TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The townsfolk talked but she didn’t care. Day after day, she lugged her saw, a bucket, a homemade fishing pole, and bait across the frozen lake. Once there, she sat shivering while waiting for the telltale tug from a creature of the deep. This torturous task wasn’t for the fairer sex but what choice did she have? On that particular day, as clouds and a north wind rolled in from the mountains, she noticed two little boys at the edge of the lake, shouting and pointing…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
Legend has it that if one can catch a golden fish, that it will grant luck to you in the form of a lifetime. That doesn’t help the fact that every bloody day I have to come to the lake and catch fish. You’d think that with how long it takes to catch them, that they could at least taste good. But that would just be too nice, wouldn’t it? So the things that we pull out of the deep are eyeless and tasteless, and the same grey that the rest of this place is. Forever a dull streak of charcoal.
It’s especially cold today. The bitter cold creeps through my jacket like cockroaches, finding entrances that weren’t visible when I dressed for the day. The tips of my fingers are cold in the way that makes them difficult to control with accuracy, and I can’t fully feel my feet. My large bucket holds two grey fish. I can’t go back to the barracks with any fewer than five, so here I sit with my pathetic excuse of a fishing pole, waiting for a tug on the line from the deep, inky nothingness. A wave of wind rolls in from the mountains, bringing with it a slam of flurries from the snow-topped landscape. A chill runs down my spine and I cower into my hood against the wind, inadvertently pushing a gust of ice crystals down the front of my jacket. I pull the zipper up all the way and shiver.
I didn’t expect it to be so cold here when I was relocated. Come to think of it, I thought it would be much hotter. But the dull ache that the cold sends through you is, I think, worse than what heat would be. It doesn’t take and diminish. It makes you feel more of what is there. More cold. At least heat would, if hot enough, take something away. Pain, maybe. Or suffering. That’s something that the cold can never do.
I feel a tug, the taut fishing line cutting into my thin gloves. I reel in and see the head of another fish, and begin to pull it out of the water. It’s halfway out when I hear a desperate yelling coming from the shore. The irregularity of the sound makes me jump, and the fish flops back under the ice. I cuss under my breath and look toward where the frantic sound came from. There on the edge of the lake are two little boys, shouting and pointing into the water. My heart pounds in my chest. A decade I’ve been here, longer maybe. It can’t be true. I throw my fishing pole down and run in the direction of the boys. The other fishers on the lake have the same idea as me. We begin in a mad dash toward the boys. I am fast. I throw an elbow at a bow-legged man on my right, connecting with his eye socket. A sharp kick to my left sends a woman careening onto the ice. The boys are clawing at the ice, trying to get through to whatever they see beneath it. Soon, I am there. The boys have a glow in their eyes with what they’ve found. Sure enough, under the ice I see a shining blur of gold. My eyes are alight with the color. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
I thrust my boot onto the ice again and again until I break through. There the golden fish swims. One of the boys reaches for it and I shove him out of the way, screaming at him to get away from my catch. I reach into the freezing water and find the slithering exterior of the Golden Sun Fish. I pull it out and hold it over my head. The boys look at me with tears in their eyes. The other fishers stare in horror, because I was the one to steal the luck. I prepare for ecstasy. For me to be taken back to my previous life. For a do-over.
I close my eyes and the cold begins to fade away. Warmth fills my body. My feet unfreeze. My foggy breath turns dry. When I open my eyes again, I am surrounded by a blanket of sand. I pull my arms to my body when I feel the scorching touch of the sun directly overhead. My jacket has disappeared and I stand nearly naked in burning-hot sand. I don’t understand this place that begins to heat, and heat, and heat with every breath I take. I look at my feet and see my old fishing pole and a piece of paper, akin to a fortune cookie paper. I pick it up and read: Good luck finding water to fish in this time. Catch an Icy Trout and get a new beginning.
I swear under my breath. You’d think in purgatory, it’d be okay to steal a little luck if you couldn’t catch some for yourself.