THE UGLY FISH

Hey there. Another piece of free fiction for you all. This one from MY DROWNING CHORUS, which will likely have to be cut in the interests of space, but honestly, I can't predict anything that's going on right now.

As for the book itself, I'm on page 450 of a 400 page manuscript, you read that right. It'll be at least another 20 before I'm done. But I can't tell you anything more than that. Everything is up in the air and that includes even my humble works.

Here's your story, about a night watchman named Gonzo and the haunted, closed-down aquarium that he patrols.

Stay safe out there.

--

Eliano Gonzales-Lynne usually went by "Gonzo," the name having been given him when he took on three of the front four of Pacoima Polytech's football team, nearly seven hundred pounds of them versus one-fifty, soaking wet and holding two cinder blocks. It was in the parking lot of the Bob's Big Boy in Toluca Lake and they'd hassled him endlessly, before finally making a grab at his then girlfriend, now wife Ronnie Diaz. The biggest one had pulled her half-way through the window of his primer-gray nova and Gonzo went for it. The neon of that sky-high Bob's sign lit the scene as people made a circle around the fray, all whooping and cheering. Those assholes had it coming to them for a long, long time.

He remembered it for a moment as he leaned against the railing of the big whale tank. The new owners hadn't emptied the water yet, though the whale was off to San Diego or Miami or some other damn place. Popping a Marlboro from the pack in his uniform coat pocket, he flicked the match with a thumb and smelled the bitter hell-smell of sulfur over the faintly septic scent of the couple million gallons of salt water going rancid. No techs for maintenance now. The only crew left at Marine World was security to make sure nobody stole anything or vandalized what couldn't be unbolted and carted off. How the hell were they gonna get that big, sad orca 'cross-country, he wondered?

Stupid white bankers, all interested in counting more money and not how they were gonna move that damn whale. It didn't make sense. Marine World was on hard times, sure, everyone was. No reason to close a place with history.

He remembered taking Ronnie down here. She loved the tropical fishes like living jewels in those bright-lit tanks, so many you'd go crazy trying to count them. Gonzo didn't complain about how much it cost to come out to Palos Verdes or the traffic or paying two dollars for a beer, even a Budweiser at that. He just loved to watch her face all bathed in that light, watching her little gemstone fish. They came so often, he ended up getting a job here. Why not? It was steady.

At least until everything wasn't.

He sucked down the cigarette and figured he'd at least pretend to do his rounds. There hadn't been anything after the first week of curiosity seekers and jazzed-up kids on a dare hopping the fence. Gonzo figured there was maybe another month of this before the whole thing got condemned, or at least written-off to the point where they wouldn't want to pay his salary any longer.

His fingers rolled the butt between them and he thought about tossing it in the pool. Why not? The rising moon cast a big reflection in it, all dancing in crescent ripples brought on by the winds. At least the diablo winds were over now, so hot in November that he sweat through his undershirt just standing in the night. He thought about tossing that butt, but then he imagined the horror on Ronnie's face if she'd seen him. Trash can is right over there, just go do it.

Gonzo stubbed the butt on his boot sole. He'd stopped wearing the regulation shoes some time ago, and his boss was long gone. He ground it down good when he heard the splash.

It sounded like a Southern Pacific diesel engine had been dropped in the water, from a big height, taller even than that Bob's sign. Not even that black and white whale made a sound like that when he was side-flopping like he'd do when he got really bored or agitated. It was too big a sound.

Gonzo's hand went to his billy club and rested there, without a thought of it. The sickly salt smell got huge, splattering from the broken surface. On it, the moonlight went violent and erratic, floating around like the stars Gonzo saw when that Miles kid went dirty and rabbit-punched.

"Who's there!?" Gonzo shouted. He wasn't that skinny kid any more, so his voice had a real belt to it now.

There wasn't any reply other than the rippling water slapping up and over the splash glass. The front several rows of the seats glistened with fresh salt water, dripping wet now.

"This shit isn't funny and you're trespassing! So you better get while you can!"

No giggling, no scuffling of running feet. Just the dripping from those wet stadium chairs and the sloshing, like something big was still under the surface. Like something pushing the water, just as you might in a sink or bathtub. But it was doing it easy, like it was born to this.

The settled from wind-blown wavelets and splash scatter to something more even, lurching uneasily. In the moonlight, Gonzo couldn't see anything clearly. It was either that deep blue, so blue it was black or it was tricky and blank silver white. Maybe there was something down there. Now it all looked dark as the surface settled. It was all dark down there.

Something electric gnawed up and down Gonzo's spine. He knew the feeling but it was one he didn't spend a lot of time with. Not even when he saw red and charged those football players in the parking lot did he feel fear. That was just snap rage. This was like the feeling when the front door would ring with key-scratches at three in the morning, three because the bars let out at two and it sometimes took his father a whole hour to make it back home.

Gonzo knew who was coming through that door, but never what he'd get from him. Neither did his mother or sisters. Sometimes it was sloppy hugs and kisses on the forehead, sometimes it was unreasonable rage that always came like thunder out of a clear sky.

It was something big down there. As big as his father coming through that door frame, streetlight carving out his dark shape against that misty and awful yellow cast.

"You got a minute before I get down there!" Gonzo's voice roared, but even he knew it was hollow. "I suggest you be gone by then."

-


Maybe the rest will resurface one day.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts