Hellbender Short Story Contest Winner - Wendell Zetterberg
We are pleased to announce that Wendell Zetterberg (pictured on the right) won the short story contest. Wendell attended the Feast Like a Hellbender event, received his certificate and a free hellbender t-shirt. Wendell's story is posted below for you to enjoy!
Three men found themselves the only ones, stranded in a restaurant in southern Indiana. The weather was threatening of tornadoes and hail had begun to fall, pinging off the roof. The owner of the establishment asked the two gentlemen that had dashed into the building as the storm started if he could get them a drink as they waited it out. The name of the diner was the Hellbender. They all sat down with a pitcher of iced tea and looked out the big storefront window at the dark sky as the hail mixed with rain and the wind howled. “Mack,” said the owner, “sorry you’re stranded here.” The power blinked and then was off. Mack lit the table candles and sat with the other two men as he topped off their tea glasses. “Thank you kindly,” said the man wearing a floppy hat and a fishing vest. “Jim’s my name, glad for the Hoosier hospitality. If you don’t mind me asking, why did you name the place the Hellbender?” The third man decided to answer this question. “The Hellbender is a salamander, the largest of all North American amphibians. As a matter of fact, it is the third largest salamander in the entire world. It has been declining drastically in recent years due to water quality, as a big reason. Their main diet consists of crayfish, crawfish or crawdads, they are also known. Pollution, soil runoff is the big one. Silt fills in the crevices where the crayfish live, so no food, no hellbenders.” “Didn’t catch your name brainiac,” Mack grinned. “Sounds like you really know your amphibians. “Well I should, I am a herpetologist. I have studied amphibians and reptiles my whole career, and been fascinated by them ever since I can remember. Dr. Branchus is my name, but everyone calls me Crypt. My lab has so many preserved specimens they started calling me the Crypt Keeper and Crypt stuck. Did you know that a nickname of the hellbender is ‘snot otter’? Not very appetizing for a restaurant though. Another is ‘lasagna sides’, because of their flappy skin on the sides looks like lasagna noodles. They use those skin flaps to absorb oxygen out the water, you know.” “Crypt, you are just a wealth of information,” Jim interrupted, “I have fished these rivers for many years and am quite familiar with the ‘devil dog’, as we used to call them when I was a kid. I know what a hellbender is, I was wondering why the restaurant is named for them.” “You know what a hellbender is, do you?” questioned Mack. “What exactly does the name hellbender mean?” he asked the both of them. “Well, as I recall,” started Jim, “the story goes that back when this area was still being settled, young men would go off on fishing trips. Now I’m sure they fished some, but mostly they was drinking what they were stilling. They’d be out in the water fooling around and find a hellbender. When they went back to town telling about these giant salamanders, no one believed them, because they knew they were drinking and probably imagined it. Going off drinking like that was called a ‘hell bender’, so that is what they started the imaginary salamander that just so happened to be real.” “Well I heard it was as simple as they are ugly as hell, and bent on going back there,” chuckled Mack. “Some believe the origin of the name, hellbender, comes from the sides I described as lasagna sides. Some think the wavy flapping skin resembles flames such as those of Hell. Like the animal is damned to burn eternally. I don’t think anyone really knows for sure where the name originated though,” Crypt responded. “That’s all good and dandy,” Jim said, “but I was asking was why did you name the restaurant the Hellbender?” Mack smiled as the storm started to ease up in intensity. “When I first started out here, this was a tavern called Mack’s. I had some business, but not enough. I had finally decided to throw in the towel and call it quits. I locked the door after closing and never intended to open again. I went fishing since I would soon have to go back to the city and beg for my old job back. That afternoon, my bobber bobbed under the water and I thought I had caught a whale. That sucker pulled and fought me, but I reeled it in. Not a whale, or even a fish, but a big ugly grampus. I had heard of these, but never saw one before. I remembered seeing a poster at the bait shop about cutting the line and not trying to remove the hook and that they were endangered here in Indiana. I cut the line and watched as it moved around under the water. The longer I watched the more fascinated I became and the rest of the day, I just sat on the bank watching fish swim by, a water snake, a turtle, crawdads and that hellbender moving around slowly under the water. I understood the name Allegheny Alligator after watching the way he went after those crawdads. I decided if crawdads were good enough for a salamander, maybe they’d be good for me. I changed my tavern to a restaurant and named it the Hellbender and I specialize in crawdads.” The lights flickered and came back on. “Jambalaya!” shouted Mack. As the sky brightened up and the storm passed, people came out of hiding and the restaurant started filling with customers. Mack became busy with orders as Jim and Crypt chatted more about salamanders and asked customers what they think the origin of the name hellbender might be.