Mrs Dalton had been the first to discover Berty. Soon in tow Miss Badeal, most of the Laghari family and an assortment of other village folk followed her down to the local pond. ‘He really is the most remarkable of his kind I’ve ever seen, I’ve no idea how he ended up there, I’ve been walking around Huntly garden’s pond near every day since they dug it out and I’ve never seen so much as a cherry shrimp or killifish in that bog, but today it is clear as tears and there is the most enormous… ’ Mr Laghari sidled up to expedition’s leader to respond. Like the others he had heard shouting from the street.
Mrs Dalton’s behaviour, usually so mild mannered, could now only signal something of interest. ‘Yes, well of course the pond is only a few years old’ said Mr Laghari a little defensive of the accusation of the sterility towards the pond. ‘D’you remember there was absolutely no animal life before, just that hulking great statue of colonel Greene…’ But Mrs Dalton cut him off ‘right yes, but the pond has been manifestly barren ever since… Henry and I tried serval times to introduce all manner of fish. Guppies, neon tertas, rainbow skilts, even something called a cherry barb but every day there’s nothing but bloody gulls and pigeons. Skulking, stealing them for food.’
The group funnelled down the gravel path holding back the blossoming arms of the overgrown lilacs for the next to pass. ‘You know’ tried Mr Laghari ‘it might be a little cold for the smaller more tropical fish… it has been known to freeze over completely in the winter.’ But Mrs Dalton had pressed on to ready Henry for the gang’s arrival.
Having been stranded holding open the floral gates to the recently reconfigured Huntly community picnic, wildlife and pond area, Mr Laghari was last to see the cause of this latest bout of screaming. From the vantage of his taller than average height, he could see a pair of bare wagging legs and as he joined the ranks of the reluctant semicircle the source of the alarm became abundantly clear.
Mr Dalton, wax cap limp and wet beside him, was spread eagled, cotton-sock naked digging his hands into the muddy shallows. It took a second to realise what in fact he was doing, to understand that it wasn’t grief or anger that had spurred Mr Dalton into his state of nude revelry, but adoration. He was chanting. A deep timeless moan that rose and fell with the thrashing of his body.
Mrs Dalton was now standing over him pleading him to stop ‘what has happened to you Henry!’. Many of the younger members of the procession had begun covertly filming the retired economics teacher, ignoring like everyone else the real spectacle. Distracted by the Daltons wild affectations.
Mrs Dalton turned on the group to ‘leave! My husband is sick… someone call an ambulance’ as Mr Dalton screamed the words ‘Cattttmoooot!’ and sat bolt upright.
A brief shower of silence drenched the scene. ‘Look at him’ he began in a measured tone, standing slowly to face the group. ‘Look at him… he is our new wonder… come close and see’. The group were torn between the prospect of moving closer to Mr Dalton pallid naked frame and seeing what could have caused so much emotion in a pair so usually mundane.
‘Rise!’ screamed Mr Dalton. And at his command the pond began to shake and the water part. From the barren little pool rose something magnificent. Dank water fell from its back as it lifted itself out of the pond to hover some 3 feet above the water’s surface before crashing back down.
What floated before them was of unquestionable otherworldly splendour. The biggest and most brilliantly coloured trout anyone of them had ever seen. Its giant spine ran a glittering oil spill near the whole length of the waterhole. Long brilliant whiskers fanned out from around its mouth like a peacock’s plume. They stood transfixed.
Mrs Dalton was still pleading with Henry to cover himself, but the zealot kept rolling out from under her Barbour. ‘You see’ she said tying the sleeves between his legs like a nappy ‘it’s incredible… he’s incredible… he spoke to us’.
Fortunately for Mr Dalton the trout was as advertised, and the group were still standing awestruck. Several minutes went by in complete silence. Having fixed Henry Mrs Dalton again returned her attention to the fish, but not before noticing that same dull hum still rippling in the mud around Henry’s mouth start up behind her.
Mrs Dalton covered her eyes in horror. Many of the older members of the crowd were too disrobed and beginning to chant. Within under a minute half the lot were stripped down, heads bowed into the grass when the fish spoke.
Its great gapping mouth sucked down near half the pond. The exposed rainbow chainmail blinding all those who weren’t already prostrate. There was a delicate lull as those who had come to see him were silent under the spell of his brilliance. Berty’s great cheeks billowed out before he drew breath and unleashed a 1000 gallons of muddy pond water over his new disciples.
‘Water!’ rasped the fish. His pond now nothing more than a muddy pit. ‘And food! Whatever you have’
In a few hours most of the worshippers had pulled themselves away to help reroute the park’s modest sprinkler system to within a radius that would guarantee the great fish be kept moist. A que had formed to feed the new water feature. Each person eagerly tossing whatever scraps they happened to have brought with them to the park. Chewing over each new item with solemnity, mixing it all together for 5 minutes or so until he had a kind of stew like mush that he shallowed in a deferential silence.
A sign warning of the necessity of wearing sunglasses had been erected to his left, lest the clouds should part and reveal his blinding diamond rump. A group of local boys were tasked with patrolling the area with wooden sticks to warn of gangs of local cats that had made to devour the deiform fish.
This scene carried on uninterrupted for several months. Always a group of worshippers, always watered, always kept fed Berty flourished and was later plasticised, enshrined and mounted in the local museum right across the hall from colonel Greene.