The humbling art of catching golden fish

post by Simon Holm · 2021-10-09T10:34:07.187Z · EA · GW · 3 comments

Hi everyone! Below is a draft of my entry to the Creative Writing Contest. If you get all the way to the ending I would love to hear what you all think. Otherwise, enjoy!


Barlow spent his summers in a cabin in the forest, just beside a lake. Every afternoon, Barlow would brew a cup of peppermint tea, and go fishing out on the bridge outside his house. His rod, which was not more than a hook tied to a fish line attached to a long stick, had been with him the last twenty summers he had lived there. When Barlow caught a fish, he liked to look them in the eye while detaching the hook, before cooking it for dinner.

A couple of hundred meters away along the lakeside from Barlow’s cabin lay a villa, the shape of a sugar cube. Barlow had never met the owner, as she always rented it out to tourists during summer. This year, it was occupied by a law clerk and his eight-or-so year old daughter. He had brought a pair of new casting rods and a kit of lures for the two of them. Now that their summer house was just by a lake, he thought he could finally try out fishing for real. They would be staying for two weeks. The neighboring bridge was exactly parallel to that of Barlow’s and was situated close enough for any two people to hold a conversation off of them. From his kitchen window, Barlow could see his neighbor on the bridge, reeling away with his shining rod. Sometimes, his daughter was with him, sitting on the edge of the bridge with her own rod, dangling with her legs above the water. 

It happened that Barlow and his neighbor were fishing at the same time. Their eyes had met on two occasions. On the first, the neighbor had just caught a fish the size of a hand. 

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”, he called to Barlow, who had answered with a nod, and a thumbs up. 

Martin was the neighbor’s name. On the second occasion, Martin had been out fishing for a couple of hours with no luck when Barlow had started his afternoon routine. As if swimming in line, fish after fish caught on to Barlow’s hook. Hearing the splashes to his right, Martin had compulsively started to turn his head to see how Barlow was doing. By the seventh fish or so, Barlow mercifully looked back at Martin and nodded with a smile. 

“It must be the bait, mustn’t it?”, Martin said, looking confusedly on Barlow’s stick of a rod. 

Barlow had shaken his shoulders, said nothing, and Martin had gone back to the house. 

“Got to make some dinner for my daughter”, he said. 

Martin returned to the bridge the day after with his daughter, who carried a jar of worms.

“With this on the hook, all the fish will come in a woosh!”, he said proudly to his daughter. 

“I feel sorry for the worms” she said. 

Martin had a hard time attaching worms to the hook despite his newfound confidence. He stung himself a few times and dropped a handful of worms into the lake before managing to complete the dirty task. His daughter sat down with her hands behind her on the bridge, and observed her surroundings – apathetically, but curiously. After a couple of hours with no fish, she got bored and went off to explore her surroundings. When Barlow was making his afternoon tea, he saw her standing outside his cabin. He went out to say hello. 

“Who are you?” the neighbor’s daughter asked. 

“I’m Barlow. Who are you?” Barlow replied. 

“I’m Sun.” She had two pigtails in her hair and freckles all over her face. 

“The fish around here don’t like worms, you know.” Barlow said. “You should give your father some of this, and he should be doing better.” 

He went forward to Sun and reached out a small plastic jar of brown putty to her. She opened the lid and stuck her nose into the jar. 

“Smells like sugar and cheese.” she said, closed the lid, and ran back to her father.

Having received the new bait, Martin waved back gratefully, and instantly replaced the worms with the putty. 

One afternoon, Barlow’s hook had gotten stuck in something at the bottom of the lake. Or so he thought. A split second after, the rod almost got swooped out of his hands, and he had to use all his power to hold back from falling off the bridge. In a tug-of-war with whatever had caught on to the hook, Barlow observed a shimmer of gold appearing near the surface. Martin, who now had started fishing at the same time as Barlow, witnessed the struggle and quickly ran on to Barlow’s bridge. Uncertain of the best course of action, Martin wrapped his hands around Barlow’s stomach and leaned backwards. Unfortunately, the weight of the golden creature made the wooden rod snap in half. This made Barlow and Martin fall awkwardly on their backs onto the bridge, as the creature disappeared, taking the hook and half of Barlow’s rod with it. Martin was shocked.

“What was that?”, he asked, half scared, half filled with excitement. 

“This has never happened before”, Barlow said, looking disappointedly at what was left of the rod. 

“Why don’t we team up and try to catch that creature together?”, Martin suggested, placing his hand on Barlow’s shoulder. With a sigh, he replied:

“Well, in that case, it looks like I need to borrow one of your rods.” 

The next day, Martin and Barlow had taken out an old rowboat that had been lying deserted in the garage of the summer house. Armed with Martin’s latest edition casting rods and freshly made sugar-cheese-putty, they were peacefully casting away on the middle of the lake. Since Barlow had had to borrow Sun’s rod, she was sitting with her arms resting on the edge of the rowboat, looking down making funny faces to her reflection in the water. After half an hour with no results she sighed. 

“This is boring.”

“C’mon Sun, this is super fun! We’re going to catch a golden fish!”, her father replied. 

“But what’s your STRATEGY, Dad? Are you just gonna wait for it to come to you? I learned in school that if you want to catch something, you got to think like the something”.

This caught Barlow’s attention.

“Tell us more, little missus.” 

“Well, the fish is probably hurt after it had a bite of that putty and you almost caught it yesterday. And think of it. If you would buy a falafel from a stranger with RAZOR BLADES in it, would you really buy falafels from strangers again?”

“What do you suggest?” Barlow asked, smiling at the wonder of youth. 

“We should go back to worms! Otherwise, the fish will think we are selling falafels! Also, if I was the fish I would not hang out in the middle of NOWHERE”, Sun said, holding her arms straight out into the air.

“I read somewhere that fish are usually around the borders of a lake where there’s lots of grass, am I right?” Martin asked Barlow with a hint of enthusiasm. 

“They gotta move at some point”, Barlow replied. “But in the case of our golden friend, he might not be too fond of swimming too far from safety. Sun, where do you think the fish has gone?”

“I don’t know. That’s why we have to look.” she said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. 

Barlow and Martin looked at each other and decided that this was a reasonable way to go. The three fishermen decided that they would meet in the morning to execute their new strategy. Martin and Sun were leaving in two days already.

At noon, with the sun standing at its highest, the golden fish was nowhere to be seen. Barlow, Martin and Sun had gone along half of the lake’s perimeter, trying their luck along the shorelines. They were now taking a break in the shade of a nearby oak tree. Martin had prepared falafel sandwiches, and Sun had brought some chocolate chip cookies. It was quiet around them, except for a few birds singing their repetitive tunes. After devouring her meal, Sun energetically took Barlow’s rod in one hand and the red plastic bucket she’d brought with her in the other, and ran off along the coastline, screaming

“We have to hurry if we want to be finished by the evening!”, her green backpack bouncing on her back. Barlow and Martin laughed while finishing their lunch. 

By late afternoon the three had come back to Barlow’s bridge. They had had no luck on the remaining coastline, and Sun was starting to give up. She sat down at Barlow’s bridge. 

“This doesn’t work. I’m sorry mister Barlow. You should not have listened to me.” Her father sat down next to her. 

“I think what you said yesterday was really valuable. And I think we’ve done the best we can.” 

Barlow observed Martin and Sun from behind. With closed eyes he listened intently to their conversation. 

“Besides, we will have to pack for tomorrow soon, anyways.”

“But I don’t want to go home until we’ve caught the golden fish!”

Then, Barlow opened his eyes. 

“We have good rods. We have new bait. Perhaps we just need to sit down and wait”. 

Sun looked at Barlow for a few seconds.

“Why would that work?”, she asked.

“Sometimes, you just need patience”. 

With renewed excitement Sun ran off to the rowboat, and Martin smiled at her. Him and Barlow followed shortly after. 

After a couple of hours, the sun was setting. Sun had fallen asleep, with her head in Barlow’s lap. The lake was completely silent, except for the docking of the rowboat. Barlow gasped and thought to himself that this might be a hopeless endeavor. What was it that they were missing? He cast a glance back to his cabin and the bridge. And then it became clear to him. 

“There is one place we still haven’t looked at today”. 

Martin looked tiredly at Barlow. 

“Do you mean the whole lake which is not the coastline?” he said. 

“No. When and where was the last time we saw the golden fish?” Barlow asked. 

“It was evening, and you were fishing on your bridge”, Martin replied. 

“Exactly. Wake up, Sun. The big fish is coming home.” Barlow said, almost whispering. 

And with a determined throw, Barlow cast the line of the rod to the grass-filled areas near his house, reeling it in with determination. Sun was just rubbing her eyes from awakening, when Martin instinctively caught on to Barlow’s back, as the rod started to pull with a force that made the whole boat shake. Barlow knew that he had scored a jackpot, and held his both hands tightly to the rod. He would not let the fish away this time. Martin held Barlow around his waist to balance him, also making sure that he stayed on his side of the boat so that it did not turn over. 

“Sun, you gotta reel it in!” Barlow uttered. 

Sun quickly came to his side. It took all her strength to turn the handles of the reel. The boat started to move slowly towards Barlow’s bridge. 

“Why don’t you start rowing backwards so that we don’t drift. I think I can handle this.” Barlow said to Martin. 

“C’mon kid, you can do this!” he shouted encouragingly to Sun, who was now sweating with effort. 

“WE…ARE…AWESOME!” she shouted back. 

Little by little, the length of the reel remaining in the water started to decrease, until a shimmering gold started to appear near the water surface.

 “I can see it; I can see it!” Sun screamed with excitement. 

“Just a little more, kid, just a little more!” Barlow said, his face an intense red.

“Here it goes!” called Martin. With a last pull of strength, Barlow heaved his rod towards him, pulling up the magnificent creature into the cool evening air. It took all his concentration and remaining stamina to carefully orient the rod towards the boat, and finally drop the golden fish onto it. 

“Hooray!” Martin cheered with his hands in the air, hugging Barlow who now had to sit down from the effort. 

Sun was clapping and jumping, shortly after realizing that she was on a boat and calmed herself down slightly. The golden fish was as big as Sun, and probably weighed just as much. Desperate for oxygen, it slapped its fin onto the boat floor, which was turning red as the blood from its mouth dissolved in the salt water. The three stood silent in the boat. 

“What should we do with it?” Sun asked quietly. 

“Well, we can’t take it with us on the flight. You’d have to take care of it, Barlow.” Martin said. 

“It looks really sad.” Sun said, looking down at the fish, whose movements had started to cease. 

Barlow sat down and looked down into the eye of the fish, as he usually did. He thought for a moment, and then said

“Help me to hold it down for a bit.” 

Martin carefully placed his knee on the back of the fish, as Barlow reached for the hook of his casting rod and pulled it out, at which point the fish reacted by intensifying its slapping. 

“Where’s the second hook?” asked Sun. 

“What do you mean?” Martin asked back. 

“You told me you had tried to catch it already, so there must be a second hook.”

“Right.” said Martin, as he noticed another fishline over one of the rows. 

He reeled the fishline in with his hands, and shortly pulled up the other wooden half of Barlow’s old fishing rod from the water. Barlow smiled at this and traced the line back to behind one of the fish’s gills. He took that one out, too. 

“Will you two help me carry her back into the water?” Barlow asked. 

He lifted the fish up from below with both hands, Martin and Sun watching from both sides. Barlow slowly turned to the water and threw the sprawling fish back into the water. Its golden scales faded away as it delved down the depths of the dark waters. Barlow looked at Sun, who met his glance and gave him a high five.

The next morning, it was time for Martin and Sun to go home. They had to leave early to catch a flight. Barlow stood outside his cabin with his cup of tea. Martin lifted his hand in the air, and Barlow waved back. Whilst Martin helped Sun throw in her last bag in the trunk, she looked at Barlow. At first, she was still. And then she jumped up and waved and shouted, 

“See you next summer!”

And even after her green backpack disappeared behind the white-lacked car door, her hand was still waving out from the car, until it disappeared beyond the green-leaved trees that stood guard by the gravel road leading away from the sugar cube house.

Barlow sat down on his bridge. He could hear the cicadas and grasshoppers whistle in the fresh morning air, as he observed the ripples on the lake from the occasional water strider. Tears ran down Barlow’s cheeks, as he rested his eyes on the sunrise.


Thanks for reading my story!

I expect to make a few changes before it is completely finished. At the moment I have two main uncertainties about it:
1) Does the story accurately represent (or at least not gravely misrepresent) the art of fishing? 
2) How clearly does it convey the idea of "using reason and evidence to help others effectively"? Does it have a chance of making it clearer or is it doomed to be a 'nice' story but not much more (I doubt that people would feel inspired to apply the idea in their own lives, but who knows). 

I would love to hear if you have any thoughts about the story! For example,
*What do you take away from the story?
*What feeling(s), if any, do you get after reading it?
*Does the story feel realistic?
*Do you have any suggestions on how the story could be improved (stylistically, or getting the theme across in a more effective way)? 

3 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Greg_Colbourn · 2021-10-14T07:03:06.291Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The seeds of EA are there, but are very subtle: thinking about how best to catch the fish; Sun's concern for the worms and the fish.

Maybe it would be good to have another section where Barlow is thinking about his life and applies those lessons to it and vows to do more effective/altruistic things? And maybe he even renounces fishing the next summer? (It's kind of ironic that the "evidence and reasoning" part was related to an activity directly at odds with a major EA cause area. Maybe Barlow could recognise this.)

comment by anon_account · 2021-10-10T22:23:16.378Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for posting and competing! I’m excited to see creative writing on the Forum. I enjoyed the setting of the lake, the kindness and camaraderie between neighbors, and watching the young person grow enthusiasm for a project.

I think it’s fine (maybe good) to explore activities in fiction that I wouldn’t do in real life or would find cruel in real life. So while I don’t fish anymore because I find it cruel, I think it’s fully possible to learn lessons from fiction about things I would find disturbing in real life. So I disagree with the other comment , and would still read a tale about fishing, if it taught me something.

I didn’t see much emphasis in the story on evidence and reasoning, so that part didn’t come through clearly for me.

Hope you keep editing this one, or writing other stories as you create worlds around ideas you care about!

comment by Peterslattery · 2021-10-10T19:36:54.866Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for writing this! I am unfortunately put off the story almost immediately by the fact that it is about fishing, which is from my perspective an unneeded and unnecessary way to cause pain to a sentient creature. I may be wrong (and I didn't always feel like this of course). I wanted to mention my feelings as some quick feedback. I expect that other EAs may feel similar.

 

1) Does the story accurately represent (or at least not gravely misrepresent) the art of fishing? 

It seems accurate enough.


2) How clearly does it convey the idea of "using reason and evidence to help others effectively"? Does it have a chance of making it clearer or is it doomed to be a 'nice' story but not much more (I doubt that people would feel inspired to apply the idea in their own lives, but who knows). 

I didn't really see the connection.