The Barrow Pike

Heavy with spawn, she rested below Athy’s Horsebridge. Melodies of a distant shoal drifted by. An old familiar tune, dancing Rudd. Moving upriver, she took advantage of the competing swirls, navigating from reed-bed to rock till she glimpsed the first flickers of fin and dived for cover. She lay perfectly still and peered from the reeds. A shoal of about thirty Rudd circled only meters from her snout. She watched as the skating sparkles of light danced with fiery red fins, tempting her with each enchanting to-and-fro. The larger fish circled the perimeter with cautious eyes scrutinising in detail every drifting insect. The younger ones sucked at anything that wriggled. Fluffy bread, chocolate flavoured ground-bait and wriggly maggots were far too tempting for the innocent Rudd. She watched on. They dipped, bobbed and dined. Between the flickers and flashes, she spied a large Red Fin. It rested on the river bed, lifeless and still. A mature Rudd, a fine meal. She sailed forward as terror struck the shoal. Flashes of sliver and red shot in every direction as she claimed her prize find. Twisting the fish head-first to swallow, the fisherman struck. An intense pain penetrated deep into her soul. A war cry rang out from above the waterline. Water-creatures rushed the reeds as the river bed became a vicious battleground. The fight was on. She turned and powered, grinding hard with razor sharp teeth. The pain fought back, pulling against every driving thump of her powerful tail. It was relentless. Pounding deeper and deeper, her captor battled back, drawing her closer and closer with each turn of the reel. Tiring, she broke the surface. The blinding light could not hide the dark shadows that screamed from the grassy bank. She dove with a burst but her strength was waning. Failing to reach the dark depths, the taut line wrenched her upward once more. She surfaced. Lying portside, her gills fought the poisonous air as the landing net drew down upon her in a wicked swoop. Caught in the hessian cage, she lay exhausted and breathless on the grassy bank. A dog screamed and barked. With pliers and utensils, her torturer went to work, ripping at the various hooks. Each twist and jerk tore the barbed spikes from her one at a time. Her agony ran deep. With no fight left, she submitted as her body went limp. The heavy spawn she carried poured onto the ground as she felt all life leave her body. It grew dark. The excited voice of her captor dimmed as a drowning guilt began to take hold. Spawn covered and remorseful he rushed to steady her in the flowing water. Pleading with the day, he pulled her against the current, fighting to draw the life-giving water through her gills but her body floated lifelessly. He could not win this battle. Surrendering to defeat, he released his grip. Dejected, a drop of shameful regret fell from his eye and circled on the surface. All love for rod and reel, drifted and died. Her lifeless body, reclaimed by the Barrow.