Letters to Lovecraft is our newest genre-blending anthology of original fiction, and to ring in the new year for our readers we’ll be posting excerpts from each of the stories. Today’s entry comes from Cameron Pierce, and features that ancient struggle of man vs. fish. Considering this piece is aptly titled “Help Me,” it may not end up being the sort of catch our protagonist wants to boast about…
The fish struck hard, and Jim Mulligan was nearly pulled off his feet, into the surf that crashed around his waist. A halibut, or perhaps a small shark. Whatever tugged at his line was certainly larger than the rainbow perch he’d caught all morning. He loosened his drag and let the fish peel off line. Ten, twenty, thirty yards… then seventy, eighty, ninety. Within seconds, the fish nearly stripped his spool bare. It showed no sign of slowing.
Jim tightened the drag and began to reel. At first the fish resisted, but, after several cranks, it turned tail and swam in toward the furthest breakers, toward shore.
Jim’s heart thundered in his chest. His legs had gone numb from many hours taking a beating in the waves. Despite the perpetual grey of the sky, he had still managed to catch a sunburn. The dozen perch he’d landed would make a fine meal or two for himself, Jen, and their four-year-old boy, Jason, but to yield something bigger — that would make this whole vacation one to remember. A trophy lingcod. He licked his lips at the thought of the sweet, buttery meat.
The fish came in easily now. Maybe it wasn’t as big as he first judged. Even though he loved nothing more than the feel of a fish on the other end of the line, disappointment rose within him as he considered the possibility that it was just another perch. Not that he’d complain. He came out to the beach, ditching his family’s planned visit to Hearst Castle, in order to catch perch. Faced with the prospect of something better, though, he couldn’t help feeling cheated. By who or what, he did not know. He’d felt a similar sensation of being cheated when they learned last year that Jason was autistic. The guilt of entitlement wore heavy on him, and for the moment he felt sorry for this fish, which had made a hell of a run and should be appreciated for what it was, not for what it might have been.
A black dorsal fin spotted red slashed through the waves breaking closest to Jim. The sight turned his blood cold. No fish he’d ever seen pictures of, let alone caught, possessed a fin like that.
He focused on the angle of his rod to the water, the buzzing of the spool sending his heart into his throat every time the fish held ground or fought to earn an extra few feet of line. Even though it feigned struggle, he knew it was gassed. The biggest risks now were it coming unhooked or a seal or shark swooping in for an easy meal.
He held his breath and prayed to the god all fishermen pray to.
Then a tail cut through a white-capped wave.
Holy fish gods in heaven — from the fork of the tail, Jim guessed the whole fish to be at least three feet long.
Quite possibly four or five.
Some exotic type of giant rock bass? He did not have long to find out. The fight was almost finished.
He stepped backwards, then took another step, careful not to slip on any submerged rocks as he eased out of the sea and back to shore. To lose this fish now, especially after glimpsing that it was indeed something rare and wonderful, would be nothing less than tragic.
In spite of his cautiousness, his knees turned wobbly, and he collapsed to the sand when he saw the thing…
For the rest, get Letters to Lovecraft from Stone Skin Press.
Cameron Pierce is the author of eleven books, including the Wonderland Book Award-winning collection Lost in Cat Brain Land. His work has appeared in The Barcelona Review, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Hobart, The Big Click, and Vol. I Brooklyn, and has been reviewed and featured on Comedy Central and The Guardian. He was also the author of the column Fishing and Beer, where he interviewed acclaimed angler Bill Dance and John Lurie of Fishing with John. He also writes for the animated show Spacefish. Pierce is the head editor of Lazy Fascist Press and has edited three anthologies, including The Best Bizarro Fiction of the Decade. He lives with his wife in Astoria, Oregon.