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Don’t You Fish on Sunday

Don't you Fish on Sunday

Jonah was a big strong man who worked as a carpenter. Most everyone in town liked him, but they all knew that his weakness was fishing. Jonah would go fishing every chance he got; even on Sundays when everyone else was in church. And that got folks in town riled up. There was a rumor – started so long ago no one could remember the details – that bad luck would come to anyone who fished that part of the river on a Sunday. For decades, pious folks had avoided the river on the Lord’s Day, just to be safe.

     Jonah laughed when he heard the bad luck rumors. He figured folks were trying to scare him into going to church, so he took delight in proving them wrong. Jonah was incorrigible, and the despair of his neighbors.  If he hadn’t been such a good carpenter, folks would have run him out of town.

       Old Granny, who was pushing one hundred years, shook her head whenever someone spoke about Jonah and his fishing problem. She remembered the source of the bad luck rumors, and Jonah’s defiance troubled her.

     “My parents warned us to stay away from the river,” she said to her daughter-in-law, knitting needles clicking as she rocked in her porch chair. “There’s a River Witch that rules those waters.  She can’t touch pious folks who honor the Sabbath. But someone like Jonah could easily fall under her spell.”

   Now, the young’uns in town were all on Jonah’s side. They thought the old folks were too strict and there was no such thing as bad luck. The more Jonah stuck to his ways, the more the young’uns admired him. Some of them started skipping Sunday School to go fishing.

    One Sunday, Jonah sat on the riverbank fishing for hours in his favorite spot. He was having no luck at all. He was just about to pack up his pole and go somewhere else when a fish finally bit his hook. It was a mighty big one. Jonah fought and fought with that fish until finally he managed to pull it out of the river. He saw at once that it wasn’t a fish at all. It was a strange creature, such as Jonah had never seen before. It had a tail like a fish, but its head was like a duck, and it had wings like an eagle. Frightened, Jonah dropped everything—hook, line, and fishing pole—and ran for home. But the creature started singing:

Come back and pick me up, Jonah,

Come back and pick me up, Jonah,

Domie ninky head, Jonah.

     The nonsense words at the end of the song put a spell on Jonah. He came back and picked up his strange ‘fish’ and took it up to the house. He was in a sort of trance and didn’t notice when some of the youngsters who had skipped church that day followed him down the street, murmuring in wonder at the strange fish he had caught on the Lord’s Day. The creature sang:

Clean me up and cook me, Jonah,

Clean me up and cook me, Jonah,

Domie ninky head, Jonah.

    So, Jonah cleaned the creature and cooked it up. He hoped that once it was dead, it would stop singing to him. But no sooner had Jonah’s ‘fish’ finished cooking when it sang:

Take me off and eat me, Jonah.

Take me off and eat me, Jonah.

Domie ninky head, Jonah.

     By this time, the church service was over. Everyone bustled out of the sanctuary and went searching for the source of the commotion. There was great consternation when the townspeople heard Jonah’s fish singing to him. The old folks said it was the wrath of God come upon Jonah for fishing on Sunday. The young’uns just laughed.

     Still caught up in the spell, Jonah took his ‘fish’ off the fire and ate the whole thing, even though he thought it would choke him.

      As soon as he finished the last bite, Jonah start to swell up. He got bigger and bigger and bigger until he burst in a shower of flesh, blood and bone. The River Witch stepped out of his shattered body, whole and alive.

     The townsfolks gasped and drew back in fear as the creature walked past them all, down to the river. It was singing again:

Don’t you fish on Sunday, Jonah,

Don’t you fish on Sunday, Jonah,

Domie ninky head, Jonah.

     When it reached the mossy bank, the River Witch slid back under the water, and no one ever saw it again.

     The next Sunday, every adult in town was sitting in the church sanctuary a quarter of an hour before the start of service, and all the young’uns were back in Sunday School. Because it was bad luck to go fishing on a Sunday. Everyone in town knew that. Now.


Copyrighted content: This is a retold folklore story by S.E. Schlosser, who owns the copyright. This version of the story may not be reproduced, reprinted or used in any other way without the permission of the author. Teachers may link to or photocopy this story as part of their classwork.

S.E. Schlosser

S.E. Schlosser

S.E. Schlosser is the author of the Spooky Series published by Globe Pequot Press. She has been telling stories since she was a child, when games of “let’s pretend” quickly built themselves into full-length tales acted out with friends. A graduate of both Houghton College and the Institute of Children’s Literature, Sandy received her MLS from Rutgers University while working as a full-time music teacher and a freelance author.