Catch of the Day
He couldn’t believe he was here, let alone here this early, but on a day like today, he had to be. The fortified steel gates would open bright and early at six, but Francis knew to be in line no later than five, otherwise waking before sunrise would be for naught. So there he stood, hands wrapped around a Venti Mocha Macchiato, feeling its warmth as an arctic wind roared in from Elliott Bay, cutting straight to his bone marrow. He, and what felt like a hundred other harebrained people, waited for Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market to open for their annual “Catch of the Day” competition.
Twelve hours earlier, in the warmth of his apartment, the concept had seemed entirely plausible. Now, Francis wasn’t so sure. All he had to do was catch more fish hurled at him in two minutes than everyone else – simple enough. He had lived in Seattle all his life, had been to Pike Place at least a thousand times, and had seen countless tourists step up and try their hand at flinging fish like a pro. Little did they know, they likely wouldn’t be among the miniscule 6% of people who could actually toss a ten-pound trout. The rest left the market empty-handed, with their sneakers covered in fish guts. So why was he here then? He didn’t even like fish! It was the prize that kept him in line – twenty pounds of fresh Pacific-caught fish a week for the rest of his life.
Francis owned Moore’s, a struggling family restaurant not far from the waterfront. He was always looking for ways to eliminate expenses to help his business stay afloat, and his seafood budget was one of the highest. He had his excuse for being stuck in this cold, but what were the others going to do with so much fish? Jesus Himself didn’t even eat twenty pounds of the stuff a week. Surely, everyone had their reasons, or they hadn’t thought far enough ahead to know where they’d store nine kilos of carp.
The throng of people behind him began to stir in the way that tells you something’s about to happen. The tall walls of steel began to move in unison as the line of people surged forward. A set of ropes was strung from the wide entrance down to a single-file line at the dock, corralling people like heifers on the way to slaughter. Once at the front, everyone received a number and gathered in the market to eye their competition. Francis kept his overcoat snug, hiding the secret weapons he hoped would help him win.
The mob of contestants were registered, numbered, and instructed on the rules in less than twenty minutes. Spectators took their positions in the erected bleachers and the competition was underway. Francis’s early arrival had paid off; he was number eleven. The ten people in front of him caught an average of six fish due to cold, numb hands, wet conditions, and lack of experience in the mechanics of catching carcasses.
Francis’s number was called and he took his position after allowing the overworked crew to squeegee away as many fish parts as possible. The fish flingers readied their ammo as Francis flung off his overcoat, throwing it aside. The assembled crowd gasped as they saw the two broken-in catcher’s mitts tightly fixed to his hands. He smiled and took his defensive position, not knowing if the gloves would help or hurt his chances of success. Before he could consider it, the first fish was arcing above him, and homing in like a laser-guided missile. Francis snatched at the falling fish, the leather gloves providing the perfect traction to stop it. He felt a mix of shock and surprise, but there was no time to spare, the next one was already coming at him. His muscles blazed as he continued to catch what flew towards him for two minutes, losing count as he focused on the fish missiles.
A bell rang, yanking Francis back to reality. Cheers and applause filled the market as he looked up at the scoreboard: 31 / 0. Surprised, Francis smiled at the spectators and caught a number of dirty gazes from his fellow contestants. His shirt soaked with reeking fish juice, he stepped off the stage wearing a gigantic grin. The idea had been simple enough, but somehow, no one else had thought of it. Francis watched as more contenders tried, and failed, to surpass his record. Some left without trying, deciding it was no use.
“Up next, number seventy-one!” the emcee bellowed to the crowd as a burly, stone-faced man made his way to the front. Francis watched as the oaf grunted, snatching at every fish, but catching only three. He rubbed his clammy hands together as the oaf stormed off the stage, giving Francis a look sharper than the market smelled. His heart raced as the last two competitors walk away defeated.
With a jubilant trot, Francis once again made his way to the makeshift stage, watching as the third place winner accepted a Pike Place trucker hat and keychain, while the second place winner walked away with a t-shirt and a sloshing, family-sized bucket of fish chowder. They both clapped, unconvincingly, as Francis accepted the oversized “Fish For Life” cardboard coupon. Smiling in disbelief, he thrust it triumphantly over his head as the crowd roared with cheers.
Andrew Wiedenhofer grew up in the littlest state of Rhode Island. With scant entertaining offerings in such a small state, he spent most of his time reading books about knights in far off kingdoms, kids detectives solving the latest neighborhood mystery, and galaxies in the need of a space warrior. When he wasn’t reading he built forts and pretended the refrigerator box was a spaceship. As he grew his stories only slightly matured to books about the history of King Arthur’s Reign, the latest Stephen King thriller, and the adventures of Doctor Who and his companions. Now living north of Boston, Andrew spends most of his time writing business documents, press releases, and HTML code as the Communications and Public Relations Director of a non-profit agency supporting individuals with disabilities.
© 2015 Window Cat Press