aka…The Bluegills, the Bream, and the Shiny Stones
Every once in a while, a writer will produce a piece of fiction with a short shelf-life. Such it is with a story i wrote a couple of months ago. The intention was to make a statement about the 2015 Hugo Awards, so I lampooned it. I shopped the story to three pro markets that I thought might be able to handle the expiration date. One market called it amusing but not right for the magazine. I happen to agree it’s amusing, and the editor is probably right about it not being a good fit.
I decided the shelf life of the story is now way too short to try to sell the story again, so I’m posting it here for free. I hope you enjoy it.
Without further ado…
The Bluegills, the Bream, and the Shiny Stones
After all these years, I sometimes wonder what ever happened to the Grand Contest now that I’ve left the Enchanted Valley. Oh, the news leaks out now and again, but I pay it no mind. I keep busy with my own fishing career, angling for crappie mostly, and selling to small fish markets.
Crappie were rarely entered into the Grand Contest back in the day, though some people thought they should be better represented. I mean, what’s wrong with crappie? It’s a fine fish, but the Grand Contest brought out mostly bluegills and bass, with an occasional warmouth. They were some very good bluegills and bass, and usually they took home a shiny stone.
I had avoided attending the Grand Contest in years past because I had always been a simple weekend angler. In those days, I caught an occasional carp, but mostly I caught fish I didn’t recognize. In retrospect, I realize many were crappie, but at the time I didn’t know. I just thought them to be fish.
Those who participated in the Grand Contest were regarded as among the best anglers in all the Enchanted Valley, but there were never enough shiny stones to award to all the top-notch fishes caught each year.
While most of the anglers went about their business, angling quietly and selling their catch mostly to small markets with an occasion gem sold to the larger markets, there did tend to be two rather vocal groups of anglers. These groups came to be known by the name given to them by the other group.
The first group, the Klowns, had a widespread membership, including the managers of several prestigious fish markets. They were a vocal lot, and claimed a lack of variety in the markets. And although they lauded bluegills above all else, they did celebrate the occasional pumpkinseed or redear.
The other group, which became known as the Phules, complained that too many sunfishes, especially bluegills, were selected for the Grand Contest, and too many anglers of sunfishes took home shiny stones. This group preferred to see bream entered into the contest, especially bass, along with the occasional crappie.
Tired of seeing bluegills take home shiny stones, the Phules organized a recommended list of anglers who had caught impressive fishes that were not bluegills, urging the angling community to select those bream for inclusion in the Grand Contest.
During the first two years of organized list-making, the list-makers drew the ire of the other anglers, but had little influence on the outcome. Sunfishes still dominated the Grand Contest, and sunfishes took home shiny stones. During the third year, something changed.
Off in the hills lived the Crown Prince of Phules, an angler so reviled by the Klowns that they had him expelled from the Professional Anglers’ Club. Indeed, many of the Phules also reviled the Crown Prince, though he still had many followers.
In this third year, the Phules drew up a list of suggested anglers who had caught fishes they thought should bring home the shiny stones for the year. The list included a wide variety of bream, including crappie and largemouth bass, and even an occasional bluegill, for the Phules did believe some bluegills were still worthy of a shiny stone.
Up in the hills, the Crown Prince drew up his own list, which had largely been copied from the Phules’ list, but embellished to omit the bluegills and include two of that most vile of fishes, the plecostomus. With the aid of the Crown Prince’s followers, precious few bluegills made it into the Grand Contest that year, with the bulk of the entries being crappie or warmouth. Furthermore, to the dread of all, the two plecostomus qualified.
The Klowns went into a great panic, claiming the shiny stones should not all be given just to bream in the same contest. The Klowns shouted amongst themselves, and at the Phules. They said they would vote to award a blackened stone and there would be no shiny stones awarded because too many bream and not enough sunfishes had qualified for the Grand Contest.
The Phules fired back that sunfishes took home shiny stones every year, and the time had come for bream to shine. Vote for the crappie! Vote for the warmouth! Vote for the
But, the Klowns claimed the Phules were all followers of the Crown Prince, and should also be exiled to the hills. The Phules said they could not be held responsible if the Crown Prince had good taste in fishes, and they had no intention of living in the hills with him.
The Crown Prince simply laughed, basking in the glow of chaos, and of every angler’s revulsion over the inclusion of the two plecostomus. When the Klowns threatened to award blackened stones to any bream entered into the Grand Contest, the Crown Prince retaliated by threatening to blacken all the shiny stones for all time.
It was about this time that one of the venerable anglers, who had aligned with neither the Klowns nor the Phules, pointed out to everyone that crappie, bass, and redbreast had not only been entered in the Grand Contest in years past, many of them even took home a shiny stone. But the venerable angler’s words came too late, and the Klowns and Phules of consequence paid him little heed. Indeed, they told him to go back to angling because everyone wanted a piece of the next fish he would pull from the waters.
Nobody knew for sure whether the Crown Prince controlled sufficient magic to blacken shiny stones at all, much less all shiny stones for all time, but one thing is certain. All the shiny stones of years gone by faded by a few shades of grey that year.
I watched this from the sidelines. Actually, I did more than that. I attempted to talk in the background, because I was one of the few anglers who could see the astonishingly simple truth. Bream and Sunfish were synonymous, and always had been. The family Centrarchidae included all sunfishes. Aside from those two vile plecostomus, all the fishes in the Grand Contest were both sunfishes and bream. The bluegills, the crappie, the warmouth, the bass—all of them sunfishes. All of them bream.
I did not remain in the Enchanted Valley long enough to learn which fish took home shiny stones, or if any stones became blackened. I had no interest in a Grand Contest judging anglers and not Centrarchidae. Instead, I went off to another valley on my own and started fishing for crappie to sell to their small fish markets. Let the Klowns and Phules fight for their shiny stones. I shall be satisfied with selling a crappie to make somebody happy.