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Fish tale

Unpublished tall-tale written as part of a direct mail promotion for a prominent Boston restaurant.

It was a foggy, foggy morning, a real Hound-of-the-Baskervilles kind of day. I’d been sitting, hunched over in my little skiff since the wee hours, just a half-mile or so off the rocky coast of Manigance Bay, half dreaming, half fishing. My socks and longjohns itched against my clammy skin, and I prayed it wouldn’t start raining again like it had been doing for the past few days. I didn’t like being alone this time of year when the water was so cold and uninviting but I couldn’t bear to miss what promised to be a perfect day for a tasty catch.

The wind was still, almost non-existent, and the sea surface matched the eerie calm except for the gentlest, frolicking wavelets that caressed my boat. I have no idea exactly how long I held my transfixed pose, looking like some sort of wax figure to any gulls passing overhead, when I was nudged out of my trance by a small, wet, slap against the starboard gunwale. Looking up, I saw neatly expanding water circlets. Whatever caused them must have been enroute to somewhere else. My line was still hanging motionless, giving no indication of piscean interest. I had settled back into my comatose posture when another, much larger ripple approached my small boat, appearing as the sixth or seventh ring around a central point of activity. I was leaning forward, straining in the fog to see what was causing the motion, when I saw a most unusual sight.

Hesitantly and very gracefully, what appeared to be the head of some sort of enormous fish broke through and lifted itself slightly above the surface of the mist-draped water. At first, I was sure it belonged to a seal, or perhaps a small whale. Then I became frighteningly aware that I was looking at the head of a creature that must be a great deal bigger than what I could see. Its “skin” was without scales or apparent fur and was of a mottled grey-green color. It was looking directly at me. Propelling itself quietly and softly, it paused mid-water, aided by a set of large flippers. So large that I realized in an instant that my boat was like a child’s bathtub toy compared to this animal’s magnificent scale. My ever-widening eyes followed the outline of its head down to a sensually curving neck that looked as though it was attached to a body roughly the size of a railroad car. It was at this point that I began to think in terms of reality.

Fleeting visions of historic shipwrecks and sea monsters were quickly overruled by paralyzing fear. I could do nothing, move nothing. I could only stare. The Bermuda Triangle, the Titanic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea — I flashed on a dozen adventures and legends from a new perspective. Yet, I was admittedly fascinated. I tried to think about whales, massive, gentle giants, searching out positive thoughts at a moment where it amazed me that I could think of anything else at all. There was no doubt that I was at the complete mercy of this beast and whatever it decided to do about — or to — me.

I took in the scent of its briny hide. I could see it breathing through two delicate slits on the front of its monstrous face. I prayed that its apparent interest in me was not motivated by hunger. I also prayed that I would not be capsized as I had little chance of surviving in the cold water, so far from the rocky shore. All of these sensations and experiences happened over such a small measure of time. Minutes, seconds — I don’t truthfully know which.

When my newfound companion began to once more move slowly toward me, my tangible fear very nearly caused me to loose consciousness. My fragile vessel,which once seemed so stable, began to rock side to side, taking on chilling scoops of early morning sea water with each dip. I braced myself for the inevitable parting with my boat, my meager warmth and my life.

But the moment never came. As mysteriously as it had appeared, the cumbersome creature vanished, sliding smoothly into the depths like a penny tossed into a fountain, the great tail snaking the surface like so much spilled oil. My boat ceased rocking, the grand rings around it spreading further with each moment, until the calm sea of a few minutes before had returned. I pulled the greasy cord and thanked the heavens silently when my trusty three-horse sputtered indignantly to life. I never noticed my rod pitching over the bow and floating away as I projected myself homeward. And I didn’t look back.