A Perfect Day for Alewife Fishing
by Charles C. Cole
Scavengers, maximum desperation, spiritual hemorrhaging? We got by, with basic food and hard work, blisters and pants with holes in the knees. I'd been told it was a lot like the world of 250 years ago.
The heavy weight on my chest was resignation: knowing the community around me was all there was. Technology had ceased to evolve. No restaurants, hospitals, public services. No amenities.
I loved Scrabble and chess, but I would never find anyone again to play a good competitive game of Scrabble or chess. So I repaired fencing and made sculptures out of wrecked cars.
What was the purpose of art? Beauty, making something inspirational from junk, leaving the world slightly better than when I'd found it. I'd never travel the world to see the sites (if they were still there), and all of the traditional museums were rubble, from what I'd gathered.
There were amphibious aliens — “alewives” — over the mountain who took over the local lake, yapping into the night and naked as the day they were hatched, leaving green froth on the shoreline that might have been reproductive fluids. They stuck to themselves, mostly.
They were ugly, by human standards, but deliriously happy because they used to be slaves for this other race of aliens. Now they did whatever they wanted, freely. For them our world was a much better place than where they'd come from. I resented that.
But neighbors looked out for each other. Our county had a delicate balance of humans — they called us “hummus” — and non-humans. They traded us fish and muskrats for our home-brewed alcohol. The alewives were industrious, like beaver, in that they built dams to increase their territory, thereby increasing the fishing spoils for us all.
But some bitter humans thought the aliens were solely responsible for the dilapidated state of things. Before the Internet went down, I'd heard our aggressive military blew up a mother ship, which was basically like exploding a small star. There was no war, no invasion. Just a knock at the door and one devastatingly critical overreaction.
Shouldering a pole between them, two men, strangers, trudged down the mountain with a gagged female alewife, who'd been tied at the wrists and just above the webbed feet. The humans kept looking over their shoulders. I suspected their activity had not gone unnoticed. Once I saw the alewife was still alive, I downplayed my reaction.
“Hello, there,” I said. “Somebody hurt?” I gestured at the alewife.
“This?” said Bearded Man in front. “She's all right, for now. We thought we'd trade her for food or supplies.”
“You can keep her in the cow pond to entertain the neighbors,” said Mr. Clean-shaven.
“Tempting,” I offered, “but she'd probably eat all the fish I've been stocking.”
“If you don't want her,” said the bearded fellow, “your loss. She wasn't easy to catch. I'll bet the next farm might have an interest.”
“You fellas must be dry,” I said. “Before you go, I can give you a cup of 'shine for the road. You've earned it. And for breaking up the afternoon monotony.” The two exchanged quick looks and shrugged.
“One light one,” said Mr. Beard. “I could do with a rest.” They lowered the alewife to the ground where she began to thrash.
“Why don't you dunk her in the horse trough for a minute?” I suggested. “Nobody'll be interested in damaged goods.”
“You don't mind?” said Mr. Clean-shaven.
“You went to all the trouble of kidnapping her, carrying her up one side of the mountain and down the other. Hate for her to die before you find a sale.”
They hoisted her up and lowered into the trough. I was pretty sure she nodded thanks. She looked familiar: Chussak, niece to the chief. I remembered her as a slimy tadpole.
I pulled the cold brew from a hidden container in the nearby brook and poured the drinks.
“How close is the next farm?” asked Beard.
“About a mile, as the crow flies,” I lied. “You'd be lucky to make it by nightfall; it's almost all uphill.”
From the top of the mountain, alien barking erupted; this wasn't going to end well.
“Look,” said Beard, “we don't want any trouble. Why don't you give us the rest of the hooch you got stored somewhere, and we'll be on our way. You can keep the alewife. She's more work than she's worth.”
“I don't know.”
“I'll bet the lake tribe would pay to get her back,” said Beardless. His head was swiveling back and forth like a prairie dog at a family reunion. He was thinking fast.
“Can I give you some advice?” I asked, in no hurry.
“About what?” asked Beard.
“If you leave the woman here with me and run real fast, you can probably get out of the valley by moonlight, and the alewives will be so happy to have their daughter back — she's pregnant, you know — they will probably stop chasing you. I could be wrong. They're not motivated by creature comfort like you and me. They just want what's best for their family unit. When they're happy, I've never seen a more excited litter of slobbering puppies. But when they're mad, I've seen them rip the skin from a man who did them wrong. That's a sight you can't unsee.”
“Really?” said Beardless.
“Cross my heart. And then they dropped him in a pool with their tadpoles. It was like a sea of starving piranha.”
“We'll take the hooch you got right there,” said Mr. Beard, renegotiating. “And the hoe leaning against your fence.”
“I'm gonna need that hoe,” I countered.
“Fine,” said Beard, and he grabbed the rest of my hooch and started backing away. “Remember, you didn't see which way we went.”
“Humans stick together,” I said, placing a finger against my lips.
I pulled out a knife and cut Chussak's restraints. Thankfully, she wasn't any worse for wear.
“They're gone,” I said. “I hope your uncle considers neighbors as family.”
Copyright © 2019 by Charles C. Cole