The peach colored sun had broken away from the purple horizon when Tad made it to the fishing pier. Every fisherman in the region knew the best spot was at the far end where the water looked black as pitch. It was impossible to weasel in between the old timers who claimed the railing. In fact, it was considered a rite of passage to fish among those fishing gurus. Tad and the younger newcomers joked on occasion how they never left the pier, as if immortally soul bound to the old, rickety pier. One time, Tad thought he would get himself a spot, braving to go down the pier during a bad storm. Salt stung his eyes and nostrils, waves knocking him down to his knees. Much to his horror, the old men were all there, still fishing.
Snorting, he thought, today that is going to change!
Marching down the wooden appendage, his steps bouncing the whole way, determined to elbow his way between two of the old skin-and-bone entities for a chance to gain a good round of fishing. At the rate he was catching, he earned enough fish to feed himself and pay for his bait, nothing more. Drawing near, he tightened his grip on his pole and bait bucket. Stumbling to a stop, he blinked; one of the five fishing gurus were missing. Rubbing his eyes, he stared at the empty corner on the right side, astonished. Walking up to the railing, he held his breath as they all turned to take notice of him.
“Well look at this, boys!” chuckled the bristly faced man next to Tad. “We’ve got ourselves a replacement.”
The he middle fishing sage whistled, “Ain’t he pretty.”
“Not for long!” shouted the tallest one at the opposite corner.
This sent the quartet of smelly, greasy, unshaven old men into a roar of laughter.
“Shush, Gerald!” warned the man next to the tall one. “Let the boy fish.”
“All right,” sighed Gerald.
“What you fishin’ for?” The middle man in the group lifted an eyebrow. “Dog fish? Grouper? Maybe snapper even?”
Tad smirked, deciding to appeal to their humor, “A wife.”
Another roar of laughter assured he had succeeded.
“Oh, he’s a keeper.” The man next to him slowed his laughter, catching his breath, “The name’s Jedidiah.”
“Tad, sir.” He tilted his cap to them all. “It’s an honor to get to fish next to such well respected men.”
Jedidiah elbowed the middle man, “You hear that, Jeff?”
“Yea, I heard it.” He snorted, a scowl on his face, “I wouldn’t exactly call us that.”
Tad blinked, “By the way, what happened to the man who normally fishes this corner?”
“He’s dead,” sighed Gerald at the opposite corner. “Not sure what killed him, but when he fell over the railing…”
“Yea, he went over too fast for Jed to catch’im,” added the man next to Gerald. “I’m Lester. In case you haven’t caught their names, this tall one in the corner to my left is Gerald, Jeff in the center there, Old Jed next to ya. We’re harmless. Just old and tired, that’s all.”
“Nice to meet you all…” Feeling unnerved to know they let their longtime friend fall over into the black abyss below, Tad focused on fishing.
As he baited his hook with a shrimp, casting it out into the deep unknown, he couldn’t help but notice the look on the old fishermen’s faces. Joining them, leaning on the railing, staring at them in curiosity. They were all wrinkled from the sun, weathered and beaten with their unshaven chins. The most disturbing thing was the glazed look in their eyes. Often he and the other boys had tried to talk to these totems of fishing with no luck or advice. A chill made Tad shudder, despite the heat from the sun beginning to sting at his face. Something about these old men seemed like a fairytale.
Did they only speak to me in order to secure a fifth man on the end of the pier? Staring at his line, it ceased to be seen past where it connected to the top of the water. What happens when I pack up and leave? Will someone take my place or am I expected to stay in a never-ending loop of fishing for all eternity?
Gerald’s posture shifted and he stood taller, pulling the line on his reel. Tad watched the old man’s eyes start to shine, a brilliant blue full of life. Adrenaline washing away his sleepy demeanor, Gerald positioned his hands on his rod ever so carefully. He yanked up; it was a strong and seamless motion and Tad felt himself in awe watching Gerald set the hook. The long, sleek, flimsy wood bent over as if it were wrapping around an invisible barrel. He reeled and pulled, reeled and pulled; leaning first one way then the other. The fight was on!
The rest watched amazed by the struggle between man and fish. Gerald pushed into Lester which led to the bulk of them smashing into Tad. Then Gerald stumbled back to his corner, planting a heel on the railing, pulling the rod high. The tip of the rod bent over, folding in half from the feat. Gerald grunted, another round of reeling; he was desperate to make the fish tired enough to bring it to the pier.
“What in the hell do you got?” marveled Jeff.
“Not sure,” rumbled Gerald. “Oh! I see a flash of gold!”
“Gold?” Tad knotted his brow. “What sort of fish is gold?”
The fish had breached. They all leaned far over the railing to see what kind of fish Gerald was tugging up to the dock. Tad pulled his hat off, glaring at the shiny finned treasure. As it plopped down at Gerald’s feet, they all gasped in wonder. The fish was large, maybe a good fifty pounds, plump and round with long flowing fins. The most amazing feature was its golden scales. They glimmered in the sunlight like a pile of coins.
“Hot dog, boys! I caught myself a Goldfish!” Gerald was doing a little jig in celebration, “Now I can pay off my debts so my wife will let me back in the house! I’m going home, boys!”
No one spoke a word, still stunned by the golden wonder as it opened and closed its mouth at them. Grabbing a worn-out sailor’s jacket, Gerald wrapped his treasure so none of it could be seen. He took two steps to freedom, but paused, turning to the rest of his fishing compadres.
With tears in his eyes, he wished them a farewell, “May Lady Luck be kind to you.”
“Aye,” mumbled Lester.
There were only four men at the end of the pier, and to Tad, it felt like a gaping hole. None of the younger men nearby seemed to notice the chance to get one of the best spots. Huffing, Tad bobbed his rod, feeling no signs of a bite or even a snag on the line. His hook bare, he added another shrimp and recast for another attempt. Sighing, he watched the men to his left, his interest growing. Lester’s brow was folding, his mouth twisting; he tugged the line, reeled it a little, then snorted.
“Dang, I think I got weeds on it again,” Lester’s rod was bent over with the weight of the debris, lacking the fight Gerald’s had shown.
Tad watched him reeling in his line. As the end of the line reached the top of the water, Tad’s eyes grew wide to see something red and green sparkling in the sunlight. Lester also looked confused, reeling faster, curiosity goading him to hurry. Pulling it over the railing, it became clear what he had managed to retrieve from the unknown. Tangled in his fishing line was a mermaid’s purse. Rubies studded the entire outer shell of what would have been a shark’s egg case with green silken straps imitating seaweed. The accessory was beyond gorgeous, even to an old fisherman’s eyes.
Lester whistled, “Woo-wee! Ain’t my wife going to be head over heels over something this fancy!”
“I’ve never seen anything like that before…” breathed Jeff.
“Me neither.” Jed rubbed his jaw. “What you gonna do with it, Lester?”
“Give it to the wife!” Lester gave him an expression as if he had asked a stupid question. “I can go home with this in my hands! She’s always whining I never get her anything nice, and here boys, is my ticket!”
That being said, Lester abandoned his fishing gear. Tad watched the old man run full steam down the pier with a tight grip on his red and green treasure. All three of them looked to one another. What once was five fishermen at the end of the pier was now three. Jeff shuffled himself over between where Gerald and Lester had been.
“Wonder what else is down there…” he winked at Jedidiah and Tad.
They watched Jeff bait his hook, check the weights one more time, and with a groan he gave it the best cast he could. The reel let its line flow fast and loose with only Jeff’s fingertips gauging how slow the weights fell through the unseen depths. Jeff flipped the lever, bringing the line to a halt. He tugged the rod once, then twice. Looking over, Tad locked eyes with Jeff who smiled with a twinkle in his eye. With a hard yank, Jeff attempted to set the hook.
“Shoot!” he fussed, stomping his foot. “And I bet I threw my bait off as hard as I yanked that sucker!”
Jedidiah laughed, “Got too excited thinking you’d catch something like Gerald or Lester, huh?”
“You hush your mouth,” snorted Jeff reeling the line in.
Tad leaned against the railing, still no bites and again, he needed to add another shrimp on the hook, tossing it back to the dark waters below. Sighing, Tad watched the waves roll in, slurping and smacking into the pylons below. A flash of white caught his attention, his heart racing for a second before he realized it was Jeff’s line. Squinting, it broke the surface of the water. Tad realized there was something long and sparkling caught on the hook and weights.
“What is tangled in your line, Jeff?” Tad stood tall, watching the lump fall at Jeff’s feet.
“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle…” whispered Jeff. “It’s a pearl necklace.”
“And a long one, at that,” added Jedidiah.
Jeff untangled the necklace and rolled it between his fingers. Not satisfied they were real, he placed a pearl in his mouth, lightly biting his teeth on it. His eyes grew wide as he looked back at the necklace. After a moment, he turned back to Jed and Tad.
“They’re, they’re real!” He shoved them in his pocket. “My old lady always fusses at me about not getting her jewelry. This ought to do the trick to get me back in the door!”
Grabbing his pole, Jeff left the two of them behind. Looking to one another, Tad wasn’t sure what to think about the events the day had brought. Only one fishing guru remained.
“Does this happen often?” he questioned Jedidiah.
“Never…” He shook his head, sliding down to give the two of them more space. “Let’s hope we are as lucky as the rest of the boys.”
“Let’s hope!” nodded Tad with enthusiasm.
Reeling up his line, he found no bait on his hook.
“Fishing on credit, I see,” snickered Jedidiah.
“Yea,” Tad added another shrimp and sent his line back to the sea. “That seems to be a trend for me today. Well, good luck to us both.”
Jedidiah nodded in agreement. They both fell back into the sleepy state of waiting. The sun was falling at their backsides, two hours shy of connecting with the horizon. Again, no bites, no nibbles tapped on Tad’s line. The water below them was growing ever darker, more menacing with the fading sunlight.
Jedidiah’s reel screamed, making them jolt back to life. His line was taut, his reel failing to slow the fish down. Jed fumbled to click the button, upping the drag until the reel could hold fast. He pulled and reeled, pulled and reeled. Jed stumbled backwards, putting his weight into the fight. The reel clicked and whined on occasion as the fish fought back. Sweat was dripping off Jed’s chin, the old man panting as his arms shook.
Looking over to Tad, he was panicking, “I’m gonna need your help to lug this one in!”
Tad rushed to his side, gripping the pole with Jed. The old man sighed, happy to get some reprieve. The tugging on the line made the pole wiggle and dance in their grip. The strength of the beast was startling. Tad realized Jed had backed away from the railing in fear of being pulled over! Whatever he had, it was fast and large. An hour had passed as they worked together to pull, then lean forward to reel, which led into another strong pull. One last tug from them and they felt the fish’s will to fight dissipate and allowed the line to drag him closer to the pier. They reeled in the unknown behemoth, eager to see what Jed had caught. Approaching the railing with caution at the sound of splashing, Tad leaned over, shocked to see Jedidiah had hooked a monstrous fish.
“What is it!” Jed was still reeling in the slack. “What did I hook into?”
“It’s… it’s a giant seahorse!” Tad ran for his gear, he knew he had an old rope somewhere. “We’re gonna need to rope him to get him up and over or the line might snap!”
Rushing back to the railing, Tad made a slipknot at one end. Skillfully, he managed to land the loop over the tail of the panting orange and chestnut beast. Putting a foot in the railing, Tad leaned his weight into the rope, leveraging the seahorse up. It took all their strength to grab the man-sized creature and roll it up and over the railing. All three fell onto the dock. Light burst from the seahorse when it hit the wooden deck. Before their eyes, the seahorse shifted into a massive chestnut colored horse. He had thick heavy muscles and a long orange mane and tail. It snorted and whinnied at Jedidiah as if to acknowledge the old man had earned the title of being his owner. Blinking, Tad was floored to have seen so many miracles caught off the end of the pier. Looking over to Jed, he had climbed to his feet and was dancing.
“It’s a miracle!” Jed threw his hat off. “I got myself a horse!”
“I had heard fairytales, but this…” Tad was at a loss for words.
“This here, boy, is my chance to quell my wife’s badgering!” he removed the rope from the tail, unhooked the horse’s mouth. “I’ll be able to plow the fields again!”
Blinking, Tad questioned, “Your wife?”
The old man put the roped around the horse’s muzzle, “You mind if I take this rope?”
“N-no…” Tad stood up, watching Jedidiah leaving in a hurry, leaving him with many questions.
Looking to the end of the pier, there was nothing but leftover fishing gear from the fishing gurus. Determined to keep at it, Tad decided to check his line. Again, his bait was missing. Moving to the center of the railing, he hooked on another shrimp. With all his strength, he cast his line as far out as he could. At his back the sun was setting, daylight was turning into a burning pink and purple color. He replayed the day in his head over and over. Every fishing tale his father ever told him had come to life there before him. His mind wondered if the last tale about the Fisherman’s wife was true, was she really-
A tug on his line broke his thoughts. He leaned over the railing, peering down at the water where his line dove deep. Another tug sent his heart racing, adrenaline pumping. He waited for a hard bite. A glow started emanating from under his line. It grew brighter, larger, and then his breath caught in his throat. A woman’s face emerged next to his line, her eyes brilliant blue, her golden hair glowing, her lips red, and below her swished a lovely green and purple mermaid’s tail. Swallowing he leaned harder over the railing as she waved up at Tad. Pointing to himself, she smiled and nodded.
“H-how can I help you?” stuttered Tad, leaning his pole on the railing.
“Is this your line?” She tugged on it, making the tip of his pole bend.
“Y-yes,” he answered.
“You have some wonderful shrimp!” She blushed, her cheeks bright red against her pale skin. “What on earth do you do different?”
“I salt them…” he confessed.
“What is your name, kind sir?” her voice was sweet, like an angel singing in a choir.
“T-tad…” he was still in shock from the sight of her.
“Tad, I am in need of your help.” She frowned, “My money, my purse, my necklace, even my horse have all been stolen!”
Grimacing, he knew where it had all gone.
“If you can return them to me,” she batted her long lashes, “I will gladly become your wife.”
Tad paled, a shiver rattling through him. Grabbing up his pole, he reeled in his line, picking up his gear and started to walk away.
“Wait! Tad!” she shouted after him, “Are you retrieving my items?”
Looking over, his face stern, “No, I’m quitting. After today, the last thing I want is a wife.” Walking away he mumbled under his breath, “I think I’ll take that job at the castle stables I was offered last week…”