Short story: The Ministry of Natural Resources

The drizzle and the diffused, colourful light made the trees look like they were behind dusty stained glass and the road like hot steel. Elliott was pining to fish a small stream since he opened his office in the morning, and now in the afternoon with every bend in the highway he felt better. From the beginning of a long straight away Elliott saw a hitch hiker wearing a Hi-Vis orange vest. The sight of a hitch hiker always vexed him. His stomach tightened until the internal pull of generosity and push of discomfort dug a pit in his stomach. He passed the hitch hiker. But then he glanced at the rear view mirror and quickly hit the brakes, sliding into the washed out sandy shoulder. 
‘I’m going fishing about ten minutes south- I can take you down the highway that short spell, though, if it helps your cause.’ Elliott said with the window down. 

‘I love fishing, man- I’ll join if you have a little extra line and a hook- I’m Al.’ The momentum from Elliott’s out of control turn of magnanimity was irresistible. Elliott was still tense but couldn’t stop obliging the scruffy man hunched over his passenger door. 

The men stepped out into the bush off the logging road and froze listening to the comforting song of the riffle. Elliott awkwardly handed Al a spool of tippet and a box of terminal tackle and started setting up his short, whippy fibreglass fly rod. He scratched the back of his neck and picked at the flies in his case.

‘Would you like a fly?’ He asked, rubbing the bridge of his nose. 

‘Thanks- I have everything I need, good buddy- I think I’ll find some bait.’ Al rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. 

‘You deserve a fish with a cast like that- that was a hell of a cast- brave to side arm it under that canopy,’ Al hollered downstream in the tall grass, still searching for bait. Elliott couldn’t contain a warm smile, even though the cast didn’t earn him a fish. 

Al stalked the creek slowly and deliberately, being careful to stay back from the bank. He sidestepped gingerly like he was at the edge of a cliff and, assuming the gracefully recoiled pose of a heron, he darted at blade of grass trapping a hopper in the palm of his hand. Al and Elliott locked eyes and Al raised his arm in triumph. They shared a chuckle. Al spied a dogwood and broke a young branch off, and then tied the line to the skinny end of the pole and the hook to the free end of the line. With the long branch extended over the middle of the pool he gently dapped the hopper on the surface, tricking a chunky trout to leap and dance on the water. Elliott jumped in the air and hopped with joy at the sight of the shimmering fish as Al horsed it through the brush and landed it on the bank. 

‘That got my heart going- like the drugs I used to take,’ Elliott said when they met by the logging road with their catch of the afternoon. 

A yellow lab burst through the thicket toward Al, startling both men out of their fast couple hours of blissful fishing. And Elliott saw a shadow cast from over his shoulder. He turned to see a conservation officer then he glanced at their fish and the cans of beer on the bank and the coals of their fire, and then back to the conservation officer. Al didn’t have a license, and they didn’t have a permit for their little campfire either. The conservation officer said they were ‘batting one thousand,’ and seized Elliott’s jeep along with his tackle. 

If you were driving north on the highway at dusk that day, you would’ve seen a man with a Hi-Vis vest next to a man dressed business casual sauntering and sashaying along the washed out sandy shoulder, both grinning. 

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