The creek ran cold and clear, rushing over slates made from the mud of an inland lake millions of years before and rapidly eroding back into mud. Water striders slid across the water where it eddied and dragonflies patrolled just above the surface of the riffles. Rushes and grasses grew lush along the banks and in many places willows and birch overhung the gurgling water.
But Charlie wasn’t interested in any of that. He was laser-focused on what lay beneath the smaller slates in places not quite in the most forceful stream but not in the quiet backwaters either. He stood still, bare feet immersed to just above the ankle, bent at the waist and gently lifted one flat rock with his left hand. His patience and care was rewarded as a two-inch long blue-black crayfish was exposed.
Stunned by the sudden light it was stationary and Charlie reached his right hand slowly around the tail-end of the crayfish moving to lightly pinch it just behind the extended pincers. At the last moment the crayfish sensed the hand stealthily approaching and burst backward with a powerful flick of its tail and disappeared into the shadows of the nearby bank.
Undaunted, Charlie replaced the rock in his left hand and lifted another with his right. Again he was rewarded by an adult crayfish temporarily dazed by its exposure. This one had a white splotch across its carapace. Charlie noted it without thinking and reached his left hand in, repeating his previous maneuver from the other side.
This time the crayfish was none the wiser until his small fingers closed on its thorax and he managed to gleefully extract the crustacean from its watery home. The crayfish snapped ineffectually at the air in front, Charlie’s expert grasp effectively pinning the pincers so they could not reach him.
Charlie stood up straight and held it directly in front of his face, staring at it eye to eye. “Hello,” he said in a conversational way, “hope you are having as good a day as me!”
Then he bent down again and returned the crayfish to the creek, releasing it a few inched below the surface but not quite at the bottom. A couple strokes of its tail and the crayfish disappeared under another rock.
Some days Charlie could play this game for hours but today he only caught 5 (and missed 4) before he decided to take a break. He sat on the bank, dangling his feet in a slightly deeper pool and watched the tiny dace flit back and forth in the deepest part of the pool. Suddenly a slightly larger fish burst from the school and broke the surface to plunge back to the “depths”, a mayfly larvae barely fitting into its fully distended mouth.
“Good catch!” Charlie said aloud as if to encourage the fish.
He lay back in the grass and looked up at the sky. Clouds were coming up, big ones that had not been there when he had walked down to the creek. Unconcerned, he lay on the bank plucking the seed heads off the grass and watched as the clouds scudded across the sky until one eventually blotted out the sun.
A cool wind followed the cloud and Charlie reluctantly stood up, pulling his wet feet onto dry ground. The sun returned briefly and he let it dry his feet as much as he could before it vanished behind the next cloud. He slipped his shoes onto his now only damp feet and, socks in hand, started up the hill toward home, another day of “fishing for crawdads” at an end.
(c) 2018 Greg Schroeder
Adam Stevens hung on to the futtock shrouds for dear life as the grandly named Lord Anson was staggered by the next wave breaking over her starboard quarter. He was more frightened than he ever had in his seventeen years of hardscrabble life. The Atlantic gale had been battering the Anson for ten hours and now the boatswain reported they were taking on water.
The captain stood at the wheel, leaning into it with all his massive bulk, trying to keep the ship head on to the enormous waves. Adam had seen him relinquish his role only once since the storm began, to down a quick dram of rum and a slab of salt pork. His wide steady stance had been a marvel to the young man, not once knocked from his post despite the most massive of watery onslaughts.
But for all of the captain’s stoicism the ocean would not be denied a victim in its tempest. A twisting gust of wind, stronger than any previous squall ripped through the Anson’s rigging and, with a report louder than any cannon-shot, snapped the mainmast quite in two. As it fell it slewed in a semi-circle snapping stays and halyards, braces and sheets.
The crew abandoned the pumps and slid across the pitching, rain-lashed deck to grab axes to cut away the debris before the other masts joined their sister but the fatal damage was already done. With the sails in disarray the ship lurched into the wind despite the captain’s superhuman effort at the wheel. The bite of the rudder was no match for the gulp of the wind.
The next wave caught them abeam and the ship canted at a 45 degree angle before slowly righting. The onrush of water caught one man without a grip and carried him with a fading anguished wail off the deck and into the dark waters beyond. A grate was torn loose and the angry water poured down into the hold in a triumphant cascade raising cries from the cargo below.
Adam thought the captain was shouting something but his ears and eyes and mouth were full of water and all he could here was the roar of the gale, the ominous approach of the next wave and the terrified cries of the cargo. For Anson was a slaver and her cargo was ninety Africans bound for the plantations of Jamaica.
In horror he watched as the next gust snapped the mizzentop and a yard crashed to the deck between himself and the captain. Where the captain seemed not to notice Adam flinched. The wave then followed with an even more terrible fury. It was all Adam could do to hang on to his perch, the sea hungrily sucking him toward the open ocean. Even the captain was staggered and pulled away from the stalwart wheel.
The boatswain, hanging onto a halyard with one hand and the edge of the hold with the other shouted, “Two feet in th’ ‘old, Zur!”
The captain nodded then cast about, taking in the mounting disaster about him. The foremast was bent, the stress of the splintered main creating a tension that would soon make it succumb in a like manner. The pumps, unmanned, as the crew struggled mightily to clear the debris even as the precariousness of their perches became more evident with the increased fury of the sea beam on. Finally he caught the whaleboat, still intact. He knew it would be much more manageable in the gale than the battered Anson, as long as the crew’s strength held.
“Crew to the boat! Abandon ship!” The bellow cut below the fury of the storm and each crewman heard it as a rumble in his bones. As one they left axe and pump and made their way quickly toward the quarterdeck.
“What of the Africans?” Adam cried to the captain who was working on loosening the lashings of the boat even as the next wave, fortunately smaller than its immediate predecessors, swept over the Anson.
“God bless their heathen souls, Boy! No room for them here even if I wanted to save ‘em!”
Adam closed his eyes. A remembered vision flooded his memory. Flames leaped up the side of the workhouse. Piteous cries from the women and children inside played a soprano tragedy above the tenor of the fire. Adam, ten years old, watched with tears streaming down his eyes screaming “Do something!” to the aged vicar who restrained him. The vicar offered a prayer for their souls.
Joanie stood in her narrow kitchen and looked down at Bruno in all his well-brushed glory. The collie returned her gaze with his liquid brown eyes just dripping the unconditional love that dogs can have for their humans. That look always warmed Joanie’s heart.
You’ll never discount my feelings, my career, or my interests, will you? She thought as she reached down to rub his muzzle. You’ll never tell me I could lose a few, or be more adventurous, or get a boob job either, eh?
The dog moved his head slightly so that she was scratching his ears and then she swept her hand down to pet his shoulders. His tail began to swish and his eyes, if it was possible, said even more vehemently, I love you; you’re the best! His needs were simple, give me attention and affection and I will return the favor. She gave him a final pat, gave him a small piece of salmon jerky and left him chewing on it, content.
In her small, neat bedroom she changed into a bright flowered dress for this evening’s date. She liked the dress as it matched her personality - modest (knee length, high neckline) yet showy (bright, twirly). She would be easy to find no matter how crowded the venue.
Later, at the bar (why was it always a bar?), Scott was waiting. His white bow tie made him clearly identifiable. She hadn’t thought he’d actually wear it. The bar was noisy but somehow he’d managed to get them a table in the adjoining restaurant where the sound was muted and they could talk, not shout.
He didn’t try to invade her space and his cobalt-blue eyes held hers as if he was trying to understand her words and feelings. Maybe, she thought, just maybe…
Me as a critic (be careful! the harshness will be well concealed!)