The Catch, by Ray Daley
The surface of the lake had been far too still. For how many minutes now? Three perhaps? Four?
Crane didn’t even know how long the slave could hold its miserable breath. He knew that three credits had been too good to be true. Even if it had included the boat too. At least that was still working.
On the deck of which sat the three smallest bloater fish Crane had ever seen in his short life. That would barely feed his family tonight. The slave would have to go hungry again, of course. If he chose to view it as a punishment for his poor performance in the lake today, so much the better, Crane thought.
Crane scanned the surface of the water for the tenth time in the last minute. If the slave drowned, where would that leave him? Reduced to diving for his own fish, like a mere commoner. His family had been rich once, powerful too. They had owned a whole horde of slaves back then, diving the depths for only the hardiest of fish to feed an entire kingdom, with plenty left to trade with their allies at the local markets.
Crane knew he had to be patient now. The slave had taken far too long to train, teaching him how to hold his breath longer, how to dive even deeper without ill effects to his system. But they were such weak creatures, not at all suited to a life below the water. Its toes weren’t even webbed. Such a freak!
Crane had seen the creature remain below the surface for almost five minutes once, back in the relative calm of the docks. But the water there was little more than a few feet deep in the training pools. Where as here? Even Crane’s ancestors hadn’t seen the bottom of the abyss that lay far below the little wooden green boat.
Crane knew he shouldn’t care about the slave. There were thousands more just like him, huddled together in the cages back at the slave market, just waiting for a fisher to take pity on their wretched souls. But for some reason, this slave was different. His pondweed green eyes had seemed keener, he had been eager to impress his new master with his catch.
The first three fish had come too quickly, almost within minutes of him breaking the waters surface.
“Master,” he’d smiled, “I have them! And many more in sight below!” Then the slave had taken several more gulps of air and dived back below the dark blue that soon turned to blackness. The mayflies were still flitting across the reeds at the waters edge. But like the diving slaves, their lives were short, and devoted to only one task.
Yet the water remained calm. Perfectly still, apart from the small spots left by the hovering dragonflies that were hunting upon the surface. The thick patches of green pondweed were beginning to reform, and soon the sun would be invisible once again. Then the slave would have no light source, no frame of reference to aim up at from the darkness that was now slowly enveloping him.
How many more seconds?, Crane thought, now tracing his keen eyes across every last inch of the water. If the slave died like many had before him, Crane knew his body would eventually float back up to the surface. By which time it would be too late for Crane. Because his coffers were finally empty. This slave had been his last roll of the dice.
Any minute now, Crane thought, I’ll dive in, and start looking for those damn fish myself. And that slave can go to hell. Or where ever it is his sort go when they’ve been of no use to the good masters of this world.
The mayflies were no longer humming, their lives at an end now. Much like that foolish slave, Crane thought to himself.
Crane knew he couldn’t wait much more than a few seconds longer. The light would be fading soon, the dwindling chances to still catch any fish would be lost, like his slave in the blackness below. So Crane moved to the edge of the boat, readying himself to dive in.
Damn that slave, reducing me to this! Just so I can feed my family for another day. Perhaps I can get a credit for the boat, back at the docks. Crane chose his spot, and counted five seconds, taking in a deep breath of air with each passing second.
And the surface broke at long last, fish fighting in the man’s hand that rose from the water until finally the head of the miserable slave took the deepest gasp for air that may ever have been taken by a fisherman.
The slave gripped onto the side of the boat, pulling himself high enough to deposit his catch inside. Crane counted their threshing bodies with delight. Seven, no eight more fish! And each as long as the slave’s forearm. “Good eating, Master! And hundreds more just a few feet down!”
Crane moved back to his perch inside the boat, as if he hadn’t been about to taint himself by entering the water to dive. Very well, man. Get back down there and catch as many as you can. We only have a little light left before we’ll have to return to shore. Three more hauls like that, and perhaps I’ll let you eat one of the tiddlers this evening.
As the slave dipped below the water once again, Crane examined the writhing mass of huge delicious bloater fish now sitting in the boat, but mostly still fighting for a freedom that was never going to come. He’d feed the slave tonight. And perhaps, with the profits from his sales, have enough to hire another in the market tomorrow. But at least he hadn’t ruined his reputation, remaining out of the water for yet another day.
What a catch! That fisherman!
Ray Daley was born in Coventry & still lives there. He served 6 yrs in the RAF as a clerk & spent most of his time in a Hobbit hole in High Wycombe. He is a published poet & has been writing stories since he was 10. His current dream is to eventually finish the Hitch Hikers fanfic novel he’s been writing since 1986.
Posted on September 3, 2017, in Issue 21: PhotoFlash 1--11 Visions and tagged e-zine, fiction, flash, flash fiction, photoflash, photoprompt, picprompt, The Were-Traveler. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.