A Tarpon In the Night (part 1)

The 25-foot boat is rocking port to starboard, and after the captain baits the hook with the head of a catfish, I cast it out into Tarpon Bay. We are fishing for tarpon, a large long silvery sport fish. It has a fierce reputation as a strong fighting fish. It is not edible.

“Rrrring, rrring, rrring,” the cell phone in my pocket begins to ring. The captain turns and shakes his head at me.

“I thought you were going to turn that off,” he barks. The other vacationers in my party laugh.

“Ring, ring, ring, ring,” my smart phone on the nightstand next to my bed rings. Is this the dream? I open my eyes, but I am confused and look around. The phone continues to ring, and I am not in Florida on vacation. The charger is next to my bed and I always keep it on overnight. I live in an earthquake zone.

“Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring,” I reach for my glasses and pick up the phone. Who the hell calls at 3:00 am? I look at the number, but it’s unfamiliar. It could be a friend or family in trouble, so I answer. “Hello.”

“Uhhhrrrr,” I hear a low growl, splashing, and gurgling.

“Hello.” No answer except for the moan. “HELLO,” still nothing, and I disconnect.

“Ring, ring, ring.”

“Hello, who is this?” I hang up and look at the display on the handset. It’s the same number as before.

“Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring,”

“Screw this,” I say out loud to myself and turn the phone off. It’s at about 80%, so I leave it plugged in.

The next night, I am asleep at 11:30, and the same dream begins. I am on a fishing charter in Tarpon Bay. The captain, Neville Buckles or “Bucky,” explains what to do if we feel or see a jerk on the line. I am in the boat with my girlfriend’s family, her mother, her brother, and her sister.

I am not much of a fisherman. I’ve not been since i was a kid with Dad fishing for perch at Lake Worth. I caught my share with my brother and sister, and except for taking the fish off the hook, I had a lot of fun. I would get cut with its fin and drop the fish on the hard clay shoreline. My brother always helped me until the end of our day when I got the hang of it. Dad strung our catch and carried it home. My Mom was not too happy and would not clean, cook, or eat them. She couldn’t even watch and would leave the room; the smell alone made her sick. She ate something else long after we finished. Dad cleaned and fried them in a corn mill crust. My sister didn’t like it much after the first bite, but my Dad, brother, and I loved it. The bluegills had an extremely strong fish flavor and were difficult to eat. A Bluegill perch is a small fish with lots of small bones. I don’t remember eating them more than once or twice. Catch and release was our new mantra before it became popular with game fish.

“PAY ATTENTION!” The captain yells at me after the line pops again. “Get your head in the came, she’s paying for this, not you.” He points a pair of pliers at my girlfriends mother. She and her husband met at college in south Florida and supplemented their diet with their own wild-caught fish.

Not a fisherman, and not confident enough to tell the captain to “fuck off,” I focus solely on the line, all the time whispering to myself, “don’t let it be me, I don’t want to catch a fish.”

“Ring, ring, ring.”

“I thought you turned that off.” The captain barks again.

“Ring, ring,”

I open my eyes, and I am not in Florida. It’s the same dream as the night before.

“Ring, Ring, Ring.”

“What the fuck? Again?” I pick up the phone, “hello.” I hear water splashing and gurgling. “HELLO.” I hear muffled voices. I can’t make them out and then a deep exhale. “FUCK YOU,” I hang up the phone and look at the clock on my night stand, 2:30 A.M.

“Ring, Ring, Ring.”

I look at the number. It’s the same as the night before. I click not to answer and disconnect. I press 411# to call my service provider; if I am up, then they’re going to have to get up and me with this.

“Hello, your call is important to us, so please stay on the line for the next available service representative.” The vox-automaton answers for Vital Frontier Communications (VFC) cell service. “You are next in the queue, and we can help you in about 2 minutes. Thank you for being patient.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I answer to the recording. I wonder who the hell else could be up.

“Hello, this is Venus; how can I help?” A high lilting voice with a mid-western accents asks.

“Venus?” I bite the tip of my tongue not to snicker.

“Yes, how can I help you?” Still chipper, she asks again.

“I am sorry,” I snicker quietly through my nose; my tongue isn’t sensitive enough this early in the morning. “Is that your real name?” I can’t believe I am asking, and her name breaks the momentum of my anger.

“Uhhh, no. It’s my avatar. VFC’s policy doesn’t let us disclose our identities.”

“I’m sorry, it threw me off for a moment,” my voice is calm, light even, and I can almost hear her smile. “I keep getting these prank phone calls at 2:30 a.m. It’s been going on for two nights, and I’m not able to get back to sleep afterwards. Can you block a number or something to keep them from calling.”

“Let me check your account. I will need your name and your mother’s maiden name.”

“Yes, Donovan Sterling and Voorhees.”

“Ok, it looks like you just received a call from 555-731-4957. Do you know anyone at that number?” She asks.

“No.”

“I am sorry, I have to ask twice; it’s also policy. Do you know anyone at 555-731-4957?” Venus repeats her question.

“No problem” I yawn loudly, “sorry. No i don’t know anyone at the number you stated.” The time of night is catching up, and talking to someone pleasant, has broken my thought spiral on this prank or whatever.

“OK. It looks like you’ve received calls from this same number for the last five nights for very short durations.”

“Really? I only answered yesterday and today.” I left my phone at the office once, downstairs in the living room, and the third night, I was out partying with friends.

“I will block the number 555-731-4957 and you shouldn’t have any more problems with late night calls from 555-731-4957.” She says.

“Great, thank you very, very much. I should be able to catch up on my sleep now.” I am relieved.

“Is there anything else that I can help you with Mr. Sterling?” She asks.

“No, no, unless you can pass some warm milk through the handset.”

She giggles for a second, “no, I am sorry that is not in our policy, but thank you for using Vital Frontier Communications. and feel free to call back with any other problems. Goodnight.”

I laugh back, “Ok, goodnight.”

Tonight I am going to sleep like dead RAM. It’s been how many days since I slept through the night? I ask in my thoughts. 5 or so, I think; I am too fucking exhausted to remember.

I am fast asleep as soon as I lay my head on the pillow. I am in Florida again, the same as before. I must have issues in this dream, but each time it advances a bit? I am sitting on the boat, reel in hand and Captain Bucky is pacing from fisherman to fisherman, checking gear and progress. I think to myself, not me, please don’t let it be me.

I feel the line tug before I see it and pull back hard and fast on the rod. Captain Bucky-Bly scrambles over to my position.

“I think you’ve got….”

“Rrring, rrring, rrring, ring, ring.”

“One, easy don’t pull too hard or it may come out of his mouth. Wind it in slowly.” He laughs and looks up to the sky, and shakes his head.

“Oh SHIT,” I say as a massive silver fish breaches the surface about 40 yards away. It almost pulls the rod out of my hands.

“Ring, ring, ring, ring.” I mumble and reach over to my phone. I am extremely groggy.

“Yes?” I am thinking about the fishing line. “Hello, HELLO!” The image dissipates quickly. I hear the same gurgling, and the voices are clearer. It’s as if I am listening to someone under water.

“..et the ine, ith th lif ing.”

“HELLO,” I yell into the receiver, “who the hell is this?” A chill runs down my body; I am soaking from sweat. “HELLO.” The sound on the the fades hollow, like listening to a conch shell. “HELLO.” Nothing, so I disconnect. I go to the missed calls list, and it is the same number again. “Dammit,” I say out loud. I dial 411#, and wait for the recording to finish. I punch zero.

“A customer service representative will be with you shortly.” A Muzak version of “Fly Like an Eagle” ends.

“Hello this is Venus. How can I help you Mr. Sterling?”

“Hi, yes, are you the same Venus that I was talking to last night?”

“Uh, yes Mr. Sterling.”

“Do you remember the problem that I’ve been having for the last week?” I ask.

“Let me look it up, one moment please Mr. Sterling.” She answers.

“Yes.” I don’t know if I need to respond and she sends back to the phone queue. It is playing the same song, Steve Miller’s, Fly Like an Eagle, only with a Cuban flair. I wait for 2 or 3 minutes.

“Mr. Sterling.”

“Yes.”

“I’ve read the service request and Vital Frontier has put a block on the number 555-731-4957. It is in effect now.”

“OK, they why I am still receiving calls from 555-731-4957? This is the 6th night someone has called and woken me up. What the hell is going on?”

“I am sorry Mr. Sterling, but please refrain from colorful language. This conversation may be recorded.”

“I’m sorry Venus. I am extremely frustrated. Is their a wait before the block goes into effect?”

“No. A block goes into effect immediately.” She answers.

“Then what’s going on?”

“Hum, I don’t see a record of your line receiving any calls tonight.” She inquires

“I just received it. I am looking at the missed call number right now.”

“One moment please.” I am back on the phone tree for another two minutes. “I am so sorry Mr. Sterling, it must be a glitch with your phone. I can see it register in our virtual version of your phone, but not on the company incoming call list for your account. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

“So it may be my phone?” I am almost relieved.

“Yes. I will have to advance your service request to a technical supervisor.” She answers.

“Tonight?” I am still desperate.

“No. We don’t have anyone on duty at this hour, but out technical supervisor can call you tomorrow. Or, you can go by our service center on Van Ness and have them take a look at the it.”

“Ok. It think I would prefer that. I will do it over lunch. Oh wait, I’ve a business lunch tomorrow, so it will have to be two days. Will they know about the problem?”

“Yes Mr. Sterling, they should be able to pull it up with your phone number and I will place an alert on your account with the note that you are dropping by in two days at lunch. The techs should be able to help you immediately.” She answers.

“Great. Thanks again.”

“Is there anything else that I can help you with Mr. Sterling?”

“No.”

“Thanks for choosing Vital Frontier Communications. I am sure the service center will be able to solve the problem.”

“Thank you, goodbye.” I disconnect and lay back in my bed. I am too keyed up to sleep and I keep thinking about the fishing trip. I wonder why I keep dreaming about it. The last time I vacationed in Florida with my sister, brother, and their kids, we didn’t go sport fishing. We fished for parrot fish in mangroves on the Tarpon Bay canoe trail. No sooner did you drop a line then a fish would strike. We were fishing with worms and the parrot fish were very small. The fishing was strictly catch and release. My nephews had a blast, and we could hardly keep them in the canoes. They tipped over once, and jumped up laughing and screaming about alligators. It was funny. The mangrove trail was only about a foot and a half deep, and we hadn’t seen an alligator all morning. I have to admit, even I was enjoying it.

It was a good trip.

(To read part 2, click here.)

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