The Fishermen and the Goose

By Patrick Horner

Indie Writers’ Deathmatch 2010 Semi-Finalist

Harold wiped the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his t-shirt and picked up a pack of cigarettes from the bottom of the aluminum boat. Dwayne was asleep at the stern, a beer rested between his thighs. Harold pushed the pack open and pulled a cigarette to his lips. The float on his line bobbed on the calm water. Tall spruce trees lined the shore. A cloud of smoke burst into the air as the match touched the cigarette. A flock of sea gulls passed in the distance, their cry echoed out across the water. A few scattered white clouds patched the blue sky. Harold watched as the flame burnt down the match to his fingers. He swore under his breath and flicked the match out across the water. The lake was empty.

Harold extended his rod back over his shoulder and cast out in a smooth arc towards the shore. The lure cascaded through the air. A series of ripples swept out across the surface of the lake from the point of impact. Harold bolted up. A goose coasted out from the shadows along the shore. It’s long straight neck spired up towards the sky. Don’t you dare! He stood up as the bird dove down into the water after the lure. What the hell do you think you’re doing? The goose’s neck curved as its head dipped into the water and plunged down beneath the surface. It’s black beak snapped down onto the yellow lure with the five red diamonds. “Shit, Shit, Shit!” Harold jerked the rod back and reeled in. It was too late. The goose’s wings flared out to the side with a sharp incisive snap. The lure stuck firm in the bird’s beak. The line twitched. He held the rod tight in his fists. The goose tore through the surface. Harold wrenched forward. His shins slammed against the side of the boat. The goose beat the air with its wings and thrust back towards the shore. Harold winced in pain and refused to let go of the rod.

Dwayne awoke with a start.

“What the hell is going on?”

“I got a frickin goose on the line!”

The goose was turbulent. Its extended body thrashed back and forth across the water. Harold’s hands locked onto the rod and he dropped to his knees. The goose pumped the air in quick hard strokes. The strength of the bird impressed and alarmed him.

“Should I cut the line?” Dwayne sat at alert, brandishing a dirty fishing knife. Harold turned and scowled.

“Get lost. I’m reeling this monster in.” Dwayne closed the knife and dropped onto on the stern bench. His arms clutched the rails to stabilize the boat. The goose ducked its head to the water and pitched forward, gaining speed. Dwayne gazed to the floor to see his beer overturned. The goose tore from the water and into the sky causing the boat to accelerate. Long weeds rushed beneath them in bursts of green shadows.

“We’re moving fast, want me to drop the anchor?” Harold shook his head. Might break the line, might lose him, might lose everything. The goose thrust up into the air. Its long neck reached up toward the sun. Harold crashed forward, hitting his ribs hard on the side of the boat. He felt the air collapse from his lungs.

The goose took the slack and soared into the sky. Harold tried to grab the loose line with his hand. It tightened and then cut deep into his skin. The goose twitched and fell back into the water. Blood oozed from Harold’s palm onto the reel and trickled down his wrist. Dwayne sat still, ready to act. His eyes darted back and forth between Harold and the goose.

Harold breathed through his nostrils. His eyes bulged from his head. His bruised ribs screamed with pain. Harold realized he needed a plan.

“Dwayne! Start the motor! Move in on him. Tire him out slowly. He’ll kill us if we fight like this.” Dwayne turned his ball cap around and pulled the starter on the small outboard motor. Nothing happened. The goose floated on the calm water. It trashed its beak back and forth and then plunged its head into the lake. He pulled again, and again the motor failed to start. He reached down next to the fuel tank and squeezed the bulb on gas line. He pulled the cord a third time and the engine fired. He turned the motor and accelerated. The boat rocked to the side and took off away from the goose. Dwayne ducked as the line passed over his head. Harold held fast to the rod as it twisted behind him. He fell back and struck his chin on the seat. He propped himself back up with his elbows and wiped the blood from his chin with his shoulder. Harold glared at Dwayne. Dwayne nodded and steered the bow towards the goose.

The tension in the line eased and the goose relaxed. It floated on the glass lake. It’s black eyes questioning their next move. I dare you goose, I dare you to get away.

“That’s it Dwayne, keep in on him. Slow and steady.” Harold wound the slack onto the reel. The goose swam away from the boat, twisting its head to the side to keep pressure off the hook.

Dwayne and Harold sat still and studied the goose as they approached. Harold continued to reel in the slack with his right hand. His left hand remained white knuckled on the rod. Harold signaled to Dwayne to kill the motor. It sputtered down and silence took over. The goose was now fifty feet from the boat. The afternoon felt immediately hot. The sun poured down in heavy white light. Dwayne picked up a paddle and stroked the water. The boat moved forward slightly faster than the goose.

The bird panicked. This time Harold was ready. The goose’s wings flared out to the side and pulsed down over the surface of the lake. The bow of the boat swung around as the goose thrust hard across the water. Harold let the line out, one inch at a time, ever so often jerking the rod back to twist the goose’s head, reducing the force it could generate with its wings. A wide bloody grin crept across Harold’s face. “We got him now Dwayne, we got him.”

“Yehaw!” Dwayne replied as he spat into the water and paddled with quick hard strokes. The goose relaxed again and folded its wings at its sides. Harold reeled more slack off the line.

Dwayne and Harold looked at each other. Dwayne scratched his chin. Harold bit his lower lip. Dwayne placed the dripping paddle under the bench and opened his tackle box. He took out the first tray, full of waterproof matches and rusty bottle openers and set it down on the floor of the boat. He lifted out a slingshot and held it up to show Harold, keeping it low, out of sight from the goose. Harold grinned and nodded. He turned back to look at the goose. I’ll be honest with you, I was getting worried there for a minute. The goose was now thirty feet from the boat. Harold could see the shiny tip of the lure at the corner of the bird’s mouth. Bright red froth hung like a beard from its black beak. Come on Dwayne, let’s get this over with.

Dwayne rummaged through the tackle box and took out a small cardboard box full of lead shot. He looked at the goose and let out a long sigh. Harold reeled more slack in off the line, provoking the goose closer to the boat. Dwayne extended the slingshot with his left arm and drew back with his right. He relaxed his fingers and the shot whistled through the air. A burst of water flashed into the sky a few feet in front of the goose. The goose panicked again and extended its wings out to the side. Harold turned, glaring.

“For Christ sake Dwayne, hit the god dam bird.” The goose spun toward the boat and charged. Harold threw the rod down and pinned it to the bottom of the boat with his foot. He reached back and picked up the paddle. He stared the goose in the eye and drew the paddle back over his shoulder.

Dwayne closed his left eye as he drew his right hand back again. His arms trembled. He fired. The goose let out a loud honk as the shot struck its wing at the shoulder. Dwayne reached down for another shot, holding it between his thumb and finger. The goose toppled down sideways into the water. Its one good wing reached up into the sky as if trying to grab hold. Dwayne and Harold sat breathless, their faces pale and still. Harold lowered the paddle and rested it across his knees. Kill it Dwayne for god’s sake, just kill it.

The goose’s head bobbed in and out of the water. The lure lodged in its throat glistened in the sunlight. Harold lowered his head and pressed his hands to his face. He looked back out at the goose. It flapped its wings hard to lift its head and then fell back into the water. Its black eyes were wide and wild. Harold and Dwayne both watched in silence. The goose slowed down. It’s head remained under for longer. The line now slack floated on the surface of the water and tangled around the goose’s neck.

Harold handed Dwayne the paddle and picked up the rod from the floor of the boat. He reeled the goose in. He held the rod high attempting to hold the goose’s head out of the water. The goose was still, as if frozen. Its large brown body bobbed against the side of the boat. They watched its chest flicker from muffled heartbeats beneath its ruffled brown feathers.

Dwayne quickly raised the paddle and brought it down like a guillotine over the goose’s neck. The goose went limp. Its feet fluttered in the water. Dwayne reached into his pocket and grabbed the fishing knife. He cut the line around the goose’s neck and lifted it up out of the water with both hands.

“What a monster!” Dwayne placed the bird down on the floor of the boat. The broken wing refused to fold into its body. Its head lay twisted, rolled back towards its feet. A slow wisp of blood drained from the goose’s mouth and mixed with the lake water and beer on the floor of the boat. Dwayne took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead, “Fishing for geese ain’t all its cracked up to be.”

Harold’s breath slowed as he became aware of his injuries. He held a hand to his ribs. They felt tender and swollen, broken. He tasted blood in his mouth and ran his tongue over a fresh chip in his front tooth. He wiped the blood on his hand down his shirt in a long red smear. A large blue bump formed on each shin. He glanced down at his watch and then up at Dwayne.

“We’re going to be late.”