If Wishes Were Fishes

by Carolyn G. Lynn

"CARPICA! FISHING CAPITAL OF THE WORLD!"! the placard had blared. "OUR WATERS ARE SO FULL OF FISH, YOU COULD WALK FROM ONE SHORE TO THE NEXT OVER THEIR BACKS AND NEVER TOUCH WATER! FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY, JUST TEN DINARS GETS YOU A MAP TO YOUR VERY OWN PRIVATE POOL STOCKED WITH AN ASTONISHING VARIETY OF TASTY FISH!! ... OFFER VOID IN THE KINGDOMS OF VYRGINIA, BASSOPOLIS, GOLDFISHBOWLIS, AND NEWTZEELYN."

"Yeah, right. And I've got a Colossus in Rhodes I'd like to sell you," grumbled Iolaus.

He sighed heavily and gave his fishing line a half hearted tug. The movement created the smallest of ripples across the otherwise glass-smooth surface of the tiny pool's crystal blue waters.

The ad had sounded too good to pass up and Iolaus had bought the sales pitch hook, line and sinker. He'd also shelled out 10 dinars for the promised map that would show the way to his "private" oasis, chock full of fish waiting to be caught.

"You're throwing your money away," warned Hercules after a cursory glance at the map. "There is no such place."

"You're just jealous that I got to the map first," said Iolaus smugly.

"You might just as easily have given your dinars to Autolycus and had the same result."

"Oh yeah?" replied Iolaus eloquently. "Well, let's see what you have to say when I bring in a few dozen fish for dinner from my very own private fishing pool!"

"You're on."

"Huh?"

"A fabulous fish dinner," explained Hercules with a mischievous grin. "It's on you."

"Uh ... right! Sure! One fabulous fish dinner, coming up!" exclaimed Iolaus confidently. "You'll see, Herc! This will be the best 10 dinars I ever spent!"

Now, sitting alone on the damp, grassy shores of his "private pool," Iolaus was acutely aware of the loss of the weight of 10 dinars in his money pouch. He'd arrived at the crack of dawn with his pole and line in hand; early enough for even the fish to be sleeping -- all the better to catch them unawares. When he broke through the brush and got his first glimpse of the fabled site it was accompanied by a twinge of disappointment. The first orange-gold rays of the sun reflected off the placid waters of a puddle. The pool was no larger than a communal well. Iolaus could easily have leaped from one shore to the next and back again without fear of touching water.

Iolaus' initial disappointment was quickly dispelled by his natural good humor and optimism -- not to mention his fear of hearing Hercules say those dreaded words, "I told you so." Determined to bring back the most bountiful fish dinner Hercules had ever laid eyes upon, Iolaus found a reasonably comfortable looking patch of moss and settled down for a morning of serious fishing.

Nine hours later, with the sun beginning its homeward descent, Iolaus stared bleary-eyed at the traitorous pool. Not a single fish had been tempted by his line nor had he seen the slightest movement beneath the water's surface. He'd even gone so far as to walk into the pool and grope around bare-handed in the hopes of catching at least one scaly morsel but the water only crested his knees.

Iolaus threw down his pole in frustration, its line and lure still submerged. Nine hours and not a single fish to show for it. Not even the flash of a fin!

Maybe I misread the map!, he thought. But another consultation with the crude ink lines on the rumpled piece of parchment dispelled all hope. He was exactly where he was supposed to be.

He was going back to camp empty handed. What could be more depressing than the promise of going to bed without supper AND hearing Hercules pronounce those dreaded words, "I told you so?"

"Better go ahead and get it over with," sighed Iolaus. He reached down to retrieve his discarded fishing pole and nearly jumped back when it was jerked out of his hand! The flexible willow-wood instrument started to slide into the water. Something was tugging on the line!

Iolaus dropped to his knees and caught the pole's shaft before it could vanish completely. It resisted his efforts to pull it back.

"YES!!" exclaimed Iolaus as he tipped back off of his knees and sat down heavily in the muck of the shore. At last, he had a bite!!

"Maybe I won't .... umph! ... have to go back ... empty handed .... ugh ... after all!!" The tug on the pole started to drag Iolaus across the grass.

"What the ...?? How big is this thing, anyway?" Digging in his heels, he wrestled the pole back out of the water. "No you don't!" he exclaimed, and fought the tremendous pull on the line.

As Iolaus regained possession of the pole, slowly the shaft began to rise out of the water until it was a beautifully bowed arc with a taut line.

This fish was going to be a whopper!! He kept the tension on the line, inching backward and refusing to give in to his opponent. Alert and aware for the slightest change, he was ready to act when he felt the tension momentarily weaken. With a mighty pull, he yanked the fishing pole upward and back.

A silver gray projectile popped out of the water like a cork and flew through the air toward him. A moment later Iolaus had a lap full of squirming fish! He caught the line close to the gapping fish's mouth before the creature could slip back into the pool.

"Okay, so I only caught one fish," Iolaus laughed. "But what a fish!" He grasped the wriggling delicacy between both hands and looked it in the fishy eye. "Wait until Hercules sees you, my friend! You are going to be one very tasty dinner!"

The fish's eyes widened perceptibly. "Eat me?" it demanded in gargling voice. "Whaddaya mean, y'er gonna EAT me?!"

Astonished, Iolaus gaped at the fish.

The fish gaped back.

"You ... you talked to me!"

The fish gave a little shake of its head. "You see anyone else in this dump?"

"...No..."

"Then I must be talkin' to YOU, huh?"

"No ... I mean, yes!" Iolaus stared at his verbose companion.. A talking fish!

Well, why not? he asked himself. After all, he'd seen stranger, hadn't he? A talking dragon ... a talking half-woman/half deer ... how much more astonishing was a talking 40 pound fish with blue eyes?

"Okay, so now yer s'posed ta say sometin like, hey! How can a fish talk?"

Before Iolaus could ask exactly that, the fish snapped, "Don't, okay? I heard it before and it gets old after the first hundred times. Whaddaya say we save us some time here and cut to da chase? I got a schedule to keep."

If there was one thing Iolaus liked less than a talking fish, it was a *pushy* talking fish.

"That's right, you do," he replied decisively. "You're coming to dinner!"

"What, have I been talkin' to myself, here?" The fish flapped its fins in obvious frustration. "C'mon, buddy. You don' wanna eat ME. I'm a *special* fish! Whatcha call a Gift Horse, if'n ya knows what I mean."

The fish gave Iolaus a broad wink. It was almost more disturbing than the its ability to talk.

"Lemme go and I'll make it worth yer while."

"Enough to make up for nine hours of fishing and just you to show for it?"

"Even better! As ya can plainly see, I'm not yer ordinary run of the mill carp. I'm whatcha call a Wishing Fish."

"A what?"

"S'cuze me, but do you got wax in yer ears or what? A WISHING FISH!" In a more reasonable tone, he explained, "Lemme go, and I'll gives ya a wish fer free."

"A wish?"

"Absolutely, positively guaranteed," pronounced the carp. "One gen-you-whine wish. IF ya lets me go."

"Uh huh." Iolaus was dubious. He was pretty good at gauging the expression on people's faces to determine if they were telling the truth, but how in Hades did you determine if a talking *fish* was lying? "What's the catch?" he asked suspiciously.

The fish actually rolled its beady blue eyes in exasperation. "Y're kiddin' me, right? Whaddya think ya got in your mits, genius?"

"No, no! I mean .. there's a trick to this, right? There's more to this than my just letting you go again, isn't there?"

"Well," it squirmed, "Since you ask, I gotta tell you that there *are* a few rules."

"Thought so!"

"Hey, it ain't nuthin' like what you're thinking! This is strictly on the up and up." The fish waggled a fin over its glittering white belly. "As Poseidon is my witness. Just keep it simple and you'll be fine."

"Simple."

"Sure. You know, none of this wishing for world peace or more wishes."

Iolaus frowned. "Why not? They sound like perfectly good wishes to me."

"Why not?!" shrilled the fish in a very indignant tone. "What do I look like, ZEUS? I'm a *fish*, for crying out loud. Besides, that kinda wish is too general. In the wish biz we call 'em blanket wishes. Too BIG, ya know? Spreads the magic too thin. You'd be surprised what could go wrong with something that sounds as simple as 'world peace.' Da world's bigger than ya think! Besides, it concluded, It ain't a good idea ta go messin' with Ares' gig, ya know what I mean?"

"Better than you know," said Iolaus. He wasn't in any hurry to bump into Hercules half-brother anytime soon, especially after their last encounter!

"So, blondie ... what's it gonna be? Eat me, and I give ya indigestion. Lemme go, and I give ya any single wish yer heart desires."

A wish. Now that Iolaus allowed himself to give the idea serious consideration, he realized how daunting a decision such a thing truly was. What could he possibly wish for? Money? Power? Strength? All could be his with the utterance of a single heart's desire. Why, with a wish he could have absolutely anything he had ever craved -- and anyone he had ever coveted.

"I can bring someone back from the dead," said the fish helpfully. "Got an old sweetheart you're pining for? I can get her back for you! Want to see dear old dad again? Just say da word and it's done!"

"You can do that?"

"Sure can. I got a special deal goin' with Hades. I don't wanna brag, but Persephone is kinda sweet on me."

Iolaus found that doubtful but his scaly benefactor's suggestion did spark an idea for a wish. "What about a family?"

"What about it?"

"Can you bring a family back from the dead?" asked Iolaus eagerly, and hurried to explain, "I have a friend ... someone who means more to me than I could ever explain in words. His family was killed a few years ago -- his wife and three little children. Can you ... is it possible to bring them back? The way they were, before they were killed?"

The fish blinked its pale blue eyes at Iolaus and actually met the blonde warrior's earnest gaze. Instead of a flippant response, its reply was genuinely regretful. "I gotta say, dat's probably the noblest wish anyone's ever made in all my years in da wish biz. It really hurts me ta say dis but, no can do." The carp actually sighed. "Not that I wouldn't want to, mind. But it's like I said ... I'm just a fish and there's a limit to the size of the wishes I can give out, ya know? B'cuz of this special deal I got goin' with Hades, I can only restore one adult or two small kids from the Underworld. It's an either/or situation. Now, I could bring back this guy's *wife* and maybe they can make themselves some new kids..."

"No," said Iolaus quietly. A hint of tears glimmered within his blue eyes but did not fall. "I couldn't wish for Deianeira without the kids. And I couldn't wish for two of the children and leave the other and their mother behind."

"I'm really sorry 'bout dat," said the fish earnestly. "But hey, you can still go for one of the old standby wishes. You know? Money? Power?"

"Don't need or want them," said Iolaus honestly. "I don't suppose I could give the wish to someone else?"

"Non-transferrable. You caught me, you get da wish. Them's the rules." The fish thought for a moment, then said, "What about fame? You look like da hero type. How'd ya like to be more famous than, say, Hercules? I can do that, ya know!"

Iolaus allowed himself the smallest of smiles. "No thanks," he said. "I've actually had that offer before -- from Athena, as a matter of fact."

"And ya turned it down?! Man oh MAN, you are just *full* of surprises!" The fish flapped its fins in growing consternation. "There's gotta be SUMPTIN you want to wish for!"

"Nope," shrugged Iolaus. "Can't think of a thing."

"Not even one itty bitty wish?" it asked in alarm. "Come on, handsome. I got me a wife and kids -- LOTS a kids -- waitin' fer me back in da pool ...."

"Don't get your fins in a twist," laughed Iolaus. With a deft twist of his wrist, he broke the fishing line that anchored the fish to his pole.

"Hey! Whaddaya think yer doin?!"

"Letting you go."

"What? Just like that!?"

"Just like that," said Iolaus and unceremoniously dropped the carp back into the water.

It didn't wait on ceremony or offer so much as a thank you. With a flash of silver tale, it immediately dove into the clear blue waters and vanished from sight.

Iolaus watched his dinner swim away but didn't regret his decision. He would never have felt comfortable eating such an interesting conversationalist.

"So," said Hercules. The single word was eloquent.

"So," agreed Iolaus as he sat down on a tree stump and tossed aside his fishing pole. He held his hands palms outward toward the roaring camp fire and sighed as the warmth began to leach the early evening chill from his fingers.

"Did you find your fabulous fishing pool?"

"As a matter of fact, I did."

"And was it .. fabulous?"

Iolaus shrugged. "I suppose you could say that it was."

"I see." Hercules looked pointedly at Iolaus' discarded fishing pole and the absence of dinner. "Did you catch too many fish to carry back?"

"Ha!" snorted Iolaus. "I wish."

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the tiny campsite was illuminated by a brilliant flash of blue light and a deafening crash of thunder.

It rained fish for a full candlemark thereafter.

Big fish, little fish; sturgeon, flounder, jellyfish, catfish, trout, bass, and several varieties that neither Hercules nor Iolaus had ever set eyes and, in some cases, would rather not see again. By the time the "storm" was over, there was literally enough fresh, smoked, salted, and dried fish to feed several armies.

"Why do I have the feeling there's something you're not telling me?" asked Hercules as he stood knee-deep in fish.

Iolaus laughed. "Come on," he said as he gingerly stepped free of his personal fishy mound. "I'll tell you all about it over dinner. It's on me .... literally!!"

DISCLAIMER: Despite indications to the contrary, no fish were harmed in the writing of this story. However, several hundred members of the Fairytale Fish Fraternity went on strike to protest the use of body doubles.
11/22/97
C.Lynn

Go on to the next story in the challenge.


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