he heard the voice.

“I can’t believe you dragged me all the way out here for this.”

“Momma?” Batlebus turned around. His heart sank. His words got stuck in his throat. There she was. In a dirty raincoat, with his backup pole in her hand.

“What the hell is wrong with you? Where in God’s name are you takin me?”

“Please. Please be quiet. Do you see these walls of rock around you? If you speak too loud, they will collapse.”

“Don’t you tell me what to good you no good piece of…!” She shouted. A few rocks trickled down from the ceiling overhead.

“Momma don’t” A few more rocks fell from above. She looked around.

“If we’re gonna win this contest, we may as well do it here. its as good a place as any.” Bartlebus wasn’t quite sure what to make of this.

“Ok.” he was a little surprised. Bathsheba pulled the hook from the eye ring on the pole and was readying herself for her cast.

“Just give me a worm, and let’s fish.” She was ready to go. That little light clicked on inside Bart’s head again. It didn’t happen too often and this was proof. He looked in his little belt puch for his bait and found it nearly empty. There was one worm left. He reluctantly pulled it from his pouch and stabbed the little guy theough the abdomen with Momma’s hook. Then he sat down. Defeated. Again.

Momma stepped out to a tiny little penninsula in the middle of the pool.

“You shouldn’t stand there” Bartlebus warned. The ground was soft on that little outcropping. He could see it from where he sat. Even her tiny frame caused the dirt and stone to separate with every footstep.

“Shhhh.” She answered and went back about her business. Bartlebus closed his eyes and rested. There was nothing else to do. Bathsheba fished quietly… which was a surprise, because she did nothing quietly. She’ll probably even be noisy when she’s dead, Bartlebus thought. Bathsheba was very intent and surprisingly adept at what she was doing. She knew how to fish and could have probably taught Bart a thing or two if this next little piece of nastiness hadn’t happened.

A small shadow appeared in the depths of the waters beneath the falls. It was a fish. Bartlebus snapped awake from his siesta just in time to see the shadow move just beneath the surface.

“Hey, Momma,” He whispered. She turned and put her finger to her crusty old lips. Her mole shook at him.

As the mole shook, the water crashed alive as a giant fish slashed it’s way through the water. It was the biggest mogmouth bass Bartlebus had ever seen. It moved at the speed of lightning and cut across the still water. Momma never had a chance.

The giant fish sprang from the water, over the penninsula and taking Momma with it. It scooped her right into his mouth. Apparently from below, Momma’s crotchety withered old body looked like a super-sized worm. The fish found her particularly yummy. He came back up and smiled at Barltebus before heading back underground.

Bartlebus sat there in awe. In shock. In disbelief for a long time. Then it kicked in. A giant fish ahd just eaten his mother-in-law. There was no way Honey was going to believe that. There was no way the entire town was going to believe that. Hell, everyone had seen him lead her all the way out into the middle of nowhere, then not return with her. Not a good sign. There’s no fishing when you’re in jail. That was one thing Bartlebus was pretty sure of.

He had to go after her. That was when he heard the clacking of a ratchet from a fishing rod. Momma dropped her rod before she was swallowed!

The rod quickly began to slide across the little rocks and Bartlebus dove after it. It quickly dragged him in. The shale and tiny stones were no match for his weight. He just sank right in. It’s a good thing too. If it weren’t for his beer belly, he would have been pulled right into the water. Instead… he was pulled waist deep into the mud. This gave him a good strong foothold. He began to crank on the reel.

This is what fishing is all abou
t he thought to himself.

Three hours later… the sun was beginning to set. The town was wrapping up the derby. The prize was about to be awarded when Bartlebus stepped from the underbrush with a fish the size of his truck slung over his shoulder. Bathsheba was nowhere to be found.

The town was in awe and Bartlebus took home the trophy. Both the fish and the trophy. His truck did groan quite a bit as he drove home, the fish weighing down the back. But, not a sound was heard from Bartlebus. He was covered from head to toe in mud but still you could see his smile. Ear to ear.

The rickety truck pulled into the rickety lot. Honey was waiting for him on the porch swing, which rested in the front yard.

“Where’s momma? Doc called today wonderin why she ain’t at her appoinment”

Bartlebus put a finger to her lips.

“Shhh.” he whispered. “I’m going to get some sleep. I’ve had a very long day. He walked inside the trailer. It shifted with his weight. You could hear him groan a very loud and exhausted sigh from outside.

“But where’s MOMMA!” Honey screamed at the top of her lungs.

The air was silent for a minute… then from inside the trailer and annoyed groan followed by a shout unlike any heard in this neighborhood since the last big argument these folks had. “She’s in the fish!”

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