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The Fish

James Morris-Knight

29th September, 2017

Fiction for Friday: Through a fictional short story about the underwater inhabitant of a Canadian lake, JAMES MORRIS-KNIGHT explores the loss of tradition, crime and industry in North America.

The Fish sucked the boy in and closed down his mouth, turned and flicked his tail as he beat back down to the blackness of the lakebed in absolute silence, just as he had arrived and killed

In the winter of 1982 The Fish killed and swallowed a boy who was swimming under the ice for sport and tradition. He didn’t bite down around the boy, there was no chomping into flesh or plumes of red vapor left after to stain the ice and alert the other lake dwellers. He just swallowed him whole, hoovered him in, not knowing of what the boy comprised, or of what he meant and to whom. It was an innocent act, and an honest one, or so intended in all. The Fish sucked the boy in and closed down his mouth, turned and flicked his tail as he beat back down to the blackness of the lakebed in absolute silence, just as he had arrived and killed.


The Fish was made, in its originality, to extrapolate data from movements in the water and understand the predators that threatened his life. There were no such predators capable anyhow, due to his size, and so his sense of movement had long been dulled, relying more on then and in his later years the tiny eyes with which he’d been blessed. 


If his senses were more tuned The Fish may have sensed the chattering of native patter afterward, and bodies jumping through holes in the ice made by power tools and into the water in search of the lad. The water was so cold that drowned bodies would not float, they’d sink, the water was gin clear, so clear, that those who jumped in after him would see the boy go. The boy was fit and able. None from the village believed he drowned.


In later times ice rarely thickened on the surface of the lake as it once did, so there was less opportunity for The Fish to surface, or even bask in the shallows as The Fish and his kind had done before.


None of his kind, to his knowledge or that of man or any beast, survives at all, to bask in the shallows or eat swimming boys. Though, The Fish is not alone. Man and beast are plenty in this lake and since its genesis in 1951 The Fish has seen no numbers of either dwindle, albeit the faces of the lake are much different now.

Twenty-nine years after his birth and two years before the swallowing of the little boy, a non-native trapper, a poor man, a mad man, a hermit, who went by the name of Carl Jenkis shot at The Fish with an Italian 12 bore shot gun. Though The Fish had no memory of it after nor bad feeling toward humans because of it that would warrant the eating of an infant. 


Jenkis was boiling coffee at the time, and packing his pouch with tobacco when he saw The Fish sunning, and he got his gun and shot at it, over it’s back, though he never intended to miss, and The Fish slid away. More liken eel then any white sturgeon or beluga, "n more blacker then a tyre", said Jenkis of him.


Though The Fish will later go on to eat their spawn more than three years later, when the native population heard the hermits tale they tutted and clucked at such instinctive rapture that fell to Jenkis so easily, against the instinctiveness of the natural world that had so long asserted itself to preserve The Fish.


It was not the first time The Fish had heard the report of a gun, nor would it be the last. He had heard a gun before with the opening of the dam, in merry making, and another time before the closing of a casino, in rapture.


The Fish sat in the water below the falls, hearing the gun and never knowing that it signified a beginning to its end. Some man of high standing pointed it to the sky and shot once before a great gate closed and a turning light behind glass and mesh lighted and a horn sounded. 


Years later The Fish heard that same gun before a man known locally as Billy Locklear was rolled over the side of a fishing vessel and glided past the animals nose silently, staring, bound to the head of an engine, a cavity in his chest and black locks veiling his face. He went down and the casino closed soon after, or changed hands, though The Fish wouldn’t of known it and many years was set to pass before Jenkis would fire his gun and boil his coffee.


Most days went by without event, The Fish was concerned only with filling itself with little fish, of which there are many, or in some cases, as in the early days, do battle with larger fish. 


The Fish was designed for bottom feeding, he had a huge mouth that flared wide and extended out to suck and strip the native plant that once carpeted the bed of the lake. The fish had teeth, though seldom used, like half eggs but smaller, hundreds in rings on the inside of the beasts great mouth. His eyes sat on the side of his head, low down, to view the bed of the lake, they sat a flush three and a half feet wide from each other and as was said before, beady and small.


It was around 1974 that The Fish switched from the native plant of the lake to other fish, it was also around the same time that he lost his last companion, a male and a distant cousin, to what he lost him to he doesn’t know, but he went. The last female had gone that previous year, trapped and killed by a falling net in the north-west Atlantic, about sixty miles south of St Johns and a hundred and forty miles east of Nova Scotia, or so the crow flies. The female was unable to make it up the rivers and past the dam anyhow, as she had attempted the year before, but she was on her way. 


The change, the eating of other fish, was never a conscious act but it did happen and The Fish didn’t feel either way about it. As Asian fish and eels and other parasitic beings invaded the lake, like nature or the creator, The Fish had asserted himself to preserve his being and some could suppose that he might have been useful.

 

Larger fish, born killers, had done battle with The Fish. Sturgeon had tried to murder him, in a rare alliance they acted as a school and cornered The Fish in an inlet. The Fish turned on one and beat it, after having a nasty stripe of flesh stripped from his belly he turned and found its head in his mouth and he crushed it. The sturgeon turned on each other, and The Fish turned on them, the water bubbled beneath the pines and Cilla Smith, an old mother laid up with a fever, remarked on the wails of sirens to her husband. 


The Fish went away with a few scars, the belly of him soft like many other fish, although the back of him was covered in tough scales that moved with the free coordination of chainmail and protected him thoroughly. 


He had run-ins with boats too, the ferry that once crossed here in times of industry ran over his back and churned it all up. The Fish made a true mess of the propeller. The men scratched their heads and figured for a tangle with flotsam metal or an unknown jutting rock, such was the noise and the heave of the boat leeward. 

 

There was little of that natural plant left, in burrows and deep holes of the lake some were sustained but the lake had become dirty in their absence, silty, the plant was stripped by species foreign and unsentimental. No longer sowed and cultivated by other great numbers of migrants.


As an elder The Fish had lost some weight and slowed down some, his eyes were rheumy and his underbelly pocked by the marks of bloodsuckers. He prescribed himself a leisurely pace and fed less rampantly and more fairly. 

 

He was caught in 2006 by a man with a line and a rod but of course he broke off, such was his weight, he dragged the boat for some time too, and then the rod, but snapped the line and the hook, a size 1, a dwarf of a hook in his prodigious mouth, it grew into him and was forgotten, but not comfortable.


The day of his death, like other days, he did not expect. In his view little had changed to warrant such a smiting, the betrayal by one man and the deviousness of his incumbent lead to the dropping of dynamite and laying of pipeline in the lake. In the summer of 2018 The Fish slept, buried in the silt and mud, the gentle settling of the dynamite he did not notice it, such was his lethargy at this stage. The dynamite rippled up and through the water, it exploded the creature and his gassy bits floated to the surface for examination, the water slick with blood like oil. It was a dishonest and malignant act. The Fish was slain and the project halted. Some might suppose that any sin on his part was absolved, and he was useful in a way. 


This Author


James Morris-Knight is a 24-year-old writer and activist from the West Midlands. He is also a fisherman and outdoorsman with great respect for the ocean and waterways. He tweets at @jimmymk93

 

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