by Coco Ihle
“What IS that?” I said out loud, as a flicker of movement outside my office window caught my eye. Something was moving in the middle of my backyard. The grass hadn’t been mowed for almost a week and it had grown a lot since torrential rains had been pummeling the neighborhood for most of that time.
My desk is against the window and I stood leaning over toward the glass, to get a closer look. I could see something black, but the grass was too high to make out what it was. Since I live in a nature preserve, I’ve learned to expect all sorts of wildlife during the years I’ve lived in this area of Florida, but this was a real puzzle. It wasn’t big enough or the right color to be an armadillo or possum or any of the larger animals I’ve seen. It moved again. Maybe it was an injured bird.
My vantage point was too low and the bottom half of the window was screened, which made visibility difficult, so I decided my step ladder might help. I set it up alongside my desk, got up on the third step with one foot, straddled the desk and placed my other foot over on the window sill so I could look down on whatever it was. I still couldn’t see well enough. I got down, went into my living room and grabbed my opera glasses, went back to my office and back up the ladder.
While I was trying to focus the binoculars, the phone rang. I glanced over my desk and my caller ID said it was my son, Rob. I climbed down and answered. Before he could say anything, I started telling him what I was doing, and he started chuckling. He said he was picturing me straddled over my desk looking out the window and it was just too funny. I was glad he couldn’t see a video of me then.
Anyway, I asked him what I should do. He suggested I go out and look. Duh. But, I didn’t know what it was! Maybe it was a snake or something equally creepy. I climbed back up the ladder to look some more, all the while answering Rob’s questions. “How big is it? What does it look like? Is it still moving?” I didn’t know. By the time I got my opera glasses focused again, whatever it was, wasn’t where it had been. Eeeek!
I finally spotted it closer to the house. What the heck was it? It was slithering through the grass. My heart was really pumping at this point. My son suggested I get a large container and capture it. Easy for him to say! He lives forty minutes from me and he was safe and sound in his house. But he had planted the seed. I had to find out. I told him I’d call him back.
Gathering my courage, I went into the kitchen, found a large plastic mixing bowl with a snap-on lid and went out the patio door, all the while telling myself I could do this. I tried to get a grip on my pounding heart and heavy breathing. I certainly didn’t want to pass out now and have that thing, whatever it was, crawl on me! Cautiously, I crept along, searching, and finally spotted it around the side of the house, deep in the wet grass. It still wasn’t recognizable. By this time, my imagination had me one hair short of terrified, but despite that, I crept closer.
When I got about a yard away, I leaned forward as far as I dared, without losing my balance, and teetered above it on one foot. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was a catfish! A catfish in my yard? Seriously?! It was about a foot long. I could see its whiskers. I’m not a fisherperson, so I didn’t know if they bite or have poisonous barbs or something, so I decided to try scooping it up into the bowl and taking it to the pond at the end of the street, two houses away.
I’m glad there wasn’t any video of this endeavor, either! You see, I have this problem. All my life I’ve never been able to scream. When something scares me and I open my mouth, a weird guttural sound comes out. It’s nothing like a scream. It’s a low pitched, breathy “Auuuuunnh!” After a couple of those sounds sort of slipped out during a lot of writhing and slithering, I finally was able to get him in the bowl and snap on the lid. Shouting, “Eeeeuuuuww!” all the way, I ran down the street to the pond, tore open the lid and threw my arms in that direction. He flew up in the air, arced downward and splashed into the water. Then off he went, swimming as fast as he could.
Exhausted, I called Rob back and described my ordeal, which sent him into gales of laughter. He kept saying, “Stop, stop!” I could picture him grasping his side in laughter-pain. When he finally calmed down, he said he could just see me “screaming” and dancing around with arms flailing, trying to get the catfish into the bowl and then running like a maniac to get to the pond to release it.
By this time, my heartbeat was getting close to the normal range and I could almost breathe without panting. Through his chuckles, Rob said, “Just think, Mom, you saved a fish’s life! What an original fish story.”
With a weak smile, I answered in my defense, “Well, at least my story is true.”
Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric, traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.
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