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«Jingo», Terry Pratchett

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It was a moonless night, which was good for the purposes of Solid Jackson.

He fished for Curious Squid, so called because, as well as being squid, they were curious. That is to say, their curiosity was the curious thing about them.

Shortly after they got curious about the lantern that Solid had hung over the stern of his boat, they started to become curious about the way in which various of their number suddenly vanished skywards with a splash.

Some of them even became curious – very briefly curious – about the sharp barbed thing that was coming very quickly towards them.

The Curious Squid were extremely curious. Unfortunately, they weren't very good at making connections.

It was a very long way to this fishing ground, but for Solid the trip was usually well worth it. The Curious Squid were very small, harmless, difficult to find and reckoned by connoisseurs to have the foulest taste of any creature in the world. This made them very much in demand in a certain kind of restaurant where highly skilled chefs made, with great care, dishes containing no trace of the squid whatsoever.

Solid Jackson's problem was that tonight, a moonless night in the spawning season, when the squid were especially curious about everything, the chef seemed to have been at work on the sea itself.

There was not a single interested eyeball to be seen. There weren't any other fish either, and usually there were a few attracted to the light. He'd caught sight of one. It had been making through the water extremely fast in a straight line.

He laid down his trident and walked to the other end of the boat, where his son Les was also gazing intently at the torchlit sea.

“Not a thing in half an hour,” said Solid.

“You sure we're in the right spot, Dad?”

Solid squinted at the horizon. There was a faint glow in the sky that indicated the city of Al-Khali, on the Klatchian coast. He turned round. The other horizon glowed, too, with the lights of Ankh-Morpork. The boat bobbed gently halfway between the two.

“'Course we are,” he said, but certainty edged away from his words.

Because there was a hush on the sea. It didn't look right. The boat rocked a little, but that was with their movement, not from any motion of the waves.

It felt as if there was going to be a storm. But the stars twinkled softly and there was not a cloud in the sky.

The stars twinkled on the surface of the water, too. Now that was something you didn't often see.

“I reckon we ought to be getting out of here,” Solid said.

Les pointed at the slack sail. “What're we going to use for wind, Dad?”

It was then that they heard the splash of oars.

Solid, squinting hard, could just make out the shape of another boat, heading towards him. He grabbed his boathook.

“I knows that's you, you thieving foreign bastard!”

The oars stopped. A voice sang over the water.

“May you be consumed by a thousand devils, you damned person!”

The other boat glided closer. It looked foreign, with eyes painted on the prow.

“Fished 'em all out, have you? I'll take my trident to you, you bottom-feedin' scum that y'are!”

“My curvy sword at your neck, you unclean son of a dog of the female persuasion!”

Les looked over the side. Little bubbles fizzed on the surface of the sea.

“Dad?” he said.

“That's Greasy Arif out there!” snapped his father, “You take a good look at him! He's been coming out here for years, stealing our squid, the evil lying little devil!”

“Dad, there's—”

“You get on them oars and I'll knock his black teeth out!”

Les could hear a voice saying from the other boat, “—see, my son, how the underhanded fish thief—”

“Row!” his father shouted.

“To the oars!” shouted someone in the other boat.

“Whose squid are they, Dad?” said Les.

“Ours!”

“What, even before we've caught them?”

“Just you shut up and row!”

“I can't move the boat, Dad, we're stuck on something!”

“It's a hundred fathoms deep here, boy! What's there to stick on?”

Les tried to disentangle an oar from the thing rising slowly out of the fizzing sea.

“Looks like a… a chicken, Dad!”

There was a sound from below the surface. It sounded like some bell or gong, slowly swinging.

“Chickens can't swim!”

“It's made of iron, Dad!”

Solid scrambled to the rear of the boat.

It was a chicken, made of iron. Seaweed and shells covered it and water dripped off it as it rose against the stars.

It stood on a cross-shaped perch.


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