The 'Fishing Rodeo' was an annual tournament that was sponsored by the 'The Benton Bass Federation' a local association of professional and amateur fisherman and women. The tournament often meant big business for the downtown merchants too, as tourists from the surrounding cities and towns would flood in, some even entering their names into the event in hopes of claiming the bragging rights that came with catching the biggest fish. And of course, some hoped to pocket their share of the prize money being offered. Though save for a few professional fishermen, most of whom were retired and thus could devote considerable more time to honing their craft than say me. Who was for the most part still an amateur when it came down to the brass taxes of it, anyway most if not all of the people who entered the tournament were hobbyist fishermen.
Now the 'Fishing Rodeo' was almost always held on the first Saturday of the month of August. With that in mind, I had requested to be off that day. Because, like I said before, I was something of an avid fisherman though I was still something of a novice, though many of my peers considered me the best in Benton. I was also one of the newest members of 'The Benton Bass Federation' since I considered the main goal of the association was to promote good sportsmanship and good practices among the members as a noble goal. And one I considered worthy of my support.
Now returning to the story, the morning had dawned gray and clear. The weather channel had given the forecast for the day as clear skies and plenty of sunshine with the wind blowing at five to ten miles an hour would prove ideal at keeping the seasonal plague of gnats, horseflies and mosquitoes at bay. And with weight being set at noon, I attended to be the first one at the pier that morning with my hook in the water before the sun had even risen. And so, with my mind, it was still black dark when I started to load my trike down with all the gear I thought I might need. That included a fishing pole, a pink and white tackle box that was filled with all my fishing gear, you know, spare hooks, corks, line, weights, split shot, gloves, lures, and flies.
Nestled beside the tackle box was a small ice chest that was filled with ice. I had filled the ice chest with ice of course, but also a few bottles of my favorite flavor of gator-aid, lemon lime, a few slices extra thick slices of Brayn deli classic bologna. And for something sweet, I had even tucked away a few moon pies. It was a classic southern fishing lunch, something to ward off hunger. And since I was skipping breakfast that morning, I would really need a snack a few hours in.
Once my gear was packed, I mounted my bike and tightened the strap of the pink and white bike helmet.
You know safety first and all that good jazz. Once the strap on my back was nice and tight, I mounted my bike and then I took off. As I pedaled my bike down the cobblestone paved street. My mind started to wander and I started to think back. So much much was changing in my life. I mean it was now summer, eight or nine months ago my older sister Lily had asked me to volunteer to be the hostage in a silly tradition our school puts on for homecoming. In those eight or nine months I had gone from being a shy, slightly withdrawn little boy to a full fledged girl who had really started to come out of her shell a ton.
Everything seemed to be going my way, I had a small part time job working with my sister in her maid-cafe style bakery. I had a small circle of really good and faithful friends I could depend on. I had gotten really good grades last year. I was going to be on the cheerleading squad next year, Lily was already starting to teach me some basic moves and the other girls were already teaching me the basic cheers and above all and I'm quite proud of this. I even had a boyfriend, whom I loved and cherished above all else and he returned my love with the most tender of affection and devotion any girl could ask for.
All of these thoughts floated around my head as I biked down the aged cobblestone paved streets of Benton. Soon I found myself biking down the main street area, most of the shops were closed, save only for Ginger Even's Bakery that was just starting to put out some hot from the oven, yeast risen and glazed donuts. A few old cars dotted the parking lot of Sunflower Food Store, Benton's premier and only full line grocery store. The town it seemed was still asleep or was in the process of waking up. One of the two I assumed, but at length I finally reached the small park that was located at the bottom of main street. You see, the town was first settled into an 'S' curve of the Big Black River. The original name of the town was 'Hannah's Landing' because in those early days, keel boats, flat bottom boat, and latter paddle wheel boats, the most famous and well remembered of these being the 'River Belle' and the 'General Washington' would land and upload there cargo at the bottom of Main. Those days have long since passed into a hazy memory, and now only the occasional river barge would dock down at the harbor.
Returning to my story, there now sits a huge concrete amphitheater down where the boats used to unload their goods. Surrounding the amphitheater are about a half dozen wooden piers that extend into the river, people are allowed to fish from these platforms. And about a mile and a half down from the amphitheater there is a section of sandbar we locals call "The Beach '' because it kind of looks like a beach, the sand is really sugary white and coarse too. And on really windy days, when the winds would blow at twenty to thirty miles a hour, waves as big as anything seen on the coast would pop up out on the river and they would even start to whitecap and there was even a little run down wooden shack out there that sold snacks on busy days. You know, corn dogs, funnel cakes, dough boys smeared with honey, flavored chipped ice, ice cream by the scoop you know, your basic outdoor warm weather type of foods. They even sometimes fired up the old grill out back and grilled hot dogs, sausage dogs, hamburgers and steaks. We called it the 'Snack Shack' fitting enough I suppose and look at me, I'm rambling off the head again.
Anyway I soon reached the pier and found them swamped with people all dressed to the nines in fishing gear. From where I stood at the top of the hill, I had an ideal view to look down at the gathered mob of people, I mentally counted around two dozen heads. Meaning twenty four people had turned out to try their luck. A sudden stiff breeze blew the scent of strongly brewed coffee right across my face. Now down here in Dixie we call this type of coffee "High Cotton'' coffee because it's said to be so strong that it would make the cotton seeds shoot up from the ground and bloom. Soon, I could hear the noise and chatter from a dozen or so loud and animated conversations. All focusing on the task at hand, catching the biggest largemouth bass and winning the grand prize of five hundred dollars and a nice trophy to boot, cause you know, trophies are nice. The second place prize was two hundred dollars and a smaller trophy, not as big as the first but still nice. And finally the third place prize was a hundred dollars and a small, but still cool looking trophy.
Anyway, I parked my bike by the iron wrought bike rack and secured it with a good length of gray iron chain I had brought from the local hardware store. Not that I really really needed too, you see Benton is that kind of small southern town where you can sleep with your bedroom window wide open and your front door unlocked. But, the bike had cost me around three hundred dollar or so and required dad to drive me to the newly built Walmart Supercenter in nearby Yazoo City to pick it up. And so, I'm not taking any chances with this puppy. Anyway once my bike was safe and secure, I started to walk down the concrete sidewalk that snaked its way down from the top of the hill to the docks below. Once I reached the bottom of the stairs, I started to make my way through the crowds of people who had gathered around the table. There I was greeted with a sight that made my blood run cold, sitting behind the table was a woman, one I knew right off the bat.
She had long, honey blonde hair that reached down to her shoulders, she was dressed in a simple, solid yellow sundress and pretty, freshly painted toes were covered by heeled saddles. The smile she wore on her face was one of those Hollywood smiles that famous starlets give off when there on the air. The kind of smile that seems to fill the room with bright light and tends to draw people in like a moth toward an open flame. I knew the woman as Heather Ford. Or, Ms. Ford as proper social equate in the south would demand me to call her. She was the hostess of the popular PBS night time talk show "Heather's House Party'' a kind of American reboot of the cult classic British late night talk show "Noel House Party" the only difference was "Heather's House Party" had more of that high class old school feel about that. For example, there was a real antebellum southern feel about the set of "Heather's House Party| with the set being designed to mimic a tea room that one will most likely find in any number of well preserved, and historically registered antebellum homes that are scattered throughout the south. Most of those are clustered in either Vicksburg or Natchez, but Benton has one or two of them.
As I neared the registration table, the woman staffing it, looked up and offered me something of a small smile. She then leaned back into her chair and fixed her baby blue eyes upon me. Then in a very high class, southern tone of voice, a tone of voice I have coined the "High Southern" because it reminds me so much of that classic southern accent one hears on those classic period dramas such as "Gone with the Wind" and
"Gods and Generals".
"We'll bless my heart. If its not little old Jamie Sarah Potter herself." She said leaning back in her chair, she then fixed those big blue eyes upon me and smiled. "It seems you're becoming quite popular around her. Everybody has been talking about you and how talented you are. It seems you've learned the fishing trade from your uncle? A one Thomas Weller Potter, who is a well known regional trapper, commercial fisherman and something of an avoid storyteller."
A small smile graced my face as I nodded my head in agreement, my uncle Thomas Weller Potter had indeed taught me how to fish and he was indeed well known for his skill at fur trapping and was something of a highly successful commercial fisherman. He was also, as Heather Ford said, something of an avid storyteller who could spin a yarn as long as your leg. And if any one would give him a chance, he would often twiddle away a whole afternoon vividly recalling accounts from his misguided youth. He was also overly fond of ghost stories.
"Yep," I said walking over to the table. I then bent down, took a forum from a neat stack of papers. I then reached down and took a fountain pen from the table and started to fill in the boxes. I was almost halfway through when out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Heather smiling toward me. I blinked and finished filling in the boxes. Once the forum was completed, I handed the completed form back to Heather who looked it over and finally after a stress filled few minutes she gave it her nod of approval and slipped it into the stack of the completed forums.
"So, I don't know if anybody has informed you Miss. Potter," Heather said smiling toward me, "But there has been a slight change of pace, you see, since I'm in town, we'll I kind of live here now." She said blushing a little. "I figured we could do a live streaming show here today. And since it won't be Heather's House Party without the gunge tank, I took the liberality of having it set up in the charming concrete amphitheater located just a mile away. We figured that it would be added element of mild humiliation that whoever catches the smallest fish of the day would suffer an ice cold gunging at the hands of the person who caught the biggest fish." She said the last part with a wink. "I lifted the idea from one of those charming Japanese comic books you had laying around your room."
Once more I felt my cheeks starting to bloom with color as memories of my last encounter with Heather came flooding back. It was last Halloween, I had only been living as Jamie for a few months. And I was still totally new to being a girl, with me still being new to being a girl, I had kind of chosen to opt out of the yearly tradition of wearing a revealing or risque costume. Anyway, I had chosen to spend that fable evening sitting at home, feasting on personal pan pizzas from the then newly built Pizza Hut pizza place and sipping ice cold Coca-Cola while watching rerun episodes of "Ghost Adventures" and episode after episode of shows that focused on the ghostly encounters, paranormal encounters and battles with demons. Anyway I was just about to turn in for the night, when my mom popped into my room. I remember my mom and dad had just returned from the annual Halloween Fete that's held each year in Bran Park, another park in town that is located on the other side of town. I can't recall what mom was wearing, I think she was dressed in a simple colonial style gown.
Anyway she popped into my room and after a moment's pause, maybe wondering about the three boxes of personal pan pizza boxes scattered about and the dozen or so empty cans of soda, she informed me that I had an visitor waiting for me down in the living room. A woman by the name of Ms. Heather Ford. Slightly puzzled I followed my mother down the stairs and into the living room. There I found sitting upon the living room sofa, sitting beside my older sister Lily Elizabeth Potter and soon my mother was the starlet of Heather's House Party herself, Ms. Heather Ford herself. Who after a moment of pleasant conversation, quickly informed me that my sister had written a letter stating that I had been acting like a big old brat and that she felt a public gunging was in order to knock me down a peg or two. Shocked, stunned and beyond words, I remember following her outside to the front porch, then I remember descending down the wooden steps and onto the cobblestone street. And there in the center of the street stood the fabled gunge tank that had been filled with gallons of deep, rustic orange gunge!
"Hello?!" Heather's voice rang out, as clear as a sabbath bell. "Hello, ground control calling Jamie, space command calling Jamie Sarah Potter. Can you hear me?" Her voice called out again, still spaced, I just stood there with my feet rooted into the ground, "Ladies and gentleman. I'm afraid to report that we have lost contact with Jamie Sarah Potter. She is not floating deep into the uncharted regions of space." She added in a mocking concern voice, a tone of voice that made a few nearby people chuckle and giggle.
I blinked and blinked again as I felt my high cheek bones start to flush with color as I felt Heather Ford starting to tease me a little, slowly I took a deep breath, folded my arms across my chest, curled my lips into a pout and turned my full attention toward the woman. Who returned my pouting with a small demure smile as she walked over and swiftly wrapped her arms around me and pulled me into a tight hug.
"Aw, don't pout sweetie, I was just teasing you." She released me from her bone crushing hug and smiled toward me, "Anyway we're burning sunshine here. Why don't you go ahead and start fishing. Remember we're going to start judging at straight up twelve o' clock." And with that she stepped away. She was about to vanish into the crowds of gathered specters when she quickly paused, turned upon her heel and winked toward me.
"And also honey, one more thing. Since I'm entering this little village contest too, you might even get the change to gunge me in my own tank. So here's your one and maybe only shot at revenge." She paused and walked back toward me.
"We'll see about that! I called out as I turned toward the departing Heather. I sighed and then looked down at the small, pastel pink and white "Hello Kitty'' digital watch wrist watch that was strapped around my slender wrist. The digital time read seven fifteen in the morning. I nodded my head, I had just under five hours to hook and land the biggest fish this sleepy little town has ever seen and with that I would claim my rightful place in history. Quickly, I started to gather up my gear. Once my gear was gathered up, I started to trot toward the nearest pier. Time was starting to slip through my fingers. And I did not have a minute or so to lose.
After a brief five minute or so walk, I finally reached the end of one the pier. The morning sun was just starting to break across the horizon. The water was a little choppy and the soothing sound of the waves crashing into the rocky shoreline rang in my ears. Taking a deep breath, I raised up my fishing rod, pressed down release and tossed my line out into the water. And then I waited, and waited, and as the minutes slowly started to tick by, I was starting to give up hope. Then I felt a sudden tug at the end of the light. My line became tight and the reels started to howler as whatever was attached to the end dove down deep. I knew then, the fight was on.
For sixteen minutes I fought tooth and nail, that fish and I. I could feel that fish was a monster, it pulled and tugged, and I reeled and reeled, each time I would gain a mere inch on him, I would quickly two more. It was a heroic fight, and several times I brought him to the top of the water. His majestic tail danced on top of the waves, he would dance for a long second or two then, with renewed strength he would dive down, deeper and deeper he went. He was fighting with all his strength, with every ounce of it. And oddly enough, I could sense that through the line. Once he had almost me on the ropes, as I was leaning so far over the wooden railing of the end of the pier, once or twice, I feared it might give way and I'll fall into the water.
Then it happened, the line snapped and my big monster of a fish escaped. The fight had left me a hush of a woman. I was breathing harder than a dragon and sweating like a pig. The fight had sapped all my strength, I had lost if not all of the feeling in my hand, and the most damning of all, my spirit had been crushed. That was easily the biggest fish I had ever seen in my life and maybe the biggest one I had ever hooked. And it was gone, gone forever.
The Hannah Potter Amphitheater was a concrete amphitheater located downtown and it was filled with people. Located at the stage at the bottom was a clear plastic booth with a reservoir of pastel pink colored gunge. Standing near the booth , resting on a white and green plastic law chair was a woman with long, golden blonde hair that reached down to the small of her back. She graced the prettiest blue eyes you had ever seen. She was dressed in a light, yellow sundress. A coy smile graced her face as they peered toward the rows of people, all of them decked out to the nines in light summer wear.
From where I was sitting, at the very top row, I took note that most of the guys wore either solid color t-shirts and tropical print swim trunks that were paired with simple plastic sandals or gray colored crocs. A type of plastic shoe that's quite popular with people who often visit the lake, because they dry out quickly in the hot summer sun and provided plenty of protection for your feet. After all, despite the cities best efforts to to clean up the lakeside part that the concrete amphitheater was located in, there still could be hidden dangers lurking about. Such as shards of broken glass, rusted nails from pieces of long rotted away pieces of driftwood, jagged pieces of iron and tin that were discarded long ago by a careless fisherman or farmer.
The girls for the most part wore colorful, pastel colored sundresses over there two piece bikinis or one piece bathing suits, most of them wore colorful beach shoes or thick plastic saddles, I myself had stripped down to my bathing suit, a cute, solid navy blue swimsuit that was modeled off the ones wore by Japanese schools and often appear in Slice of Life anime's my favorite type of anime's. I had ordered the swimsuit from a J-List, an online retailer that focused on selling goods that otaku's like me craved. Including cosplay props and costumes. When I first ordered the item, I thought it would be just a really cute and somewhat risque costume. I quickly found out that the swimsuit was really a swimsuit.
"Good afternoon everyone." Heather called out as she walked out to the center of the amphitheater. "We're coming to you live, on location from Bent, a picture perfect village located at the edge of the Mississippi delta. Today the Benton Bass Federation has sponsored a Fishing Rodeo. And well, to spice things up a bit, we decided on adding an extra forfeit. The person who caught the smallest fish would have the pleasure of going into the gunge tank and get gunged by the person who caught the biggest fish. And now without further delay, let's have the results. Can I have a drum roll please?"
Heather then paused as an already recorded drum roll was played over the sound system. A blonde haired stage hand then handed Heather a sealed envelope, she waited for the roll to play out before she broke the seal and pulled out the thin sheet of paper.
"Okay, it seems that Ms. Jamie Sarah Potter, a student at Benton Academy and a part time waitress and baker at Sweet Magnolia, a maid theme cafe located in the historical downtown area of Benton, did not have any luck today and did not catch a fish. And by default she caught the smallest fish. While shocking enough, it seems, that I caught the biggest fish today, with it weighing in at eight pounds and four ounces." She stuffed the paper back into the envelope and smiled as she handed it back to the stage hand.
I felt another wave of heat pass over my cheeks as all eyes turned and focused in on me.
Drawing a deep breath, I slowly lifted myself from the concrete bench and stood ramrod straight. Still blushing I started to pick my way through the rows of people till at last I found myself standing on the stage below. Heather, smiling from one ear to the other walked over to me and wrapped one of her arms around my shoulder. For a long minute we exchanged knowing glances as she guided me into the tank. A big round circle had been placed in the bottom of the tank, taking a wild guess, I stepped into the center of the circle and waited.
Heather only giggled like a schoolgirl as she stepped to the side of the tank. She then took the release cord into her hands and smiled and then a second later she gave it a good hard tug. Seconds later, I felt something cold fall down upon the top of my head. I quickly closed my eyes and leaned into the downpour. The brightly colored paste smelled nice at least, the smell reminded me of freshly picked strawberries, straight from the field. And it was bloody freezing cold too, it had the consistency of liquid mud. As the mud like liquid rained down on my shoulder, rolled down my back, coated my hair and started to pool around my feet. I felt a sense of sheer coldness starting to encase me.
My blush only started to deepen as I heard thousands of voices starting to laugh and clap. Then it hit me like a verbal ton of bricks, the coldness, the sheer coldness of the stuff and how it clung to me like mud. Now I had been slime twice before, once at my school's homecoming football game. It was something of a weird tradition called the "Hostage Exchange" the other time was on Halloween. As part of a prank played by my older sister.
But both of those times, the gunge had been a bit runny and watery, this time the gunge was super thick, sticky, almost like mud or jam and the coldness, the coldness seemed to cling to me, it seemed to surround me, my arms started to pimple and my heart started to race as the last few drops fell down on my head.
"Oh my!" Exclaimed Heather as she peered into the booth. "I think they might have used a little too much powder when they were mixing up this batch of gunge." She said smiling as she winked toward the crowd. "I gotta say though, pink is really your color darling. It looks so good on you, a lot better than that year old gunge we used last time?" She added with a wink.
I blushed again, it was a joke you see, last time Heather gunged me, she hinted that the gunge had been left over from last Halloween. I was later told once the cameraman had packed up his gear, and the crowd had vanished or returned back to their warm cozy homes or back to their Halloween parties or whatever their business was that night. Yes once they had vanished from sight, Heather had pulled me to the side and in her own words told me that that little statement had been nothing but 'A throwaway Line' a line meant to get a response from the crowd. Heather's really nice too, she even came to visit me in the hospital a few days after Halloween was over. That not to say she not a real witch when it comes to mixing up this stuff. She like a devilish mix of Frankenstein and Einstein when it comes to gunge. Meaning she very creative, very brilliant and at times very cruel.
"Right, it also smells better." I added throwing in my own brand of really dry Episcopalian humor.
"We'll strawberries are in season, and your best friend, Madeline, who also works part time at the maid cafe and part time on her family's farm allowed me to pick a basket full. Some even made it into the basket. So I figured one of the key ingredients to this batch of slime would be locally grown and harvested strawberries. Gotta support you're local farmers." She paused, "You'll also be glad to know that the gunge is a classic mixture. We only used cake batter, oil, eggs and applesauce. All ingredients were brought from Benton's own Potter Mercantile. I think that your families shop right?" She said, smiling a soft smile.
I felt my cheeks starting to heat up again. She was right, getting slime with ingredients that came from my family's shop and my best friends farm kind of did add another layer of embarrassment to the whole thing. And to respond to that, I could only muster a weak smile. And that's how my fishing adventure ended. With me standing in a gunge tank, covered in pastel pink, strawberry scented gunge, gunged once again by a regional celebrity and once more in front of the whole town. What a way I thought to kick off my summer holiday. What a way.