The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Superstitions

Dear fellow Curators,

I came upon the following snippet and of course had to do what I could to discover the truth behind the story–which is never really what we read in the papers, is it? It took some trickery, more than a few potions, and much more time in a diving bell than I’d ordinarly care to spend, but I think I have unearthed the tale.

Hoping you’re all well,

Curator Trevayne

CB Sea Serpent

He could not precisely remember the sensation of warmth, but he could remember that there was such a thing, and that was somehow worse. So, too, he couldn’t remember his name, but he remembered that he had one, once.

He could not remember how long he had been in the water.

His eyes worked well in the murky gloom, even if his mind did not. Inside the cave which he had made his home, chasing out several schools of fish in order to make room, he could see his long, slithery, scaly tail. If he concentrated, he could flick many gills that ran down the length of him independently of each other.

That was getting easier. With each day he had to think less and less in order to swim swiftly through the waves.

But he wanted to think. He wanted to remember. He had to.

And he couldn’t just stay in the cave, neither. If he did, he’d never escape the cold. Every day—though it was impossible to tell whether it was day or night so far below the surface, it was simply morning whenever he awoke—he would flick his gills and swish his tail and rise, up, up, up.

*

George always fished in the same spot. It was a good spot, and he knew some of the older fishermen looked upon it with envy, but there was rules about that sort of thing. Unwritten, because not all of ‘em could use a pencil, and unspoken, because some things just didn’t need to be said. A person’s patch was their own, even if the exact water in it wasn’t the same one day to the next. The spirit of the water was the same, and that’s what mattered.

Course, thinking that things like water have spirits is where trouble always starts.

For now, however, George was untroubled. The sun shone, turning the water into a thousand crystals far as the eye could see, the fish were biting, his belly was still full from a good breakfast.

“Morning, Georgie,” said a voice behind him. George turned on the slippery rock but kept his line steady in the water. It was Old Lewis, who had been old for so long the wrinkles were as much part of his face as scales were part of a fish.

“Morning, Old Lewis,” said George. “Shouldn’t you be off on your boat? I’ll beat you at the count if you don’t get a move on.” The count was a daily ritual, as each fisherman brought his catch to market, hoping to be the one who’d caught the most. It’d been George a few times since he’d started back at the start of summer. The fishing rod had been the only thing for his dad to leave him when the fever’d done its final, deadly work, but that was all George needed. The rod and the patch. With those, a boy could make a life and grow as old as Old Lewis.

“Not today.” Over Old Lewis’s head, clouds had moved in across the sky, but there were still large patches of blue. “Won’t see none of us out today.”

“Why not?” George asked. “Doesn’t look like a storm to me. I’ll get my share of fish and all yours besides.”

“So he didn’t tell you,” muttered Old Lewis under his breath. His old bones creaked as he settled himself next to George on the slippery rock. “Your dad should’ve had a word with you about this day, lad.”

The water rippled. The breeze wandered through the trees along the shore as if whistling for a lost dog. It was another day. George had fished a hundred of them this summer.

Today was the hundredth, in fact, if his sums were right. He had learned his numbers with scales and eyes and fins, and he was good at them.

“We do not fish today,” said Old Lewis. “The seas and lakes and rivers are good to us, and we must in turn be good to them. The spirits who watch from the depths deserve a day’s rest in return for the food they put on our table.”

“Oh,” said George. “Superstition.”

“Aye, and you’d be wise to listen to it.”

“Yeah? And what if I don’t?”

Old Lewis’s bones groaned again as he stood. “Well, then I suppose we must all make our own mistakes in this life, Georgie. But if you pack up your gear, you can come lunch with me and the others.”

For months, George had been waiting for this very invitation. Pride warred with the ever-growling stomach of a young boy. He could stay here and fish, he could show ‘em, but he might never be asked this again. A sign he belonged, that the others saw him as one of their own.

Quickly, he stowed his line and worms, the little box of buzzing flies that some of the nibblers loved and which he trapped with the help of a large spider that lived in the corner of his room. He followed Old Lewis to the hut next to the market in the middle of the village where all the fishermen gathered. Inside, a table was laden with breads and pickles and butter and huge platters of pink-fleshed trout, cooked crisp on the outside just as George liked it. Hands clapped his shoulders as he was guided to a seat that must once have been his fathers.

“Tell me what happens if we fish today,” he said again to Old Lewis, but his voice carried along down the table, and each of the fifty men their put down his fork.

“Terrible things, boy. Terrible things,” said a voice from the shadows.

“Terrible things,” chorused the others.

*

The cold and dark were terrible. The beast swam through the water, holding on to the few memories he had left. Close to the surface, he kept watch for a lure, a fly, the shadow of a boat. So far, he had seen nothing at all, not in all his time in the water. He knew they must be up there, but he could not see them, or smell them.

He had to find someone. He had to bite, to allow someone to catch him.

As he had caught the last one. He remembered it rising from the waves under the sunset, smiling with a huge mouthful of teeth, joyfully thrashing its fins. Not a fish, a monster wrinkled as Old Lewis, eagerly snapping at George’s lure.

Around him, the waters sang, voices in his ears, the spirits of the seas and oceans and rivers. Today was the day the fish swam safely. Today was the day an enormous sea serpent would try to be caught.

But there were no lines, no flies, no feathers. He swam around the shores, eyes peeking above the surface to the land all around, empty of a single soul. Silent.

Abandoned by those who had heard the warnings.

And listened.

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