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Pupils dilated and adjusted to the near obscurity of the cramped hut. He recognized the all too familiar snore of the Old Man who slept on the other side of the room, which was actually less than ten meters away.
He blinked and rubbed his eyes.
The walls came into sight, frayed and cracked from years of weathering. Fishing poles and line leaned up against the corner.
He sat up on the edge of his cot.
When his feet contacted the floor, he felt a cool sensation. Not because the temperature was cold, but because of the dirt surface. Well, the floor wasn't completely dirt, more of a mixture of sand, dirt, and straw. At least he didn't have to sleep on the floor, not that the "bed" was particularly comfortable.
Even though the Old Man always told him, "You are always welcome to sleep in my hut," Wake never really had a home in the common sense.
Sometimes he took refuge in the hut, other times he settled on the beach. Sometimes he slept in the makeshift hammock he fashioned out of leaves and a piece of rope, other times he never slept at all. In many instances, Wake had no choice but to listen to the Old Man's oblivious dream mumbles; the Old Man slept like a rock. When he tried, in vain, to sleep, Wake ended up thinking, over-analyzing, forcing himself to relax. As each second of sleepless night passed, his anxiety magnified.
What happens if the sun comes up?
Will I have energy for the day?
How am I supposed to think if my mind doesn't function?
Will I ever fall asleep?
The worst instance of insomnia occurred when he actually did fall asleep, or so he thought that was the case. It just so happens, Wake had a dream in which he was unable to fall asleep. He dreamed about lying awake and not sleeping, so when he woke up the next day it was as if he hadn't slept at all. When he thought about it, he concluded it was the "suckiest" dream ever.
Nevertheless, as Wake yawned and prepared for the day, he acknowledged the fact that he did get some sleep, no matter how sparse and fragmented. At least he would have some amount of concentration while fishing, which is what he planned to do the entire day. He snatched his pole from the corner and checked on the Old Man from over his shoulder: still sound asleep.
That lucky son of a boar-q-pine.
Upon stepping outside, Wake realized the sun had yet to rise and the rest of the village snored in their beds like the Old Man. A thick fog added a quiet element to the already motionless atmosphere. Wake didn't mind solitude; actually, he reveled in it. He was well acquainted with the signs of early dawn. The slightest sliver of sunlight cracked the horizon and tempered the darkness of the night sky. With the pole slung over his left shoulder, he felt the chilly sand in between his toes with each step. The crack of dawn had yet to come, but he knew it wasn't far away.
Wake equated the abandoned morning with a type of spiritual feeling. All alone, he felt like the only soul in existence. Unseen birds began to chirp, coaxing the slumbering sun to rise, and then he knew it was only a matter of time until the daytime came around, but he still relished moments like this.
It wasn't that he didn't like people. That wasn't it at all. Wake just liked time to think, time to focus and clear his head. Sometimes he wished he didn't think so much. The other villagers went about their daily business, whether it be sailing out, harvesting, keeping the house, or doing chores, without a single thought or care about the direction, without looking up from the task at hand. Wake didn't consider it ignorance, far from it. He envied them, like he envied the Old Man, for their unwavering knowledge of their identity, not identity in the sense of names, or family; they just knew exactly what they woke up for each day. They knew exactly where their lives would lead, and they were so content, so balanced with this knowledge.
As Wake grew older into his teenage years, his life became anything but stable. While childhood was all mahjong and drawing in the sand, young adulthood filled him with a nagging feeling of incompleteness that he simply could not get rid of. He had no idea what the feeling stemmed from, why it existed. Luckily, tranquil mornings like this suppressed the feeling, and focusing on a task, fishing for example, helped him forget about his insecurities- at least until night came around again.
These thoughts didn't cross Wake's mind as he habitually strolled beside the waves.
"Such a simple pattern," he thought, "breaking and washing ashore, receding and breaking again."
In a few hours all the fishermen would ungracefully rouse from their beds, greet each other as they joined at the docks, and set sail onto the open ocean. Right now, however, no boats floated for miles around. Wake liked the changeless view, the whitewash grey sky and the uniform ocean that stretched into the distance until they both converged at a bleary horizon. It was still early, and the early bird catches the worm, literally.
Wake chose a random spot on the beach, haphazardly laid his supplies in the sand, and surveyed the waves. Well, to be more specific, he surveyed the wet sand after the waves receded.
He looked for bubbles.
Tiny little holes in the sand bubbled rapidly the waves withdrew. Why? - Because there were hollow pockets of air underneath, underground dwellings of animals. Sifting through the sand, Wake could find all varieties of crustaceans and mollusks, in other words: live bait.
Each time the waves ebbed, Wake dug frantically at the holes, chasing the bubbles. In a little under an hour, he had collected a lively mix of sand fleas, bloodworms, and shellfish which he stored in a pail of water. Wake regarded these animals as mindless creatures. He didn't pity or look down on them; he just saw them for what they were, mindless creatures. Fish, too, were mindless creatures, reacting almost mechanically to their surroundings. They all existed merely for the purpose of living: eat, move around, and sleep.
"Do they actually sleep?" Wake thought to himself.
They were no more self-aware than a tree or shrub.
Gathering his supplies, fishing pole, line, and pails, he found a secluded spot on the dock. He figured not many people would disturb him there, but more importantly no one would disturb the fish. Taking a seat, he let his legs hang freely off the side of the dock, and then he began to equip the pole. With precision, he threaded the line through the crude metal rings and wrapped the leftover length in a coil. His rod was a simple contraption, but Wake used it all these years because it got the job done. As long as he got results, Wake didn't care whether he used three sailboats and a mesh net or a stick with a piece of string tied to it. Reaching into the bait-pail, he snatched a bloodworm. It wriggled helplessly between his fingers. Wake learned through trial and error that the best way to hook a bloodworm is through one end so it doesn't cut in half. The hook broke through its soft flesh and came out the other side. Dissatisfied, Wake took the other end of the end of the worm and hooked it as well.
"It's definitely not going to fall off now."
Everyone says it: "Patience is the key to fishing."
Although Wake agreed with this dictum, he liked to point out all tasks require some amount of patience. He also liked to add that using the right bait and picking the right spots can greatly increase one's chances. Right now, however, Wake wasn't thinking about statistics, percentages, or anything like that; in fact, he wasn't really thinking at all. The grey sky, grey water, and soundless village numbed his senses. Well, it wasn't entirely soundless. Even though the ocean was calm, miniature waves slapped against the beams that suspended the dock over the water. The wood was encrusted with barnacles and algae.
"A healthy coating of nature," thought Wake for moment before he resumed his flat stare.
There is a similarity between the desert, tundra, and ocean, one not many people realize: if clouds block the sun, it is nearly impossible to calculate the passage of time. About two hours had passed since Wake woke up, but everything looked pretty much the same. To say his surroundings were brighter wouldn't be an accurate description; they were "less dark."
The impenetrable layer of clouds blotted the sun and instead cast down dreary pale light that painted the world in different shades of grey. The colorless morning coupled with the nonexistent passage of time lulled Wake into what some people call boredom.
Finally, a tugging tension on the line quickly erased this boredom, and Wake began to reel in the catch. He clamped the pole in between his legs and used his free hands to pull in the line. No matter how many fish he caught, the blood pumping exhilaration never ceased.
"Hours of boredom for seconds of excitement," the Old Man always joked.
The line broke the surface with a splash.
The seaweed-like plant causes the disappointment of fishermen everywhere. The sight of kelp at the end of the line always leads to subsequent groans and curses. Wake's blood boiled as he ripped the kelp off the hook and chucked it back into the water. He also realized the blood worm was gone, which annoyed him even more. Turning to his bait pail, he noticed something out of the corner of his eye, a fuzzy white object. Whatever it was seemed to notice him and darted behind a bush. Wake concluded it was probably a piece of cloth or some leaves blowing in the wind. He didn't consider the fact that the wind was nonexistent this morning. Nevertheless, he turned around and resumed his fishing.
Once again, the rhythmic resonance of the waves washing ashore tempered his concentration. In the beginning, he straightened his back and rigidly focused on the line bobbing in the distance. Time passed, and he gradually hunched over, barely able to keep his eyes open. This was the way of things on a cloudy, uneventful day. Hours passed without a catch or a single tug of the line.
Ripples signaled a slight disturbance on the surface of the water, and this sparked Wake's attention. A fish was eyeing the bait, contemplating whether or not to eat it. Wake never understood why some fish decided not to take the bait. To him, they were mindless creatures whose purpose was to exist, and existence required eating.
Did they see their "friends" get caught?
Did this frighten them? - Of course not.
Fishes' memories don't operate the same way humans' do. Fish act solely on chemical impulse. That's how schools of fish swim in synchronization, as a unit. The rippling on the surface subsided. The fish made its choice, and luckily for Wake, it chose to take the bait.
From the tension in the line, Wake gauged that it was a medium-sized fish. Routinely, he wound the line into a coil, slowly and methodically dragging in the catch. Underwater, the animal writhed and thrashed, frantically trying to escape. About ten feet from the dock, the fish broke the surface. Once he got a hold on it, he removed the hook and turned around to put the catch in the net. He liked to keep his fish alive for as long as he could, so he usually put them in a net with a drawstring, tied the net to the dock, and hung it in the water off to the side. He was about to do this, but when he turned around he encountered something that made him stop.
A tiny bird looked up at him. It was barely the size of a fist, and it had pure white feathers; it looked like a puffy piece of cotton. The unanticipated guest ruffled it's feathers and cocked its head.
"Ummm...hi little bird thing? Nice to meet you?" said Wake.
The bird, as if answering, pointed its beak at the fish in his hand.
Wake recognized what the bird was proposing.
"I don't know. I've been at this for hours and this is my only catch."
The bird, which was really just a chick, seemed to understand every word he said, and it wasn't about to take no for an answer.
It flapped its wings and bounced up and down, pleading for some food.
"No really. I swear if I catch another one, I promise you can have it."
Wake looked over his shoulder at the ocean that had been less than generous, and the bird realized, too, that another catch was doubtful. The little bird cocked its head to the other side, then, with a flurry of feathers, popped off the dock and landed directly on Wake's head. There, it folded its wings and sat as if Wake's hair was a nest.
"Oh, I see how it is," said Wake sarcastically.
The bird didn't really bother him, and Wake found the whole situation to be entertaining; therefore, he continued fishing and let the little guy chill on his head. It was an odd sight, a skinny kid with a downy white lump protruding from his black hair. The bird made surprisingly good company.
"I've never seen a bird like you around here," said Wake, making idle conversation.
"You're kind of odd, but I guess that's something we have in common."
Wake shifted around and repositioned himself.
"Aren't you afraid of me? I'm really big compared to you."
The little bird continued staring out over the ocean. It seemed to like the vantage point from atop Wake's head.
Out of nowhere, the line went taut.
Wake's heart jumped as he jolted up.
"Looks like we got one!"
He reeled in the line, and sure enough he had caught another medium-sized fish.
The little bird hopped down from its "nest" and gave Wake a smug look.
"Okay fine, I promised."
Wake unhooked the fish and gave it to the bird. The bird was probably one-third the size of fish, but somehow it took it in its beak and flew off behind a bush. Wake scratched his head and wondered how that was physically possible. Moments later, the little white bird returned and took its post back on top of Wake's head.
"Did you eat that entire fish already!?" asked Wake.
The bird never answered, although it did feel significantly heavier than before. The boy rigged up another hook and cast it into the water. Before long, he caught another fish. He couldn't believe his luck when he caught another after that. Within an hour he caught ten fish, all decently sized.
After the tenth catch, Wake said, "I'm impressed. It looks like you're my new good luck charm."
As always the bird remained silent.
Even the sun began to peak through the clouds, and by the end of the day a calming glow warmed Wake's skin. Pole slung over his right shoulder, pails in both hands, and bird on head, Wake took his time as he headed back to the Old Man's hut. At one point, he had to set down the pails because there were so many fish. All the while, the little bird didn't leave him, which was kind of odd. At first Wake thought the bird just wanted some food scraps, but the fact that it stayed made the boy wonder. He didn't really question it because deep down he enjoyed the company.
"Hey! Look what I got!" exclaimed Wake as he entered the hut.
The Old Man looked up from a rudder he was fixing.
"That looks like a lot of fish. Mind grilling some for me?"
Wake set the pails to the side.
"No not the fish, check this out!"
He lowered his head, and the little bird hopped onto the floor.
"Oh my..." gasped the Old Man.
He gently scooped up the chick in his hands.
Delicately, he ran his fingers over its soft hatchling feathers.
"Do you have any idea what kind of bird this is, boy?"
Wake thought for a second.
"Baby sea raven?"
The Old Man shook his head.
"Sea ravens are black, even as chicks."
He flattened his hand, and the little bird hopped onto the wooden table.
"This is an osprey-dove."
"An osprey-dove?" Wake raised an eyebrow.
"Aye, I've only seen 'em once in my life before you brought this one in."
"I've never heard of an osprey-dove," said Wake, slightly ashamed.
The Old Man's eyes glistened as he watched the little bird poke around.
"They are very rare. Legends say osprey-doves are guides of the sea. On stormy nights their white feathers reflect moonlight as they lead forsaken ships to safety. They are intelligent, powerful creatures."
Wake took a good look at the feather-ball pecking around the hut.
He couldn't believe the awkward little bird was a rare "Sea Guardian."
The Old Man continued, "An osprey-dove is a master predator. When they grow up they have razor sharp beaks and strong talons. They can fly faster than the wind and dive deep to catch fish."
The little bird seemed to lose interest in the hut and it returned to its post on top of Wake's head.
The Old Man chuckled.
"Looks like this one's taken a liking to you."
Wake smiled. He had begun to like the osprey-dove, too. He admired the bird, not a mindless fish or a squirming bloodworm, but an intelligent predator that can think and calculate. Well, it was still a baby, but Wake liked to think it wouldn't grow up to be just a larger cotton ball. He also liked to think he made a new friend, a friend he had many things in common with. He figured both of them liked to fish, at least.
That night, the osprey-dove slept on Wake's head. Oddly enough, Wake fell asleep without tossing and turning. The little weight calmed him down and helped him breathe easily. Before long, he was fast asleep. From then on, Wake and his new friend did pretty much everything together. The boy with black hair caught fish and the little bird kept him company in return. The two had many one-sided conversations.
Wake didn't think of the osprey-dove as his pet, not at all. Just as Wake wasn't the Old Man's son, the bird certainly wasn't Wake's pet. They were just great friends. The bird could do as he pleased, just like Wake. Eventually, Wake felt awkward referring to his friend as "bird-brain," "featherball," or "winged-beast of terror," so he decided to give him a name. He didn't want it to be some random name either. He wanted to choose a name that described his friend, and that's why he named the osprey-dove "Hunter."
For the collective works of the author, go here.