Yu Lin Gun, Fisherman

Six feet of grey sand kept the village from the sea.

Each day, Yu Lin Gun would drag his wooden boat across the sand, push it out into the lapping tide and hop in, steadying himself through his hips, pulling his nets around him. For ten hours each day, the fishermen from the village would sit in their boats, cawing and laughing as they pulled fish after fish from the water. For ten hours each day, Yu Lin Gun would sit, silent.

For Yu Lin Gun was a poor fisherman. If the fish were by a sandbank, he would be in the open. If the tide brought them in, he would be sailing out. If a storm split the fleet of tiny boats, he would be the last man left at sea.

Each day, he dragged his wooden boat across the sand. Each day, he turned to wave to his wife and son. He was a poor fisherman and they were proof, weaker and thinner than everyone else, struggling to stay alive on thin soup made from whatever the sandy soil would let them grow.

The other fishermen laughed at Yu Lin Gun. One day, they cut his nets so that, even if he was in the right place, he could not catch anything. He could not afford new nets, so he fixed them with weak and tiny knots that split apart with every seventh wave. One day they cut a hole in his boat, laughed as he scooped out water with his hands. He plugged the hole with a piece of cloth which always leaked by day’s end. One day, they hid rocks in his boat, beneath some sacks so it was harder to row out to the shoals; he sat lower in the water as fished and didn’t understand why.

Every day the fishermen took fish from Yu Lin Gun, they took food from his wife and son too. They sickened. They died.

The night they died, Yu Lin Gun dragged his boat across the sand and sailed away. As he rowed through the growing swell, he called back to the village: “I shall not forget you! I shall return!”

The villagers laughed through the darkness. “He might return, but he won’t bring any fish!”

One year later, Yu Lin Gun returned. He came with the tide, held steady on the horizon. One of the fishermen saw him, shouted, pointed. Yu Lin Gun stayed still, said nothing. It was a bad day’s fishing.

He was there again the next day. The fishing was worse.

On the third day, the fishermen caught so few fish that they vowed to confront Yu Lin Gun. As they approached him, a great swell emerged from the sea, boiled up around them. Seven boats were taken, seven men.

On the fourth day, the fishermen stayed in the village and talked about what to do.

On the fifth day, Yu Lin Gun approached the shore in his boat. He called out to the villagers: “Do you see what I can do? Do you see what I have become?”

The leader of the village called back. “Please. Give us back our water. Let us fish.”

Yu Lin Gun called out again. “I will give you back your water if you give me that which you have taken.”

“What is that?”

“I will take your children as you took mine. With the rising of each spring tide, you must send three children to me. I will choose one.”

Each year, as spring tide approached, the men argued and the women wept and the children waited for their names to be called. A little boat would be dragged across the sand and three children would row towards the dark figure on the horizon. The strong children would look at the weak and think of ways that they might survive. If Yu Lin Gun chose you, they said, then you would never return.

As the children neared Yu Lin Gun, he would call out to them. “I am the fisher of men. Protector of he who cannot fish. Saviour of he who will not be saved. One of you I will choose, two I will throw back.”

Each year, two children – the strongest – would return to the village and tell their fathers what Yu Lin Gun had said. But when their fathers asked what happened next, the children could never recall.

Each year, one child – the weakest – would vanish from the village. Yu Lin Gun would pull the child close and whisper: “This is a place that does not understand weakness. Soon you will be strong. Promise me only this: that you will say nothing of me or where you have come from.”

The child would promise, because that is what children do. And Yu Lin Gun would sail through the darkness of the islands. He would sail with the child for eight days and eight nights, a winding route led by the water and the wind. After eight days and eight nights, Yu Lin Gun would sail close to shore and drop the child into the water, whispering; “Swim. Swim to your new home.”

Villages across the southern sea were blessed from time to time by children from the sea. Miracle children. Bringers of joy. The children said nothing of Yu Lin Gun, or where they came from; the children became strong.

Yu Lin Gun was a poor fisherman but a very rich man.

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Lizzie Boyle

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