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The Old Man and the Fish

The old man woke up when his wife pushed him out of bed.

“Time to go to work!” she said, throwing him his sea hat and long coat.

The old man looked out the window. It looked like a storm brewing to him. But that would be better than to hang around home, he guessed, so he put on his sea suit, and walked out to his little boat.

He always had mead in the boat drank some as he let the wind carry him to the sea.

Once far out enough, he lowered the sail and let out his line. He let it drift about for about the time it takes to calmly drink a pint, then dragged it up again. There were three little fishes on the line. He plucked them off the hooks, gutted them and threw them into his barrel.

The seagulls arrived for the gore. Next he got four fishes, and the gulls went crazy. The third time he laid out his line, he was about halfway through his pint when the gulls had all gone away.

Mysterious, thought the man. Usually the gulls kept him company from the first fish he gutted until he returned to shore again. The air was quiet, but the skies were gray and foreboding. The wind was picking up a little, and he guessed it would rain soon.

Having finished his pint, he began dragging up te line. He wasn’t in the mood for another, as the mead was beginning to spoil, making him a little more queasy than usual. More than seven fish would do to keep him and his wife alive for the week, he supposed. They did have a dozen chickens and a cow, also. They wouldn’t starve. He’d catch more fish after the storm passed, he promised himself.

But the line was heavier than usual. At first he thought he had caught the bottom, but he knew it was too deep out where he was. Then he wondered if he had caught a shark. That would be nice. A shark. He could sell the liver oil, and perhaps eat the shark. That would go well with a few pints of mead.

The old man looked overboard to see the shark. The blood almost froze in his veins when he saw the horrible creature that was chewing on the end of his line, just under the surface of the water.

Those big, round eyes, they stared at him, as if hypnotizing him, and that big wide mouth, set with long, thin and pointy teeth, threatening to gulp him down in one bite.

The man stared stunned at this most ugly apparition below him for a while. And the fish spoke to him: “Let me off the hook, old man.”

The old man, still stunned, reluctantly reached his hand down into the sea, into the big fish’s mouth, and unhooked him.

And the fish spoke to the man again: “Thank you for letting me go. Now if there is something I can do for you, just ask.”

And the man looked wide eyed at the creature in the sea, and when he came to, he asked: “Will you grant me a wish?”

“Anything,” said the fish.

“Anything... Okay... can you make my life serene and peaceful?”

The fish looked up at the man, his face completely expressionless, the eyes round and hypnotic, and after thinking it over for a moment, he answered the man: “I can. On your next fishing trip, bring your wife with you.”

Having said that, the fish disappeared into the deep. The old man scratched his head, wondering how he would get his wife to go with him to the sea. He decided to ask her when he came to land again.

The first thing the old man did when he came to his house was to tell his wife about the wonderful fish he had just met. “He will grant us both one wish, but he wants to see you first,” the man told his wife.

“He must surely be a wise fish, if he wants to speak to me before he grants you anything. He probably wants my approval, so you won’t just squander your wish on something stupid,” said his wife. She was very proud to have been asked, and agreed to go out to sea without bother.

The man went to sleep. In the night there came a huge storm, and the waves rose to a mountainous height. They were still awesome in size in the morning when the old man was awakened by his wife, demanding that he sail out to sea with her to meet that fish.

“I think it is better if we do it when the sea calms down,” said the old man.

“Nonsense! Why wait? The longer we wait the less chance of the fish remembering us!”

“We might sink, and drown, then we can’t wish for anything.”

“If we sink, the fish will save us.”

The woman dragged the old man out to the boat, raised the sail herself and sailed to sea at an enormous speed. The old man held himself firmly to the seat while on the way.

When they arrived at the right location, the old man put down the sails and went back to holding tight to his seat.

And the woman yelled out over the ocean after the fish, calling it. She did this until the boat got hit by a breaker and she was washed overboard.

“Help!” she yelled, as she bobbed on the waves.

The old man looked at her, and wondered how he’d get her back on board. Then he got an idea: he gathered up his fishing line and was preparing to throw it to his wife in order to drag her in, when he saw a huge shape emerge from the deep. The fish merged from directly below the old man’s wife and gulped her down in one bite before disappearing again.

The man was stunned. Amazed. Horrified. And he sat down in his boat and put his line back where it was supposed to be.

The fish emerged again, and he spoke to the man: “Your wish has been granted.” And then he disappeared back into the deep.

Copyright © 2005 by Bewildering Stories on behalf of the author

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