Of fish and Fishing
Peter’s slumber, in a welcoming little bedroom at the north corner of Vincent Harper’s cottage, was deep, and awash with dreaming. Yet, as with all such nights, the only dream he would carry into memory would be the last; his dream before waking.
He stood beneath a burning sun upon a hill. Around him and stretching to infinity were grasslands uninterrupted by hedges, or roads, or any natural feature save an occasional clump of scrubby and rather apologetic trees. Groups of animals grazed, moving lazily, their tails flicking at a drifting mist of flies.
One of the herds passed close enough so he could see they were not unlike Wildebeest though smaller, and hear as they spoke among themselves in tones curiously evocative of weeping.
As he looked on, a commotion in the grass behind the creatures exploded and a huge cat with gaping jaws and grotesque tusks for teeth sprang from cover. Its intended victim had no time to turn or run before raking claws and those great teeth put it to death. Legs crumpling beneath it, with its last breath the poor creature emitted a long, sobbing cry. The herd scattered. and Peter woke up.
Slowly, as sleep receded, he became aware of breathing. He was not alone. His first disorientated thought was that he was back in Levenport, that he and Lesley had taken some time from study and they had fallen asleep together. He probed softly, half-expecting to be rewarded with the thrill of her warm flesh. Instead he found a coarse, tight pelt of fur. It took only a second to realise that this was not human skin, that the owner was much, much larger than Lesley. He opened his eyes to come face to face with the big cat of the plains, its fantastic fangs still scarlet with blood, eyes angry and lips drawn back in a long, slow feline snarl. Its eyes were craven and yellow, its big paws tensed to strike. It disappeared. Daylight peeked through the curtain, and the smell of frying food wafted through the gaps in the planked door. Just to be sure, Peter pinched himself/
Estelle greeted him in the kitchen.
“Hi. I was going to give you a shout, but blubber-ball downstairs said you’d be awake. Are you OK? You look like you saw a ghost.”
Thirty minutes later, with a calming plate of bacon and eggs inside him, Peter was ready for Vincent when he emerged from that mysterious door. “Come on, Pete. This is what you came for.”
Peter follow Vincent down the flight of stone steps the door concealed. Halfway down Vincent paused;
“One thing, man; be prepared – a bit of a shock, this.”
Another door: to a basement room, obviously; and their footsteps must have been heard because that oddly familiar voice bellowed from within: “Not you, Vincent, I need the woman to attend to me. I demand it!”
“She’s washing another bale of your clothes, you old f****r!” Vincent responded unceremoniously. “We need a bleedin’ laundry! Keeping you clean’s an industrial enterprise!” Over his shoulder, in a more modulated voice, he said, “Come in Pete. If he throws something at you, throw it back!”.
“Blame me! My dear, it’s so convenient! Blame me!” The voice was suddenly petulant, a soft received English accent with a peculiar dryness, almost a rasp. Now Peter was sure of its owner, though he hadn’t expected to find him here.
“Right! Sure, I will! All I ask, Simeon, is you keep your shirt clean for just, like, an hour or something, huh, baby? Maybe if you don’t eat for an hour, try that?”
“Not eat? For a whole hour?” Expostulated the voice, “I need food, my dear! Need it! You know I need it! Get me fish.”
“Not later, NOW!”
Peter managed to pass through the door without molestation, into a well-lit space which had all the appearance, although windowless, of a normal sitting room. A pendant light in the centre of its ceiling provided the illumination; walls were painted a predictable magnolia; wooden features in a contrast tan. A darker tan carpet fitted the entire floor. A television of mammoth proportions graced one wall, an over-stuffed chair, a low settee and a smaller upright chair ranged around a large glass occasional table central to the room.
Peter’s attention instantly focused on the occupant of the room – a most unusual-looking human who Vincent introduced:
“Peter, this is Simeon.”
Simeon was seated in a low armchair. The floor around him was covered by a pair of protective sheets in the form of plastic shower curtains, one bearing a penguin motif, the other a single full-length graphic of a nude female.
Simeon’s person could best be described as a vast jelloid balloon topped by a completely hairless head. Into this, like craters of the moon, were sunk two large, saucer eyes, pinhole nostrils, and a mouth uncluttered by more than the necessary minimum of teeth.
The lower layers of the apparition were clad in a voluminous pair of blue trousers, partially zipped to respectability: the upper ones a clean white cotton shirt with cruelly tortured buttons and short sleeves. The trousers were, like everything else in the immediate vicinity, decorated with splurges of food. The shirt was not, as yet, though its fate was clear.
A breakfast plate rested neatly upon the shelf of Simeon’s torso. Peter guessed at Eggs Benedict which Simeon steadily transported to his mouth with both his hands. Mastication was a very open affair. Sauce dripped and spattered. The clean shirt became unclean extremely quickly, especially when speech took place.
“Is this the boy?” Simeon assessed Peter with a disbelieving stare. “Bigger than I remember – much bigger.” He extended a podgy hand, inviting a handshake. Peter flinched away.
“Sorry!” Simeon apologised. “Bit messy, it’s true. I have difficulty eating this trash, you see. Bloody stupid idea, leaving sauce all over the place.”
Estelle had followed Vince and Peter into the room. “He has difficulty eating anything politely.” She commented. “He’s a PIG!”
“Of course he has difficulty;” said Peter a little sententiously, because he was certain now his first encounter with Simeon’s voice had been on Levenport seafront. “He’s more used to having a beak. He’s really a gull.”
Simeon exploded into laughter, a voluble bellow which scattered hollandaise sauce like napalm. “A GULL! Of course I am. You see, my pretty little waitress, how you wrong me? Dear boy, how well we shall get on! Simeon Ward-Settering, MSc, BSc, MA, BA, DD, MD, CD, VD, OD, Eton and Balliol here. How do you do?”
Simeon resumed his gorging: massaging the remaining contents of the plate into a wad, he stuffed this into his mouth, to be swallowed by a single gulp.
“There. I am replete! Vincent, you sweet soul, bring me those towels, will you?”
There were towels in a pile by the door. Four or five were needed, before Simeon looked anything like clean, another two to mop detritus from the table and floor. To withdraw the shower curtains, Vincent had to prompt Simeon to raise himself, which he did with some difficulty. Peter noticed that movement induced a ripple effect across the uneven contours of his body, and a made a sloshing sound.
“Not my dear little Popsy!” Simeon affected grief as the nude woman curtain was taken. “Do bring her back soon, won’t you? I shall miss her frightfully!”
“You’re a dirty old bastard.” Estelle told him, as she gathered up the soiled towels. There was some humour in the statement, but not too much.
“I know; my failing. Sit down – Peter, isn’t it? Vincent, you have told our friend here what this is about? Broken the ice, as ‘twere?”
Peter gingerly lowered himself into a chair which looked relatively free of food.
“I’ll leave you boys to it,” Estelle said with meaning. “I have to do laundry.”
“Fish!” Simeon shouted at her retreating back.
“Vincent and I, we go back a long way.” Simeon cocked an eye at Vince, “He didn’t tell you that, did he?”
Vincent shook his head. “I left it to you, mate.”
“I first appeared to Vincent after a concert in California. My path was smoothed by several mind-altering drugs…”
“What a gig that was!” Vincent laughed, “He tied me up, literally! I thought I was having a bad trip.”
“I did a thing with a python materialisation – a favourite of mine at the time. In retrospect a bit cruel, I suppose.”
“I was that spaced out I thought he was God!” Vincent exclaimed, “As you can see, he wasn’t”
“Now, let us be serious,” Simeon exclaimed. “We met before – you’ve worked that out, you clever thing – so it is time for you to know who I really am.”
“You were that gull on the rail at Levenport,” Peter said, “That’s how I first saw you. You spoke to me, but inside my head, not with a voice like now. . You invited me to meet Vince, didn’t you?”
Simeon spread lily-pad hands: “I confess it all, guv’nor. Guilty as charged. I suspected you shared our receptiveness, but I had to find out. ”
Vincent grimaced, “Quite useful timing, in the event.”
“My dream?” Peter muttered, “That’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it? How many times do I have to keep saying this? It was just a dream!”
Simeon affected a sigh of patience: “Dear child, remember what happened. You touched the Truth Stone, and it flooded your head with pictures. You passed out, but you weren’t asleep. Then you found another part of the Stone in the Toa shrine, and you repeated the exercise there. Denial of this is pointless! Accept your gift!”
“Truth Stone? Toa shrine? You mean that cave, the one with Toqus’s body in it. Who are the Toa? Come to think of it, you haven’t told me yet what you are.”
“The Toa are a religious sect that existed secretly within the Catholic Church until the Middle Ages, and probably in other multitheistic religions long before that;” Simeon answered. “Unheard of for four hundred years, they are active again because they know, as do we, that the stones are awake. As to who I, and possibly you, are? I don’t precisely know. We call ourselves Ethereals, but that is only a name.
“The species that thrived on this planet for a hundred million years, and those who went before them, ‘documented’ their knowledge and their law by some means in stone. I and some of my predecessors are possibly older, even, than they. I believe we were once the readers of those records. If you think of stone as the ‘hard drive’ on which their lore was stored, then we were the lasers that read, and possibly also wrote, that information.”
Peter was struggling: “That’s pretty radical. So you must be really old. I mean, if you were reading their stuff. I mean, seriously?”
“I have to accept I may be very, very old. Having no physical body apart from those forms I assume for convenience from time to time so people, humans, can better understand me. I could be as old as the stone itself. Time relies on substance, and as far as I know I, and the few brethren who have shared this state with me, have no physical form at all.”
“Supposing I believed all this? Like I’m sitting in a room with a ghost who looks like the Michelin Man on acid, and he isn’t really there. He’s what…invisible? Where do I fit in with that?”
“We can no longer read from the stones. More importantly, dear boy, we can no longer write into them. We can’t ‘programme’. That means destiny is set upon a path we can’t control, and something desperate must inevitably happen. We had to find someone from your generation with the power to interact with that resource…”
“And you’re it, Pete.” Vincent cut in. “Because we’ve seen that you can interact with the Truth Stone. You’re lovely girlfriend, too, if we can find her, but we think maybe one of the others has got her.”
“Melanie’s not my girlfriend,” Peter reminded them. “Others? What ‘others’?”?”
“Others who want to use the stone ‘drive’ for their own ends,” Simeon replied. “The Toa, some other religious groups and extremists who think they can earn from the power it could give them.”
“Alright,” Peter said, “What do you want to use it for? How do I know you’re not another bunch of mad scientists, or whatever?”
Vincent took the question. “I suppose you don’t. You would have to judge us by what we ask you to do, if you can do it.”
“Perform a reset, if you like. Wipe the catastrophic event which has caused the error and if possible extract the information we need to get ourselves back on track.” Simeon tried to look persuasive – an expression that didn’t sit easily on his moon of a face. “Not much of an ask, Petie Pooh, is it?”
Vincent cut in with a grimace: “It’s urgent, Pete. We have to get you back to the Rock and get this sorted like yesterday, man, and I don’t know if I can help you. It would have been better if we hadn’t had to drag you up here to tell you all this, but I daren’t go near the place at the moment. I don’t think they know about you, but they know me, and I’m a prime target.”
“Why should they – whoever – target you?”
“For the same reason I sought out Vincent at that California concert,” Simeon answered more soberly; “His is the House on St. Benedict’s Rock. The place where you touched that black stone – the Truth Stone – is your best hope of accessing the information we need and re-establishing control – as Ethereals must have done, I am sure, for millions of years. It’s the only place, as far as we know, where the Truth Stone is exposed.”
“What’s to stop ‘them’, whoever they are, from simply moving in and taking over? If all they need is this Truth Stone?”
“It isn’t all they need. They need you, Pete. You or your friend, ideally both. Together you’re the lynchpins. You’re the readers.”
Melanie had never slept on a small boat before. The coastal trawler, a sturdy craft built for the short, choppy waves of inshore waters, made few concessions to the inexperienced: and Melanie was scarcely a sailor. After struggling for a couple of queasy hours against forces dedicated to tipping her from the hard wooden shelf of her bunk, trying to blot out the bang of waves against a hull only inches from her right ear, she surrendered. Midnight found her on the foredeck, staring emptily towards lights on a distant shoreline.
“Thinkin’ o’ swimming for it?” The deck-hand, for that was what Melanie assumed he must be, was a spindly youth in a shabby navy sweater. “’Tis further ‘an it looks.”
“Where are we, exactly?” She asked.
“See those lights there? Those’d be Peterhead. Us’ll be losin’t coastline in a while: crossin’t mouth of Mor’y Firth. Could get rough. Lucky to ‘ave it this calm, time o’ year.”
“How much further are you taking me?”
“Not far enough, nice lass like the’. Us’ll be dropping the’ off tomorra morning.”
The boy shook his head: “can’t tell the’ that.”
So it was to be somewhere in Scotland: the north, too. What; an island somewhere?
Melanie recalled her first conversation with the boy. She had not intended, when she left Bianca’s nice seaside semi-detached that morning, to wander as far as the fish-dock: she still wondered why she had. But, having done so, and having leaned over the rail to watch the vessels departing on the tide, it was natural to someone of her enquiring mind to ask questions of this frail-looking youth, who was stacking white plastic trays on the deck of a neat and sweetly-painted green boat.
“Coom aboard if the’ likes.”
She did like. It never occurred to her there might be -; what – danger – adventure?
“Tha’d not like it, where us has te’ live when wor ut sea, mind. Coom on, Ah’ll show the’.”
It never crossed her mind.
She marvelled at the little galley: the smallness, the compactness of it all. And the forward cabin: two bunks, a locker, no room for more.
A quite different figure was from nowhere, all at once standing behind her, removing any thought of retreat; a tall man dressed un-nautically, blunt though not unkind of speech.
“We’ll want your possessions: purse, mobile. PDA if you have it. Now, please.”
A man brooking no dissent: impatient of delay.
He blocked the door: or was it a hatch, now she was on a boat?
“Gaffer!” The boy whispered. “The’ better do it like. Do like ‘e says, lass.”
How had it happened? What had brought her here? The pulse of the diesel was noisy, the throb of its dissent endemic to the steel of the hull. Unaccountably, though, she was hearing music. Oh, not a radio, or anything: no, this was inside her head: like the music of the rock.
© Frederick Anderson 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.
Feature Image Dinosaurs Darius Sankowski on Pixabay
Fish: Gregory Moses on Unsplash
Trawler: Lawrence Hookham on Unsplash