A Day of Fishing
By Kyla Stan
Within the town of Cold Harbor, Massachusetts was a small patch of land, overgrown with weeds, wildflowers, and tombstones. Some of these time markers were over three hundred years old and nothing more than crumbling rock with lost inscriptions and mingling with the newly deceased. A hundred-year-old weeping willow tree stood in the center of the cemetery and used gentle strokes of protection to clean the graves. Magnus leaned his aging body against the trunk as he stared at his wife’s grave. The shade of the ancient roots provided Helene a coveted spot in the land that housed forgotten souls of loved ones. Overhead, the sky was gray and void of color, threatening a storm. He stretched a hand toward his wife’s small stone that contained just her initials in a heart; it was the only epitaph he could afford.
Dr. Holmes, the family physician, had examined Helene as she lay peacefully in her bed covered in handmade quilts as if she was still asleep. After some tests and a review of her medical history, he concluded she died of natural causes at the fair age of sixty-seven-years old.
The death broke Magnus in ways he couldn’t fathom. Helene was not only his wife but his best friend, and now she was reduced to bones under the earth. Tears rolled down his wrinkled cheeks and collected in his crimson beard, now speckled with graying whiskers from stress. At the foot of Helene’s grave rested a bouquet of flowers from her once-blooming garden. He remembered her favorites; cornflower, borage, and squash blossoms. Before departing for the day, he kissed the top of her stone.
“I’ll be back tomorrow, dear.” Magnus wiped his eyes and tried not to look over his shoulder.
Cold Harbor was settled amid a thriving forest barely touched by man’s destructive ways. With less than two hundred residents, the town lacked a liveliness that attracted tourists. Only an occasional visitor traveled to Cold Harbor to cleanse their lungs of city air and catch glimpses of rare wildlife. There were no trails to the cemetery nor space to park. The only open area was next to a swampish lake that most avoided because locals swore they saw “mysterious lights” floating amongst the fresh breezes. While Magnus never witnessed this phenomenon, he was cautious every time he visited his wife. He often wondered if the dead haunted the lake.
Magnus opened the driver-side door of his pickup, slid inside with a grunt, and bit his lip to stop from sobbing. Emotions flooded every sense as he left his wife in the cold ground. A sense of guilt overwhelmed him, and he wished they visited a doctor sooner. Maybe then she would still be alive, holding his hand and smiling. He was about to turn the key in his ignition, when a sight among the forbidden lake caught his attention.
Like a cauldron of stew, the surface of the lake bubbled and frothed. The waters began to separate as a woman emerged from the depths. Magnus rubbed his graying blue eyes and slapped his cheeks, hoping to sober himself up before driving. While he admitted having a swig or two from a bottle of whiskey earlier in the morning, he knew he was nowhere near the intoxicating limit of hallucinations.
The woman’s deep crimson curls accentuated her sinuous curves. She wore an emerald dress that clung to her skin, and it mimicked the surface of the ocean, like a living extension of her body. Once she opened her eyes, Magnus gripped the steering wheel. Deep within her irises was a smoldering ethereal fire. The mysterious creature glided over the water, arms extended as she wielded her power. Her first steps on land sent an electric vibration throughout the car. Every nerve in Magnus’s body was alive with this woman’s presence. He became transfixed by her gaze as she approached the truck. His primal instincts told him to run, warned that this was against the laws of nature.
Yet his soul recognized her as an angel.
The woman smiled and titled her head as if examining a precocious child. “Do not fear me, Magnus. I am here to help you.” Her voice sounded strange; muffled and far away.
“Who—what are you?” He wrapped his hand on the knife attached to his belt.
The woman sensed this potential threat and sent electricity through the truck. Magnus immediately removed his hand and felt his mouth become dry.
“I was sent by your wife.”
Magnus’s eyes flared. “What kind of sick joke is this?”
“It is not a joke. Now, you must listen to my instructions carefully. I do not have much time before I must return to the lake.” She reached under her sleeve and pulled out a small vial, made of the purest glass. Inside was a viscous aquamarine liquid that pulsated with light. “Take this potion, and head for the sea. When you reach the middle of the bay, drink the entire contents. Only then will you be able to visit your wife.”
The bottle dropped in his shaking palm.
When he looked back up, the woman was gone with just a ripple on the lake’s surface.
The scent of coniferous pine melted away as he approached the bay. Salt and fresh ocean air rejuvenated his spirit, if only for a moment. With his fishing gear in one hand and the potion tucked away in his pocket, Magnus stumbled out of his car and tried to keep his small rowboat in a straight line of vision. The rank smell of whiskey tainted his breath as his heart struggled with the oncoming burden. Once he lowered his gear and bottle of whiskey into his battered rowboat, Magnus stopped to survey his homeland. Surrounding the bay were rolling mountains with pine and sweet northern maple trees that covered the land in rippled emerald blankets. The sea mimicked the gray sky above, yet it was smooth as polished glass. Only a lone gull cried somewhere in the marsh, trying to find other members of his kind.
With precarious steps, Magnus managed to steady himself into the small craft. His aging arms struggled as he pulled the oars through the water, aiming as best he could for the middle of the bay. As he reflected on the events in his life, tears clouded his vision. He was called a drunk, a fool, a crazy man off his rocker, but his wife was the only companion he ever had.
Now, she was gone.
The morning mist surrounded Magnus in an eerie fog that made the most skilled seamen go mad with delusion. Water droplets dampened his hair and clothes, but this didn’t bother him. The sea soothed his old aches and pains. He tugged on his matted beard and resettled in his seat, trying to make the ache in his back disappear.
Loneliness made his throat constrict in grief, but he shoved his thoughts away and focused on his purpose. Once he settled in the middle of the bay, Magnus baited his hook with bits of squid and cast his line, snapping the pole forward with seasoned ease. The bait landed with a plunk that disturbed the surface of the sea. Remembering the woman’s words, Magnus reached into his coat pocket and extracted the vial. He held it up to the light, trying to decipher its contents. He smirked, figuring it was poison or some type of hallucinogen.
Deciding to invent a potion of his own, Magnus held his bottle of whiskey, unscrewed the cap, and poured in the magical contents. He swirled the ingredients together, then held the bottle up to the light and downed the elixir. Magnus coughed as an electric burning sensation scorched his throat. Once in his system, the man sputtered and choked, realizing the possibility of an agonizing death. Soon the pain dissipated, and he returned to fishing.
The dense November air crept over his bones and he shivered, pulling his old wool coat closer to his body. Magnus watched the lure carefully, judging every little movement like a cat watching its prey. His eyes grew heavy as the lure bounced on the expanse of azure waves.
Was this the first sign of death?
A glowing warmth spread through his body, comforting like a Christmas fire. Magnus’s skin itched and burned, and he desperately scratched everywhere his hands could reach. He pulled up his sleeve to see if mosquitos were the culprit and cried out in alarm. Veins once carrying lifeblood now glowed as bright as the mysterious potion.
Panicked, Magnus prepared to launch himself out of his craft, when something slimy suddenly slapped him in the face. He turned just in time to see a green fin splash the surface and dive below. A slow melody began to caress his ears, a haunting sound like chimes in the wind, with a steady reverberation that put him in a trance. The surface of the sea began to shift, as ripples expanded and surrounded his rowboat. The singing grew louder, and thunder cracked overhead. Lightning struck the mountainside.
Magnus stood up and the small craft lurched to one side. He side-stepped in a desperate attempt to keep himself dry and safe. With his mind in a romance with intoxication, he tumbled overboard. The cold water shocked him and he inhaled the bitter brine of the sea. He expected his last moments of life to be quick, but he was able to breathe easily. Magnus smiled as he experimented with his breathing once more. Exhalation of land, inhalation of a new adventure. He propelled his body forward with kicks of a seasoned swimmer, eager to explore the unknown depths.
He no longer questioned if the woman of the lake was a monster or angel. Something magical was happening. His veins buzzed with an electrical current that promised a lasting memory.
As he descended towards the bottom of the bay, he strained his vision in the ever-growing darkness. He could feel the cold clutches of the sea on his skin, but the potion in his blood kept him warm and alive. His ears thrummed with pressure as he made his descent. Gradual shapes began to form, becoming sharper with a bright exuberance as he neared. Magnus needed a moment’s rest but feared time was limited, and he would drown. Just as he was about to give up the journey, a golden sturgeon, the size of a grown stallion, offered its back. Magnus’s hands tentatively slid along the sturgeon’s bony scutes as the prehistoric beast aided him on the journey.
The haunting melody returned, only it was clear as a church bell, surrounding him in a comforting warmth that encouraged his faith. As the neared their destination, coral castles rose like mountains in a metropolis of a fairytale. Mermaids emerged from the darkness and guided the sturgeon. Magnus watched in a mixture of fear and curiosity as the beings floated around their visitor. Their bodies were alabaster like a fresh pearl, their hair white as first snowfall upon the mountains. He recognized the emerald caudal fin shape that gave him a sharp beating earlier. The mermaids laughed merrily and took him away from the sturgeon. Together they floated on pelagic currents like birds soaring in the wind.
The mermaids giggled with playful ease as they lead him towards the largest structure in their city, a grand castle encrusted with gemstones and rare shells from faraway seas. Magnus stared in wonder at the craftsmanship, wondering how such a feat was possible in this environment. The structure glowed with a deep golden hue that illuminated the mermaid’s joyful faces. As the palace doors creaked open, sturgeon, striped bass, purple seahorses, and scallops emerged from their hiding places amongst the nooks of coral, wondering why this strange human was in their territory.
Sconces and lamps filled with glowing plankton cast a warm glow in the palace hall. At the end of a long aisle made of broken glass bottles in blue and green, was a throne decorated with bits of netting material, lost jewels, and a wizened mermaid. As Magnus approached the woman, he clutched his chest.
“Helene…” his fluid exhalation allowed her name to be carried by a current.
Adorning her body was a long flowing dress made of white. A crown of pure gold and sparkling topaz jewels complimented the eyes he knew so well. Helene seemed younger and healthier compared to the last moment he saw her. Once cut short for easy maintenance, Helene’s graying cocoa hair now passed her hips. An eternal light seemed to shine above her. Magnus noticed the mermaids stay away at a respectful distance.
“Helene, is it really you?”
She smiled at her adoring husband. Magnus felt the sensation of tears escape his eyes as they mixed with the saltwater.
“Yes, Magnus.” Her voice sounded clear but had a faraway and dreamy tone.
“How? I remember your funeral…”
“Magnus, what you see is my spirit. This is where all human souls come before they are lead to the Light.”
“Is this heaven?” he asked warily.
“No, my dear. Only the destination before the Light. Magnus, I summoned you here because I feel your grief. My love, the time has passed for sadness. I am not in pain nor do I suffer anymore. I am free and one with the sea. My new purpose has given me life once more. I will always be with you, Magnus, watching from the depth of the bay whenever you cross my waters. Now go, love. It is not your time. When you take your last breath, I will be here waiting, and you shall be my king.”
Helene beckoned Magnus forward for a last kiss, like a breath of purest air and salt.
Magnus awoke with a start, gasping for air while grabbing his aging heart. He felt the security and sturdiness of the wooden vessel and breathed a sigh of relief. He surveyed the bay and realized everything had been just a dream.
Helene was dead, only a queen in the heavens above.
The red lure bobbed on the waves, mocking his loneliness.
“BAH!” Magnus threw the fishing rod down in frustration and ran his fingers through his hair, desperate to cease the throbbing migraine pounding his skull. Tears made his vision blurry, and he felt stupid for believing such a tale.
A sudden disturbance on the surface caught his eye; a tail the color of a polished emerald splashed the waves, then disappeared. Knocking against his craft was a small vial of blue liquid, waiting for his next adventure.
Magnus smiled and held his fishing rod with a more secure hand.
No, maybe he wasn’t alone today.