The following short story was the fulfillment of a writing assignment for Chamber’s College, Greeley, Colorado. The assignment was to revise a short story (fantasy/science fiction style) we had written the week before (see The Landing Net) and write it for an audience of a different age group. ( A fish landing net is what you use to scoop up – or land – a fish after you have caught it.)
The Fish Landing Net
He was unsure. His mind was occupied in the effort to remember. This possessive mental exercise prevented acknowledgment of the morning winter sun that brightly lit up the ensconced snow – snow that for months had been laying claim to the job of healing rough edges of old wooden fencing and rusty, forsaken plows. The shed doorway framed his stooped figure, and icy winds pressed past his pale, worn checks and into the warmth of the building’s interior. He clutched the cold, aluminum pole of the landing net in his left hand, and in his right hand, he held the pouch of life-giving pellets the winged creatures loved so much. Was today the day? He had tried to remember so many times before, almost to the point of exhaustion. These unsuccessful attempts to engage in and win the battle against the two beasts had removed from him almost total hope. But because of the landing net, he had always possessed the very smallest hope of hope that he could conquer at least one of the beasts. With each failed attempt, however, he was tempted to let his very minuscule hope fade into mortality as everything else that was dear to him had done.
The offbeat cadence of the winged creatures came to him in muffled tones through his knitted cap – a love-labor of his now deceased wife. As always, but in particular this morning, the muted sounds also brought to him some distant and faint blurry memory. He gripped the handle of the landing net, crunched carefully onto the snow and into the healing sunlight. The landing net was his hope. He did know that. If only he could remember how to use it. It was a monster of a problem. Several times in the past, the answer had almost come to him; but like a star that only sparkles when not directly gazed upon, the answer fled away from under his scrutiny.
In his slow-motion gait, the old man began to trod the well-worn path. The distance between the shed and the enclosure of the winged creatures seemed infinite – as usual. But this morning, odd things began to disturb the routine trek. The audience of clouds in the winter blue sky rushed above him as if to get to the other side of the world as quickly as it could. The snow-cloaked fencing that flanked his path also tore past in a parallel race to some distant finish line behind him. Underneath his booted feet, the snow-covered ground sped as if to compete with the fencing, bringing the old man to his destination with amazing speed. Even all the barnyard animal voices were in fast forward. And the old man’s cap now had no power to muffle their chorus.
These sensations!! He had experienced this before!!! The muting wall that held back his memory was being splintered blow-by-blow. Piercing, golden swords of light thrust through and awakened the mind of old man. The landing net! Yes!! And one beast was conquered!! But suddenly, all was still. All was quiet. And he was there, at the enclosure, panting, and out of breath – as if HE had been somehow racing. The winged creatures, six of them, stood waiting, calmly, for their food. But where was the seventh? The second beast? Did the stooped man really arrive so quickly this time that the beast did not know he was there? Or was his speed of arrival just the illusion it seemed to be?
Sunlight reflected off the winged creatures’ enclosure and found the landing net pole, giving it that remembered glow. The man reached into the pouch with his gnarled but steady hand and began to distribute the life-giving pellets. He watched as each winged creature came forward to partake. Though their feathers were of muted browns and subtle reds, the composition was a warm richness that the man had always admired.
Then it happened. And as always, it happened without warning. Out of nowhere, the second beast, vibrant in iridescent green, bright blue, shining red, and blinding white, with outstretched wings, a sharp thrusting beak and threatening claws, rushed at the old man in a violent fury. With re-claimed authority, the man raised the landing net and stabbed it into the air toward the beast. As the beast continued speeding toward its target with hurtful purpose, the man was pleased to see that, once again, not only the pole of the outstretched landing net glowed brightly, but that the ring and netting, as well, scattered out powerful, sharp luminosities. A split second later, all coalesced into a single laser beam of almost blinding orange that found the beady eyes of the colorful, rushing beast. As if hitting an invisible wall, the destruction-bound bird slammed backward and to the ground. The man stood still, confident, holding the landing net out like a sword. The conquered beast lay still, breathing steadily, but not making a sound. Then, slowly, with a great adjustment of wings and feathers, the rooster righted itself. The man brandished the landing net again, and the bird responded by hopping back two feet. To seal the beast’s total submission, the man threateningly flourished the landing net a few more times. At each flash of the landing net, the now humble rooster moved farther away. When the winged creature found himself at what he thought was a safe distance, he began to casually preen himself as if he had no concerns in the world.
Turning toward the curious and slightly startled hens, the old man finished the work of the morning, gathering eggs and filling up the water container. As he headed back to the shed through the bright, snow-covered barnyard, the fresh winter breeze invigorated his sure mind.