The rods of good fortune
The first thing he did before taking out his fishing rod was check the skies. He couldn’t hear anything, but he knew that it was best to check. Past experience had taught him that. All Herbert saw when he glanced above was clear blue skies. Even the flimsy clouds of yesterday had vanished in the heat. The last attack had been some time ago now and it had taken a lot of persuasion on his part, to get his mother to agree to let him go to the river, but even she knew to take the good, quiet times when they came.
He sat on the bank and began to carefully take out his rod. It was old and battered (it had belonged to his brother before him and had seen many fishing trips) but he loved it beyond any other material thing in his life. After his father had died nothing had been the same for Herbert. He had been carefree and easy-going, the War had seemed like a game to him. When the planes came he had run to the shelters with everyone else and enjoyed the noise, the heat, the smoke and even in some strange way, the palpable fear on the faces and in the air around him. He had felt indestructible. All that had changed.
The day the letter came he had gone to the river with his friend Alfred and had been using his rod, having forgotten to take his own. They had caught many fish that day and he had come home with a wreath of smiles across his small, grubby, be-freckled face. He had run in to tell his mother about the ‘monster’ he had caught, ready to declare that his old rod was nothing compared to Fred’s newer one, when he had found her in the kitchen on her knees. He had reached her and touched her shoulder with the words tumbling from him in excited gasps, when he finally registered that she was not on her knees scrubbing the kitchen with sylvan soap, but that she was in a bedraggled heap, sobbing quietly in unbearable grief. When he saw the crumpled piece of paper in her hand, he only had one question. Was it Arthur, his beloved elder brother or his father that the Germans had killed? He would never forget her face as she held out the letter to him, unable to speak the words that weighed so heavy on her heart. As he took the letter she let out a wail, so foreign to him that he dropped it in alarm and flung his arms around her. From that moment on the responsibilities of adulthood had been placed squarely upon his shoulders. In some inexplicable way, Herbert felt that not having had his rod with him that day, he had let his father down. His rod was his talisman, his rod had kept his father safe and when he had left it behind, besmirched it even, then fate had been allowed to step in and take his father away from them. Now he felt that the only thing keeping his brother safe from harm, was this rod that Herbert kept with him at all times. Never again would it languish unattended. Never again could the Nazi’s twist the fates their way.
His lures were as old as his rod but Herbert knew that old did not necessarily mean useless. He had been on many trips since that day and though he may not have caught a fish as big as that one, numerous fish had been landed and enjoyed as only a hunter knows how. The sun was warm on his caramel hair and though his temper could occasionally be red hot and fiery, his hair had been tempered by maternal blonde hues. Arthur had not been so lucky. The day they had shipped out, his father had reminded Arthur to keep his helmet on lest the enemy mistook him for one of their own and they had laughed to lighten the mood. Laughter made the pain easier to get through.
As he attached the lure to the rod he remembered when Arthur had first shown him how to attach the fiddly aid correctly. It had taken quite a long time for Herbert to get it right and he had been so desperate to be just like his big brother that he had dropped it three times and they had laughed and laughed before their father reminded them to simmer down as they would scare away the fish.
As he cast off, Herbert looked down at his clothes and could almost see his brother when he was wearing them. They had been a lot less grubby then, and a lot less darned. ‘Make do and mend’ was the motto and his mother really did follow it to the letter. He wondered if all the children in the country would be wearing similar clothes or whether just coastal or city children were affected. He really didn’t want to go and not just because he would miss his mother. How was it safer for him to be sent away to strangers, than it was for him to stay here with his own kith and kin? Yes, the last attack had come very close to his home, but they had moved on to other places now or at least it seemed they had. The break between raids had been longer this time. He wound back the reel as his cast had been unsuccessful due to his lack of concentration. He screwed up his face in dismay. He was supposed to be here not thinking about going away, this was probably his last chance to come here before he had to go and he wanted to make the most of it. He schooled his features into a calm demeanour and tried again.
* * * * *
Steven had been successful with his cast off and although at twelve, he was the same age as Herbert, he knew nothing of War. He was pale and slight of build and like Herbert, was grubby and in clothes darned and ill-fitting. Steven had done his own darning. He did not have a loving mother to take care of his appearance. He had a step-father who only bought second-hand clothes for him at all to keep up appearances. Many other children had hand-me-down clothes, who would notice or care about another one? Steven pulled at his sleeve to check that the bruise was covered. Many people walked past the river and although it was unlikely that any of them would know him, he didn’t want any awkward questions asking. He preferred to live with Ryan. At least with him, it was better the devil you know.
He placed his grandfather’s rod in its rest and reached for his bag. Steven opened the bag and took out an apple. Ryan hadn’t let him have breakfast again and this time, he hadn’t said anything about it. He didn’t want another bruise on his other arm to match and he knew by now that that was just what he’d get. So on the way to the river, he had climbed over a fence and scaled one of the apple trees in the Walters’ garden. They had plenty of trees and plenty of apples, so Steven figured they wouldn’t miss a few and anyway, his need was greater than theirs. He had kept the free sample bottle of water that had landed on the mat before Ryan had seen it and now Steven knew this would do for both breakfast and dinner. By the time he made it back from the river, Ryan would be in a drunken stupor and if he could find anything in the cupboard that wasn’t alcohol, he could whip up his tea and cover his tracks before he even woke up.
The apple was good. He let the sweet water drip from his lips down onto his chin and rubbed it absently with his sleeve. He winced as the bruise connected and tugged down the material to cover it again. At least the ones on his ribs were fading now. By the time the Bank Holiday was over and he was back at school, they should have faded completely by PE day. That was if he could keep out of Ryan’s way long enough to not acquire any new ones. As he chewed he ruminated over Ryan’s latest surprise. He wanted them to move back to
. Well, it was back for him. Ireland
Steven had never been to
, although he knew his mother must have as that was where she had met Ryan on one of her jaunts. That was back when Nana was still alive and she must have babysat for him. He smiled as he remembered Nana. He had never known love like that, not before or since. He had been safe with Nana and she had cooked like no-one else. His smile twisted wryly as he admitted to himself that it could just have been that he was getting warm, cooked (not burned) food at all that may have made it seem quite so amazing. He liked to think that she was the best cook though; she was the best at everything else. He never knew if she had suspected what was going on at home for him, but her babysitting had become more frequent. Their time together had been filled with lots of hugs, kisses and delicious food, but the attention had been the best thing of all. Not the kind of attention he got at home, with raised fists and voices, but time together to talk and listen to each other. If she had not died before his mum, he was sure he could have gone to live with her and everything would have been so different. Life wasn’t like that though. Nothing good ever fell into place easily. Ireland
There was a tug on his rod and he began to reel the fish in eagerly. If he could land this fish and ‘borrow’ the matches from the house, he could cook it for his dinner. He never thought of it as a home, home was a place where Ryan wouldn’t be waiting. If he even saw the fish, let alone smelt it, he would never see it again. The tug was brief as the fish was small, but Steven couldn’t have been happier if he had landed a shark. His hunting was for survival.
* * * * *
Emiliana had found a rod. She knew it was old as it had no computer and it was dirty, but appeared to be in working order. The reel wound as it should and it even had a brightly-coloured lure attached to it. That was how she had found it; the strange glow of orange coming from the long grass had intrigued her. She had checked that she was alone, before investigating. It was safer that way.
It wasn’t as if it was a good bounty, but treasure of any kind made her smile. She lived on her wits and she knew the gangs could be anywhere. She had made it to fourteen on her wits alone and she knew how to play the game. She was lucky. She was small and had a baby-face, but should the baggy clothes she wore somehow no longer conceal; her changing body would give her away. Only the rich got to live past thirteen and she could by no means be called rich. If you had not made something of yourself by then, shown yourself to be of some value to the World in one of the four revered fields (science, medicine, quantum mechanics or genetic modification) or got or made heaps of money, then the gangs had you on file. They only needed to have your fingerprint and that gave them the license to kill. The trick was never to give them cause to want to check your fingerprint or better still, avoid them at all costs. If there had been anyone around, she would never have investigated the small orange glow.
As it was, she was glad she had. By the cover of darkness she could use it to pilfer from the night-ponds. These were the huge robot-made tanks that housed the cloned fish which made up the food source in her area. The tanks were guarded by secure-robots at night, but that didn’t mean you couldn’t get past them. All legitimate fishing rods had computer chips and this antique didn’t have one. They wouldn’t pick up the electronic activity, so if she could get in without being seen, then she would have another variation to her diet. She could almost taste the fish now. All she needed to do now was work out how to use it. As a child she had used a real rod. She had never seen anything like this one outside of her history books from Collegeriat. She knew she had to wind the rod as that was done automatically when she caught a fish with her old rod, but how would she know where to cast as it had no computer to pin point the location of the fish. Like everything else in life, it would be trial and error. She could practice in the river. She wouldn’t dream of eating anything she might actually catch, the pollution alone put paid to that idea.
She wondered who had owned the rod. For someone to bury it, they must have thought it was treasure of some kind. It must have been valued enough for someone to hide it. She turned it slowly in her hands. It was caked in mud, but that would wash off when she practised casting off. It would be better to wait for darkness as the lure would stand out, as would she fishing with such a bizarre object. Ellie had never waited for anything or anyone and she wasn’t about to start now. She began to practice casting. It took a little effort, but if you flicked it just right, it landed in the water where it should. She had a quick glance around before sitting cross-legged upon the bank and waited to see if she would catch anything.
The light was beginning to fade when Ellie felt a tug on the line. She slowly reeled in as whatever it was put up a tremendous fight. She had struck gold. An electronic toy submarine had attached itself magnetically to the metal of the lure and although it had automatically geared into reverse, it was too late. Ellie held it at arms length and carefully pressed the de-activation button. Once it had powered down she wiped it clean on her sleeve and placed it carefully into her bag. She smiled to herself as she put the rod next to the toy and fastened the clasp. She walked slowly towards town assured in the knowledge that it would fetch a good price at the black market. Tonight she would eat legitimately and then she would practice. She might not have such good fortune next time and she needed all her skills to fish in the night-ponds. Tonight was a time to celebrate and worry tomorrow what the future would bring.
Hope you like it, let me know what you think.