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In my last post, I told about taking first place in the 2020 Public Safety Writers Associations Flash Fiction Contest. I am posting the story here today. I hope you enjoy it. After the story, there is a link that explains the danger Peter faced.

JOE

Fifty years ago, Agent Orange covered the young lieutenant from head to foot. Not yet known as a killer, his platoon cursed the mess left by the defoliant. Later, Peter laughed at their ghost-like photo images. Now in his seventies, he mused, I’m just another casualty of the Vietnam War. The doctors gave him six weeks.

I have one last shot at Joe. The best time, late afternoon.

Pete needed an experience he could savor. Only a mile to Joe’s, the old man took his time wandering through the forest of changing colors. He first came here on a spring day before he left for Vietnam. The trees had been shielded by leaves in brilliant shades of green—young and strong, much as he had been. Now the approaching winter turned the landscape into a strange rainbow of orange, yellow, red, and brown. Pete saw his cold and bleak future reflected in nature’s cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

Only I won’t be reborn.

He arrived early, perfect timing for an afternoon nap. Joe would be doing the same. A rock shelf provided enough warmth for Pete to enjoy a brief respite from the pain that came with the cancer.

Pete assembled his gear when he awoke.

Joe had been his elusive quarry for many years. Today might be the day.

Standing in the shallow current, Pete made his first cast. The fly dropped with a loud plop.

This won’t do, Joe will never come up for something so clumsy.

Pete’s fourth cast drifted as if on a cloud. His hand-tied mayfly floated to the water’s surface. Joe struck—stronger than Pete ever imagined—much stronger.

Be careful. Work slowly. Joe can break the three-pound test. He has before.

With a skill honed over decades, Pete worked his quarry back and forth, ever closer. Until he slid his net under a still combative Joe, the fish everything Pete could have hoped for in a native Brown Trout—a real trophy—at least eight pounds.

With the compassion of a true sportsman, Pete removed the small barbless hook. He held Joe up to the sky, an offering to the gods. He knelt, and with tenderness bordering on love, Pete gently returned Joe to the swiftly moving water.

This is the best day of my life!

https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/locations/vietnam.asp