A Fisherman’s Tale

"None So Deaf spans the horror spectrum from fearsome to fun in the spirit of Skeleton Crew and Strange Highways, making it a great read for any fan of the genre!"—Matt Hults, author of Husk


It was one of those fine Scotland days, when the weather makes you feel you could pull a great golden fish out of any one of her placid lochs. A warm, dreamy kind of a day it were, and I was prepared to stick with it into dusk. Me Hannah had packed a bundle of cold roast and warm buns, with a bottle of red wine for good measure. Other than that, it were just me and me fishin’ pole. I went ahead and threw a line into the water, and the lure made a pleasant little splash.
I sat on the bank a good half hour, just a watchin’ the shimmerin’ reflection of tree line and high sun on the water’s glassy surface, and I suppose that’s not the least important part of fishin’, either—just sittin’. Every so often a wisp of cloud come along to check up on me doings, temporarily nudgin’ the sun out of the way to get a closer look. Hawks and highland rooks ranged across the bright wide sky, and there was even a smell to the day that awakened somethin’ within me: a yearnin’ and a fulfillment all at once.
This is the spirit I was in when me line dropped heavy and quick to the murky bottom of Loch Morgan, dragged by a tremendous fish, if I could rely upon memory of me own experience. Off she flew, this piscine monster, almost to the far side of the loch before roilin’ into a right turn so sharp I nearly lost me footing and joined her for a swim. And footing’s the word for it, I’ll have you know, because if you think I was still recumbent on the grassy bank by this time, I’ve done a poor job of describin’ the force at the end of that line.
Back and forth we went, me and this leviathan, locked in a primal struggle that became a kind of stand-in for all the struggles of me haunted life. The great fish ran with the line hooked in her powerful jaw, this way and that, across the expanse of water. Me task was easy of conception; I merely had to hold strong against each tug and thrust of that mighty adversary. But in physical terms, this were no simple thing. Me boots tore up a parcel of grassland on that soggy shore, they did. Grass turned to mud, and that muddy strip widened as I fought for dominance against an invisible foe. If the battle went on much longer, I perceived through risky glances downward, I’d be yanked irretrievably into the black pond, for the shoreline would soon be too slick to offer purchase.
But the battle began to slacken between me-self and the creature. I didn’t dare dream she was tiring while I still had a lick of strength left in me, but the game changed, that it did, and suddenly I realised why: she was runnin’ straight at me. I wanted to drop the pole and run for me life. I’m not so sure that wouldn’t have been the most proper course of action. But I stayed put, and that’s the only reason there’s a story to tell.
How do I convey a sense of what rose up out of those waters before me, or the mingled feelings of dread and wonder it stirred within me as I watched, sippin’ at me wine all the while? Scaly she were, and black as poured pitch, but with an iridescence that added beauty to her fearsome looks. Up she come out of those calm waters, hooked through the cheek but no longer bein’ fought. She brought up both arms, as if to stretch after bein’ cramped for too long, and I could see a gauzy web under each arm. Gills, too, she had, and they labored in the cool evenin’ air, until at last her great mouth stretched open in a mournful gasp, revealin’ two gleamin’ rows of sharp, fishy teeth, the incisors long and curved, as though she might have been a vampire of the deep.
At first I took the display to be a warnin’ to me, who’d got her onto me line, but I was too transfixed to consider fleein’—though thankful for the lengthy dusks of Scotland in high summer, for I didn’t care to be in the thing’s company after dark. I took a long drink from me bottle, and then I saw that the dramatic openin’ of the maw hadn’t been for show at all. It had been a transition, and she now breathed through that orifice instead of the gills. A devil she were to look at—except, again, for that oily blue sheen. As if God were havin’ a laugh at her expense by assignin’ any hint of pulchritude to such a loathsome bein’.
Still, I stood on the bank, me pole hangin’ limply in hand. Impossible it were to break eye contact with the beast. Her glimmerin’, golden eyes—approachin’ beauty—wanted out of the surroundin’ blackness of her leathery bald head, neck and shoulders. Where breasts would have hung on a woman, this thing’s scales began in earnest. She undulated towards me, and for a moment I imagined her body from the waist down, trailin’ across the loch’s loamy bottom, serpentine and endless.
I weren’t far off. Once in the shallows, her form completed itself. Her upper half sat atop a snakin’ parody of joined legs, knobby and scabrous. There must have been fifteen foot of her, all told.
“Dear God,” I muttered, not knowin’ how to address such a creature as she. “What are you, and where have you come from?”
She slithered onto the bank and collapsed herself into a heapin’ mound beside me. “What I am is yours. I come from the water.” Her voice was as smooth and deep as the walls of a water-worn cavern. “Why do you stare at me so?”
“I can’t… not stare,” I replied. And it were true. The exotic shimmer of the eyes was part of it, also the way one of ‘em blinked a moment before the other. But everything about her was impossible to look away from. Imagine a completely new thing in the world, without comparison, and you’ll have the essence of her. Like a smell without precedent, or a newly discovered colour—much more than a mere curiosity, she were.
“I’m not beautiful,” she said.
“No.”
“What then?”
“I’ve got a brother—Davy,” I said after a time, strugglin’ to look away now and then out of politeness if nothin’ else. “Woke up blind at the age of forty, he did. We had a heart-to-heart over a bottle of Glenfiddich one time, and he gave me a perspective on beauty that I haven’t been able to shake. Said blindness comes with blessings and curses. The greatest blessing, accordin’ to him, was that he don’t have to see beautiful women no more. He’d have liked you, I wager, blind or sighted.”
“Have you known me long enough to be so sure?”
“It feels as though I have. Now, Davy… He told me that some mornings the only thing that gets him out of bed is what comfort he takes in knowin’ one day it’ll all be over. I’ve learned a lot from Davy, I have.” There weren’t much left in that bottle of wine by this time, I must confess.
“But death is the great unknown, the most universal fear,” she challenged.
“Ah, but perhaps not as unknown as we think it to be. We glimpse it, surely, in dreams. Not to mention Wordsworth’s primal sympathy, which havin’ been must ever be.”
“You’re a lover of poetry.”
“We’re all lovers of poetry. A poem’s not only a written thing, of course—or even a spoken thing. It’s a state of perfect holiness, or perfect agony. Some few among us can capture the state and lock it in words. Most cannot. But poetry’s native tongue we all know with absolute fluency.”
“A philosopher, too.”
“Paid like one, at any rate.”
She laughed at me slight joke. I remember that, and it went a long way towards endearin’ her to me.
“You’ll have to throw me back, you know.” Me hook still dangled from her dark lip. Blood welled up there, and her cheek was streaked with it. “Or kill me.”
“Kill you? Now, why would I go and do that?”
“I hope you don’t. I’d rather live a while yet.”
“But only in the shadowy currents of Loch Morgan.”
She inclined her gelatinous self, which seemed to signify agreement.
I wanted to ask her to join Hannah and me in the world, but thinkin’ it through were enough to dissuade me. Of course the poor thing wouldn’t fit into society. She’d be murdered within hours. I laid the empty bottle down at last.
“If we have to part company so soon after meetin’,” I said, “there must be some purpose for us to fulfill first.”
“Must there?”
“There has to be a reason—”
“Has there?”
“Well, of course there has. This isn’t the sort of thing that just happens.” I was growin’ agitated by this time.
“How can you be sure?”
“What about you? You believe death is the end of it all, I suppose. But what if it’s just another beginnin’?”
“I’ve never thought about it,” she said.
“Never… Don’t it bother you, not knowin’?”
“Not really, no. What good would it do to know? Besides, why fret over something you can’t know anyway?”
“Because we can know. There is a beyond, and I’ve seen its promise a million times, in bloomin’ flowers, settin’ suns and snowy, moonlit nights. I’ve heard its music in the laughter of children and dreamt ten thousand possibilities for the persistence of our souls after death. And you want me to believe you’ve never given the notion a moment’s consideration!”
“I don’t see what any of this has to do with our finding meaning before we part ways,” she said, as if I hadn’t just broke a sweat pourin’ me heart out to her.
“Don’t you? If we continue beyond this life in some form or another, why do you suppose we end up in this life to begin with? Why aren’t we all just frolickin’ and cavortin’ in the clouds for all eternity? Why this way station? I’ll tell you why. We’re here to learn as much as we can, and what we’ve managed to work out by the time the Reaper comes a callin’ we carry with us. Our behavior on this planet affects our placement in the next world.”
“You’ve gleaned all of this from sunsets and winter nights?”
“And fishin’, yes. Nature, and the great works of humankind: music, literature, art. Why have the plays of Shakespeare hung around for four hundred years if they’re nothin’ but an accident, destined to blink out of existence whenever our species finally goes belly up?”
“This is another one of your rhetorical openings, I gather.”
“Not if you have an answer.”
“I have no answers.”
“I imagine many things are possible in the beyond that aren’t possible in this life. But I also imagine the reverse—that there are activities only this world can accommodate. Do you think there’s any need to help your fellow man up in heaven, for instance? Of course not. That can only be done down here, and if you don’t do it, you’ve lost the opportunity forever.”
“It’s a pleasant view of the world.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. I mean, I could be wrong. Maybe we’re all destined to be prodded and skinned in eternal flame. Barked at and kicked, trapped in cubbies so small and hot a Little Ease would seem commodious by comparison.”
“Still,” she persisted, “I don’t see what this says about the significance of our meeting?”
“Don’t know me self. Maybe nothin’. Maybe the meanin’ will only come after we’ve parted.”
“To you, perhaps. I’m not inquisitive enough. I really just swim and eat.”
“How long should we wait, then?”
“What do you mean?”
“For this evenin’ to take on relevance. How long should we wait?”
“You mean before you throw me back?”
I fell silent, realisin’ that was exactly what I meant. She must have read me mind, because with startlin’ swiftness she wrenched the hook out of her face, flung it aside, and slithered back into her watery home. I couldn’t tell you what her mood was when she left. Was she sad, spiteful, fed up, scared? Maybe it don’t matter, but it haunts me nonetheless. I haven’t told a word of this to anyone, and there’s a reason I’ve decided to now. With Hannah gone these seven months and Davy taken to a home, I’ve decided to join the creature at the bottom of Loch Morgan. I figure if she can adapt to breathin’ on land, maybe I can adapt to breathin’ underwater. And if not, perhaps I’ll find out how close to the mark I am about what comes after this life. There must be worse ways to go than drownin’. At any rate, I’ll have some answers at last. And maybe I’ll see me Hannah again.


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Contents

Crisscross Purposes

Foreword