“Award winning Fish Replicas! 90-day delivery.”
Travis’s eyes widened, seeing the advertisement. It raised so many questions in his mind. What could it mean? What purpose did it serve? What do you do with them? Do they go in replica fish tanks? Perhaps most importantly: Why not just get a real fish?
After longer than he’d like to have admitted, Travis realized that these were trophies. Reproductions of fish that one had caught, and wanted mounted, but couldn’t get taxidermied. Or perhaps fish that had been thrown back. Or maybe cooked and eaten.
He’d seen plenty of fish mounted on walls growing up in the sticks of the northeast. He had always assumed they were real fish, stuffed and preserved, like the deer and moose heads also on display. One childhood friend’s father had a full bearskin, head and all, hung on his wall. The tongue was plastic, and came out of the mouth easily. They played with it sometimes.
It had never occurred to Travis that the fish on the walls were reproductions. He didn’t really know anything about hunting. It was a big business in the area, though. It wasn’t odd to drive past dwellings of questionable structural stability, advertising in stenciled letters on plywood sheets, such services as taxidermy, mounting, stuffing, or the ever-morbid, “DEER CUTTING.” The business of skinning, butchering, preservation, and general defilement of animal carcasses was as natural as a snowstorm in April.
Travis’s uncle Al had tried for years to get him out in the woods. Every November when the schools closed for the first day of deer season, he would ask Travis to join him in the tree-stand. Travis always declined, opting instead to play video games or draw. Eventually, Travis’s parents told Al that Travis was “an artist.” Al, understanding, stopped asking.
The “artist” stared at the ad in fascination for a while longer. Such a strange concept put into such frank terms, “Award winning Fish Replicas! 90-day delivery.” No further explanation was apparently needed. That was enough to hookbuyers. To an outsider like Travis, the oddity remained.
Not only are Fish Replicas a thing, he thought, they evidently give awards for especially high-quality ones. Was there an entire subculture of aquatic animal replication? What went into this process? What kind of people buy these? Is it easier than taxidermying a real animal? Why is my hair standing on end? Who judges and awards these things? How large or small could they be? Did I remember to refill my Buspar script? How much do they weigh?
Travis abandoned the listicle he had been reading in favor of a search for information about Fish Replicas. Minimal digging uncovered a relatively booming industry for such a product. Manufacturers took great pride in creating beautiful, hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind fiberglass fish for those outdoorsmen who wanted a memento from a fishing trip. This was serious business.
After researching the subject, Travis felt a pang of guilt for scoffing at the idea. The process obviously took talent and effort. And those paying for such pieces were not the gold-tooth eccentrics he had imagined. From a different perspective, a Fish Replica could be not only a reminder of a joyous memory, but a custom piece of artwork.
The process of fish fabrication was surprisingly artistic. It reminded him of the sculpture and casting he had done in college. If available, organic specimens were gathered and cast in plaster, or resin, leaving a three-dimensional mold of the original fish. The molds were used to make a flexible silicone cast, which could be posed, set, apparently even adjusted in size to an extent to fit the client’s wishes. This made for versatile, and reusable molds. The molds were recast in resin or fiberglass to create a sturdy, lightweight and durable product ready to be further sculpted, sanded, and painted to appear as lifelike as possible.
Over the days following seeing the ad, Travis found himself on more than a few occasions reading about the process. He thought of Fish Replicas while at work, in the shower, driving, or lying in bed at night. He drew fish on scraps of paper and had a folder on his laptop full of pictures of Fish Replicas. Something about the concept had gotten its barbs into his mind. After a week, he took a 60-mile drive to a popular hunting and camping store called Cabela’s. The showroom, he knew, was filled with taxidermied animals. There must be Fish Replicas there. Travis needed to see in person what he had only seen on a screen. He sat in his car for several minutes before entering, steadying his breathing, wondering if he should enter or drive back home.
The store was massive and filled with all manner of dead animals in poses suggesting that they had forgotten they were, in fact, dead. Bears stood roaring, pumas prowled, deer and elk posed proudly among swooping hawks. Deceased fauna loomed everywhere. Travis looked around at some survival gear, while trying to sneak glances at the taxidermy. Although the display was obviously meant to be ogled and enjoyed, he felt self-conscious about staring overtly.
Eventually he found a fishing section with trophy catches mounted on the walls. He tried to get a good look at as many of these as he could while pretending to be interested in lead sinkers and tiny rubber bait-frogs. When he felt no one was looking, he walked up to what was labeled as a 33-inch Northern Pike. He wasn’t sure how long he had been taking in the sight when the employee approached.
“Quite a beauty, isn’t she?” asked the man, whose name tag read Flynn.
“Oh, uh, quite!” replied Travis.
“You do much fishing ’round these parts?”
“A bit,” Travis lied, his stomach tightening. “Small game is more my thing,” he added, further stretching the truth. He had no idea why he was pushing this deception. It felt, to him, like some dangerous game. Perhaps he was feeling embarrassed in a place brimming with such traditional masculinity.
“Ah, well you’ll find whatever you’re after here. We’ve got a bit of everything! Anything I can help you with today, sir?”
Travis flushed and choked out an answer. “No. Well, y-yes. Maybe something. I was just admiring this uh, Northern Pike, and I was curious as to whether it might have been, you know, a real… kind of, uh, fish. Or if it was… a… re-creation of some uh, kind or another.” Sweat prickled across his shoulders.
Flynn seemed only slightly aware of Travis’s social ineptitude. “Most of what we have here is the real deal, mostly donated by generous hunters and fisherman.”
Travis felt himself deflate. “So you don’t have any… uh, re-creations?”
“Oh sure, we’ve got a few on the walls, plenty in storage I’m sure. We rotate the mounts from time to time.”
“Are there any out that you know of? I’d like to see one if it’s alright.”
“Sure thing, there’s a pickerel near the upstairs men’s room that’s a replica if I’m not mistaken. Want me to show you up?” Flynn said with the false enthusiasm of a salesman leading a customer to another’s department.
“No, I think I can manage on my own.” Travis turned and walked toward the large staircase near the center of the floor. His heart was beating quickly, and his arms felt very warm. He felt as if he had just lied to a superior, or stolen something valuable.
On a wall near the door to the men’s room there were a handful of mounted fish. Travis located one labeled: Grass Pickerel 13” – 2009 Maryland. He walked up and studied the fish at close range. It was impeccably kept, no apparent scratches or dings, and not a speck of dust or grease on it.
He swept his gaze over the fins, the scales, teeth and eyes. The angles and contours. He would occasionally glance at another mounted piece, a real, organic preserved fish. They were somehow less impressive, their scales coarser, fins marred by imperfection, their poses more rigid. They didn’t match the beauty of the replica. The pickerel had such vibrant iridescence, it looked like it may at any moment spring back to life, and start gasping for breath.
Briefly, Travis toyed with the idea of trying to take this piece off the wall and sneak it out to his car. The thought sent a surge of electricity through his abdomen and he almost giggled out loud. There were customers all over, and the mount would obviously be attached in such a way as to prevent theft. Instead, he resolved that he would purchase one at his earliest chance.
A few hours later, Travis was back at his home, sitting in front of his computer. He went straight to the website of a prominent Fish Replica manufacturer before realizing he didn’t know what kind of fish to request. He spent the next several hours researching various fish species. Freshwater and saltwater, lake and stream, Atlantic and Pacific, the volume of fish was staggering. He gave up, overwhelmed, and considered calling out sick from work the following day. He didn’t. It wasn’t until two days later that he was finally able to choose a fish: a Black Grouper. Simple, but still interesting, with fascinatingly mottled skin, beady black eyes, a ridged dorsal fin and an overall powerful, ominous look.
After downloading several photos, he contacted Advanced Taxidermy and placed an order for a custom-made 36-inch black grouper in a dynamic pose. The piece was going to run over 500 dollars plus shipping, but Travis was so fixated that the cost was no issue. The process was going to take 60 days at the minimum. The length of time without the piece was more jarring to him than the money it had cost to get it. In exhilarated desperation, he placed the order.
In the weeks after the order was processed, Travis began to get antsy about his Fish Replica. He continued looking up videos of the process, and searching for interviews with those who did it. It wasn’t long before he got the idea to try a little replica making of his own.
He would start small. He already had some of the supplies for the process; resin, and silicone, sculpting picks and paint. He would buy more supplies from A.C. Moore soon to be safe. Unsure where to find models, he went to the grocery store. The lent season meant that there were plenty of fresh fish on display. Travis elected to buy two small, fresh salmon to start with.
When he got home, he put one of them into the refrigerator right away and took the other to his basement. He quickly constructed a wooden box large enough to fit the salmon, and sealed the cracks and seams. After it dried, Travis mixed up some silicone solution and laid it 3 inches deep in the box. The fish was about room temperature and flexible. Travis sprayed the creature liberally with synthetic lubricant and laid it into the silicone. When the silicone dried, he finished the process for the top half of the fish.
Over the following days, Travis created eight Fish Replicas based off of a total of three molds he made. Some turned out better than others, but all of them looked amateurish. They would never have been mistaken for ever having been living creatures, even if they had been competently painted. He couldn’t figure out how to do a mold with an open mouth without destroying it to remove the cast. Also, his basement reeked of fish.
Frustration quieted his replication hysteria. His life stopped revolving primarily around making molds, and he began to go about his normal activities again. He had been neglecting his gym-time in favor of his art-time.
While working out, he rarely paid any attention to the other people at the gym, but on the day he received an e-mail saying that his Black Grouper was ahead of schedule, he felt his eyes lingering more than usual. Travis took note of another young man also working out alone. He had toned muscles and fair skin generously coated with colorful tattoos. Perhaps emboldened by the news of his Grouper, Travis momentarily disregarded his shyness around cute guys, and approached him.
“Hey,” said Travis. The man started and turned around in the weight machine. Travis could hear music blaring from the man’s earbuds.
“Oh, hey, I’ll be done in like, three minutes. I just gotta do another set, then it’s all yours,” replied the man. Before he could pop his headphones back in, Travis spat out a few words.
“Oh no, it’s not that, and take your time! I was just, uh,” he stammered, mind racing frantically, ”wondering if you might be able to spot me for a few reps on the bench when you’re finished.” This was all that Travis’s mind could come up with on such short notice. He supposed it was better than nothing.
“Yeah, sure. I’ll be over in a minute.” The man smiled and Travis felt his heart flutter.
As Travis walked over to the bench and barbell, he realized that he hadn’t lifted free weights since high school, and didn’t know what plates to add to warrant a spotter. He added a few and hoped it seemed adequate.
The man walked over after wiping down his machine. When he approached, Travis introduced himself.
“Thanks, I’m… I’m Terrance, by the way.” Travis felt a churning below his ribcage, as though tiny piranha were caught in a feeding frenzy within him. He had no idea what had possessed him to lie about his name. Fear? Shame? At the time, it seemed the right thing to do. Maybe he should have ordered a piranha Fish Replica.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Byron,” replied the man. “You all set?”
“I think so,” said Travis, sitting and laying back his head on the padded bench. “Here goes.”
Travis succeeded in getting about two reps in before he realized that he greatly overestimated his ability to lift. On his third rep, he needed Byron to ease the bar up, and on the fourth, he nearly crushed his own esophagus. The bar tipped hard to the right, and the plates–which Travis had not clamped–began to slide off. Thinking quickly, Byron slid the weights back on and hoisted the bar up and back onto the rack.
“Jesus, you okay man?” asked Byron, kneeling down.
“I… I think so,” Travis choked. “I’m usually on the machine. I… never use the free weights.”
“Ya think?” Byron said, the lightness in his tone made Travis avert his gaze. “Maybe stick with the machines.”
“Good idea,” Travis said weakly. “I think that’s gonna do it for me today, thanks for the spot.”
“Not a problem.”
Travis meekly wiped down the bench and walked to the locker room. He was mortified and his neck ached. He spent a long time in the shower, not realizing that the water was slowly turning icy as he counted measured breaths. He had taken a chance, which was odd for him. It was uncomfortable, but he had survived. Maybe he could take another. He wondered if there may still be a way to get to know Byron.
After showering, he left the locker room and saw Byron on an elliptical machine. He watched the man’s muscles tense, stretch and contract. His tone was defined, well built, but slender. His calves and biceps didn’t have that pantyhose-stuffed-with-potatoes look that some skinnier guys got when they worked out. Travis approached him once more.
“So Byron, I, uh,” he stalled as Byron removed his earbuds again.
“Don’t tell me you need another spot!” Byron said, laughing. “I’m not sure this gym’s insurance could handle it.” The levity settled Travis’s nerves.
“No, no more of that!” Travis flushed, catching himself looking at Byron’s eyebrows. He remembered that he had neglected to pluck his own, and turned his head. “I was thinking, I owe you one for saving my neck back there. How about you let me buy you a beer in a while?”
“I could probably swing that. I mean, you do owe me one!” Byron said, facetiously. “Where were you thinking?” Hooked lines were being baited, and both Byron and Travis were waiting for the first nibble.
“Well, I was thinking maybe… I mean, I’ve heard that… Pablo’s has a good microbrew menu.” It was out now. Indeed, Pablo’s was known to have a decent beer menu. It was perhaps better known as the bar where straight people typically went only by accident. Travis cursed his boldness, turning his feet, preparing to make a quick exit after the rejection.
“Yeah, Pablo’s is one of my favorite places around here.”
Travis now felt a crushing weight lift from him for the second today. He and Byron were on the same page now. The piranhas inside him settled.
“Great,” said Travis, who had nearly forgotten that he was now going by the name Terrence. “Want to meet up there around 6?”
“Works for me.”
Travis smiled to himself, Fish Replicas momentarily further from his mind than they had been for weeks.
Pablo’s Tavern quiet at 9:20 on a Wednesday. Byron and Terrence, née Travis, were sitting at a booth near the corner window for a sense of privacy. Travis bought the first round at quarter after 6, and from there, they switched off until they couldn’t remember whose turn it was. After three hours’ time, they decided that they had probably ought to leave Pablo’s or risk bankruptcy. It was still early, but neither one had much money, nor another place to go. In the lot, Byron asked Travis where his car was parked.
“Oh, I walked here, I don’t live far,” replied Travis.
“Well, you ain’t walking back! Come here, I’ll give you a lift, it’s the blue Hyundai.”
“If you insist, sir,” Travis replied. He typically didn’t drink much, and all the beer had made him feel light and buoyant, like a jellyfish. He wondered if one could make a Fish Replica of a jellyfish.
The two of them hopped in the car and listened to the radio on the 5-minute jaunt back to Travis’s. “This is me.” Travis motioned to the split-level home.
“Holy shit! You’ve got a whole house? Sure beats my apartment.”
“Eh, it’s not much,” said Travis. “Do you, um… do you want to come in?” he ventured. “I can show you around the joint. I think I’ve got a few beers in the fridge.” Travis couldn’t remember how old the beers were, but he was sure they were there.
“Sure,” said Byron, melting him with another smile.
They walked through the home, sipping their beers. Travis was playing the unfamiliar role of tour guide, but he felt an unusual ease and confidence. He showed Byron around and pointed out some of the artwork he had hanging up. He credited the paintings and explained what they meant to him without worrying if Byron cared or not. It was an unfamiliar feeling. It was a welcome feeling.
They eventually finished the tour and wound up back in the living room, sitting on the sofa. “Nice place,” Byron said. “I was hoping the finale of the tour would be the bedroom, but this sofa is pretty comfy.”
“Maybe the tour’s not over yet.”
“I hope not.” Byron set his beer on the coffee table. “You know, there are easier ways to pick up a date than crushing your own windpipe”
“Oh my god!” They both laughed. “I wish you’d told me that sooner. I would–” Without warning, Byron leaned over and kissed Travis. They remained there, holding each other on the sofa for a few moments. Travis’s arms and back had become rigid with nervous tension.
“Hey.” Byron ran a hand through Travis’s hair. “You okay? Terrence?”
“Yeah,” Travis whispered. “Yeah, I just–I just…” He felt a pull as though a steel hook had penetrated his ribcage. What if he messed this up? How did he end up here to begin with? Why was this guy being so nice to him? Why would he like Travis? Travis tasted his own breath in his mouth. It tasted like old beer. Byron couldn’t like that. But Byron’s breath tasted like beer too, and Travis was turned on by that. Why couldn’t he have left well enough alone? Just finished his workout and gone home.
Travis felt every drop of sweat on his own body at once, felt disgusted by it. This had all been a mistake. It always was. He saw his life in a stark bas-relief and identified the prior hours as a high ridge. Only a deeply carved ridge could follow.
“Hey,” Byron said. His voice was even and sweet. “It’s okay, Terrence. Relax, hun, you’re fine.” He lowered his hand and rubbed the side of Travis’s neck. “Are you cool?”
“No,” Travis said. “I don’t know. You’re cool, I’m–oh jesus.” He broke off, putting a palm on Byron’s forearm. It was firm and smooth.
Byron laughed. “No, man. Are you cool?” He leaned back and produced from his pocket an envelope containing a half-dozen or so small tablets. He put one in his mouth and swallowed. “This’ll help you relax. It’s just a little Molly, I think you’ll like it.”
Travis stared at the capsules, small, colorful, shiny. They were pretty. He took a pill and swallowed it. “Thanks.”
They talked for a while as the pills took effect. Travis did relax again, just like Byron said. They talked about Byron’s tattoos, there were curled dragons, and birds, and flowers, and vines, and logos for bands Travis didn’t know of. They wove together up and down his arms and shoulders. He had taken his shirt off and Travis saw that they played down his chest and abdomen as well as across his back. He was a canvas of greens and pinks and blacks, and Travis found himself mesmerized and eased by the art.
“You’re gorgeous,” Travis told him. Byron’s body seemed to sparkle before his eyes.
“I kinda’ am,” Byron said, leaning back. Travis laughed and slapped Byron’s thigh. He watched his own hand slide up Byron’s thigh, eventually realizing he must be the one moving it.
“You’re like The Illustrated Man. Do you,” Travis stifled the giggles rising in him, ”do you have lions in you that are gonna eat my parents?” The laughter came and he let it.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Byron grinned, cocking his eyebrows as he stretched his legs out.
“You know,” Travis started, slurring the words, “I have a confession to make. My name isn’t Terrence… it’s Travis.” Byron looked puzzled and bemused for a moment, then began laughing.
“You’re such a weirdo!” said Byron. “If you’re going to use a fake name, why pick something so close to your real name?”
“I don’t know!” replied Travis, “I panicked, and it was the first thing I thought of.” His head swam and he was very warm, though he no longer cared how much he was sweating.
“Well, next time, try to think of something a little more interesting. Something that doesn’t use the same basic group of letters as your real one.”
The words swam in Travis’s mind, darting back and forth: Same basic group of letters same basic group of letters same basic group of basic group of group group of… group group of… Grouper.
“If you think that’s weird, come check this out,” said Travis, standing up woozily.
“Yeah, sure, hang on,” replied Byron, taking another pill and offering one to Travis.
“I’m feeling…” Travis trailed off, momentarily distracted by the minnows swimming in Byron’s blue eyes. “You’re sure this is just Molly?”
“Hmmmm… More or less,” Byron said, winking.
Travis led him down into the basement and began explaining to him his recent obsession with Fish Replicas. He showed off his studio, and a few of his failed attempts at making plastic fish.
“Whoa… You weren’t kidding, you are a weirdo!” said Byron.
Travis feigned indignance. “I should have expected such a lack of culture and artistic appreciation of a meathead from the gym!”
“You were at the gym too,” Byron said, smiling.
“Yeah, but I’m hardly a meathead, I couldn’t even llllift the bar!” Travis couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so at-ease and giddy. The basement was cool, it felt good. He thought about removing his shirt like Byron, but decided against it. That would come later. Travis admired Byron’s arms.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea. You want to help me in a… groundbreaking artistic endeavor?” asked Travis.
“I wasn’t able to do this on my own, but with a model it should be a piece of cake, just hold on a minute while I get something ready,” Travis said, turning and gathering scraps of wood. After a few minutes, and a few dropped nails, he had a long shallow frame built. “Okay, here.” He pulled Byron’s arm out straight, and fit the box around it. “Perfect!”
Byron looked quizzically at the contraption. “This may be the second weirdest thing I’ve done on a first date.”
“This will only take maybeeee 20 minutes, you game?” asked Travis.
“I have no idea what I am agreeing to, but I’m fucked up in a cute guy’s basement, how can I say no?”
“Niiiice. This won’t hurt a bit,” Travis said as he sprayed Byron’s right arm with synthetic lubricant. “It will feel a little warm, but that’s all.” He clamped the box, set it on the workbench so that Byron was in a comfortable position, and then began pouring liquid silicone through a funnel into the box. Some dribbled out, but he had done a surprisingly competent construction job considering his condition. “Try not to wiggle your fingers too much.”
“Sure thing, Michelangelo. Smells like fish down here.”
“When this is done, you’ll have another arm.” Travis sang what he said next to the tune of the music that had started playing in his mind. “And you’ll be immortaliiiiized forever as a wooooork of art.”
“Whatever you say man, this just better not take too long, I might start getting, uh, anxious.”
“Then I’ll have to keep you nice and relaxed.” Travis said, walking around behind Byron. He started to rub Byron’s shoulders and massage his neck.
Byron said in a dreamy voice, “Keep that up and you can make a mold of any part of me you want.”
“It’s not a mold,” Travis whispered in his ear, “it’s a Fish Replica.” Travis heard words being sung to his mind-music now. They were in a language he didn’t know, but immediately understood. He was unsure how much time he spent rubbing Byron’s shoulders, but by the time he snapped himself out of the musical daze he was experiencing, Byron was snoring, and the silicone had set.
He unclamped the box, and slid the silicone mold off of Byron’s limp arm, his body lurching as Travis pulled. He set him upright in the chair again, and fished the envelope from Byron’s pocket. He took two more of the pretty pills.
Travis began working, deciding to use the mold of Byron’s arm immediately for a Fish Replica. He filled it with another silicone solution so that the Fish Replica would remain flexible and able to swim. While that was setting, Travis listened to more foreign music in his head, and stared at the fluorescent overhead light tube which was swimming with tiny iridescent Fish Replicas of all colors
Byron was such a nice boy. He had let Travis turn his arm into a Fish Replica. He likely wouldn’t mind helping out more. In fact, didn’t Byron just say that Travis could make a Fish Replica out of any part of his body? Travis was pretty sure that was what he had said. And the translucent Walleye Pike swimming through the air next to him assured him that Byron had indeed said this.
Travis picked up a rough-cut hacksaw from the pegboard on the wall. Its blade was jagged and sharp, not quite like the ridge of a North-American-Green-Sturgeon, but close enough. He used the Green Sturgeon to slice into Byron’s gullet, it cut more easily than he expected. Travis didn’t even have trouble cutting through the operculum.
Warm saltwater began to flow from the underside of the neck of the North-Atlantic-Byron, cascading down his pectoral fins and teeming with tiny Blue Tang, and Damselfish. It was an astonishing sight. The Byronfish’s body spasmed at first, but Travis didn’t think that would affect the straightness of his cut too badly. When the Widemouth Byron’s head was removed from its trunk, the lovely waterfall ceased. But that was okay, since there was serious work to be done.
Travis began constructing another box to hold the mold for his next Fish Replica. It turned out a bit sloppy, since all the eels kept swimming into his line of vision, but they were cute, so he let them be, only pushing them aside a few times. The rest of the Black-Crested-Byron had slipped and sunk to the ocean floor, seawater glistening on his well-muscled fins. His painted scales shone brightly. The Northern-Lake-Travis wondered if he would appreciate his Fish Replica when he finally awoke.
The Speckled Gulf-Travis carefully placed the Golden-Spiny-Byron’s head crest-up inside the mold-box. He wasn’t sure if he did it correctly, since his fins were slick and a little numb, but he was assured by the four Argentinian-Sea-Trout that he was doing a bang-up job of things. Unfortunately, the Hammerhead-Travis noted that he only had enough silicone for one more mold. The Mediterranean-Widemouth-Travis decided it would be best if he used it to make Fish Replica of himself, since he was, of course, a stunning example of aquatic wildlife.
He quickly banged together one more mold box. Being out of nails, he improvised and hammered the spinal ridges of an Oarfish into the box. When it was finished he asked one of the Humboldt Squid if it would be good enough, it conceded that the box would work fabulously, and reminded him to coat his head and face with lubricant.
The Purple-Travis-Anthias lay down with his head in the box, his neck set in the notch he had cut with the Green-Sturgeon. He used his pectoral fins to lift up a bucket of liquid silicone above his crown and began drizzling it over his face. He was very careful not to pour it in such a way that it drizzled down his body and clogged his gills. He couldn’t afford to suffocate with all these Fish Replicas to make!
The Eastern-Trench-Travis didn’t close his eyes against the stream of chemicals raining upon him, as he was a species without external eyelids. Astonishing sights filled his head. The view of the red sun dancing across the waves of the surface, starfish, urchins, and jellyfish all dancing an aquatic ballet in perfect step with one another. Before he slipped into the depths, he saw his Black Grouper pass by his eyes, glistening softly.
The police officers who investigated the scene several days later were baffled. Two bodies, one mutilated, its head in a wooden box, another lying with its head slathered in some sort of rubber material. Evidence of alcohol and drug paraphernalia were found at the scene.
A coroner’s report would reveal that Byron Wells and Travis Vernon had amounts of alcohol, MDMA, and PCP in their bloodstreams well beyond safe levels. In a detail that never left the autopsy room, when the silicone was cut and pulled from around the head and face of Travis Vernon, the material was imprinted with a nearly perfect mold of his face, smiling and serene.
Family members could only speculate what had happened. Bad-trip was an equally accurate and unsatisfying reasoning. To further add to the mystery, the day police entered the home, there was a large package on the front step. It was examined and given to the next of kin, Travis’s parents. When they opened it, they found a large, and very realistic model fish of some kind.
Dan Scamell is a writer of fiction that takes place in a slightly less pleasant version of the world we inhabit. His fiction is featured in The Charnel River Complex anthology, and has also appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, and Entropy Magazine. Four of his short stories are featured in the upcoming From The Dead Anthology from Dead Star Press. He currently resides in New York State. When not writing, he enjoys drawing, creating music and watching too much professional wrestling.