New Zealand

About a giant eel


This is a fictional short story, it’s loosely, but not all that loosely, based on a true story. I’ve changed some names of course. But the situation is real, the eel was real, This could be a true story and sort of is. All I have done here is alter some minor aspects of reality, slightly. So it’s a fictional story, but only so because of a chance of circumstance.

The plan is that this is the first part of what I am making into my first book. I’m writing an actual book, a novel I guess.

I know the rest of the story but I just need to think the last bits through and fill in the rest of the words.

For the meantime, I hope you enjoy where it starts.

The giant eel

The three of them were never going to agree who ‘actually’ caught the eel. It was a massive eel. They knew who caught it, but would never agree about it though because they would never talk about it anymore. It was old times, long ago when they were boys, they have lives apart now, but each of them knows who caught the eel.

They must do,  I reckon they know alright.

Hemi and Guy were mates you see. One might say mates by proximity. I don’t reckon that’s right, they’d never known when they became mates; they had just always been mates. Hemi was the shepherds’ boy; he lived up the metal road from the big homestead.  I never figured out why in New Zealand they called a gravel road, metal. Maybe I should look it up. Anyway, it doesn’t matter now.  Hemi’s place was pretty run down, paint peeling, fence broken, looked about ready to fall down in a decent gust of wind but it had survived plenty. It could get a bit blowy up on the station boundary, pretty exposed up there. Guy lived in the Homestead. He was the farm manager’s son.

So like I said, Hemi and Guy were mates since before they knew each other. I don’t know if they would have been mates if they hadn’t lived up the road from each other on the same farm in the middle of the sticks. It doesn’t matter really because they did.

Hemi would come down to Guys place and say the same thing each time to Guys mum, who always seemed to be in the kitchen. There was always something cooking on the stove, usually some preserves. Hemi loved Guys mums’ preserves. Hemi would never come in the house though; he’d just stand on the door mat, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Guy’s mum knew what he wanted but she never presumed to tell him. “Can Guy come out Mrs A?”  “Are you not going to come in Hemi?” “Aw, yeah nah”. Hemi never came into the homestead. He was always asked but he never went inside Guys house.

“Guy! Hemi’s here” Guy’s mum shouted down the long hall. The standard long hall to the bedrooms in every New Zealand sheep station homestead. Guy would appear as always as he knew what time Hemi would turn up. Not because he knew the time. He didn’t have a watch yet. That was next year, when he turned 13. No he just knew what time Hemi would turn up. Mostly because he could see him coming down the drive as always. Guy never went to Hemi’s house except to walk home with him. Hemi always came to get Guy at Guys place.

It’s funny really; he had never been told he couldn’t go to Hemi’s house. Hemi had never suggested he should nor shouldn’t, I just reckon it was because Guy was a bit scared of Hemi’s dad. He didn’t even know why. He was always nice enough. Told good yarns and showed you how to do neat stuff like set traps and make an eel gaff. But he was different around the house. When Hemi went home, He and Guy would walk towards their houses from whichever way they had come and if Hemi’s dad was there he was always really gruff, you know. He only ever called Hemi ‘boy’. “Get in the house boy” he would say even though Hemi was going in the house anyway. So Guy just didn’t like to go to Hemi’s place

When they weren’t at school or on the bus, that bus, the journey to school seemed to take hours, it must have and it was dusty, metal roads get really dusty. You just sort of breathed differently in the bus once you left the tar seal.  I got side tracked there though, back to not being at school or on the bus. Hemi and Guy would have important adventures. They knew that while their dads were doing the farm work they, the boys, had other duties.

It’s important to explain that young blokes like them have this intangible role on the farm. You patrol the farm. It’s important work. You’re looking out for stuff your dads might miss so you can let them know. You know the sort of thing, deer sign, and new rabbit holes. Dead sheep. You were dying to see some wild pig tracks but you knew in your heart they lived in the bush and weren’t coming your way. Dads would go out and hunt pigs at the weekend for fun but that’s for Dads, not kids and you just help with getting the pig ready to cook up. There’s no hurry to go pig hunting. There’s other things to do.

The farm patrolling can lose its importance for a bit though when you have a quiet day on the job. There’s nothing new going on at the rabbit hole in the blackberry. No deer sign, nothing. That’s when you head for the creek.

Hemi and Guy spent a lot of time at the creek. They knew it had some pretty big eels in it. They’d lay lines out overnight and 9 times out of 10 when they came back in the morning there would be an eel hooked. Not often big eels, usually just a few pounds. They never ate them, creek eels taste crap, they found out the hard way. No the eels get given to the cats now. Hemi and Guy knew there was a massive eel in the creek, the way only boys can be sure of that sort of thing.  You go for the big eel with a gaff though, not a line.

The gaff Hemi’s dad made them was the best one. Really sharp point, a long stout handle from an old shed broom. The gaff was like a giant fish hook tied to the broom handle.  The gaff is used to fish in the weeds along the edge of the creek.  Hemi and Guy had made the mistake of talking about the giant eel they reckoned was in the creek to their next door neighbour up the road. Mike, he was a bit of a smart arse know all and he reckoned he knew everything about gaffing eels. He told them he was coming to help. They didn’t want him to come and help but when you live in the sticks you can’t say no really. Besides for all his being a smart arse know all, Mike was just really good at gaffing eels and Hemi and Guy knew it. It wasn’t because he was a smart arse know all they didn’t want him to come. They didn’t want him to catch their eel, which they knew he would if they found it. I tell you it’s tough having this sort of crisis for a couple of young mates.

I forgot to mention that Guy’s sister Nicky would often tag along. Guy hated Nicky tagging along. Hemi loved it. He was really keen on Nicky but he’d never tell Guy that. Nicky knew the rules though. She would trail at a small distance, not getting in the way. Pretending to be interested in her own stuff.  No, she wanted to help but luckily she knew that girls got in the way and Guy would get all pissed off. Hemi pretended he was all cool and relaxed about her but even so he always somehow got a bit tongue tied when he went to speak to her. Hemi’s dad wouldn’t have been too keen on Hemi liking Nicky, not because she was Pakeha and he was a Maori, maybe a bit of that, but she was also the bosses girl.  The boys were too young to really understand that stuff. Hemi just knew that Nicky was pretty and smelled nice. She was always nice to him.

Hemi’s sisters weren’t that nice to him. He had two little sisters who never seemed to come outside, they just looked out the window all the time and they always had snot in their noses, they didn’t say much. He had two big sisters who lived away, they’d come home sometimes and they also only ever called called him ‘boy’. They always stunk of beer and smokes and they always bought a couple of blokes home with them. Angry blokes. They always called him ‘boy’ too! He bloody hated being called ‘boy’ by everyone. Guy never called him boy and neither did Nicky.  But all that story is for another time. This is about the eel.

You know those days when it’s almost warm and you can see the warmth in the air but can’t quite feel it? You know it’s going to be warmer tomorrow. The long dry grass has a particular crackle when the wind blows a bit, sounds a bit like being on fire, but not. The air has a good feel about it like the day is in a good mood. The boys were on a mission. They reckon they’d seen where the eel might be. They hadn’t realised it until they were nearly back home and it dawned on both of them at the same time. It was too bloody late to go back but they knew where the eel was. He’d have to wait until tomorrow.

That night was very long night for both of them but now the day was here and they had packed things they needed to go after the eel.

Bloody Mike turned up. So the three boys set off into the day which was in a good mood. Hemi and Guy were kind of in a good mood but not as good as they would have been if bloody smart arse know all Mike hadn’t turned up.

The three of them stood by the creek where Hemi and Guy reckoned the eel was. He wasn’t. They just stood there, planning.  Mike had his own gaff. Hemi had the one his dad made and Guy had a fearsome looking pitchfork he’d found in the hay barn. They reckoned he couldn’t have gone far from where they only guessed he might have been anyway.

Eels are always he. I’m pretty sure no-one refers to an eel as a she which is a bit of a shame for the she eels as at least half of them must be. No, eels are always a ‘he’.

So the boys just work the bank in hope more than anything. Stabbing and fishing the weeds along the edge of the creek. So intent on the stabbing and fishing, so lost in the hunt for the eel they’d forgotten they only guessed the existence of, they went along the creek. Guy stopped first.

He knew what he had seen but he couldn’t quite believe it. He waved wildly at the other two, at least keeping in mind he needed to be silent. They came trotting over, sensing, hoping that something special was happening. Guy was pointing at a shadow in the creek, in the weeds, but not. The other two just stared. The shadow moved but the sun hadn’t. It was the eel and it was bigger than any of them could have imagined.

An expert on TV or something might say that ‘the difference between excited boys and experienced men out fishing having spied the catch of their life was about to be starkly revealed’. The men will form a plan to ensure they don’t lose the moment of a life time. Boys will fling their fishing gear at the eel with all their might. Guy was quickest though and his pitchfork most suited. He plunged it straight into what he thought was the middle of the eel. It wasn’t. That was just the tail. Hemi and Mike both shouted out some language they had learned from their dads but wouldn’t dream of uttering in front of them.

The eel was a monster. Guys pitchfork was bucking wildly in his hands, the eel almost stronger than he. Hemi and Mike now knew where they needed their gaffs to go and went in hard further up the eel. All three had a purchase now and all three went into the water.  Into the water with the giant eel. The water isn’t deep but the boys aren’t used to being pulled into it by a thrashing giant eel they each have a hold of.

The three found the strength only found in panic, they might have said later it was excitement, no they were panicking as boys in waist deep water with a giant eel might. The water was only waist deep but Hemi was thrashing around, he couldn’t swim, He didn’t have to swim but when you are waist deep in water with a giant eel you remember you can’t swim.

It just occurred to me that I don’t know why so many Maori don’t teach their kids to swim. Maybe they do. But in my memory and it’s pretty long, none of the Maori kids I knew could swim.

Once they calmed down from the shock of going into the water, the boys  wrestled the eel on to the bank and set about sorting it out to take home.  They had never seen the like of it. No-one had, not round here. They stuffed it in the sack and took turns lugging it the long way back across the farm to the homestead. There was never any discussion that the eel was going to Guys place and not Hemi’s . It was just known. I don’t know how or why, just that it is known.

It certainly wasn’t bloody going to smart arse know all Mike’s house that’s for sure.

Guy’s mum stood there open mouthed at what was coming up the lawn. She assured them that in all her years she had never seen or heard of a bigger eel. Maybe they should call the paper to come and take a photo and write it in the news!

The wet tired boys sat on the veranda. Guys mum bought them some cordial, it was the best cordial they ever had. They just sat there looking at the eel. Guys’ dad rode up the drive from the days mustering. He tied the horse to the shed and walked across the lawn. “See you boys have been fishing”. That was it; he just went in the house. Sometimes you never see a spirit being crushed or even know it when it happened. Sometimes you do.

The boys went down the driveway. Mike hopped on his crappy bike and rode home. Guy and Hemi walked up to Hemi’s place, silently companionable with each other, they were mates you see. Sometimes there is nothing to say or no need to say it.  You aren’t sure which and it doesn’t matter anyway, when you are mates, you just know.

They got to Hemi’s broken old gate, still hanging on its hinges, just. Hemi’s dad was chopping some wood. It was a long way to winter but maybe he was just bored.  All Guy knew was that he was a bit scared of Hemi’s dad and now he had an axe as well.

“Get in the house boy”

It was a long time ago, that eel. They never had the chance to finish the argument about who caught it as events from another story for another time over took them and they went their own ways, as boys do when they grow up.

It was the biggest eel ever caught round their way. A giant eel. The paper never wrote about it though.

The link below is to the next chapter

The Wrong Place

19 replies »

  1. I have a giant eel story too…might tell you about it when I see you, but my story will be nowhere nearly as well told…

  2. Lovely Sandy, you are a wonderful writer and I can’t wait for the next instalment! I particularly liked the ‘day was in a good mood’, such a wonderful description x

  3. Hi Sandy
    I agree with Lesley about it being coming of age ,lost boyhood, Every family has an eel story and this one is good. Most of all I liked the laconic tone the way you captured an era. Think of eel and boys, what one thing made each so memorable? How about the title being the Maori word for giant eel. I enjoyed the “colour ” of a NZ farm , the details of a time long gone and how boys instinctively learn to scout as the roam. I liked the very casual nature of the friendship with the light dusting of prejudice. There are some sentences you could amalgamate.I liked the unpretentious diction, the use of simple words. It was such an event for the boys I want to smell the excitement and fear, if you get my drift. Please realise that I wouldn’t make any suggestions if I thought it was poor writing and we all must chop and edit over and over again to perfect gripping prose. VCB

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