Chapter 20: when the Fisher was less than helpful
It’s not that Rain and the medium-sized girl were running for their lives. They probably wouldn’t have understood the concept, for starters. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, they weren’t exactly sure what it was that constituted a “life,” and had only the vaguest of impressions that such a thing was something that they themselves might possess. “Running for their lives” would also have required them to understand concepts like “capture” and “mortal peril,” which they, quite simply, did not. Which is why, thirdly, they were not exactly running. More like “briskly jogging.” The thing following them was no Olympic sprinter, after all, and was struggling in the sand and mud. Rain and the medium-sized girl merely moved as fast as the creature following them, plus a little bit faster, so as to “not get nabbed,” as Hadal had advised. Well, screamed, more like. The medium-sized girl couldn’t quite remember the details of it all, but she knew there had definitely been some screams.
The Fisher lumbered after them, bellowing and hissing and spitting. The medium-sized girl wanted to know what the matter was, but Rain kept saying they were the matter and that they probably should take Hadal’s word for it and scram. The medium-sized girl wasn’t so sure, of course. The Fisher looked nice enough. Big and broad, all slime and scales, slits for eyes and a big green beard. And she didn’t know what she and Rain could possibly have done to make anyone upset, much less this poor fellow.
“Do you think the Fisher will follow us for much longer?” The medium-sized girl asked, glancing over her shoulder, only to almost immediately trip over her unwatched feet.
“I don’t know? Maybe the Fisher will get tired. Maybe not. We don’t. I don’t think we do, anyway. I guess I don’t actually know. Do you get tired?”
The medium-sized girl shrugged. OTC had been utterly exhausting, but she didn’t know what that had to do with running.
Hadal and Ronda had swum them to the place where the mountain rose up out of the ocean before the sun woke that morning. They had settled in to wait for the Fisher, the children on the shore and the mermaids as close as they could manage without beaching themselves. Ronda had sung a song she knew.
“A “summoning song,” Hadal had said, “not unlike a lullaby, though way cooler and with much clearer instructions.” Hadal had laughed and winked at Rain. The medium-sized girl understood that they had their little inside joke. She didn’t think it was very funny, but there’s really no accounting for taste.
The sun kissed the mist-shrouded world and a burst of green lit the horizon. A boat materialized out of the morning fog, carrying a silhouette towards them.
“They’re coming,” Hadal whispered, squinting into the distance. The medium-sized girl heard singing, then, though it didn’t seem to be coming from the Fisher. Well, not just from the Fisher. From the boat, too, and the Fisher’s paddle, and the curling fog, the ocean, the sky. The medium-sized girl listened, curious, but did not know the song.
The Fisher glided silently past Hadal and Ronda, who stared with wide eyes and gaping mouths. The medium-sized girl thought that “surprise” was a strange way to greet the person they had just intentionally summoned. But then the Fisher began to speak, and the medium-sized girl was thoroughly distracted.
“I went and watched and wandered away, to where wind and world can know no day. Who deigns to bring me back?”
Ronda squeaked but said nothing. Hadal gestured furiously at Rain, who frowned, then took the less-than-subtle hint.
“Hello, the Fisher. We’re in a bit of a predicament, and could use some direction. A friend said you might be able to help.” The Fisher’s boat slid up onto the steep, rocky shore. The Fisher stepped out, slitted eyes flickering between the rising sun and the two children.
“I know where things are, I know where I am,” the Fisher stated, “Better at sea, though, then on the dry land. What direction do you seek?”
“I need to find Father,” Rain said.
“I know some fathers, and some mothers, too, though I can’t know yet if they’re the ones for you. Does this father have a name?”
“Father,” Rain said.
“Yes, yes. Does he have another name?”
“I don’t know. I only know him from a song. And in that song, he is only ‘Father.’”
“Songs are good for knowing. Also good for rowing. Tell me of this song.”
Rain began to sing the song. He got about one line in before the Fisher’s face screwed up in pain and fear. Another word or two before the Fisher began to bellow wordlessly at them. Hadal screamed for them to make a run for it. And, well, they did. And so here they are, jogging briskly across the newly-formed coasts of the Andean highlands.
“Well,” the medium-sized girl said, sighing. “I think I’m done. I never win at chase, anyway. You?”
“Me neither, though I always thought it was because I was a middle child. I suppose you’re right, though.” The medium-sized girl took his hand and, as one, they stopped.
The Fisher, being a relatively mythical being, was able to stop almost as suddenly as them. The Fisher did not lunge for them, or nab them, or cause them any manner of pain. The Fisher also did not stop howling, and their face remained twisted in terror and agony.
“What’s the matter?” The medium-sized girl asked. The Fisher kept howling. The medium-sized girl frowned and tried her very best not to get annoyed. She walked right up to the scaly giant, tugged the brilliant green beard once, twice. The Fisher’s eye slits focused on her, surprised. She reached up on her tippy-toes and clamped her hands down on the twisted mouth. The Fisher’s cries became muffled. A moment later, they stopped altogether.
“What’s the matter?” Rain repeated, stepping up to where the medium-sized girl stood, arms still outstretched, hands still covering the Fisher’s mouth. The Fisher looked from Rain to the medium-sized girl to the sun and back again. The Fisher spoke, but the words were muffled. The medium-sized girl dropped her hands.
“That song, that song,” the Fisher whispered, “child, it’s been so long. Since before, and almost before then, too. Child, who sang it to you?”
“Tall Mother,” Rain said. The Fisher simply watched them. Them, the rising sun, and back again.
“Why did you holler like that?” The medium-sized girl asked, feeling slightly irritated. “Why did you chase us? Why did you scare Hadal and Ronda like that?”
The Fisher’s shining, greenish face tilted to one side. Filmy eyelids darted across the narrow eyes.
“That song should not be sung. Not sung, that is, until the world is… is…” the Fisher began to shudder. The medium-sized girl, thinking to comfort the sometimes-sailor, took one big, slimy hand in hers. That only made the shuddering worse. The Fisher sank to the ground, holding tight to the Medium-sized girl’s hand.
“Dung?” Rain asked, not quite paying attention to the mood. “Is that what you were going to say? I can’t think of anything else that rhymes with ‘sung.’” The Fisher and the medium-sized girl looked up at Rain, faces mirrors of “wow, Rain, what bad timing you have.”
“‘Done,’ child, ‘done’ was the rhyme. A slant rhyme, though, which some think’s a poetical crime.” Even the FIsher’s voice was shuddering.
“Oh. That makes more sense.” Rain frowned, his face undermining his words.
“But we’ve already sung the song,” the medium-sized girl said. “Or rather, it’s already been sung. What are we supposed to do, now?”
Weep, apparently, and gnash a few teeth. The medium-sized girl tried to quash the rising irritation. She didn’t try too hard. Thankfully, Rain spoke before she could say anything too huffy.
“The Fisher, could you please tell us what it all means? We fell out of our own worlds a while back and can’t quite figure out what we’re doing here.”
The Fisher wept a few more tears, then settled in for the deepest sigh the medium-sized girl had ever heard. It was a keening, cavernous thing, and the medium-sized girl thought it sounded like the earth itself had opened up for a little bit of a yawn.
“I can hardly remember. I was barely there. I had only just been placed into Pariacaca’s care. Children, have you heard the story of the Mother and her groom?”
The children shook their heads.
“Sit down, sweet ones, we’ve a moment yet. Then the sun will rise too high, and I must quickly get.” They sat down in front of him, legs crossed, and leaned in. The medium-sized girl was quite excited. OTC hadn’t told her a single story.
“Before, and almost before then, too, there was love and loss and a little world.
And a beloved who sang as his lover twirled.
Her beloved, our Father—better with a beat than he was on his feet—
played as she danced, and the world grew to something so sweet.
My mother came, and then I came too,
and there was nothing fearful of which I knew
I sailed, and I saw, and I told such big tales
And then, one dawn, the sky fell, and failed
It went dark, it went red, beings fought, beings ran
I hid, and trembled, away from the land
I woke some time later, fog in my head
wondering if this was what it meant to be dead
it was not, though, was not meant to be
my life was forever, between the land and the sea
I searched and searched for the beloved and Lover
for the song and the dance that had turned the world over
I found Mother, once, but Father was gone
she cried and she ached, and she gave me your song
‘we lost them,’ she whispered, ‘something’s gone bad’
but she said nothing more, her mind gone quite mad.
The song, children, is the one that you sang
‘for the end of the world’ it was to be exchanged.”
The medium-sized girl was playing with the fog surrounding them and didn’t immediately realize the story was over. She looked up at the Fisher, thinking perhaps they should tell a story with a better, clearer moral, before remembering that there had been a point to all of this.
“Mother gave you the song?” She asked. That made since, of course. Mother had also given her the song.
“Not your mother,” Rain said, “I think this is some other mother.”
“The Mother,” the Fisher agreed, “from whom came all the others.” The medium-sized girl thought that was rather implausible. Her mother was a mother. She couldn’t also have a mother. That didn’t make any sense,
“So you’re saying the song was given to you by some Mother, capital-M, and she said it would end the world,” Rain said, frowning.
“More or less, yes.” the Fisher agreed.
“Weird,” Rain muttered, tapping his fingers against his knee.
“If it helps, I am unsure whether she saw the song as causal or corollary,” the Fisher went on, “I only know of the song, to be wary.”
Rain sighed. The Fisher sighed. The medium-sized girl twisted some lingering fog into the shape of a butterfly. It dissolved almost immediately. The sun, weak and watery as it was, had risen too high. The morning mists were dissipating.
“Children, I must go.
You seek the Father? I’ll tell you what I know.
He fell some time before the Before, and has remained low
Mother seeks him, and weeps, and has been doing so
for the lifespan of this world, and a little more
but has never managed to find his caged door
find Mother, then, pry out the stuff I could not
what led to that first battle, what transpired, and what with blood was bought.
To find her, seek out a tall flower, the color of May
And ask it what happened on the very first day.”
And then, without drama or good-byes or honestly any sense of a well-paced transition whatsoever, the Fisher stood, turned, and walked away. The Fisher was a large back, then a small back, then a disappearing silhouette on a disappearing coastline.
“So… now… we’re looking for a mother, not a father?” The medium-sized girl asked, wishing the fog would stop moving so much.
“No, a flower, and then a mother,” Rain said, staring at the sun.
“And… this flower… will be a better guide than a lullaby?”
“I mean, it’s a tall flower the color of may, so, you know.”
There was a beat. And then,
“I don’t know what May is,” the medium-sized girl said. “Do you?”
“Haven’t the slightest.”
“Well. Okay. Let’s get moving, then.”
The children got to their feet. The sky darkened as they walked along the coastline, and had settled into a steady drizzle by the time they got back to where they had started.
Hadal surfaced within a minute of their arrival, relief painted across her face.
“The Fisher didn’t like the song,” Rain said, shrugging.
“No, probably just didn’t like your singing,” Hadal corrected. “What happened?”
“We stopped running, then the Fisher told us a story,” Rain said. “Something about a time before, and there was some dancing and singing, a mother and a father, and a fight. Anyway. We are apparently now looking for a flower and a Mother.”
“What about your father?”
Rain shrugged. “Excellent question, Hadal.”
“So, a father and a mother? We’re back to those sorts of tales, are we? A little gender-essential, don’t you think?”
“All I know is that the Fisher said to find a flower and a mother. Sorry, the Mother.”
“I’d rather find my mother,” the medium-sized girl grumbled. Hadal glanced from child to child, biting at her lip.
“Well,” she said, voice catching. Rain’s eyes fell, not quite able to meet the mermaid’s. The medium-sized girl caught on, a little late, and wanted to groan. But there was nothing to be done about it.
“Don’t die, little brother,” Hadal said, “and come find me, when you’ve got it all sorted.”
“I will,” he said, voice quiet and small.
“Keep him in line,” Hadal said to the medium-sized girl, “and don’t wander off.” The medium-sized girl nodded, not at all liking the way her feelings were feeling.
And then, having had only the slightest bit more of a transition than had the Fisher, the children turned and walked away. Inland, towards the mountain peaks. Flowers were tall on mountain peaks, after all. The tallest, some could say.
“I don’t like leaving,” the medium-sized girl grumbled. “I don’t like good-byes. I don’t like not-good-byes, either.”
“Me neither,” Rain agreed, taking her hand and thinking of Tall and Short Mother. Of Baby Sila, and Jeannine. Of the not-good-byes. “Me neither.”