Ok kids, here's a story for you. I'll tell ya somethin'. This story is the primal story, the Ur story, the story that that lies behind every other story ever told - and it contains every other story ever told.
Some of the tales you have heard tell it complete, but not many. Others tell a small part. Some tell it better, most tell it worse. But all the stories are here - it's just that they use different words and symbols. Look for The Fish Story everywhere you go and use it as your guide to truth.
But for now, my dark and dreadful little angels, look upon the great Ouroborus and wonder.
The Fish Story
Once upon a time, there was a poor fisherman. No matter how hard he tried, he could never seem to make a living at his chosen profession, and he usually went to bed hungry. When he went out in the morning, he would cast his nets and haul back only wet net. The other fishermen would come home with a full catch. When he went out at night, he would cast out his net, and haul in only wet net. The other fishermen would come home with a full catch. On the rare occasion when he did feel living weight in his net, everything would disappear through holes which had not been there before as he hauled it aboard. No matter how hard he worked, or when he worked, his nets were always empty.
Oh! I nearly forgot to tell you. Aside from his truly dreadful luck, there was one exceptional thing about this guy. Years of searching the water for things he never found had sharpened his eyes until he could see like a crow. Aside from allowing him to locate the occasional rusty hook he dropped in the bilge, this wasn't a particularly useful thing, but it did make his face look just a touch odd. Most people didn't notice it though, so he was never saddled with nicknames like "chicken face" or "swallow head."
Eventually there came a time when he could not live another day without food. The fisherman vowed that he would return that day with a catch, or he would not return at all. The waters called out for blood.
Unfortunately, that was not a good day for fishing. The day dawned in darkness. Heavy clouds covered the sun, the sky, and obscured the distant waves. No successful fisherman would ever go out on a day like that. There was a storm coming, and in the little boats the fishermen used in those days, a storm of the magnitude this one promised to be was inevitably fatal. But this fisherman was on his last legs. Death would be a relief, just as a little chunk of good luck would be a relief. The fisherman loaded his nets into the boat, loaded water for the day, and brought a sandwich for lunch. He set out, but as soon as the keel of his boat was free floating, his eyes turned to the shore and he saw his life preserver lying on the beach where he had set it. He was just about to turn back when he remembered his vow. He shrugged and bent his back to the oars.
The day had looked bad at dawn, but as the morning wore on, it looked a lot worse. The water was high, waves rocked the boat in an unpleasant way. The clouds crouched above him, shaking their fists with one finger extended. The wind tore at him, and whispered harsh words in his ears, calling him a big fat looser. Despite all this, he cast his nets methodically, and hauled them in, over and over again. Each time he pulled them back they were empty. The day wore on as days are wont to do.
Noon came, although you wouldn't know it from the way the sky was acting, but it did induce the customary hunger that arrives with noon. The fisherman paused over his net and ate his sandwich (my source tells me it was a MacFish sandwhich, but my source has a very peculiar sense of humor, so I can't believe everything I hear). When he was done, he brushed the crumbs of his last meal into the sea, and watched as the waves swallowed them. The wind twisted his boat around and around, then the rain came.
We're talking some real rain here, not a spring sprinkle. Water came down in buckets, water came down in sheets, water came down in oceans. In fact, so much water was coming down that the fisherman couldn't tell where the sea began and the sky ended. If it hadn't been for his vow, he would have gone home then. This was his last day on earth, and he knew it. He figured he had time for one final toss of his net before he died, so he cast it upon the water.
This would make a great painting in the hands of someone like Van Gogh. The sky a swirl of deep, dark colors reflected in the turgid waters. The lone, coarse fisherman with stubble on his chin and panic in his crow eyes outlined by streaks of lightening touching down all around him, pulling at his nets as if it was the last thing he would ever do (Van Gogh never painted this, although there is clear evidence that he saw it. The last entry in Van Gogh's journal, right before the suicide, says "Paint the fisherman. Buy more Prussian Blue").
Well, the fisherman pulled on his net. Once again it seemed very light, and, circumstances being what they were, he would have just cut it loose and kissed his ass goodbye, but he wasn't that kind of guy. He had a job he had committed to, and (by God) (or without God) he was gonna finish it even if it killed him, which it seemed likely to do.
In a bad story, that is exactly what would happen, and all the readers would go home and say "That really sucked," but this story is a little more predictable than that (right now you're thinking "Ah, this is where the fish comes in!", and, of course, you're right, but try not to interrupt me again. I'm on a roll.) So he pulled in the net, and, guess what? there, in the very bottom of the net was a shiny little fish, all curled up. Not too big, but better than nothing. Unfortunately, it was far to late to do the fisherman any good. The storm had stopped threatening, and had begun carrying out its threat.
Just as the fisherman was about to lift his arms to the sky and curse his rotten luck, the fish spoke (you were expecting this, weren't you? OK smarty-pants, you're dreadfully clever, but you're interrupting again). The fish said "Listen to me. I happen to be a magic fish, and I'll grant you four wishes if you eat me." (Notice, by the way, that something funny is going on. Usually the fish asks to be released, and the fisherman only gets three wishes. But this is a different story. Now you're not so sure of yourself, are you?).
Everything gets swirly and blurry, and, when the set clears, he finds that he is walking down the street, coming home from the bar, somewhat tipsy. He bumps into a young lady who is also coming home from a bar, none too steady on her legs either. When he looks at her he discovers beauty. If I could find this in my imagination, I would describe her beauty to you, but this isn't my story and I'm not allowed to ad lib. My source only tells me that, when he looked at her, he saw her eyes. In her eyes (which were grey) there was a reflection of himself, and the really neat thing was that, in the reflection of himself in her eyes he could see her reflected in his reflection's eyes (I figure that he had much better eyesight than I do. I can't even see the dirt under my fingernails clearly anymore). Well, one thing leads to another and eventually...
...Just then, the fisherman remembers that he has three more wishes. He remembers that he had never had much money before, so he wishes for money. (swirly, blurry special effect). The fisherman finds himself and his beloved living in a little shack down by the railroad tracks where they lie in bed together and listen to the trains go by, right outside their door. They could probably afford a better place, but the fisherman and his wife have better things to do than earn money. She likes to sit on the roof all day and count clouds as they blow by, while he crouches continuously on a well placed rock out back writing down the weird things that pop into his head. He writes about the only thing he knows - fishing - and he draws a little curled up fish at the bottom of every page.
One day he realizes he has enough material to put into a book about fishing, so he edits his scribbles, making them accessible to the average reader, and sends them off to a literary agent (I believe, if I recall correctly, that the book was called Fishing for the Complete Idiot, but I may be wrong. The other title that comes to mind is The Gospel of John, but that may not be right either. My source is very good at general things, but a little shaky on specifics). The agent loves the book, wrangles a deal for the author, and doesn't even cheat him too badly on movie rights and stuff like that.
Now this is where the story gets hard to believe. For some reason, the book hits the world just at a time when the zeitgeist is about to shift. Somehow his little book gets tangled in the nets of all those lonely people who are out there frantically trying to catch fish in burning boats and it becomes a pop hit. (I know, this is really hard to believe, but chalk it and the girl up to fish magic. Do the same for the next wish so I don't have to repeat myself).
Terry Gross interviews him on Fresh Air. He makes the T.V. circuit, and even Oprah, who doesn't really like white guys who act like white guys, has to have him on her show. His book becomes an "Oprah Pick." People read it anyway, and he makes a fortune. He and his wife move to a bigger place, but not so far from the railroad tracks that they can't still hear the trains at night. The fisherman and his wife collaborate in the creation of a blue eyed boy whom they name Kane. Oddly enough, she doesn't loose her figure, not that it would matter, anyway (Hey! It's just a story, right?).
After the birth, the fisherman remembers that he has two more wishes. He has love, he has money, the third wish is always for power (these are the three points in the pyramid of human desire, so they always show up in wish stories. Forget the fact that pyramids actually have five points for a minute. Hmmm... I guess one of the other points could represent his fourth wish, but we've still got one point left over - the one that was supposed to be made of solid gold with an eye in it and which sits up on top. Hmm... maybe something clever will come up later, although I will probably forget, so you may have to figure it out yourself). He never really wanted power, but you gotta wish for something, so he falls back on the default option and wishes for that.
This time the special effect is the one where pages get torn off a calendar, symbolizing the passing of time.
The success of the book has led to all kinds of nifty things, among which is his own T.V. program, called The Fisher of Men (Tuesday night, 8pm. 7 central time). It begins with a small audience made up of the fans of his book. They all develop some form of single minded rabies and begin forcing their friends and relatives to watch, and they wander around the office quoting clever quips from last night's show. And the funny thing is is that, although the words he said were things which people are born knowing, by the time they heard him speak they had forgotten what the words meant. But they remembered that the words meant something, so they clung to them like little life rafts, and, like all shipwrecked sailors, they became jealous of their tiny bit of real estate.
Groups formed and began discussing what the words meant, and when people couldn't reach an agreement (which was most of the time), they began to argue and refused to speak to each other . Each separate group created their own flag - all of them had a little curled up fish made of shiny nylon on a black cotton ground, but each fish was a different color - red, blue, green, gold. One rather silly little group even had a polka dotted fish, with little silver bubbles coming out of its mouth.
(Incidentally, there was a small war fought in Idaho between the Red Fish and the Blue Fish about the pronunciation of the word "ichthys" which appeared in one of his poems. The Red Fish claimed that the accent should fall on the first syllable because that maintains the regular pattern of the line, thus indicating that the "fish" is the preserver of the natural order of the world. The Blue Fish claimed that the accent should fall on the second syllable which breaks the regular pattern, drawing subtle attention to the word, thus indicating that the "fish" exists outside and beyond the order of the world. My source claims to know the correct pronunciation, but refuses to get involved).
These groups would accost people in the streets, get them to sign petitions, and invite them to meetings. Individuals from the groups would run for office - everything from school boards to congress - and they got elected by saying bad things about people who where members of other groups, or (God forbid!) weren't members of any fishy group at all. And, of course, as each group rose in power, the fisherman rose up on their shoulders. When any group fell into disrepute (due to the public exposure of homosexual affairs or whatever), the fisherman wasn't affected because there was always another fish group to support him.
He became so powerful that neither he nor his wife could leave the house. They just lay together in the bedroom and listened as the trains went by.
Things went on like this for many years, but all good things come to an end. Kane left home to live in the mountains with a bunch of eco-terrorists. The fisherman and his wife lost all contact with him, except for an occasional dirty limerick scrawled on a piece of burning birch bark that would arrive in a large brown envelope with too many postage stamps on it (there is nothing quite so disheartening as having a prayer returned due to insufficient postage).
Finally (I am getting near the end of the story, so bear with me just a little longer), one stormy fall afternoon, the fisherman's beloved turned to him as they lay listening and said "I think its time for me to ride that train." And she closed her eyes forever.
The fisherman wept bitter salt tears until a small ocean formed on the floor. He knew that something truly awesome had just left his reach forever, and that he was doomed to go on alone for the rest of his allotted time with nothing but a memory of listening to trains with someone whom he had never been able to clearly see.
He stood there, I think, for many days, but eventually the tears had to stop because there was no more ocean left in him. At that point, he realized that he was very hungry, so he pulled something out of the freezer without looking too closely at what it was, and stuck it in the oven. While lunch was cooking he went out to the garage and found a can of gasoline. Taking this he went back inside. He poured gasoline on everything he could find - couch, T.V. rug, stacks of old seed catalogues, etc.
Just as he finished, he heard the timer on the stove make that annoying "ehhhhhhhhhh" sound, so he went in to get the food. He dumped it on a plate, grabbed a box of Ohio Blue Tips and went into the bedroom. He looked at what remained of the woman he had loved for seven years, at the puddle of tears on the floor, and struck a match.
The house went up as if it had been soaked in gasoline, which it had. As the flames curled around him, he took a bite of his lunch. He tasted the crunchy smooth texture of Gordon's Fish Sticks, which reminded him that he still had one wish left.
As the flaming roof caved in on him, he made his last wish. "I wish," he said, "I were a shiny little fish."
This time, without any cheesy cinematic effects, he found himself sitting in a burning boat, in the midst of the mother of all storms, just as the hull gave way, dumping him into the waves. He sank like a rock.
About ten or twenty feet down water rushed into his mouth, his lungs, his other squishy inside parts, and he might have lost consciousness, although it was more like that funny thing that happens when you are not quite asleep, and not quite awake. The pain of drowning was gone. He saw everything around him with amazing clarity. A large school of shiny little fish swam around him, and he realized that he, too, could swim. He had, in fact, become one of them.
He swam and swam for ever and ever and ever, until one day he saw an empty fishing net dangling in the water. Knowing something of the habits of unlucky fishermen with empty nets, he swam into the net, curled up, and held on tight as it was dragged up. When the net broke water the first thing the fish saw was a stubbly-faced fisherman with eyes like a crow. The fish asked to be eaten.
Well, that's it. That's the story. Don't ask me what it means, it is all very mysterious to me, too. And my source, who is a great and powerful magician, never gives away his secrets.
Copyright 2010 B. de Corbin and Splendid Fish Studio