Eighth in a series of Flash Fiction shorts that I’m writing while in Thailand. I’m allowing myself a maximum of two hours per story so please forgive the rough edges. Cheers!
The Evening Rain puttered into a little cove in one of the green meadow-freckled islands of the Prince William Sound. The boat was a thirty-two foot bowpicker, meaning that the gear sat up front in the bow and the cabin perched in the back. Ben’s dad was a fisherman, more specifically he was a gillnetter. Ben thought bowpickers looked like genie shoes. He told his father as much.
“Yeah, huh. Genie shoes? I like it.” Which rated pretty damned good for one of their conversations. Ben tucked that away for later.
His dad launched out of the captain’s chair and ran to the bow to toss the anchor over.
Ben sat at the fold out table and watched his dad work the anchor until it caught. The Evening Rain’s momentum swung her around by the nose. Satisfied, dad shut the engines down.
Post-engine silence always shocked Ben. He never got used to the way that a whole world could seem to open up in such a short instant. A world that had been there all along, but hidden under that constant dull roar.
A seagull screamed something rude overhead.
The Department of Fish and Game would re-open the ‘Sound to fishing in two days. Until then, they’d be anchored up in that little cove. Fisherman and fisherson sat down for a couple of games of cribbage.
After a couple games dad retired to the bunk for a quick nap. Ben stared at the pile of books stacked around the cabin. He’d read every single one of them, some of them twice. It was going to be a long closure.
His dad’s buddies would be joining them soon, creating a little pontoon. That would be the end of the cribbage games. Sometimes they had new books, at least.
Ben sighed. A kid could hope.
Dad and his friends were getting steadily louder and muffled 70s music was flowing along with beer and whiskey. Everybody was on Gerald Hawkins’s boat, a stern picker with a real table and a sound system.
The sun wouldn’t set until around 2am and it was barely 7 in the evening.
Ben shuffled his cards and packed them back into their box. If he had to look at another solitaire spread he’d jump overboard.
That’s what he was right then—over bored. He made a point to tell that one to his dad in the morning.
Ben walked out on deck.
The cove was surrounded by hills and thick evergreen trees. A big green meadow capped one of the hills like a bald spot. An old wooden barge sat smack in the middle of it.
Dad once told him the big tsunami in 1964 plopped it up there. What if the barge wasn’t empty? What if there was a whole world like in his fantasy books, hidden in these little islands. Nobody would know, would they? When’s the last time an actual person walked around up there.
Elves and sprites and spirits played in Ben’s imagination as he looked longingly at the meadow and the barge. He’d have given an eye tooth to climb around on that thing.
Water splashed against the side of the boat.
Ben peered down but there was nothing to see but dark green ocean.
Two bubbles shimmered deep down, wobbling their way to the surface. Halibut bubbles, maybe?
They broke into words when they hit the surface.
Ben stumbled backward.
He edged toward the gunwale. “Yeah? Uh, who said that?”
Two eyes like dinner plates stared back up at him from just under the surface of the water when he peered over.
A long thin arm that reached up from the water and gripped the gunwale. With them rose a creature that looked like a cross between a frog and a person and a giant salamander.
The creature oozed its way onto deck. When it stretched upright it must have been as tall as Ben’s dad, or maybe even as tall as Gerald. Reed thin and glistening with seawater in the high summer sun.
“Why hello young man. Nice to meet you, my name is Gish.” The thing extended its long fingers for a wet handshake. “I’m a sea sprite. Surely you know about sea sprites? You are a bored little boy, am I correct?” Now the creature’s voice sounded less bubbly and more like a librarian or something.
Ben nodded and let go of Gish’s rubbery hand.
It grinned, revealing not the long dagger-like fangs but goofy square teeth, rounded at the edges. Ben laughed at the sight of them.
“What do you want? Did you come for–.”
“You? Of course. Ben, right? Stuck in coves all the time? Over-bored?” The creature grinned again and Ben couldn’t help but laugh. Over-bored, man was he right. “Well. Are you ready?” The creature held out one of his weird long hands.
“I guess so? Yeah. Yeah, I’m ready.” Ready for what he didn’t know, but anything would be better than re-reading Mack Bolan The Executioner #103. Man, maybe he’d get to find out what this barge was all about after all. Hooboy. Just wait until he told everybody about this.
In a flash they were in that meadow next to the old wooden barge. Ben whooped in delight. The Evening Rain bobbed alongside the other boats in the cove below.
“Whoa, how did we? Never mind. Is it okay if I climb on it?” Ben asked, pointing at the mammoth barge.
“Okay?” Gish grinned with those weird flat teeth of his. “It’s more than okay, it’s mandatory. Race you to the top!”
Ben didn’t wait to be told twice, he launched himself up the barge. Gish came close behind, so close that Ben could smell his salty low tide breath. By the time Ben pulled himself onto the deck of the old boat Gish was waiting for him, grinning.
“Ugh,” Ben grunted, a bit bummed to have lost his first game with the weird frog man.
Didn’t matter that much, he supposed. He wasn’t here to play racing games with a sea sprite, he was here to explore the–
“Okay, now let’s race to the other end of the barge, ready?” Gish crouched into a sprinter’s stance, his long fingers planted on a pile of moss.
“Uh, sure?” Ben crouched down next to him.
“Three, two, one, go!”
Ben ran as hard as he could. The rotten wood felt like it would give way under his feet at any moment, but he pushed himself anyway. He couldn’t let this thing win twice in a row.
“Ahaha, best three out of five?” Gish called out from the other end of the barge.
Ben hadn’t made it more than half the length of the barge. He sat down to catch his breath, kicking his feet over the edge. The faint sound of seventies rock floated up from Gerald’s boat below. Ben never thought he’d wish he was back at that card table listening to the Eagles and playing solitaire.
“Can we hold off for a bit? I kinda want to–“
“No, no. That was the deal, right? You come with me and we play games? You have to play games with me, Ben. That’s the deal.”
Ben did not like how Gish lingered on the word deal.
“Give me a bit, please?“
“No.” Gish’s voice turned sour. “This time we start on the ground, then race over the top of the boat to the ground on the other side, it’ll be so fun. Ben.”
Ben’s legs felt as if they’d stop holding him up at any moment. He’d been running and jumping and crawling for hours. His hands were covered in dirt and he’d lost two fingernails the last time he scaled the barge. His feet and jeans were soaked through from stepping into a disgusting mud pond during one of the bazillion races across the meadow.
They were at the tree line, facing down one more sprint.
“Gish,” Ben said between gasps, “can we maybe play a different game? Like hide and go seek or something?”
Gish eyed him. “Sure.”
“But you have to close your eyes.” Ben wasn’t even sure that Gish needed to have his eyes open to see. He had no idea how sea sprites worked or why a sea sprite was so into playing in the meadow but it was worth a shot. “Come on. Close ‘em and count to fifty.”
But Gish had already closed his eyes. “One, two, . . . .”
Ben forced his legs to carry him, stomping toward the barge as loudly as he could. Squelching through the wet meadow grass.
Wasn’t much of a plan but maybe it would work. Besides, it was finally getting dark. Fifty was a long count.
When he reached the other side of the barge he ran straight for the far tree line, toward the beach.
The uneven moss and fallen trees flew underneath him as he charged carried by a last hurrah rush of adrenaline. He skidded down a mossy creek bed, pushing through brambles and devils club thorns and skunk cabbage until he hit the rocky beach.
“Dad!” He screamed as he ran into the ice cold water. “Help!”
After a comically drunken group “rescue” and a much needed warming by the boat stove Ben’s dad turned his son’s chin toward him.
“I hope you like that deck of cards because you’re grounded for the rest of the summer young man.”