Fish Stocks Limited by Michael Summers - HTML preview
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Chapter 6 – Fish on!
Fish off. That's what Ambrosius thought as he exited his shack. He had sort of half expected it, but that didn't stop him going bright red with anger and embarrassment. Moonrise and her friends had evidently wasted no time in telling the whole of the Hundred Boughs that “No-Fish” Ambrosius Codwich was out after a Bass. The crowds lined the boughs as he tramped doggedly across the branches to his fishing spot on Bough Twenty Four. The faces in the crowds showed a range of emotions from mirth to disdain. He ignored most of them, but there was one face at the back that was not so easy to pass over. Sunbeam stood on one of the side branches, a sad look on her face, trying to keep out of Ambrosius' line of sight. As Ambrosius made eye-contact with her she shook her head and looked away. Amb rosius felt ice stab at his heart, but he carried on. She would see; when he had caught a Fish she would know she had married the wrong man, promptly divorce Fathead and come rushing into Ambrosius' arms. Life worked like that, didn't it? As he thought this to himself Fathead towered behind Sunbeam, kissed her lightly on the head and put his arms around her in a proprietorial fashion. He looked menacingly at Ambrosius, who quickly looked away and continued his journey.
After a short but humiliating walk the spot that he arrived at was, piscogeographically speaking, a perfect one. It was away from the competing lines of the more populous boughs, sheltered from the Smug by a thick canopy and free of lower branches to snag ones line on when casting. Ambrosius sat on the bough, his legs dangling over the edge. He opened his Box of Things and extracted the Bait, the Line and the Hook.
“Sorry, little fellow. My need is greater than yours.” Ambrosius hated this bit. He skewered the cheesy Hookworm with the cruel Hook, passing it twice through its body to make sure it would stay on. He took hold of the bail of line, holding the fork of the mounting loosely so that the line was free to pay out. Then he swung the Hook with the Bait on the end round his head the traditional eight times and let go. The Hookworm squealed as it shot though the air and fell towards the Mist far below. It was a good cast, perfect in fact. Everything was perfect. Nothing more could be done.
The waiting had begun.
The crowds were persistent, new people popping along to stare and stifle a laugh in a constant procession throughout the day and into the evening. Ambrosius tried hard to ignore them, but their interest pressed home the fact that he had made a one-way decision now – there was no going back.
He contemplated the subtle pastel colours of the Smug as it set, then the stars in the velvet sky and the unimaginable vast blackness between them. He had to make a concerted effort to tell himself that the Universe didn't go on forever as many people had previously thought. If the Universe was finite, how could anything within it be considered infinite? Where did such a concept come from? Was it just something Piscadors had made up? Such questions were heresy, for the infiniteness of the Infinity Fish was something deeply drummed into every young Piscador. But when he had looked into that Fish's eyes, he had seen it. An end, looming terribly at the back of those sacred retinas. What was happening? The Piscadors had hunted the Fish for the whole of history without even denting their numbers – this was testified to by the constancy of their catch. Fish and Fisher had mutual respect, and the relationship between the two was inviolate. Something was changing though, something big. The huge hulking yellow monster swam vividly across his mind's eye again. Perhaps the monster was eating all the Fish. That made sense. But where had the monster come from? Big yellow things didn't just appear out of nowhere. Something told Ambrosius that he would not be able to forget his fall so easily. Ambrosius' mind wandered. Fish Stocks Limited. What did it mean... what did it mean...
Focus. Communicate to the Fish through the line.
Hours passed. Night fled into morning. The Smug rose and set, shedding blood over the horizon as it killed time.
What is it about the line that makes it invisible to the fish? If it saw, surely it would surely never bite. It must seem as if it is suddenly drawn along, that a great force is pulling it, something it can never hope to understand.
Night was day.
What went on in the mind of the fish? An instinctual understanding of nature that no Piscador can hope for, surely that is what resides in that unknown resort. The fish has no need to ask questions as we do, for it knows all the answers. The fish is free, it has no worries, no cares. The fisher has knowledge of what is to come, which forces a certain degree of sombreness.
Day was night. Weeks marched passed.
The people watching now had different attitudes towards Ambrosius. Even those who lambasted him tagged their sly comments with a caveat of respect for his tenacity. They knew he was on a hopeless mission, that he had staked his whole life on what was, for him, impossible. Yet still he tried, and hats were cocked to him because of this.
Does the Hook have a memory? If it had what stories it could tell. A bass that fought for hours, a small fry that fought like a leviathan, and, of course, The One That Got Away. So glint there in platinum, hang there in smoking mist, wait patiently, you deadly, beautiful, merciless Hook.
The months passed, the seasons changed, and the warmth of summer faded. Ice and snow crept in and made Ambrosius shiver and jitter on his treetop perch, but still he kept his vigil. A sympathetic old bag brought him hot soup and a knitted jumper. She patted him kindly on the back. “Sometimes, dear, the manly thing to do is just give up.” Ambrosius shook his head and through his chitters spoke firmly “No.”
Winter reached its zenith, hurling snow and sleet at the solitary Fisher. Surrender beckoned, but, frozen and miserable, Ambrosius fought it. He fought it until the weather had nothing more to throw at him, and winter acquiesced into spring.
And then, exactly one year after he had sat on that lonely bough and cast his line, something snapped in the heart and head of Ambrosius Codwich.
“You stinking rotters, Fish! I curse you with all the curses man has ever made! You putrid, insufferable pustules, you are a disease on the face of this planet! How fickle? How evil more like! I hate fish, I hate you!”
Irony often strikes when it is most needed. As Ambrosius raged and ranted and banged his head against the nearest trunk, there was a twitch and a jiggle.
“I hate Fish, yes I do, Fish I hate you! The devil made Fish to taunt me, surely this is true. If there were just me in this world and a single Fish for company I would still hate it. What are you looking at? Come to gawk at a man driven to distraction? Away! Let me be alone in my suffering.” This to the slowly accumulating crowd, whose interest had been once more piqued, not only by Ambrosius' outburst, but also at a subtle movement of the spindle to which his Line was attached.
“To hell with you all, Fish and Fishers alike! Sweet hatred fills me to the brim and you are nothing but stains on this good inanimate land. Away!”
There was a ripple of surprise as the line started to hiss off the spindle. If it wasn't for Ambrosius having taken the good thought to wedge it in the top of the weighty Box of Things and leave the bale arms loose so that the Line could pay out, it would surely have been dragged off the bough.
“You horrible, detestable, insufferable, unendurable...”
The tirade stopped. Ambrosius' mouth fell open. He had seen the Line. “...beautiful, ecstatic, wonderful... A Fish!”
Like a flash, Ambrosius took up the tackle and pressed the bale arms against the quickly spinning bale. The Game had begun. It was clear by the persistence with which the line paid out that this was a Bass of prodigious proportions. It was all Ambrosius could do to check the progress of the Fish and hope that it tired before the line ran out. He was in luck. The quarry changed direction sharply with just metres of line left on the bale, and swam back towards Amrbosius. Without sparing a second he took the opportunity to reel it in, gaining valuable ground on his mist-faring opponent. There were cheers from the spectators as the Fish was on the back foot, but this was no time to become complacent. The Bass changed direction again and now the line was paying out faster than ever. The bale smoked and Ambrosius worried that it would catch fire. Thinking fast, he reached into his Box of Things and took out his flask of water, pouring it quickly over the smouldering spindle. This solved the immediate problem, but the Fish was still gaining ground and the Line was running out fast. Ambrosius must take a risk. He grabbed the handle of the tackle and controlled the rate at which the Line paid out by checking its rotation. The line creaked in complaint, but this was better than leaving it to hit the knot at the end of the bail and stop dead, snapping for sure. Ambrosius pulled the line to one side, trying to turn the Fish's great head. Again, he was lucky – the Fish turned. He reeled like there was no tomorrow, and the Fish came tantalisingly close. Then it turned once more and took the line out with it again.
Minutes went on in this way, the Fish giving ground then taking it back just as fast. Hours went. The crowd stood on tenterhooks, shouting encouragement. Their tune had changed; suddenly everybody wanted Ambrosius to make the catch. He had no time to enjoy such good feeling. His whole being was focused into the ping of the line, the whiz of the reel, the pull of the Bass.
What is a day after a years waiting? Nothing, but it felt like an eternity. Ambrosius was exhausted, but still he played the Game as the sun set. New people replaced the old in the crowd, people taking shifts to watch the ballet of wits that was playing out before them. The Fish struggled mightily, seeming to lose no strength at all. What a Fish! Nobody had seen the like of the battle that was being fought between the dwellers of Mist and Tree. The night wore into day once more, but Ambrosius was still there fighting. He knew something of this Fish now, he had a feel for its personality. It was freedom, yet it was unpredictability. He fought it in his heart and in his head. Here it was. That Fish was educating Ambrosius with every buck and tug.
The second night came, but Ambrosius did not give in to sleep. He occasionally took a hand off the spindle to rub his red-ringed eyes, letting the line pay out as he did so, but always he caught the run and turned the Fish once more. The day was a relief, for the warmth of the Smug was welcome, but with it Ambrosius began to feel the fatigue. The shimmering heat haze on the horizon conjured up nightmare visions of monsters and goblins and other things too outlandish to describe. But still he fished.
The third night came and now Ambrosius' thinking had beco me increasingly eccentric and weird. The rhythm of the Fish seemed to make his thoughts ebb and flow, themes repeating in monotonous freakishness as the line paid out and in, out and in. He was hypnotised. The Smug, when it came, was not so welcome any more, for it blinded Ambrosius' sleepless eyes and made him blink. Each blink was a quantum of sleep, from which he jolted upright disconcertingly, once more to the Fish.
The fourth night came causing waves of fear and anger to almost consume him. Almost. With some previously unknown reserve of strength he mastered the peculiar chemical imbalances that his sleeplessness had induced and fished on. Day crawled up the horizon and laughed at Ambrosius, so serious and brow-knitted where he sat. A Hookbeetle crawled across his legs and continued its own mission unthinkingly as it trundled mechanically onwards. The same animal mechanics kept Ambrosius functioning; this was excellent for Ambrosius as a machine is just what he needed to be.
The fifth night was terrifying. Dark shapes flitted about at the edge of our determined Fisher's vision, taunting him. Things from other dimensions started to impinge on his consciousness. Dawn rose somehow from the sepulchre of night, but it was a cold and windy day without cheer. The Fish seemed perhaps to have tired a little, for it pulled out with slightly less vigour, but it was by no means beaten.
The sixth night. Shapes and patterns. The image of a Fish, smiling and laughing, taunting the Fisher, telling him of his weakness. Blackouts. Daylight. Some last inner reserve of strength. Yes, Ambrosius had strength. He would see this through. All through the hours of darkness he fished, all through the night he meshed with the thoughts and struggles of his quarry; he was one with the starlight, one with the endless black of space. He was free, he was free...
He was told about it afterwards, after sleeping for a full three days. He had tapped an inner reservoir of strength and skill, and with an impossible burst of energy had renewed his efforts. The Fish was struggling away from him, the Line taut, but no more taut than it had been so many times before. There was no reasonable cause for worry. Ambrosius' conduct was impeccable, textbook, expert... yet it still happened. Ambrosius was pulling to one side, trying to turn the Fish. Had he succeeded? The tension in the Line had certainly dropped, and now he reeled in faster than ever. He reeled in. Was the Fish finally beat? He reeled in some more. Sleep could wait just a few more minutes. He reeled in. He reeled in. He reeled in. The line came up the tree. But it felt light. How light and how absolutely, undeniably, irrevocably devoid of a fish. The precious Hook was gone too, snapped off in the great fish's mouth, no doubt. Ambrosius looked up to the rising Smug, that Smug that had risen non-judgementally seven times on his one and only chance to become fishful. He shook his fist and he screamed like a dying creature, and the crowd cried and mumbled to themselves and left him. He reeled. Sank down in a flood of tears and sleep, he fell; sleep came washing over him like a Stone addicts long-anticipated fix. He was like a corpse, but still he breathed the summer air, still his heart beat and his blood rushed and his brain fired. All through this black repose he could see nothing else but a great white Fish, so breathtakingly beautiful and sleek, standing out impossibly bright against the blood-ebony backdrop of his eyelids.