The Flittiest Catch
"Black eyes," says the captain. "Like a doll's eyes, 'cause, you know," he shrugs, "they were dolls." He takes a drag from a hand-rolled cigarette, holds his breath, then lets the smoke steam from his mouth. "Had me some strange catches in these seas."
He offers the cigarette to the cameraman. "Toke? It's my own blend of Jamaican red hair and peyote." The captain grins. "Makes trans-dimensional fishing possible. We've got a galley full of snacks if you get the munchies."
He rubs his bleary eyes. "Wish I had robots. Robots are good. Robots are used to repetition. Robots don't complain." The captain sighs. "But they refuse to accept the existence of..." He waves his hand at the view outside the wheelhouse window. "All of this."
Pink and purple clouds billow beyond the ship. Zeppelin-sized balloons attached port and starboard hold the vessel aloft. Sailors, wearing slickers, scramble over the deck, going about their tasks—each man has a doobie hanging from their lip. An undulating rainbow looms, then crashes into the side of the boat, showering the crew with multicolored sprinkles.
A deckhand hurls a grapple attached to a rope over the side of the boat, then quickly hauls it back, popping a hooked line into winch blocks. The men wait as the line winds over the side.
As the last of the line is hauled aboard, a metal cage breaches the clouds and bangs against the side of the ship. Denby, the deck boss, works a crane to swing the trap over the side, and crewmen dump the catch onto a metal sorting table. Tiny, golden-winged fairies slip and slide over its surface.
"Not a bad haul," says the captain before punching an intercom. "Set it back."
Below, a crewman nods, scrambling to the trap to switch an empty bait sack for one stuffed with yellow marshmallow PEEPS®.
The captain chuckles. "Sugar gets fairies drunker than skunks. Don't even mind when we catch 'em."
On deck, the crew vacuum shimmering dust off the fairies. One man dumps a bin of wriggling, harvested fairies back over the side of the boat.
"Pixie dust," says the captain. "The king of all sweeteners. The more you eat, the less you weigh. It's like we're sucking gold off these critters!"
His face turns grim. "But it ain't all fun and games. The fleet loses two men a month, on average. Some fall overboard..." He shakes his head. "Most jump. All the psych tests in the world ain't worth barnacles." The captain points to the swirling clouds outside. "Until you're actually here, you can't know how you're going to react. People don't understand how bad every fiber of your being is begging for you to jump ship so you can go prancing about with the unicorns, elves, and whatever else is down there."
He pounds a fist on a chart covered table. "Mate of mine— fished with him for twenty-five years—up and jumps one day. Man goes overboard, you got maybe ten minutes, fifteen tops, to get them back before they're lost."
The captain holds a hand to the camera, splaying his fingers. "My mate was gone five MONTHS before he found his way back to reality—most don't come back at all—and in that time, the fairies had taken thirty years from him. THIRTY YEARS!"
He shakes his head. "Cops found him wandering in a hardware store in Boise, buck naked. No one could hardly recognize him. He had a body of a teenager and a teenaged hard-on to go with it. Said he needed a hammer and nails to build a house for some wood nymph he'd met in Never Land."
The captain looks away. "Creeped me out when I saw his smile. I mean, the man had a wife, another wife, five kids, a mortgage, responsibilities. All that, just torn away."
He is quiet for several seconds, then straightens in his chair and points out the window. "Looks like they're going to prank the greenhorn. Should be good."
On deck, a young sailor holds a pixie to his ear.
"Probably told him a fairy will whisper his future if he listens close," says the captain, leaning forward in his chair.
Below, the young man shrieks and claps a hand to his head.
The captain guffaws. "Those little bastards have some sharp teeth," he says, slapping his knee. "Heard on one boat, they got a greenhorn to stick a fairy down his—"
Suddenly, he leaps from his seat and jams a thumb on the intercom. "MAN OVERBOARD! Denby jumped!"
The captain shoves past the cameraman to rumble down the wheelhouse stairs. "Damned if I'm losin' anyone today!" he shouts.
The cameraman follows, stumbling his way down the stairs. Below, the captain is bolting out of a hatch as the camera pans the scene. Moments later, the captains runs back in. "They got him, by God! Bring him in!" he calls over his shoulder before sweeping the remnants of breakfast from a galley table.
Deckhands carry Denby through the hatch—a deflated weather balloon reading EMERGENCY FLOTATION is still attached to his back.
"So sparkly," the deck boss babbles. "I saw fields of puppies. Mommy, can I have a puppy?"
With practiced haste, a sailor unbolts a kit from the wall. Inside is a can of beer, a screwdriver, and a DVD. He punches the screwdriver into the can, and the captain takes the beer and holds it to Denby's mouth, then pops the top. Another crewman slips the DVD into a player, and the screen flickers to life.
Denby sputters on the beer.
"That's it, son," says the captain, "Drink."
"Magically delicious," says Denby, beer dripping down his chin. He stares at the TV. "So pretty."
On the screen, a bikini-clad woman straps a helmet to her head and climbs aboard a monster truck. She revs the engine, and with a Dukes of Hazard scream, drives through a minigolf course, leaving crushed plastic clowns and windmills behind. The scene shifts to more bikini-clad woman playing volleyball.
"So pretty," repeats the deck boss. His eyes widen. "So... frickin' HOT!"
Evident relief washes over the captain's face, and the crew high-five each other.
"We got him back," says the captain to the camera. "He's going to be OK."
After several minutes of hugs and tears, the crew helps Denby to his bunk and the captain makes his way back to the wheelhouse. His hands shake as he grips the ship's wheel.
"They tell you there will be days like this on these seas," he says. "They don't tell you how many."
On deck, the sailors are already back to their tasks. A flock of flying monkeys now circles above them, flinging poo.
"But this is the job," says the captain. "Shit happens."