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Fishergeist: A Memoir, by Odin
by Darrell Whitney


When I was a boy growing up I used to spend my summers with my grandparents. They lived in a small fishing village out on the Iala peninsula--this all being before Lassic decided he'd rather have life than a soul, of course--and I always enjoyed the contrast between their life close to nature and the hustle and bustle of Scion. It was during these summers that I learned the ways of the wild that essentially led me to become a hunter.

It was also there I learned to fish.

Grandpa had spent over forty years as a netman on one of the boats, daily putting himself through some of the hardest and most dangerous work on the planet. When at last he retired, his body no longer able to stand the strain, he took up...fishing.

"I spent my whole life pullin' fish out of the water, Odin. Don't see how I can stop now. Besides which, for forty years that was work. Now I can relax and have some fun at it."

Grandpa wasn't alone, of course. There were a good four or five of them who'd while away the lazy hours of the morning and afternoon with rod and reel. His best friend, though, was a fellow self-described "old geezer" named Dray.

Did I say friend? Well, you wouldn't know it to hear them. They'd argue about everything. Not just the usual stuff that everyone argues about, like politics or sports. No, Dray and Grandpa would argue about the weather, about the proper way to tie a line, about what breed of dog was better for protecting the house, whatever the topic of conversation happened to be. I once heard them going back and forth over whether the sky was better described as "azure" or "cerulean" one morning after Grandma'd taken up poetry.

At first I'd been worried that the two of them would get into a fight, but Grandma set me straight on that point. And after a while I realized that two cantankerous old men couldn't be happier than when they were crabbing back and forth at one another.

I spent more than a few days myself sitting out on the dock with Grandpa and his cronies, casting my line out into the water and waiting for a fairly dim fish to hook itself. I was seven years old when I caught my first yellowside. It was an hour later when I had my first taste of what it meant to be a man: that a woman would cook a fish for her family but it would be a cold day in the Motavian desert before they cleaned and gutted it for you. Ah, the unfathomable ways of the opposite sex.

Fishing, though, was not just about lazy days in the sun. Sometimes it meant effort, as it did one night when I was ten, and the silverskates were running. I'd gotten to my grandparents' a couple of weeks early that year, and so was there for what was, apparently, one of the highlights of the sport fisherman's season. Grandpa took me out on the bay in his dinghy two hours after moonrise. Within fifteen minutes the water was alive around us with a swarm of glittering silver fish. It seemed like the sea was so full that they would burst up out of the water and glide through the air, water droplets gleaming iridescently on their long, laconia-hued fins.

For over an hour we cast our lines, catching a strike almost every time our lures hit the water. Then I saw it, a pale, sickly green glow beneath the surface. Within moments the silverskates began to thin out; in no more than ten minutes there were none to be seen.

"Well, no point in stayin' out here and gettin' cold. Let's head in."

"Grandpa, what was that glowing thing? Did it scare off all the fish?" I asked.

Grandpa's eyes flicked left and right nervously, as if he was afraid someone...or something...was listening in.

"We'll talk about it when we're back on shore, Odin. For now you just worry about that oar."

"But--"

"Once we're on shore." Not another word would he say until we'd tied the dinghy up at the dock and unloaded our gear and the catch. About five other boats were tying up as well, including Dray's.

"Now, Odin, I'm sorry I was so curt with you, but it's an old custom of the sea that you don't talk about spirits while there's still water under you. They don't like that, y'see."

"Spirits, Grandpa?"

"Ghosts."

I nearly jumped out of my shoes.

"G-g-ghosts?"

He nodded solemnly.

"Yup. Happened 'bout sixty years ago, when I wasn't much older than you. Man named Sillas Dorei was out fishin' one day when he hooked a big one. It put up one heck of a battle, lasted near on four hours, 'til it was long past sunset. Most men would have given it up long before, but Sillas was a cantankerous, stubborn old coot and he wasn't goin' to let that fish go no matter what happened. Finally, though, he reached the end of his strength and endurance, until all he had left was sheer, wrongheaded cussedness. As Sillas played out the line one last time he stood up in that boat and swore a mighty oath to all the powers of darkness if they'd just let him land and kill that fish!"

I shivered with the delicious pleasure of being creeped out while knowing I was perfectly safe. I have to admit, though, that talk about oaths to powers of darkness isn't quite so entertaining now, not since Lassic.

Back then, though, I was still an innocent.

"Did they answer him, Grandpa?" I asked breathlessly.

"Well, maybe so and maybe not, but it's surely the truth that just then, with an explosion of water, the fish burst from the sea and floated there in the air, looking at old Sillas. See, what he'd hooked was actually one of them giant shellfish, the kind that produce lighter-than-air gas in their bodies, so they can hunt surface prey for a time. They stared at one another for one frozen moment, and then Sillas snatched up his gaff and plunged it into the shellfish's side, dealin' it a mortal wound. Just when he'd thought he'd won, though, the shellfish counterattacked by launchin' one of its shell-fragment spears at Sillas. The old man fell back in the boat and the line slipped from his hand, so that the dyin' monster dropped into the sea and sank to the bottom. Some people like to point out that Sillas's bargain had mentioned landin' and killin' the fish but said nothin' 'bout bein' able to bring it back in to shore."

I bobbed my head, following the logic.

"So the ghost is old Sillas Dorei, still hunting his fish after all these years, Grandpa?"

"What? Oh, no. Sillas lived, right enough; it was just a flesh wound to his shoulder. That's why we know the story, 'cause he came back to shore and told everyone all 'bout it. That there ghost is the shellfish he stabbed,"

A bunch of the other fishermen had been standing around listening to the story, and it was at that point that Dray spoke up.

"What're you at, you old fool, filling that boy's head with a bunch of nonsense? Ghostly shellfish, indeed!"

"You tryin' to make me out a liar, Dray? That there's the ghost of Sillas's shellfish." Grandpa pointed out to sea, where we could still see the glow.

"Fool talk! Ghost shellfish! I've never heard such a load of credulous nincompoopery. Why, anyone with half a brain and one good eye can tell that's an ammonite's ghost!"

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