Night Fishing
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Art by Piesol - PL

You loved fishing at midnight. The water, dark as void, curling around you in a leviathan’s embrace. Your tiny motorboat, little more than a raft with a hull, the only thing keeping you from drowning a nameless death in the black abyss. Your fishing line sailing in a silver arc across the glittering sky and vanishing without a sound in the inky sea.

Some people would call your hobby lonely, others would call it scary. There was never anyone else, not this far out, not at this time of night, and there was always something odd about the black water, how you could never quite see what lay below. There was a certain wildness to it, a sharpness that summoned an ancient terror of the dark and cold. But you loved being alone, and you loved the unknown. In a way, it was all you have ever known. But this night was different. For the first time, sating some unquenchable, untouchable urge, you had brought someone else. You had brought Her.

You felt Her gaze upon your back, a creeping warmth like the breath of a starving tiger. Her intricate wooden body, all thick dense oak and rough-cut char, sat in the back of your boat, a shadow that loomed over your shoulder as you unpacked your fishing gear. She had not always been with you – She had appeared one day in your house, in your room, at the foot of your bed. A nightmare in the dark. The memory of that day was crystalline, a hard glass splinter in the skin of your memory, a harrowing, glittering fragment that dug and pricked whenever you moved.

You busied yourself with your rod, feeling more than seeing your way through the motions. Clipping line to metal blisters, snapping bobber to worn groove, tying feather to gleaming hook.

The glass shard of memory dug deeper, as it always did when you went out here. Perhaps its coming was a little faster this time, or maybe a little slower, but you did not care. You set up your rod and the memories came.

It had been a normal day, a day of dreary work, prickling sun, and a humid air that curled papers and warped wood. That morning, you had woken, dressed, and gone to work. Seen a few patients, then gone home early without lunch. You had been skipping lunches, lately, to make ends meet. You knew that you could find the funds, easily – you knew you ate out too often, should drop that gym membership that you never used, never needed to buy all those meaningless things that looked nice on the shelf only to gather dust in your garage – but you didn’t change how you lived. Change made you uncomfortable. You always liked the idea, but you could never actually commit to it.

The boat rocked and you shifted, more out of habit than anything, and tossed the line, eyes far away on a distant sky.

She had come to you that night. You had gone home, eaten what food there was, and listlessly occupied yourself for the few hours that came before dusk fell and you could excuse yourself to bed. In your mind, going to bed before the sun set was an indication of failure. You never thought about why it meant that to you; you simply knew that it did, and you kept yourself to it, even when it meant hours wasted doing what amounted to nothing – answering emails, playing Scrabble against yourself, painstakingly writing pieces of that book you would never publish before frustratedly crumpling the pages and throwing them in the corner.

Your room was still full of those papers. Sometimes you considered opening them, reading what you had written all those years ago, peeking into a mind you could not remember having, but you didn’t.

Sometimes you considered throwing them away.

The boat rocked. The fishing line was strong, a thick hemp braid woven into heavy rope. It wouldn’t trick small fish, but that’s not what you were here for.

You had gone to bed just after sunset, as you always did, trudging up the stairs in your boots and turning to the only room of your house worth living in. You took off your shoes, peeled away your socks – you had always meant to use powder to get rid of the sweat, but it always seemed to slip your mind – and collapsed onto your bed.

You lay like that for a long time. Your eyes were open, but you did not see the ceiling, nor did you see anything that would occupy another person’s imagination. You just existed, lying there with the light on in that windowless room that reeked of stale air and old drywall. You considered what you would do tomorrow, then stopped considering it. You knew what you would do. Each day was the same: you would wake up, go to work, get out of work early, make excuses and promises for more hours – next week, next month, next time, you always said – go home, and be like this. To pretend that things could be different was laughable, pitiful. You stopped thinking.

A wave furrowed the still water, slapped against your boat in a spray of salt. You looked up. The sky had been cloudy today, a thick soup of slate-grey paint and dye in stagnant water, then swirling with sharp rushes of crimson and gold at sunset, but some time over the last few hours the wind had blown in and the skies had cleared, the dye and paint making way for a brilliant sheen of silver dust blown over the violet-indigo sea of space and stars. As above, so below.

Back then, in the evening so long ago, you had lain in your bed. You were not aware of closing your eyes, if you had at all, nor were you aware of dreaming. But when you awoke, She was there.

You closed your eyes now, feeling the rock of the boat beneath you. It was not waves, nor was it wind, that caused the rocking. It hadn’t been for some time. The sea was cool and calm as a sheet of glass, a puddle of fine black ink somewhere between an inch and a hundred miles deep, still and windless save for what surrounded your boat: patterned ripples, wavecrests frosted with reflected stars. Your boat was not moving. The waves were sharp, spreading out from a thin black fin slicing circling your boat. The statue in the back of your boat stared at you, and Her gaze was fire upon your back as you drew your line and bait closer. You knew what was coming, and She did too. She had given you this gift, after all. The gift of the leviathans.

You had not felt shock, nor had you felt fear or dismay. You could not remember feeling anything at all when She had appeared at the foot of your bed, a warped, rough-carven statue in the dark, with empty, pitiless eyes without colour, without sclerae. All was void. Lying flat on your back amidst tangled, musty sheets, you craned your neck. And you looked into Her eyes. You had that same feeling in your chest that you remembered having from back when you still dreamed, that feeling of calm acceptance of everything that was and that came to be, the certainty that you would endure and that, if you did not, the world would move on without you. The feeling of being a leaf on the wind, blowing to and fro without a care in the world. The feeling of freedom.

And for that, the void in Her eyes let you go, and you found that She would not leave.

You had started night fishing after that. You hadn’t known where to start at first – you picked up some gear at a local shop, got a boat from a neighbour who was moving to some far-off inland state and didn’t want to sell it, got lucky with a barnacled, algae-choked harbour with no security cameras owned by nobody. A series of lucky breaks, one after another. It hadn’t been your idea, really. Her eyes had drilled into yours that night, those eerily black eyes without irises, all pupils – and an urge swelled up in your chest like a tidal wave. Go to the sea, whispered a voice. It came from just beneath your sternum. Go to the sea.

And so you did.

The fin cutting the water vanished, and the rod in your hands suddenly gained a hundred pounds. Something tugged at your line, a heaviness in its weight that spoke of centuries in the sea, of strong muscles and a thick, lean tail that thrashed cyclones beneath the water to free the bait. You did not let it get away.

There had been a training at work the following day. You never showed. Maybe your coworkers wondered about you, but it is likely that your absence had not been missed. You were just another head in the crowd, always had been.

That night, you had gone out fishing, and that morning, you had not returned.

Nobody noticed that you were gone.

The shape beneath the water lurched and struggled, but you did not give up. You held to the sway of your boat and pulled.

You and your boat – the Silver Dove, it said on her hull – washed ashore and docked three days after you had left. It was like you had never left. The sunrise painted waves in crimson and scarlet in the summer sky and you shied from it, taking refuge under awnings and patios when you could, keeping the bloody sky out of sight. You had taken a superstition to red dawns, though you did not know from where it came. Like your reluctance in sleeping before sunset, now you did not sail on a red dawn. It was a fact of the world, and you did not question it.

That day, you went to the market with a strange bag of heavy, fragrant meat, and you sold it.

You pulled and pulled, standing in your wobbly, rickety boat for leverage, and painfully, agonizingly, the sea gave up her prize and your catch fell into your boat.

It was not a fish. It was well over a hundred pounds, a thick slab of dark red muscle with jagged black scales that reflected the starlight like a thousand tiny mirrors. Its face had an almost anglerfish-like quality, an open jaw with jutting needle-like teeth taking over a relatively small skull, tiny milky eyes hanging on either side of sharp bone spurs that looked sharp enough to cut.

And it smelled delicious.

It was a leviathan-child, like all your catches. You picked up your knife, and for the first time, you hesitated.

It was only the calm certainty of your job that allowed it to remain stable in your new world of turmoil.

You went back to work that day, and everything was the same, and everything was different. You did not yet have the hole in your chest, the tug to bring Her out to see the leviathan-children, to see what Her presence had influenced you to become, but you did have the unquenchable thirst for night fishing and the lack of need for sleep and dreams. The stars gave you rest. Dreams were but long-forgotten memories.

The years crept by, and you were successful. You rose in the company, found ways to efficientise, to make more money and power. And every night, you went out fishing. The occasions when you fished up a leviathan-child were rare and irregular, but you did not care. They were the sweet cherry atop an already-sweet pie.

Their meat just made for extra padding of your wallet.

The leviathan-child gazed into your eye, gills and mouth opening and closing as it gasped for air, and for the first time since the first time all those years ago, you felt something, a twinge deep inside your chest,

But you didn’t care. How could you? The world had You were important, if only for your actions that spawned ripples and Moved on without you, a swirling mass That turned into waves and then tsunamis that Dissipated like so many eddies before you, Did not kill and did not destroy, only did as tsunamis did, Fading out like stars surrounded by so much dead space that their gravity had no influence on tomorrow, Changing the course of history in their wake. There were fewer and fewer leviathans now, and Your actions surely had no effect on

Enough. Your thoughts jumbled in your head, a mass of what you had been and what you were to become tangled and thrashing like two swordfish in a minnownet. The statue’s gaze – Her eyes – burned at your back, your panic slid into calm void, and found yourself drifting in memory for what you knew to be the last time this night.

Your company had grown under you, and you were at the top of the world. Your name was power, and people knew it. You had everything you wanted: money, fame, fortune. People knew your name, knew it for the first time in your life, and your empire expanded out through wealth and influence, and you forgot what it was to be a sailor on the drifting sea.

You had not stopped fishing. You did so every night, staying out well past the dawn, even the red ones, enjoying the privilege, refusing to leave until you had caught a leviathan-child with your hooks and bait. Nobody in the market asked where you found such succulent meat, but you soon learned through the butcher that demand was growing, that the taste of your fish was unparalleled. And it was in that that the market floor grew bloody with your catch, and you found yourself in two worlds, and you made a decision.

You found yourself changing the company, altering it according to your business partners’ suggestions: longer hours, more company propaganda, fewer sick days, leaner staffing. The seeds for endless growth, the partners said. It was what everyone else was doing, and your partners agreed that it was for the better, and you, in essence, automated your company.

That night, you left to fish. You brought Her. And you did not return.

You were snapped out of your reverie by the flopping of the great leviathan-child you had in your boat, the one whose weight, you noticed, had sunk your boat significantly, the brim of your hull hanging just inches above the black water. In its thrashing, the leviathan-child had turned on its side, gaping gillslits spread wide in gasping breaths and heavy eyes staring, filled with wonder in seeing a world without water, watching the stars without waves for the first time.

Eyes that reflected your own, the eyes you held for the stars all those years ago.

And you felt that thing again. A twinge in your chest.

There was a feeling there, deeper, contorting under your ribcage, a heaving, sobbing mess cradled in intrapleural space around your heart and squeezing your lungs so they were wracked with tears. But that was inside. Outside, your body was still and your face was dry. You did not know why, and like all those other times when faced with the unknown, faced with imposed superstitions and beliefs and placed against anything that would involve making your own current, swimming against the tide, doing what you wanted to do, you pushed the feeling – that sobbing, horrified thing – back down, deep inside your chest, and deafened yourself to the screams of consequence.

The feeling climbed up your throat and you swallowed it back down.

You turned to Her. You had done this for Her, you realized, had brought Her along to see what monstrous beauty She had made you to become, and realized that you had gone astray. You gazed into her eyes, those deep black pits in her rough-carved oaken face, and you finally, after all these years, began to understand. She was like the tide. The tide does not seek to kill; the tide does as the tide does, nothing more and nothing less.

The boat rocked. Your empire was a distant memory, the company and the market and all your sacks of bleeding leviathan meat but an old nightmare. The gift of sleep had returned to you and you slept again, dreaming through the day, red sun beating hot on your salty skin. And when the night came, you opened your starless eyes, and you dove down to play with those who remained.

Her eyes, smooth obsidian glass in her rough-carved oaken face, stared into your own, and you felt a snip deep inside your skull, and you realized you could no longer see the stars.

You picked up the leviathan-child. Its gaze was less sharp now, its gills less flared. It was dying.

You put it back in the water.

An Ode to Pasta

Rich sauce, tender meat
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What taste! Delicious.

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