Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Carillion’s Schemes
by Michael Hodges

by Edward H. Parks

It Don’t Mean a Thing
by A. Miller

Morning Glories
by Jude-Marie Green

Take a Good Look
by Holly Schofield

Fifty Kilograms
by Jim Stewart

Jupiter Hero
by Rob Pearce

Breaking Eggs
by Justin Woolley

To Hunt a Sky Eel
by Daniel Ausema

Gone Fishin’
by Thomas Canfield

Archangels of Heaven
by Leslie Lupien


Faster Than a Speeding Bullet
by Eric M. Jones

A Turn to the Dark Side
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Gone Fishin’

By Thomas Canfield

CARUTHERS LEANED AGAINST THE RAIL, peered out over the side of the vessel. The sea held, as always, a special allure for him, an attraction equal parts physical and mental. It was vast and deep and unpredictable, subject to forces which dwarfed whatever measures men might devise in opposition to it. Some imagined the Earth had been explored and investigated to the last square kilometer. But that was not true of the sea. It remained, still, a place of mystery, defying the most determined efforts to understand it, to know it in all its complexity. The ocean was the great mother of the race, many long aeons ago. To contemplate it was to contemplate one’s origins, was, perhaps, to grasp the meaning of existence.

“See anything, Professor?”

Caruthers started. “No. I thought I might spot some fish, a school of jack or something. And then my thoughts just drifted. Funny how hypnotic the water can be. My mind was a million miles away.”

Daniels cocked his head but offered no comment. Instead, he remarked, “I’ve got you set up. All I need to do is bait your hook.”

Caruthers followed Daniels to the rear of the boat. The “Lame Duck” was a forty-five footer rigged for sports fishing, hailing out of Charleston. Normally she offered half and full day outings, catering to the serious sports fisherman. Caruthers had retained her services for two days. Daniels, the vessel’s Captain, had balked when he heard the expression Lazarus taxon. He had asked Caruthers to elaborate then shrugged and rolled his eyes. It was not the sort of thing he went in for and he had not been shy about saying so. But Caruthers renting the boat for two days, that had cinched the deal. The money had been too good for Daniels to turn down.

“You know, I got to tell you, Professor.” Daniels was grinning as he baited the hook. “I run into all sorts in this business. My customers run the gamut. Some are rank amateurs, don’t know the first thing about fishing or about fish. They’re content to follow my lead, which is fine by me. Then there are others who have worked out their own theory about how to pursue certain fish. Say they’ve set their sights on grouper, for instance. They’ll know the depth they want to fish at and the time of day. They’ll have brought their own bait. They’re certain they will land the biggest, most prizeworthy specimen within two hundred nautical miles. Sometimes their theories follow conventional wisdom. But sometimes,” Daniels studied the bait and his eyes danced with wry amusement, “they turn it on its head. They swear by methods that defy all logic and common sense.

“But do I argue with ’em? Not a bit of it. I smile and bob my head and do as they ask because it’s their party and they’re paying for it. I figure, hey, if they’re wedded to a certain theory I’m not going to talk them out of it. I’m not even going to try. To my way of thinking, everybody has a perfect right to make a fool of themselves. But this!” Daniels held up the snake, gripping it in one fist. “I not only never heard of. I never thought to see the day. Explain to me again how your reasoning works.”

“That’s not just any snake.” Caruthers resented having to put it into words for, when he did so, some of his own conviction melted away and was supplanted by doubt. “It, or its near ancestor, once dwelt in these same seas. It served as a source of food for certain aquatic predators. I wanted to mimic that experience as nearly as I could.”

“Got you! Kind of like a flavor of ice cream I might recollect from childhood.” Daniels set the bait just so, the barbs of the hook concealed but positioned to bite deep and hold fast should anything strike at the lure. “How many years are we talking about, Professor? Since this snake made its way out of the sea on to land, I mean.”

“A lot.” Caruthers did not want the proposition to sound any more absurd than it already did so he took refuge in vagueness.

“A lot?” Daniels hefted the baited hook with both hands. “Is that the sort of expression you use up at University? Because I always thought that science was a little more exact.” Daniels flung the bait out over the rear of the boat. It flew up in an arc and hit the water with a splash.

Caruthers slid into the seat from where he would command the pole and line. “Don’t forget the harness, Professor,” Daniels insisted. “Strap yourself in. I don’t know what you’re hoping to land but, whatever it is, however big it is, you’re staying in the boat. You get yanked overboard nobody comes up a winner but the fish.” Daniels checked the harness, made certain that it was rigged to his satisfaction. “It’s your show now, Professor. You’re calling the shots. Don’t screw it up because I’m as by god eager to see this fish of yours as you are.”

Caruthers wiped the palms of his hands on his trousers, gripped the tackle. Now that the moment was actually at hand he was filled with anticipation. This trip was not some willy-nilly, hare-brained scheme as Daniels seemed to think it. Caruthers had spent years researching his subject, had put in months of field work, considered the case for and against and weighed the evidence carefully. There was a reasonable chance, no more than that but a reasonable chance, that Palaeocanthus existed still. But its existence could be established as scientific fact only by producing an actual specimen. To capture one would prove the matter beyond all doubt, would confirm Caruthers as the leading figure in his field.

Caruthers let out line, the reel making a high pitched whining sound as the baited hook sunk deep into the depths. Finally Daniels gestured with one hand. “All right, Professor. That’s enough. I’ve allotted extra line to compensate for drift and tide. Our course is set south by southeast. We’ll maintain that heading till you say otherwise.” Daniels stared out over the water, shielding his eyes against the sun. “I got to be honest; I think you’re wasting your time. There aren’t a lot of fish lurking down at two hundred meters. No game fish, at least. There’s no bloody light at that depth and precious little food.”

“If my fish is out there, that’s where he’ll be.” Caruthers’ expression was fixed. “The dark and the deep, that’s his particular niche.”

“So you said. Well, you know what you’re doing, I guess.” Daniels’ tone and manner belied the truth of this observation. “I’m only along for the ride. Give a shout if you get a nibble. I’ll come running.” Daniels disappeared into the cabin.

Left alone, Caruthers settled back in the seat. He was prepared to be patient. He had invested years in this project. What was a few hours more, a day? Caruthers harbored a deep inner conviction, a proof against all obstacles and all disappointments, that his efforts would eventually bear fruit. Over the years he had forged a kind of bond with his quarry, a psychological affinity. He could almost sense its presence there in the depths. He knew that Palaeocanthus was not extinct but had only burrowed deeper into the ocean, deeper into obscurity, where none might find it.

The sun climbed to its zenith, slid past and began the long, slow descent to the west. Daniels stepped back on deck, handed Caruthers a can of beer, ice cold and beaded with moisture. “Something to take the edge off,” he said. Daniels checked the tackle and the line, glanced down into the water a long moment. “Anything?” he asked, turning to face Caruthers.

“Not so far.”

“Sometimes the fish leap right out of the water into the boat,” Daniels said, making no mention of the fact that four hours had elapsed. “Other times they don’t. There’s no telling with fish. I like to think I know a little about their ways, that I halfway understand them.” Daniels grinned. “But then I realize I’m only kidding myself. The fish are going to follow their own inclinations. Nothing I do, or don’t do, is going to persuade them otherwise.” It was an overture, of a sort, and Caruthers let his guard down a little.

“Were you ever so convinced of a thing,” he asked, “so absolutely certain that it acquired the status of fact? Even if you couldn’t see it or touch it, even if you had no proof. You just knew in your bones it was so. The burden of proof, that lay on the other side. It was up to others to prove you were wrong. That’s how I feel about this.”

Daniels frowned, planted his feet further apart, braced himself against the rail. “I may have felt that way once,” he admitted. “But it was over a woman. And, as it happens, I was wrong. It’s not a memory I’m all that eager to revisit.”

Both men drank their beers, allowed the sun and the breeze and the sound of the ocean to lull them. Twenty minutes passed and neither man felt the urge or the necessity to speak. “You know,” Daniels remarked at last, “if I was an educated man, like yourself, I would never ...” That was when the line snapped taut. It happened so quickly, and with such force, that the line vibrated with a low, ominous humming sound. Caruthers grabbed the pole and Daniels lunged across the boat to help.

For the next three hours Caruthers wrestled with the fish, reeling in a length of line then, grudgingly, yielding it back again. He fought with everything he had, poured all his strength, resilience and determination into it. Slowly he gained the upper hand.

The boat’s engines throttled down as the line snaked first in one direction, then in another. Caruthers braced both feet against the footrest and leaned back, throwing his entire body into the struggle. Even then it was barely enough. The surface began to boil and foam. Sea spray filled the air, refracted the light in a dazzling display of color. The pole flexed, the tip arcing, testing the very limits of its integrity. Caruthers was nursing a blister at the base of one thumb. His other hand sported an ugly gash across the knuckles. He did not remember ever having felt more alive.

“Reel her in easy,” Daniels coached. “Slow and steady. Don’t let up on the pressure. You need to impose your will. You need to establish that it’s you who are in control, you who are dictating the terms. He’s almost yours, Professor. You almost have him.” Daniels leaned out over the rear of the boat, caught up in the moment no less so than was Caruthers. “C’mon, you s.o.b,” he urged the fish. “It’s over. You’re beaten. Own up to it.”

A pale, shadowy form became visible, disappeared, then drew near the surface again. The water foamed and frothed. A grey-green dorsal fin broke the plane of the ocean. The creature’s tail thrashed to and fro.

“Mother of God!” Daniels protested. He took a step back. “How big did you say the fish was, Professor? What size are we talking about?”

Caruthers squinted against the sun. His face and upper torso were beaded with sweat. His arms and shoulders ached. He reached deep to summon the last of his strength, to muster his final reserves. The wild tumult at the rear of the boat increased.

“I’m not certain. The fossil record is incomplete. Best estimate, I would say ...”

The sea erupted in a violent geyser of water. An enormous living mass vaulted into the air, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen feet in length. The creature’s blunt features, its heavy jaw bristling with teeth, immediately recalled another era, a time of fierce predation and incessant struggle. Its flanks bore blue-black splotches of color and bony encrustations. A fan-like dorsal fin adorned its back. The pale underbelly glistened in the sun. It was, unmistakabbig fishly, Palaeocanthus: believed extinct, certified as such by the scientific community, very much alive, full of fight and consumed by mindless fury.

Caruthers stared at it in awe. The Palaeocanthus seemed to hang in the air, defying gravity. Then it wrenched around, plummeting toward the water. The force of the impact bent the brackets which held the pole in place. The fiberglass splintered, pole and line parted, the tackle flew into pieces and the whole assembly came apart, exploding in a dozen directions. Line and reel flew overboard, following the Palaeocanthus as it plunged back toward the depths.

Caruthers sprawled in the chair, stunned, disbelieving. But for the harness he would have been dragged overboard. He rushed now to unstrap the apparatus then flung himself against the railing at the rear, just in time to catch a final glimpse of the Palaeocanthus, an immense pale shape sounding for the depths, trailing a length of fishing line in its wake. Caruthers would have hurled a harpoon had one been at hand. Instead he beat his hands against the rail in frustration, nearly beside himself.

He had been so close! Had the fishing tackle held, had the line not given way, he would have landed the creature for sure. Now he had nothing. Who would believe him were he to relate such a story, who would take him at his word? He would be met not with the skepticism and indifference which had greeted him in the past but with open ridicule: a man so consumed with proving the existence of Palaeocanthus that he had resorted to making things up, manufacturing evidence to buttress his claims. He would be dismissed as a crank and a fraud, a lifetime of research dismissed along with him.

Daniels stepped to the rail, wiping sea spray from his face with one sleeve. He was clearly rattled, pallor evident beneath the tan. But along with the pallor resided a glow of sympathy and a warm spark of approval.

“Let it go, Doctor,” he urged Caruthers. “You don’t want to tear your hands up any worse than they are already. That was some fish, by god. Too mean and cagey to be taken at the first go. You could see it in his eyes, how pure blessed angry he was. I wish you’d warned me. I wasn’t prepared for anything near that big. The first round belongs to him. He earned it. That’s not to say we have to sit back and take it lying down.”

Caruthers grunted, surprised, hardly expecting Daniels to mirror his own sentiments so exactly.

“Nothing of the sort! I’ve a rig that will land anything short of a whale. Now that he’s got a taste of your bait he’ll be back. I can almost guarantee it. And when he strikes, we’ll be ready. The two of us working together, I think we’re more than a match for him. What do you say? We stay out till we land that son of a bitch. Or until we run out of ocean trying.” There was fire in Daniels’ eyes. “Deal?”

“Deal!” Caruthers seized the proffered hand like a drowning man. He had never thought to find an ally. He was so accustomed to opposition within the academic community that he had come to accept it as the norm, part of the price to be paid for challenging the status quo. Yet here was Daniels, a man with no axe to grind, willing to make common cause, more inclined to believe his own eyes than trust blindly in the accumulated weight of tradition and authority—which made him a rarity in Caruthers’ experience.

Sunlight sparkled across the surface of the water. The ocean lapped the sides of the boat. The deep seemed suddenly less remote and forbidding, less daunting, than it had only moments before. Friendship made any burden easier to bear and any hardship more tolerable. What Caruthers had most needed in his quest, had most sorely lacked, was a helping hand and a sympathetic ear. Now he had both.

It went without saying that Palaeocanthus’ days were numbered. END

Thomas Canfield writes mostly speculative fiction. His work has appeared in “,” “Interstellar Fiction,” “Allegory,” and an anthology from Freedom Forge Press. He recently spotted an Eastern Hellbender in a North Carolina stream.