After a few minutes more he felt the boat twitch along the tiller. Underneath his feet there was the rhythmic knocking of something tapping against the keel with each wavelet. Fearing that the net was caught on something and about to drag his craft over he started to haul in the net. Imagine his surprise when he found the weight of the net was that of a full one. He hauled and pulled and heaved, each time hearing the tap-tap-tapping, like the sound of wood on drum. Finally with one almighty pull his net slid out of the water and flopped onto the bottom of his boat. The young man peered eagerly forwards to see what marvel he had caught, only to fall backwards with a scream ripping from his throat. For there, in the knots of the net , grasped the bony fingers of a skeleton hand.
Tangled rope, knotted fingers, toe bones that gripped and clutched at frayed ends and caught under the ribs a single red glass buoy that mocked at the missing heart. With a despairing wail, the young man pushed the net with his feet, trying to send the horrible catch back into the sea. The rowlocks caught between the forearms, the net turned and twisted over, catching on the splinters. The young man grasped at the tiller of his boat, hoping against hope that he could sail against the tide; that by sailing the surf he would shake off the horror he had brought up from the bay. Matching the clouds pace for pace, the young man took his boat around the cove and into harbour. Matching the boat wave for wave, the net and its cargo followed behind, one arm caught onto the side with a grip that would not let go.
|Mervyn Peake, Nightmare Life in Death, Rime of the Ancient Mariner|
Beaching the boat and dragging it up the stony beach made the net and catch bounce and rattle out a rhythm to match each heave. The fisherman realised that he had landed a fish that would not go back to the sea. With a softly expelled sigh the young man took up the net and teased each snag off the boat. He pitched the net onto his back, skeleton and all, before heading wearily back to his cottage at the edge of the village.
The fisherman shouldered open the door, half stepping and half falling into the single room that served as kitchen and bedroom. He flung the net away from him, onto the stone floor, barely hearing the hollow thump made by the falling bones. Using the light from the moon, he found some stubs of candle and that would provide him with light. Once lit he slumped into his chair, regarding the shadow on the floor that was net and cargo. Slowly his head drooped and his eyes closed. The young man drifted into an uneasy sleep; the last thought in his mind was how to untangle his only net. Finally the candles guttered out, the breast of the fisherman rose and fell in tune with his dreams, dreams that were to be unlike any he had encountered before.
Deep, deep in his slumber, the young man twitched and turned as he was pulled by the strings of his dreams. Deep, deep in the netting, the bones twitched and turned in the half light that slipped between the shutters that held back the moon outside. If there were eyes to see and mouths to report, they would have told how bony fingers unknotted the strings that bound them. Inch by inch the hands pushed aside loops of cord, as if slowly undressing itself from a dress of holes.