To Any Depths
Karl maneuvered his commercial fishing boat onto his go-to contour line and slowed the vessel to set the gear. It rained lightly, but the water was smooth. He glanced behind to watch his two deck hands send out the buoys that started the beginning of the longline. It was halibut season. After they had started running the bait out, he wandered down to the deck to check if everything was OK or if his crew needed anything.
Everything appeared fine as the bait was hooked to the longline in rhythmic precision, every sixteen feet. One pre-baited barrel completed, and another slid into place without the rhythm faltering. He huffed in satisfaction and went back to the wheelhouse.
As he settled back into his seat, he heard the ring of his sat phone. He wrinkled his brow in annoyance. “Yep,” he said as he answered it.
“Hi, honey. How is it going?” a familiar feminine voice asked.
“In the middle of a set,” he replied.
“Oh, sorry! Call me later.”
He grunted affirmatively and ended the call.
He didn’t deserve his wife of twenty years. She was sweet and loving and could put up with his gruffness. He felt a wave of warmth blaze through him as he thought of her. With nothing much to do but observe as they trolled along the set line, his mind wandered. The fisheries hadn’t been doing that well lately, and only his secret gift had led him to this spot. He was considered lucky by his fellow fishermen, and he had to be careful not to pick up a competitor trying to beat him to a “lucky” spot.
He grinned a grin with too many teeth and started mentally counting the money this load would bring in. After he paid his hands and paid off his other related bills, he should have enough to start that house his wife had dreamed off. Finally, he could show her how much he loved her instead of just telling her.
He snapped out of it once his deckhand yelled, “Done!” He glanced back to check—basic safety—and gave a thumbs up. He then proceeded to the next place he had identified, and they started the next set.
Since they were fishing for halibut and black cod, he would let the lines soak for about six hours before they looped around to pull up their catch. After the next set he would let his hands sleep for a few hours before the rest of the work began. He felt a glimmer of anticipation.
“Captain?” A voice echoed, startling him out of his musings.
He whirled around. “What’s up?” he asked his deckhand.
“We’ve got company.”
He felt a blush burn his cheeks. He hadn’t been paying attention. He was too excited about this payday that he’d been off his game. He stood up and picking up his binoculars, looked off in the direction that his deckhand indicated.
“Shit,” he said quietly.
It was the Arctic Flounder. His greatest competitor. This dude had been following him from spot to spot stealing his fish. His hands clenched. He had made doubly sure he wasn’t followed this time. What did this guy do, bug his boat? His lips curled back in anger, his unnaturally white teeth almost glowing against his sun darkened and weathered skin. He muttered.
“What did you say, sir?” his young deckhand asked.
“Nothing. Get back to work.”
The deckhand’s shoulders drooped a little with the unearned reprimand, but he went back to work. Karl tried to tamp down his anger when all he wanted to do was hurl the deckhand from the boat. He wasn’t that person anymore. He sat back in the wheelhouse and tried to control his breathing, his anger.
This time, he wasn’t going to let the Arctic Flounder steal from him. This was his fishing area, and he didn’t want to share. They finished their set.
Once his hands were snoring in their bunks, he set the speed and auto pilot, low and slow with a heading right for the buoy of his first set. He undressed, and after checking that they were truly asleep, slipped over the stern. His human skin glided through the icy water, and he relished the silky feel for a moment before he shifted into his true shape.
He snapped his razor-sharp teeth and flipped his powerful tail in delight to be back in the water. He relished the feel of the water sluicing over his gills and dived deep. He checked his lines, already full of fish as he had hoped. He had scouted this area the night before they had left on this trip.
He swam swiftly over to his competitor. The bastard had set his lines nearly on top of his own. He felt the fury build in his belly. The Flounder was stealing his fish, his fish! He let the anger buoy him. He bit several of his competitor’s halibut in half, eating. In his true form, he was massive— nearing a ton and a half—and he could eat a lot of halibut. He grinned his sharp grin and continued to destroy his enemies catch. Then, because he could, he also tore through several stretches of line. It was only fair.
The Flounder would have nothing but bad luck this fishing trip, Karl mused and grinned his sharky grin again. His wife would have that house. She deserved it. Maybe because they were incompatible species, or because he had to spend so much time away from her, but after twenty years they were finally expecting. At forty, that was a rare thing for any woman, and he needed her to know how much he treasured her and their new family. He raced back towards the Emily, his boat.
He swam around it, making sure that his hands were still out of sight. Then he raced towards the boat and with a mighty flick of his tail, launched himself out of the water. At the apex, he shifted back into his human form and landed lightly on the deck in a practiced move. He dried off, put his clothes back on, and slipped into the wheelhouse, right before his deckhands stepped back on the deck to start the arduous work of pulling in the catch. He smiled again, his too sharp teeth glinting in the dimness.
The Arctic Flounder shouldn’t have messed with a great white. He patted the Emily’s helm and watched as his deckhands pulled in enough fish to fill his boat. His heart swelled with pride and love as he called his wife back.