CAUSEWAY

Chapter 01. Luhua.

Luhua Chong sat cross legged on the flat top of the flotation pod, six feet above the Atlantic Ocean. She bent over her fishing line, tying the lure onto its end. A strong breeze whipped her long black hair across her face. Impatiently she tucked it under her baseball cap, then straightened up to examine the knot.

Satisfied, Luhua whirled the weighted line over her head and released it. The lure flew over the water, dragging loops of line from the bucket beside her. Then it plopped into the swells, and sank out of sight.

Just one more salmon, Luhua prayed silently, that is all I need. She wanted enough to feed all the high school interns on the Trans Atlantic Causeway Project, fifty including herself.

For the first time since she had arrived on the causeway, Luhua felt she was contributing. She might not have the same technical skills as the other interns, but the program judges must have liked her marine biology paper, and thanks to her father, she was an expert at fishing.

The wind moaned, and Luhua glanced over her shoulder at the hundreds of thick, steel pylons stretching away behind her. The pylons held the mile long causeway section twenty five feet above the water. Each pylon rose from the center of a school bus sized flotation pod.

Luhua perched on the edge of one such pod, at the very tip of the floating section. A dinghy was tied nearby, bobbing at the end of its line. She shivered, and looked up at the overcast sky. There was definitely a big storm coming, but not today.

Luhua gave the fishing line a tug, and then let it sink. She scooted to the next bucket, pulled in its line, whirled, tossed. Over and over she repeated the process with each of her three lines, keeping the lures moving.

Where were the salmon? Had they all left? Was the cloudy afternoon light too dim for her lures to work?

Luhua squirmed, trying to get comfortable on the rough, corrugated surface of the pod. Slimy patches of algae had already stained her jeans.

Sea birds were everywhere. Luhua listened to their racket, and watched herring gulls, kittiwakes and gannets, squabbling and diving for food.

Ahead of Luhua, across the water, the end of the main causeway floated atop its own pylon forest, stretching eastward, a thousand miles to the mainland United States.

Luhua knew she was running out of time. This section was due to be connected to the main causeway later today. She had to be off before that happened.

The sound of a small motor cut through the shrieking birds and slapping waves. Luhua looked over to see two dinghies heading back to the main causeway. She spotted her roommate, Cali James, among the four departing interns.

"Luhua, are you finished yet?" shouted Cali.

"No," Luhua called back. "I need one more fish."

Cali pointed back to the section and shouted again. Luhua only caught a few words, that there was another intern on the section. She nodded and waved, watching the dinghies cross the quarter mile to the main causeway.

Then Luhua heard a zipping sound. Loop after loop of fishing line leapt from the middle bucket into the water. She had a bite.

With a broad grin, Luhua jerked on her fishing gloves and seized the line. She yanked it hard once to set the hook. Then she held it firmly, squeezing the line with her gloved fingers, and smooth pieces of wood to increase the drag. Countless hours spent on her father's fishing boat had taught her exactly what to do.

The line zinged through Luhua's fingers, barely slackening. She squeezed harder. The fish was big and powerful, full of energy, full of fight.

Luhua felt a rush of excitement. Her heartbeat galloped, as she and the fish struggled.

The fish jerked and fought against the line, nearly pulling Luhua over the edge of the pod. It dove down, down, down, pulling with all its strength. Then the tension disappeared. She pulled the line in, expertly coiling it back into the bucket.

The fish shot to the surface. It leapt out of the water, a long silvery torpedo, fast and strong. Good, it was a salmon.

The salmon splashed back into the water, and then it was off again, racing in a new direction, and Luhua gave it line, but never for free. The salmon had to fight for every yard, every foot.

As the fish thrashed, its fights grew weaker, its rests grew longer. Luhua kept pulling in slack, and feeding line out, always keeping as much drag as she could, without letting the line break.

It was a strong fish. Luhua's hands, arms and shoulders ached. Her face grew hot, and she was sweating from the exertion. She wished she could take off her sweater. But it was under her life vest, and she did not dare let go of the line.

Finally the fish was just below the surface, near the edge of her pod, exhausted, out of fight. It was enormous. Luhua grabbed her gaff, a long pole with a hook at the end, and snagged the salmon behind its gills.

It was heavy, a twenty five pounder at least, maybe more. Definitely her biggest catch today.

Tired from the long fight, face streaming with sweat, and panting with fatigue and excitement, Luhua could barely lift the fish out of the water. She was having trouble holding the gaff hook with one hand, the pole clutched under her arm, while reaching for her club. The salmon flapped at the end of the pole, almost shaking itself loose.

"Hey, kid, need some help?" asked a voice, and two strong hands gripped the pole just behind hers.

Thankfully Luhua released the gaffing pole, snatched up her club, and gave the salmon three solid blows to its head. It shuddered one last time, and was still.

Luhua turned to see who had come to help her. She froze. It was that boy. The one who was always looking at her, but never spoke to her, always glancing away before she could catch his eye.

He stood only a few feet away now, dressed in shorts and a T shirt, his black hair tangled from the wind. He held the gaffing pole awkwardly, as if not sure what to do with it, now that the fish was dead.

This time he was not looking away. His mouth was slightly open, his eyebrows raised.

Luhua became aware how hot and sweaty she looked. She stank of fish, and strands of hair had escaped from under her cap, sticking to her damp face. Luhua groaned inwardly. Why had he waited until this moment to talk to her?

But here he was, holding her fish, and staring at her with impossibly bright hazel eyes. This time, it was Luhua who glanced away.

"You're Luhua," said the boy. "Sorry, I didn't recognize you at first."

"Yes," said Luhua. She pointed to the gaffing pole. "I can take that now."

He handed her the pole. She could feel his eyes on her as she unhooked the salmon, and packed it inside the cooler, carefully surrounding it with ice.

"I'm Tom," said the boy.

"Yes," said Luhua. "I know."

"Oh," said Tom.

Luhua looked up, trying to read his expression. All at once she realized why Tom was here, talking to her. "Are you waiting to take the last dinghy across?" she asked.

"Yeah, but I'm in no rush," said Tom. His stomach grumbled loudly. Luhua pretended not to hear. She bit her lower lip to keep from smiling. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tom's face grow red.

"We can leave sooner if you help me pack up," said Luhua.

"Sure," said Tom. "No problem."

They began to pack the fishing gear and cooler in the dinghy. Luhua still had two lines in the water.

"They must be coiled back into their buckets," said Luhua. She demonstrated with the one on the left.

"OK, got it," said Tom. He grabbed the last line and began to haul it up.

As Luhua reeled in her line, she could tell there was something hooked on the end of Tom's. His line had grown taut, and he was pulling on it with some effort.

"Think it's another fish?" asked Tom.

Was he serious? Luhua looked at him sharply, then realized he simply did not know. "No," she said. "It is not fighting. It is only a weight on the end of the line."

As Tom continued pulling, Luhua began to make out something large and pale moving slowly up through the water.

Whatever it was, it was heavy. She stowed her own line and stood next to Tom. He began to pull faster.

"Slow, please," said Luhua. "If the line breaks I will lose the hook and lure."

Luhua's heart beat faster as something came closer to the surface. Something big. Then it broke through the swells.

Luhua screamed. No, it was not a fish. It was a man. And he was dead.

 

 

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