♫A Christmas Two-fer! ♪♪♪

Since I’m working on the pitch (and I’ll be adding the evolving pitch as a separate page on the blog–any and all comments and suggestions are welcome!) and a synopsis, I’ve been combing back through The Fishing Widow. I’m still amazed the boys told such an awesome story. I’ll also be posting bits of Music Wood here after Christmas (it’s a Work In Progress and unedited, but I tend to just do that and ask for feedback…). I naively believed it was a prequel to The Fishing Widow until toward what I thought was then end … and then I had to admit–that was pretty sneaky of Ethan…conning me like that. It seems the boy still has one more good story in him.

My Christmas present is that I get to post my favorite chapter of The Fishing Widow. At this point in the story, The Case in Point’s net is cleared of fish in the third opening of the season and the tender is heading toward another seiner — Antares — skippered by Will. The night before, Colin’s crew and Will’s crew got into a fist fight in the bar in Port Saint Anne. It’s night, the wind is rising, and a large swell has risen in the sea, passing under The Case in Point and Katie Dawn … it bears down on Antares with devastating consequences…..

Enjoy! (Merry Christmas from my crew!)

Chapter 19

 Ethan had grabbed hold of the weather deck ladder and looked up at the mainmast as the large roller passed under The Case in Point.  She had pitched wildly against it, and Ethan heard the yelling and cursing of his crew in the main cabin as the boat’s motion threw supper into chaos.  Above him, the blue light faded, and Ethan was suddenly unsure if he had seen it at all.  The wind and rain drove down harder as Ethan took note of the large tender’s position, its lights bright amid the seiners as she headed toward Antares who was listing heavily to starboard with a bulging net.  Between The Case in Point and Antares, the large roller moved swiftly.  Ethan blinked and took a step toward the port rail, watching the wave.

“Colin!” he called suddenly as the wave began to build, bearing down on Antares.  “Colin!” Ethan yelled again.  Ethan slipped on the first rung of the ladder, but caught himself as he scrambled to the weather deck.  Colin turned from the numbers he was pouring over as Ethan burst into the wheelhouse.

“What the hell, Ethan?” he started and fell back as Ethan shoved him out of the way and grabbed at the center radio’s transmitter.

“Will!” Ethan yelled into the transmitter.

No answer.

“Damn it, Will!  Look to your starboard!  You’ve got a wave–”

Ethan and Colin froze.  The swell was large enough to lift Antares’s net.  It was large enough to lift the boat.  It appeared to happen slowly, but both Colin and Ethan knew better.  The seine boat heeled over to port suddenly, sharply, as the wave hit the net. The lights of the surrounding boats caught the flashes of silver as the wave hauled the fish from the water.  The wave rolled under Antares, pushing her further to port.  Ethan and Colin rushed out onto the weather deck as Antares’s lights disappeared behind her keel—her mainmast in the water.

There was a terrible groaning from the boat’s superstructure, a horrible snapping and whizzing of metal lines as they broke, giving way all across the boat’s rigging.

“Shit, Col,” Ethan’s voice was a horrified whisper.  They watched, helpless, as the trough following the wave finished her.

Swung so completely to port that her superstructure lay in the water, Antares righted herself only for a moment before the trough removed the sea beneath her and she slammed to starboard, the weight of the fish in the net pulling her down.  The sound of her mast and stabilizers snapping like twigs, the groaning of metal as it twisted and buckled.  The whizzing as the block sheared away and all the tackle lashed out like lethal metal whips.

She capsized.

Colin raced back into the wheelhouse and punched at the intercom.  “Antares’s gone over!  Suit up and get on deck!” he yelled before racing back to the weather deck where Ethan had already climbed up to the inflatable and thrown away the lines. They both could hear the banging of lockers followed by the beating of feet.  There was suddenly noise all around them as every boat that had witnessed the destruction began to scurry into action.

Ethan punched at the mic on his vest.  “Brett!” he barked.

“I saw it, boss,” came Brett’s calm reply, and Ethan could hear the tender motor behind his voice.  “I’m on it.”

Ethan and Colin pulled down the inflatable.  Ethan sprinted for the gear lockers as Colin, Danny, and Tommy hove the inflatable into the water.

“Josh, go with Tommy and Ethan,” Colin said quickly.  Danny, Mike, and Colin watched from the deck as the inflatable sped toward the capsized seine boat.  Colin shuddered.  “Shit, Mike,” he breathed finally as he watched tenders and inflatables begin to descend on the wreckage.  “An hour earlier and that would’ve been us.”

Mike took a breath and set his teeth.  “Would-a, could-a, Col,” he muttered, his eyes scanning the scene.

Brett brought the tender around and throttled back as he tried to coast, as slowly as possible, amid the wreckage.  Most of the mast, the rigging, and other bits of the superstructure had sheared away when Antares went over.  The net and cork floats lay twisted, heaving chaotically in the passing swells.  Here and there, bright silver herring were struggling against the webbing, desperate for freedom.

Brett called out, but received no answer.  He grimly turned the wheel and continued to move slowly through the dark water, shrugging off the rain that continued to pelt at his hood, straining his ears for any cry for help.  The light reflected back at him from a thousand different angles in a myriad of shades of white and grey and black, casting back a disorienting cacophony that made spotting any bits of orange difficult.  Brett turned the tender again, widely, slowly.  He saw movement.

“Jake!” Brett yelled suddenly as he let the tender drift slowly toward the lumbering figure in the water.  “Jake!” he yelled again.  Brett left the wheel and clambered to the port side, leaning over the gunwale and grabbing wildly at Jake.  “Jake!”  The man in the water was obviously hurt, obviously dazed, but breathing, alive, and struggling painfully against the swells, the wind, and the rain.  Jake blinked up at Brett.  His eyes shifted out of focus.

“Brett,” Jake gasped.  He let out a wail as Brett tried to pull him out of the water.

“Shit, Jake,” Brett muttered as he leaned further over the side of the tender and tried to grab Jake under his arms.  “Come on, you son of a bitch,” Brett groaned as he tried to hoist him into the tender.  Brett stopped as he met resistance.  Something had tangled in Jake’s feet.  “Damn it,” Brett muttered.  Brett readjusted his grip on Jake and gently tried to swing him free of the obstruction.

“Brett,” Jake moaned, his breathing ragged and labored.  Brett knew the cold water was sapping Jake of his strength.  Brett gritted his teeth, realizing he was becoming more desperate to pull Jake from the water.

“Just hang on, I’ll get you out of this,” Brett told him as he began to pull at him again.

“Brett!” Jake screamed wildly.  Jake’s breathing became panicked, his eyes wild as he began to kick against the water.  He twisted in Brett’s grasp—suddenly desperate, suddenly terrified.

“Jake!” Brett screamed.

He saw it.  Brett’s eyes grew wide and, startled, his grip faltered suddenly.  It moved with lightning speed, scrambling up Jake’s body, tearing at his Grunden’s; fleshless, luminous claws tangling in Jake’s dark hair as it drove him under.  Brett saw a gleam of burnished white—a sightless skull twisted its mouth, hissing at Brett as it vanished, as suddenly as it appeared, beneath the dark water, taking Jake with it.

“No!” Brett wailed, his brain refusing to comprehend what it had seen, and Brett lurched over the side of the tender, making a desperate grab for Jake.  “Jake!” he howled.  Brett’s breath caught.

A gurgling sound rose up from the blackness; it roiled, it bubbled, it drew closer to the surface.  Brett stumbled back, trembling—his eyes wide as he watched them rise—bubbles of blood, rising, breaking the surface, oily and thick, caught red and shining silkily in the surrounding mast light.  They churned in the water.

It drifted languidly to the surface, sliding effortlessly upwards in that streaming column of blood.  Brett’s knuckles whitened on the tender’s gunwale.  Still beating … pitched about in the growing swell … still beating…..

“Still here.”

Brett stumbled back and dropped, shaking and screaming, to the bottom of the tender.

“Brett!” he heard Ethan’s voice distantly on the radio.

Brett shook his head and covered his head with his arms.

“Brett!” Ethan barked again.

Brett felt himself screaming, was only slightly aware of movement in the tender with him.

Ethan dropped to his knees beside Brett.  “Brett!” he yelled again, grabbing at his shoulders.

Brett looked up, his eyes terrified, snapping onto Ethan’s face.  “Ethan!”

 

“I had him,” Brett said again, his voice sounding stricken. His hands closed into fists as he looked around at Colin and Ethan. “I swear to God, Col–” Brett’s voice caught and he bowed his head and shook it.

Colin shot a glance at Ethan, but Ethan kept his eyes fixed on Brett who sat at the main cabin’s table. Josh drew back as Brett suddenly slammed down his fists.”In my hands! Damn it, Colin! I was pulling him into the boat–”

“You let go,” said a quiet voice from the bulkhead door.

Brett spun to see a shadowy figure at the door, standing just outside, beyond the light of the main cabin. Brett looked up at Ethan who met his eyes. “I swear to God, Ethan. I didn’t let him go.” Tears started from Brett’s eyes, his voice sounded weak, lost.

“You had every reason to let him go,” said the voice from the door.

Colin bristled at the implication. “What the hell–” he said abruptly.

“Heard about your little fight from Jan,” he said evenly. The man stepped into the light, his eyes narrowing at Brett, his next words measured and cold. “You had every reason to let Jake go.”

“I didn’t–” Brett’s voice caught in his throat. Brett turned back to Ethan, his eyes pleading. “Ethan–”

Ethan sighed and pushed himself away from the counter. “Helluv’an entrance, Jack,” he snarled.

“Think about what it looks like from where I’m standing, Ethan,” Jack said, not raising his voice, keeping his eyes on Brett. Jack moved further into the cabin, the light reflected on his Trooper’s badge.

“You can’t think for a minute Brett would do something like that,” Colin said sharply.

“Did you and Jake have words today?” Jack asked coldly.

“Eddie was screwin’ with us, but, Jesus, Jack, you can’t think Brett would–” Tommy started.

Brett turned back to Jack. “I had him, Jack. Damn it, you know me! I thought he was caught on something. I was trying to get him out of the water, but he’d snagged on somethin’ from the boat.” Brett paused and took a breath. “And then.” Brett took another breath. “Then….”

“Brett, it’s okay,” Ethan said soothingly. Ethan moved to put a hand on Brett’s shoulder. He looked up at Jack. “You can’t stand there and tell me with a straight face that you think Brett killed Jake.”

Jack looked down at Brett, thinking. He watched as Brett folded his arms on the table, put down his head, and began to sob. Colin looked down at Brett and then up at Jack.

“Jack–” he started, but Jack shook his head grimly.

Jack moved beside Brett and knelt down beside him. He leaned in close. “What did you see out there?” he asked quietly.

Brett looked up suddenly and shot a defiant look at Jack. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Jack’s eyes softened as he looked at Brett. “Try me.”

 

Ethan bristled, flicking his lighter a bit too hard, lighting his cigarette, and flipping the metal lid closed roughly before he inhaled and blew smoke out across the starboard side of The Case in Point.  His gut clenched as the footsteps drew nearer. He decided attack was the better option.  He turned suddenly, his eyes narrowing at Jack Burnsed.  “You done terrorizing my crew?” he growled.

Jack stopped walking and paused, regarding Ethan carefully.  Ethan nodded and turned his back on Jack.

“I’m not that kid who freaked in your office years ago, ya know,” Ethan continued as he took another drag on his cigarette.  He did not turn as Jack took another tentative step toward him.

“I know you’re not,” he said quietly.

Ethan took a breath to steady himself as he nodded and looked away to the rain and wind beyond him.  “Just so ya know,” he said simply as he cupped his hand over his cigarette, protecting it from the weather.

“And you’ve never told me,” Jack continued quietly.

Ethan’s hand hesitated on his cigarette.

“All those years ago.”

Ethan was aware that Jack was stepping closer.  He started at Jack’s next words, unaware that Jack was standing right beside him.

“What you saw.”  The last three words were spoken in a whisper.

“None of your damn business–” Ethan started more loudly and harshly than was necessary.

Incredibly, Jack smiled at Ethan.  “Shall I tell you?” he asked quietly.

Ethan grinned, but it was a nervous grin that threatened to falter at any moment.  “Knock yourself out, Jack,” he laughed grimly.

“In Nathan’s bunk,” Jack said quietly.

Ethan focused away from Jack, focused into the darkness beyond the mast lights, focused on anything other than what Jack was saying.  He shuddered as Jack leaned closer.  Jack hesitated, feeling Ethan’s growing apprehension.

“You weren’t dreaming it, Ethan,” Jack continued softly.

Ethan straightened suddenly, his eyes shifted back into focus as he flicked the cigarette over the side.  He met Jack’s eyes defiantly.  “Bullshit,” he said.  Jack raised an eyebrow in surprise.  “Stress,” he said flatly with a shake of his head.  “That’s all it was.  Stress.  Col’s right–”

Jack seized on the statement.  “You told Colin,” he said quickly.

Ethan felt his mouth go dry.  He attempted to shrug it off.  “Yeah, well,” he started a little breathlessly, feeling his heartbeat wildly in his own ears.

Jack sensed the change in Ethan’s breathing, could tell panic was setting in as he moved closer.  He stopped.  Jack looked out to starboard and cast around for an easy change of subject.  “You did well again this opening,” he said casually.

Ethan turned and regarded Jack with one eye.  “I hate it when you do that shit,” he observed.

Jack composed his features to look as innocent as he was able.  “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about, Ethan,” he smiled.

“Jerk,” Ethan muttered.  “Talk to Colin if you want,” Ethan continued in a more belligerent tone, “he won’t tell you anything either.”

“But Brett did,” Jack said suddenly.

Ethan’s eyes grew wide in spite of himself.  “What?”

Jack nodded.  “Brett told me exactly what he saw out there.”

Curiosity ground at Ethan’s gut.  “What did he say?” Ethan tried to keep his voice detached and only slightly interested in what Jack would say next.

Jack smiled.  “He said he saw a salmon shark come out of nowhere and drag Jake down,” he said simply.

Ethan visibly relaxed.  He nodded and shrugged awkwardly at the same time.  “Makes sense,” he agreed.  “Salmon sharks follow the herring.  They had a full net.  Only makes sense that they’d be–”

Jack leaned toward Ethan suddenly, his dark eyes shining in the light of the masthead.

“Bullshit.”

©2010 Amy K. Marshall

 

…and the real seining of The Sitka Herring Sac Roe Fishery … 2008 … kudos to skysirrico who posts THE BEST Alaska fishing videos on You Tube.

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