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‘The Mackerel’

The Mackerel swam fast with his companions. Where they went, he went; when they turned, he turned: who was in control was never really clear – they just all moved together. The Mackerel was a strong fish, a handsome fish, but he did have a short temper.

One day he found himself on the outside of the shoal as it turned too close to the rocks. He found himself being buffeted against some rough barnacles. He felt a sharp pain. Immediately his temper flared. Silent bubbles screamed from his mouth. He was so, so angry; with the barnacles, with the shoal, with himself, with everything. Because there were so many fish and because they all looked the same, no one really noticed that he was in fact… beside himself.
         “It always happens to me,” he grumbled to himself, still fuming like a kipper.
The blood streamed from his side leaving a cloudy red trail in the water behind him. And it was while he was still angry that the smell of his bleeding reached the snub nose of a resting Lamprey. The Lamprey was lying cold and still amongst the rocks like a length of grey tubing.  So pale was he that it looked like there was no life in him. And truly there was no life of his own. His sharp mouth-parts flexed in the warm scent from the Mackerel’s wound.

Now a Lamprey is a bit like an eel and a bit like a leech. Smoothly and steadily he glided and snaked through the water after the Mackerel. By the time that the Lamprey caught up, the Mackerel was starting to contain his anger, grumbling quietly to himself. The Lamprey nuzzled along side the Mackerel in a comforting way and slid his mouth parts into the site of the graze. The Mackerel felt a bitter tug on his wound and his muscular body tensed again. And with that spasm the sharp barbs on the Lamprey’s jaws dug firmly into the Mackerel’s flesh. Immediately the bleeding stopped, or rather, the water cleared. The Lamprey’s head glowed faintly red as he sucked silently on the Mackerel’s life blood. The Mackerel swam on with the shoal, unaware of this uninvited companion. With an eye on each side of his head, a Mackerel can see everything but himself.

Now the Mackerel is indeed one of the most handsome fish of the cold seas. The patterns on his back sparkle and ripple like the very waves themselves. But this Mackerel was not as handsome as he should be. For not only did he have Lampreys streaming from his skin but he also had two hooks hanging from his mouth. These were from times when he had snapped at something sparkling in the water. On both occasions these had not been food, but bright and shining objects of desire. Objects that he knew wouldn’t satisfy, but that he greedily desired to consume. He had snatched at these without pausing to think, because a pause would have meant loosing out to another in the shoal. The hooks constantly burned in his lip and Lampreys lived on these wounds too. He had learned to live with the pain of the hooks but the traces of line that were still attached often caught in the seaweed and jarred his mouth further. With all these wounds the Mackerel had gradually lost the joy of living. He resented the rest of the shoal; he distrusted the rocks; he feared the Fisherman. He had even come to despise himself for failing to stem this repeated cycle of injuries.

As he swam, he remembered his injuries and bit his lip. The shoal suddenly surged towards the surface and the Mackerel roused himself from his grumbling. He must stay alert or he might miss out. The fish immediately ahead of him lunged at a wisp of silver, but missed. This was his chance. Thrashing his tail he powered forward with his mouth open wide. There, he had it. But there was more to this sparkle, and another hook ripped into his cheek.  His eyes opened wide in horror as the shoal turned away leaving him separated and unable to follow. The hook was pulling him towards the rocks. He knew that the only way to escape was to fight against, and snap, the line as he had done before. At first all he felt was naked fear, lonely fear, isolation. He fought and powered this way and that. The line held firm, tautly drawing him in a way he didn’t want to go. And as he fought, his fear turned to frustration; anger that he was losing control. As he passed near the surface for the first time he caught sight of the Fisherman on the rocks, reeling him in steadily.
         “Leave me alone,” he thought. “I don’t want to face you. What do you want with me anyway?”

The Mackerel gulped his last mouthful of water and held his breath. He was now helpless. He landed on the rocks, but barely touched them. His whole body was vibrating. Why couldn’t he get control back? He was so angry. Then the hand of the Fisherman grasped him firmly around the ribs and his rage was suspended. What would happen next? Was there now Mackerel on the menu?
         “Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to eat you,” said the Fisherman kindly as he twisted the hook from the Mackerel’s cheek.
The blood streamed across the Mackerel’s eye and down his side. But he was just relieved that this was not the end for him. The Fisherman gently wiped the blood away with the back of his fingers.
         “You’ve been in the wars haven’t you?” he observed.
The Fisherman pulled one of the Lampreys out straight so to get a better look. And for the first time the Mackerel could see one of these creatures for himself. He was horrified. He knew exactly what they were. He had seen them on other fish, sick fish, pitiful fish. But how had this repulsive creature come to feed on him?
         “You are such a beautiful fish,” continued the Fisherman. “You should let go of these ugly blood suckers.”
Let go? But it was the Lampreys that were holding on to him. How could he let go? The Fisherman looked deep into the Mackerel’s eye and seemed to know his thoughts again.
         “You are angry and bitter over many things,” he said. “You hold to hurts from long ago and carry them with you as a purse full of grudges.”

… to be continued!

        © M Day 18-Sep-2007

The rest of this story is available on Kindle and Audible, both individually and as part of The Animal Parables collection as well as in paperback.
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The Mackerel
The crippling nature of bitterness and the liberty in forgiving.

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The mackerel carries some injuries and is angry and bitter. But these injuries never heal because blood sucking lampreys are attracted to the wounds. He is hooked by a fisherman who shows him how to be free of the blood suckers by forgiving those who have wounded him. Once back in the water the mackerel soon gets to try out this new approach to life. However, the mackerel has more to learn and finds that the hooks he fears are actually used by the fisherman to draw mackerel to himself. Finally the mackerel learns how to forgive both the fisherman and himself.


This story represents an important discovery about forgiveness, one that I’d missed for years and had carried unnecessary anger for years as a result: It’s not about letting the other person off the hook, but about my freedom from the injury or offence. Forgiveness brings healing to the one who forgives. It’s not the same as reconciliation, but it is a prerequisite. It’s God’s method for dealing with conflict and injury. It’s why Jesus taught it.


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This is a resource to help you think through the issue raised in each of the stories. You can use the questions for group discussion or to reflect on by yourself.


Word count : 2,941
Est. read aloud time : 20 mins 30