AN: The first thing I've posted for an age... I started this ages ago after coming across an old tape of Rick Mayall reading The Brothers Grimm fairytales - something I used to listen to almost constantly when I was about eight. I'd just seen one of the BBC revamps of childhood fairytales, and I was inspired to attempt my own revamp. I chose the fisherman's tale, because it was one of my favourites, yet gets very little attention, as far as I know. This is only the first part, so it is definitely not a oneshot.
It's also a first draft, so apologies in advance for any errors or nonsensical sentences (please let me know if you spot these btw)
Once upon a time, there was a town by the sea, which could look very beautiful from one angle, and far from it by another. It was a place to visit, not to live, and that was something that Rob Evans, a local lad who worked as a waiter in the town's finest restaurant, knew very well.
He had never lived anywhere else, to be truthful, neither had his parents, or his grandparents, but it was a fair guess that nowhere else in the country could be as bad as the damp stained, mould ridden, flat Rob lived in with his girlfriend.
They had lived there for almost two years now, in its single open plan room (kitchen, bedroom, lounge and dining room all in one compact package – cupboard converted into bathroom) with its peeling wallpaper and salty stench of sewage, and it looked like they would be living there for a good few more. No matter how much they scrimped, saved and worked, there was never enough money to even entertain the thought of going anywhere else. They were stuck.
Rob's only escape was his work, waiting on rich tourists at the town's finest restaurant, where his job consisted of taking orders, washing up towards the end of the night, and plucking out the live lobsters from their large display tank by the bar. That part of the job Rob hated, and many a time he came home with claw clamped fingers, and red, raw pinches from the chinks in the shells.
One night, on the night that was following what was possibly one of the worst days in Rob's memory, an aging American waddled with him to the tank to choose his lobster. As he was an extremely greedy man, he picked the biggest brute of a beast he could see, a monster of a crustacean.
Though Rob's heart sank, he smiled and nodded, waiting for the man to return to his seat, before turning back to the tank, armed with the flimsy net provided by the restaurant for snaring the doomed creatures.
The brute did its best to run, scuttling two and fro over the pebbled bottom of the tank, before finally becoming tangled hopelessly in the net. As Rob wrenched the net up from the tank, the lobster waggled its claws fitfully towards him, shaking its armoured fists in a rage as hot and red as it was fated to become. The beast was nearly as long as his forearm, and Rob was keen to keep it as far away from him as possible.
This method backfired when the hapless creature leapt out from the net, and landed with a loud clatter onto the tiles of the floor. Loud enough for everyone in the restaurant to pause and look at what was happening, and for Rob's boss to demand, in a not so discreet hiss, what on earth Rob thought he was doing.
Mumbling out apologies, and shrinking down in the hope of fading entirely out of sight, Rob attempted to scoop the beast back up into the net, pursuing it in a crouching hobble. The lobster, however, appeared to have other ideas, and, with a twist and flip worthy of the most limber of Olympic gymnasts, launched itself to fix one massive claw firmly onto Rob's right ear.
Now, through the sharp and searing pain, Rob found himself considering two options – he could scream and jerk and run about in panic as he tried to shake the thing from his head, most likely losing his job and his ear in the process; or he could crawl into the nearest space hidden from view, and try to pry the beast from his face in privacy. The American man would just have to wait for his meal until Rob convinced it to detach itself from his head.
So, with gritted his teeth, Rob quickly crawled past the kitchen doorway into the staff cloakroom, pulling the door clumsily closed behind him, and set to work trying to ease his fingers around the lobster claw, pulling at it with all his might.
His strength wasn't enough to even make it budge.
Then a very strange thing happened. For a moment, Rob actually wondered whether the pain of a large lobster hanging from his ear whilst scrabbling at his face and neck with its sharply pointed feet had caused him to start hallucinating. But there it was, a rough, raspy little voice, distorted as though full of a thousand bubbles, scratching away in his ear:
'Save my life, and I'll save yours.'
It repeated again and again, all the while its vice like grip getting tighter and tighter around Rob's bruised, squished, and possibly bleeding ear. As Rob picked out the words in the noise, and realised their meaning, the hands tugging away at the armoured beast went limp. The grip of the claw gradually loosened, and the words in the burbling noise began to change.
'Anything you need, anything you want, I can give it to you,' it said.
Rob stared at the staff shoe rack, clogged with the shoes and boots of the kitchen staff, and silently declared himself mad. Then it spoke again.
'My good man,' it said, or at least, that's what Rob thought it said. 'I am not one to go back on my word. Ask for anything, and by my will you shall have it, if you shall only spare my life.'
'What the hell could a lobster ever give me?' Rob scoffed, pulling the beast free of his head, and holding it, at a good arms length, at eye level.
'Have I not said it enough times?' the lobster said, it's funny, bubbly voice somewhat stronger, clearer as it continued to talk – and talk it most certainly did. 'Anything you want,' it said 'it's yours in trade for my life. You are not the quickest of mind, are you?' it added, waving one claw in a manner that Rob could have described as sympathetic, had his mind not already been occupied with the fact he'd found a talking lobster.
'I've finally cracked,' he muttered to himself, sinking to the floor, dropping the lobster onto the tiles, and bring his hands up to cradle his head. He winced as one thumb brushed against the pulp of his right ear, and brought it sharply away to see a bright streak of blood over his hand.
'You don't believe your own eyes and ears?' the lobster said, scuttling up onto his knee, and peering into his face with its stalked black eyes.
Rob just whimpered and feebly tried to knock the lobster away from him. It stayed firm.
'Very well,' the lobster said, spreading its claws in a wide flourish, 'I shall prove I am no mere lobster. Check your ear once more boy.'
Tentatively, despite himself, Rob's fingers went back to delicately probe the bloody side of his face, only to feel the full, undamaged curve of his upper ear. Clumsily, he scrambled to his feet, and rushed to the mirror above the sink. There was his ear, free of any bruising and claw-marks, with only a drying trickle of blood creeping down his cheek to suggest anything had ever been wrong. Slowly, he turned to where the lobster, having been chucked unceremoniously from his knee when he got up, was righting itself on the tiles.
'How did you..?' Rob spluttered, 'What could have...huh?'
He could have sworn the lobster was glaring at him. It scuttled to his foot, and once again, he could hear the creaky bubbling of its voice. He bent down to hear it.
'Release me back to my ocean, and you shall get anything you desire,' it said gravely.
Rob paused. Outside the cloakroom, he could hear his boss calling his name, wondering where he and the American's dinner had disappeared to. He looked back down to the lobster with its alien features and monstrous claws. Quickly, he scooped the creature up, and reached for his coat, stuffing the beast into the deep inside pocket.
'Whatever happens, just stay still,' he hissed, pulling his coat tightly about him, and clutching his right hand protectively over his ear, before stumbling back out into the corridor, straight into the arms of his boss.
'Robert, what are you playing at?' the man hissed. 'What did you do with that bloody lobster?'
Clutching his ear, Rob pushed past the manager, and started towards the exit.
'I have to go boss,' he called back in explanation, straining his voice to sound as pained as possible. 'The damn thing nearly pulled my ear clean from my head. It ran off into the cleaning cupboard – try and catch it if you can, but don't get anywhere near its claws.'
The sight of the blood on Rob's hand, and the line of it running from the clutched ear was enough to convince the manager, who turned ever so slightly green.
'Go on then, get yourself home, or to hospital, or whatever. Just make sure none of the customers see you, okay? We can talk about you making up for this tomorrow.'
'Yes boss,' Rob said, before making a hasty exit.
The lobster stayed true to Rob's instructions, not moving a muscle while stuffed inside his coat, yet for the entire walk through town to the beach, Rob felt incredibly conspicuous. Every gaze that glanced upon him saw straight through the slightly awkward hang of his coat to see the stolen sea-beast concealed within, and his heart was pounding fit to burst.
To say he was thankful that the small stretch of beach was deserted when he arrived was a great understatement. He made his way to an outcrop of craggy rock pools, and gingerly removed the lobster from his coat, placing him on top of the rock. The lobster stretched its claws out stiffly, and turned to face the rising tide.
'You have done a great thing for me, friend,' it said softly, turning back to face Rob. 'Now for your reward – name anything this good earth can offer, and it's yours.'
The magnitude of this moment suddenly hit Rob, and he was left quite speechless.
'Well?' the lobster said, now a tad impatient.
'I –' Rob said, biting his lip, 'I don't know what to say.'
The lobster clicked its joints in irritation.
'Tell me what you want – how many more times can I say it?' it said.
'I want –' Rob paused, and thought hard. Then it came to him. 'I want to live somewhere nice,' he said.
There was a pause as the lobster stared at him, then it waved its claw.
'You will have to give me more than that,' it said.
Rob sighed, and took a seat on the rock next to the lobster.
'The place where I live now, I'm only able to live there because my girlfriend's uncle owns the place, and it's a shithole. We can't afford to do anything about it, and our landlord never listens to us because we're living there on a favour anyway. I'd like to have the central heating working, to have it all clean and nice – done up like the houses Sarah sees on the telly. No grime on the windows, nice carpet underfoot. And I'd like to have a separate room for our bedroom,' he paused for a moment, and then added, boldly, 'and have a proper, big bathroom, instead of a toilet and a shower that only runs cold.'
The lobster considered this request, and then seemed to nod its neck-less head.
'Very well, it is done. You shall go home to find your flat transformed into an interior-designers dream, from the floors to the furnishings, everything shall be lovely. Thank you, boy. Your kindness is not something I shall forget. If you should ever need my assistance, come to this rock when the tide is high, and call for me. I will always do what I can to help.'
It turned, and began to make its way over the rock, and down into the water that lapped about its edge.
'Wait!' cried Rob. 'What about my job? I'm going to be in the shit when they can't find you.'
The lobster jiggled, and made a choking, wheezing sound as it walked. Rob realised that the creature was laughing.
'Do not fret, boy,' it called back. 'Tomorrow morning, when they wake, your boss, colleagues, even the fat foreigner who deigned to try and eat me shall not remember anything about me, or my rescue. For them and you, life shall carry on as normal.'
'Thanks,' Rob said. 'Also, what should I call you? I don't know your name.'
The lobster paused.
'I call you boy, you shall call me lobster. I believe it will be best that way,' it said, before resuming its path.
'But what are you really?' Rob blurted out, 'You're not just a lobster, are you?'
The lobster paused again, and with what could only be a lobster sigh, it turned to face Rob once more.
'Perhaps once, a long time ago, I was not. I may have been a boy like you, or a girl, or a witch, sorcerer, Lord, Lady or Prince. I may have even been a God. All you ever need to know is that for now, I am a lobster. Does that answer your question?'
Knowing that the lobster did not expect any other form of reply, Rob nodded his head. The lobster scuttled away into the sea, with a cry of:
'Goodbye boy, perhaps I shall see you again one day.'
As it slid out of sight into the water, a little shiver passed through Rob, and as he headed back up the beach, his heart in his throat in the anticipation of seeing if his wish had worked, a little part of him sincerely hoped that this would be his first, and last encounter with the talking, gargantuan lobster.