This One Time, 112

This one time I was standing on the pier watching the sunlight wash in as the tide limped away. I’d been out of work for a month or so, so work for me was dropping a couple of lines in the water at the end of this pier, seeing as the last thing I saw to before I got laid off was that my fees were paid up.

Normal fishing was a bit screwed up. A lot of the plankton and krill got badly sunburned and the schools hadn’t quite recovered from the loss of food. There were blooms of strange things feeding off all the dead fish in the water and, well, sometimes the best bet was just to drop a line in the water and see what you got. Most often it was nothing, but it was fresh air and sunshine and some days you brought in something that would feed somebody somehow.

It took a bit of nerve to sit out there a quarter-mile from sunscreen any more serious than a big ol’ beach umbrella, but the ones along the pier had been opaqued. That probably wouldn’t help, but it made people feel better. It made me feel better. I still pretty much got the pier to myself. Me and a couple of lines in the water and a big cooler on wheels and a bait bucket and a couple of rigs I could try random things with until I found the thing that worked today.

The old man I bought the bait from was raising grasshoppers and crickets for people to eat too, now. Apparently if you roasted them and picked the legs off, they were pretty tasty, like roasted nuts, and a decent source of protein. He still kept plenty I could send to a watery doom on a daily basis. His minnows didn’t really make it through the sunburst, but the fish were also starving. Apparently anything would eat a grasshopper these days.

That old man’s a regular George Washington Carver for crickets. Sacks of roasted cricket kernels, jars and tubs of cricketbutter…. I wasn’t in a position to turn my nose up at anything, so I tried all of his recipes. I swear to the good Lord above he’s onto something. The most disturbing recipe he has is something he calls cricket-jerky. It reminds me of this sesame-seed candy my aunt used to bring me when she came to visit, planks of honey-sweet, crumbly stuff that she made herself. I used to pretend that I liked it until I really couldn’t anymore, and then two years after I hurt her feelings about it, I discovered I loved it, and — well, cricket-jerky shouldn’t come with all that baggage. It has enough trouble being what it is.

When he gets his cricket-gin working to get all those spiky legs off (so they can be pulverized and used separately, I imagine) without having to go through them by hand, he’ll be in business. Big time. The legs on those damn things are worse than popcorn hulls for getting stuck between teeth and caught in your gums. And he says there ought to be an enzyme that breaks their little chitin exoskeletons down into simpler starches and sugar, but I don’t know anything about stuff like that.

I’m equally ignorant about fish, but I understand how hooks work and the guys in the parks office at the other end of the pier help identify what I catch (and catalog it all to see what’s still out there and what’s biting) and tell me if it’s fit to eat. These days that’s just about everything, but some fish takes a bit more work to clean and doesn’t much taste like it was worth the effort.

This one morning, though, after setting out the cooler and heading back from the bike-trailer  with the rods and the rest of the gear, I saw a bigger-than-normal wave building out around where the surf usually broke. It wasn’t really too weird until one end of it came free of the water and started curling in the air. I’ve never really had enough imagination to see something as anything other than what it was, and that was a big damn tentacle, like the arm of an octopus or a squid. And since I was seeing it from maybe an eighth of a mile away, I’d have to say it was at least half the length of a football field, and that was just the part of it I could see above the water, with the sun behind it. It twisted for a moment and then just kind of came down, like a cable holding it up had been cut.

About then I nearly jumped out of my skin because the beach was crawling with anything God had ever issued more than the usual number of legs to, and they were high-tailing it onshore with all due speed to get away from whatever the hell that thing out in the surf was. I blew the whistle around my neck that the parks officers had given me to let them know if I saw anything, because this sure as heck was something. Errol came running, got close enough to see what was going on, then skidded to a stop in the sand and turned right around and headed back indoors. I thought I understood, seeing as I was edging for higher ground myself, but then he and a shop owner came back with a huge galvanized can and started sorting through the crabs and such to find the ones that people recognized as good enough and large enough to eat.

A few minutes later, the beach was lined with other people with buckets and coolers doing the same thing, heedless of the little ones nipping here and there and climbing up pantslegs or what have you. I left them all to it. I’ll eat a crab, or a cricket, or damn near anything when its lying still. And I’m okay with a flopping fish trying to rip me open with a spiked fin. But all those little legs…. I retreated back to the end of the pier where my own cooler was and looked over the edge. The water was boiling with fish. I hooked some bait and threw in a line.

About fifty feet away a bulbous, blubbery thing pushed up through the water and it was pretty obvious to me that it was an eye, about the size of a beach ball, maybe, shrouded in what looked like gray skin. I just stood there while it looked around and then submerged.

Then suddenly I had something on one of my two lines and some work to do.


April 22, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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