The townsfolk talked but she didn’t care. Day after day, she lugged her saw, a bucket, a homemade fishing pole, and bait across the frozen lake. Once there, she sat shivering while waiting for the telltale tug from a creature of the deep. This torturous task wasn’t for the fairer sex but what choice did she have? On that particular day, as clouds and a north wind rolled in from the mountains, she noticed two little boys at the edge of the lake, shouting and pointing…
This was the topic for January’s 24-Hour Short Story Contest. As usual I didn’t win, which suits me because now I can post my story here…
God, thought Anna, people actually do this for fun.
It was her fourth day on the lake, the fourth day on which she had walked gingerly out across the ice, cut a hole and sat in front of it, the line from her pole dangling in the water. It was the fourth day on which she had felt colder inside than out, and had begun to believe that if she looked she would be able to see her bones ice-blue beneath her skin.
It was the fourth day on which nothing had happened.
Suddenly she heard shouting from the lakeshore and looked up. Two small boys were pointing and talking excitedly. Her eyes followed their pointing fingers, up the road that led into the small town, and watched as a sleek sports car bounced down the gritted track and came to a halt beside the lake. It was the kind of car that looked as if it had a top speed in three figures, finger-light steering and machine-guns behind the front grill.
Anna smiled grimly. She had been expecting this.
A man got out of the car. He wore an immaculately fitting coat and aviator sunglasses. His suit looked expensive and his shoes shone in the wintry sun.
He should have just worn overalls with “Homeland Security” printed on them, thought Anna.
The man looked down at the ice, hesitated briefly, then strode confidently forward. As he came to a halt beside her one foot slipped slightly, causing his cocky smile, just for a second, to be replaced by a look of panic. He recovered quickly.
“Good morning,” he said cheerfully. “Caught anything?”
“Possibly pneumonia,” Anna replied. “Other than that, no. They’re not biting today.”
“Nor yesterday, apparently,” said the man. “Or the two days before that.”
“Wow,” said Anna, “the townsfolk really do talk about me, Mister -?”
“Davis,” said the man. “And you’re right, they do talk about you, but that’s not how I know. We’ve been watching you, Anna Voloshin.”
“So it seems,” said Anna, “but I don’t know why. I’m here to fish. Look, I have bait.”
“And I have boxer shorts,” said Davis, “so I’m Muhammad Ali.”
“Look-“ began Anna.
“No, you look,” said Davis. “We know your name is Anna Voloshin, and that you arrived here from Russia five days ago. Your visa says that you’re a marine biologist and that you’re here on vacation, but we both know you’re a spy.”
“We don’t have spies in Russia anymore,” said Anna. “We Google stuff.”
Davis smiled. “We know you’re here to recover your drone,” he said.
“Yes,” said Davis. “The one you were using to spy on the canning factory just outside town.”
“Sounds like a waste of a good drone to me,” said Anna. “It’s not as if the building is actually, say, a research facility.”
“Which of course it isn’t. Anyway, your drone was damaged and crashed. It went through the ice and into this lake. We know this because our drone shot it down, and filmed it all happening. And you’ve been sent here to get it back.”
“I’ve told you,” said Anna, “I’m just here to fish.”
“It’s a closed lake,” said Davis. “It’s filled purely by rain and melting ice. There is no stream into or out of it, therefore there are no fish.” He saw Anna’s eyes widen for a second. “You should probably have Googled that.”
There was a brief silence.
“No wonder the townsfolk kept talking about me,” said Anna eventually. “They must have really enjoyed laughing at the idiot tourist –“
There was a sudden beeping noise. They both looked at Anna’s rod. At one end it looked just like an ordinary fishing pole, but on the handle, where the sound was coming from, were a number of buttons and a small red light, which was now flashing.
“Well, that could have been better timed,” muttered Anna.
“Perhaps I was wrong about the fish,” said Davis. “You seem to have caught an electric eel.”
Anna smiled sweetly at him, then pressed one of the buttons.
There was a soft boom, a flash of light from underwater, and a faint shudder along the ice. The overall effect was as if the lake had tried to hold in a sneeze.
“What the-?” gasped Davis.
“Oh, come on,” said Anna, “how did you think I was going to get it out? With a worm on the end of a piece of string? I was never trying to get it back, I was just sent to make sure you lot didn’t get it.”
She dropped her rod into the water, kicked her bucket skidding along the ice, and poured the remains of her bait onto his shoes. “See you around, Muhammad,” she said.
She began to walk away towards the shore.
“I can’t believe you blew it up,” said Davis, shaking his head.
Anna turned. “Don’t get so cut up about it,” she said. “If it makes you feel any better, remember that those drones are putting you and me out of a job.”