fishing for monsters
i love the medium of the short story, and i realized lately that i’ve lost touch with it. in an effort to fix that, i participated in io9.com’s Concept Art Writing Prompt this week. The picture is below, as is my story. i hope you enjoy!
Annie is special. Not like Special Olympics or special ed., but special like those kids you see in horror movies. If I used a made up word to describe it, I would pick ‘hypercognitive.’ She couldn’t read minds or throw things without touching them or start fires with only thoughts and a disturbing stare, but she could tell when a storm was coming, sometimes days before it actually happened. Animals seemed to seek her out; trees and plants seemed to bend her way when she passed. It was a connection with nature that made her special, but that didn’t make it any less scary.
Once, she found a dead bird in the street in front of the house. I ran out to perform my role as protector and educator, but I also ran out to see how she would react. This was when she was eight.
Tomboyish girls will often react just like boys and poke a dead animal with a stick or try to roll it over with their foot. Annie wore cutoff jean shorts and large, round, thick glasses that sometimes obscured her eyes entirely. Prissy girls usually run away screaming in terror and disgust. Annie had worn large hoop earrings since she was three and had these bangles around her left wrist that didn’t even come off to sleep. It really could have gone either way.
But, no sooner did I arrive at her side as she bowed to the little crushed sparrow and blew it a flourishing kiss that was aimed more to the clouds than to the ground. Then, she turned around and ran back to the Saturday afternoon yard to continue her game, whatever it was. Later, over her favorite meal of bologna sandwiches and chicken soup from a can, I asked if she was sad about the bird’s death. “No,” she said, and took another bite of lettuce and mayo and bread and bologna.
“Because she’s free for now, until she can fly back here anyway.” She said this with the kind of sincerity that only an eight-year-old can muster, but also with an unmistakable air of, “Duh, Dad.” I dropped the subject, not wanting to upset her, but also not wanting to step any further outside of my own comfort.
By the time Annie was ten, she was spending nearly all of her non-sleep and non-school time in the patch of pacific northwest woods that existed on the outskirts of our neighborhood. No matter how I tried to enforce a curfew of sundown, she always returned whenever she damned well pleased. It could be four in the afternoon or approaching midnight, and she always came back unruffled, looking like she had only just left for school. She treated these near-daily excursions as a non-issue. It wasn’t a secret to her what happened out there in the woods, it was just nothing she needed to share with her weary father.
For her birthday that year I got her a fishing rod, just as she had asked for. She kissed me on the cheek in her excitement and immediately ran out the front door without eating and without opening the rest of the gifts that waited for her. And I did as I ever did: I cleaned up and perched in my seat at the table by the window, waiting for her to return.
This was the way it was until six weeks after her birthday, when she came home, the broken fishing rod in her hand, running full pelt and crying just as hard. I opened the door, terrified, and she knocked me on my butt with the force with which she hit me, throwing her arms around my neck and sobbing into my shoulder. I couldn’t even remember the last time she had cried. I tried to talk to her: “What is it sweetie?” and all of that, but she wouldn’t speak, and I’m not sure she could have with as hard as she was sobbing. I held her, longer than I had in nearly 10 years, and waited for her to calm down enough to speak. If it wasn’t a half an hour, may lightning strike me.
Finally, she lifted her head and looked at me, her glasses fogged and wet. “I missed him, Daddy. I almost caught him but I missed him and now he’s never going to be there again and I’ll have to find him all over again.” This started a fresh round of sobbing, but not too severe.
I actually laughed. It was the kind of laugh that carried all of the anxiety and terror away from you. “Is all of this over a fish, Annie? Did you find your own personal Moby Dick?” I found the idea quite amusing. I did for that moment, anyway.
“Not a fish! Why would I want a fish, Daddy?” She had her eyebrows smashed down on top of her nose like i was some kind of simpleton.
“What else were you trying to catch with a fishing rod?” A chuckle was still in my voice.
“The Green Man, of course. He lives in the forest, and in the evenings he hides in the stream and tickles the fishes. And if you catch him when he’s there, Daddy, he gives you a wish. And I want that wish. I want that wish more than anything.”
There was that innocent sincerity again, and who was I to contradict her. For all I knew, she could talk to squirrels and fly with birds. Like I said, Annie is special. And though she never told me what she wanted that wish for, I think I know, and if there’s even the smallest chance it could work, I’m not going to stop her.