The dawn had barely kissed the eastern horizon, lightening the clouds with a peach blush when the fisherman reached the dock slip where his boat was tied. Piled in his arms was an old but well-maintained net that carried the scent of fish and saltwater within its webbing. The morning breeze was gentle but continuous; gulls and other seabirds called to one another as they rode the air currents rolling along the shore.
The lone fisherman lowered his bundle to the dock and climbed down into his small boat, transferring the net to its place at the bow. This was once a pleasurable weekend past-time, but lean times had come to his part of world. He lost his job a month ago and his wife was barely holding on to the part-time clerical job she had. While their meager savings helped keep a roof over their head, the days he could dedicate to fishing helped keep food on the table and -- on occasion -- bring in a little more money too.
Checking the fuel gauge on the tank, he pumped the knob on the line to bring gas up to the outboard motor clamped to the back of his small boat. Habitually, he checked around the propeller to make sure it was clear and yanked the line hard, starting the little motor humming.
While alone in his boat, he wasn't the only one on the docks this hour. Several other fishermen were also underway - seemingly more every day he went out; all bringing home smaller catches. Pondering this, he maneuvered his small craft away from the docks and into the open water, where he cranked the motor to full power and felt the familiar vibrations run through his palm and up his arm.
He decided to try his favorite spot one last time, hoping to catch something. He got there early, cut the motor and cast his net into the sea. He poured himself a cup of still-hot coffee from his thermos and watched the waters beside his quiet boat. Not a ripple, not a stir. The larger fishing vessels chugged past him at a respectable distance, heading out to deeper waters. What would be the catch today? he wondered.
After a while, he concluded that, once again, there would be no fish here today. He grunted with the effort of hauling in the dripping nets, arranging them as he drew them in, so he could recast them. He started his motor and turned the bow toward where the larger vessels had gone. I'll find some fish in the deeper waters, he told himself, not really convinced. The motor's hum became a roar as he opened the throttle fully and the little boat leapt ahead.
Once he reached the deeper water, he cut the motor and paused, waiting and watching to see if the fish would approach. While he waited, he choked down a sandwich, ignoring the tang of the salt that transfered from his hands to the bread. First one, then another, soon a small school swam past and under his boat, as it rocked gently on the waves. Ah, this will do nicely, he thought. He cast his net into the sea and waited, hoping to have some catch to take home to his family. But doubt still enshrouded his heart, casting the small hope in darkness.
Even though fish swam past his boat, when he hauled in the net for the second time, it was as before - empty. The fisherman cursed as he hauled the heavy wet net onboard. I can't come home empty-handed again. Not again! He arranged the net for one final attempt and then sat in the stern to consider his next and final location carefully. The sun had already started its decent, and the gentle breeze had turned gusty bringing the scent of distant rain. The fisherman cast his eyes heavenward and called out "Hey, up there! Can't you help a man out down here? I'm just trying to feed my family. That's all! Give a guy a break whydon'tcha?"
Not waiting for an answer, he yanked the cord on the motor taking out some of his frustration. He checked the gauge on the tank and calculated where he was to go by what he needed to get back to shore, pushing further out. When he reached the last place, he spied fish coursing just below the surface, practically leaping out of the water as their dorsal fins broke through to the salty air. The fisherman grinned ear-to-ear. He cut the motor and cast the net immediately from his boat that was lightly tossed by the rolling waves.
He waited and he watched. He watched and he waited. The fish danced to their own rhythms beneath the waves - all deftly avoiding his net. As the sun sank in the western sky, dark clouds moved in quickly to cover it. The wind blew fiercer, tasting of rain now - cold and damp to the skin. The fisherman shivered and cursed even harder as he yanked in the net for the last time. In his anger, he tore it, setting off a long string of curse words and any thing his mind could use to season them. He started the motor and kicked the empty net before him in disgust. Turning his little boat around, he headed back to shore. All that money for the dock rental and the gas to run this stupid boat out here - WASTED! He was in a foul mood by the time he reached the docking slip. The sky was leaden grey with the approaching sunset and incoming storm, helping to further darken his spirits.
When the fisherman reached his slip, he saw a man sitting there dangling his feet from the dock. He appeared to be in his early thirties, dressed in jeans and a loose fitting shirt below his shoulder-length hair, a very common sight among the docks. When the man saw him approach, he smiled brightly through his beard, then got up and helped to guide the boat home into its berth as through he had done this countless times before.
"Thanks," the fisherman grumbled, "but if you're looking to buy some fish from me tonight, you're out of luck. My net was empty all day. I don't even have a catch to share with my family."
"That's a shame," replied the stranger as he turned to face the wind and water, "I know there are fish out there." Then his contemplative look brightened. "Say! I know a spot that always has fish; it's not too far from shore either." He turned to the fisherman with a light sparkling in his eyes. "I could show you if you'd like."
The fisherman shook his head wearily as he hauled the net up onto the dock. "Sorry. It's getting late and I have no running lights for night. Besides," he scowled, "I tore my net hauling in the last cast. I need to take it home and repair it."
The stranger sat down beside the dripping net, ignoring the pool of water that snaked its way toward his dry jeans. "I can help there; I know how to mend nets." As if he knew where to go, his hand reached out and found the place the net was torn. Deftly, he worked the webbing and knotted the hole closed. Then he handed the section back to the fisherman to inspect.
The fisherman was awestruck. "How did you do that so quickly?"
The stranger smiled openly and laughed an easy laugh. "I've had lots of practice over the years."
The fisherman studied the stranger a moment, not sure what to say or make of this man.
"Shall I show you this spot I know?" the stranger asked again.
"Uh... Thanks, but no thanks. I appreciate you helping me with my net, but I'm also out of gas. I don't think you can magically make my gas tank full again...?" he chuckled with a blend of amusement and sarcasm.
"I don't need to," the stranger replied as he rose to his feet and pointed to the oars lying on either side of the boat.
The fisherman barked a bitter laugh. "I don't know about you, but my arms are tired from hauling this net in and out three times today."
Wordlessly, the stranger hopped down into the boat, placed the oars in the oarlocks and sat ready to pull them with hands that were used to hard work.
The fisherman stood there mute and dumb. Maybe I fell asleep out there and I'm dreaming all this... He shrugged and hauled his net back into the boat, sitting down beside it as the stranger pulled against the oars setting them back out across the water again.
The fisherman pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed-dial button. "Yeah, it's just me. I wanted to tell you I'll be getting home a bit later... No, I'm fine. There's a guy here that wants to show me a spot where the fish are. We shouldn't be long... Don't worry. I'll be careful.... Yes, I see the rain too. I should have time enough for one last trip before full dark though.... OK, love you too."
As the stranger checked their course over his shoulder and started a rhythmic rowing he faced the fisherman and asked, "Have you ever read the children's book 'The Little Engine That Could'?"
The fisherman smiled, "Yeah. When my kids were young. That was one of their favorites. 'I think I can, I think I can...' Why do you ask?"
The stranger paused and let the boat drift forward under its own momentum. "You need to believe in something to make it happen."
"That works for kids, but reality sets in when your an adult."
The stranger shook his head, "It's the same no matter your age. That's why children can understand it better. They don't have the false notions that life places in our heads when we're older. If you think you can - you can. That's it."
"So what does that have to do with where the fish are?"
He released one oar to gesture over the rippling water as the oncoming storm's wind created whitecaps around them. "There is your hill." Then he pointed to the net. "There is your train. Haul it over the hill if you can."
I've got a loony in my boat, the man thought to himself, but he stood up to cast the net once again, trusting the stranger for some unknown reason.
"You don't have the right mindset," scolded the stranger with a gentle smile. "You really need to think it. Not just think it, but believe it with your whole heart."
"The 'I think I can, I think I can' thing?"
"Exactly! Try it. Trust in yourself. Trust that the fish will be there and that they will come into your net."
The fisherman shrugged and cast the net out again. Immediately there was a tug on the lines. Both men watched over the side of the rocking boat as the fish streamed into the net, weighing it down tremendously. The stranger laughed in delight, "See! I told you! It's a great spot." The two worked side by side hauling in the net. The net was so full of fish; it could not be hauled into the boat, even with their joint efforts. "Let's pull into the shore there," the stranger suggested pointing toward the beach. "The people there can help."
The fisherman hung unto the net dearly as the stranger rowed toward the shore with renewed energy. The fisherman's heart sang in joy. "What a catch! Can you believe it? In all my years, I've never seen the like!"
"I have. It's great - something wonderful!"
"It is," the fisherman agreed and grinned ear-to-ear despite the rain that started to pour down on their heads. The rain passed quickly and the dark clouds with it. By the time they reached the shore, the sun was peeking below the clouds, and kissed the western horizon. Soaked head-to-toe and still elated, the fisherman called to those on the shore. "Ahoy! If you could help us haul in this catch, I'll share it with you. Com'on! We need the help!"
Puzzled looks were exchanged between the onlookers, but they waded out into the water. First one, then two, soon a whole group gathered taking the net in hand and following the fisherman's instructions to safely land the huge catch they had made.
While they were hauling in the net, the fisherman turned to the stranger beside him, also tugging on the heavy net. "You've earned at least half of this for showing me what you did." I'll share my half with these people; you can take home or sell the rest - whatever you want."
The stranger smiled and shook his head. "I don't need any of this catch, not now. But I will ask you a boon."
"Whatever you want. You've made my day."
"There are others who are hungry. Take what you would give to me and feed them."
The last words rung a chord somewhere deep inside the fisherman and he paused in shocked stillness a moment. With an overwhelming feeling of awe, he slowly turned to face the man beside him -- to really take a good hard look at who he was -- but that man was gone, leaving him to distribute the catch and head home with a remarkable "fish story" to tell.
As author, I give you the right to copy, share and re-post the story provided it is not changed and provided you do not gain any monetary profit in doing so.- ESA