Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Original Short Story: Fishbowl

This was the assignment on my teen writers forum: Take something ordinary and make it scary. Craft a story in which something horrifying happens, but ground it in reality. Try to create something that is visceral and frightening, without going over the top or relying on gore.

Genre: Contemporary
Goal: To scare us silly!
Word Count: 800-1000 words

By MangyCat
Word Count: 844

The plastic bag burst open below Taan’s hands. Cold water spilled into the glass bowl, sending its inhabitant swirling around the spherical prison. Blue gravel bounced up in slow motion, then slowly sank as the goldfish examined its new surroundings.

Taan leaned over his desk, arms folded under his chin, to get a better look at the new decoration. “Welcome to my office,” he murmured between clenched teeth.

The goldfish turned and waved its tail back and forth. For a second, Taan was sure the fish wore a questioning expression. But it turned again, and the fantasy passed.

He dropped a few fish flakes in and leaned back in his brown leather chair. Taan pushed his fists up, stretching his arms. Five days in his new office with a new title on his new door, and this place already felt like home. The firm had been busy that week, but Taan did not begrudge the work. Neither would be begrudge the higher salary that went into effect this pay period.

Splashing sounds caught his ear. Taan glanced at his new desk ornament. Streaks of water beaded on the lacquered wood and created a path from the glass bowl to his keyboard, where the goldfish flailed and contorted across the alphabet in wild gyrations.

Taan scooped up the fish and dropped it back into the bowl. He cursed as he assessed the damage to both the desk and computer. Positioning his sleeve to wipe the surfaces, he thought better of it and got up to grab the tissue box from an end table by the couch.

Just as he stuck his fingers inside the box, a wet, smacking sound drew him back around. The fish was out again and flopping on his keyboard.

“That the--”

Taan raced back to his desk, dropped the tissue box in his chair, and scooped the fish up once more. He tossed it back in the water, more forcefully this time.

“You have a death wish?” he snapped, yanking tissues from the box.

The fish leapt from the bowl on cue, but before she could flop the distance to his computer, Taan grabbed the bowl, put it below the edge of the desk, and wiped the fish into it. He placed the tank on the floor behind him.

Taan muttered under his breath as he mopped water. He balled up three tissues and carefully dabbed his keyboard. Tiny puddles filled the indentures on several keys. He swabbed them up, absently looking at the screen to see if his document was still in tact.

Taan’s hand froze. His brows furrowed, then his eyes opened wide. He turned around and regarded the goldfish with a new curiosity, heart pounding with uncertainty. Could he really be seeing what he thought he saw?

The fish remained stationary in the unsteady water. Taan moved closer, lowering to a squat. He picked up the bowl and held it at eye level.

“What the devil are you doing?” His voice was barely a whisper and scared him.

The goldfish stared back through the glass, then swirled the bottom of the bowl and launched through the surface. It hit him in the face, and Taan fell backward unexpectedly. The base of his head hit the hard edge of the desk, and consciousness left him as he crumpled into a heap.

The fish landed beside him and flopped into Taan’s curled palm. It lay gasping, its whole body inflating and constricting while it desperately fought for life in the open air.

When Taan came to, he felt the motionless goldfish in his hand. He dropped it on the carpet and scrabbled to his feet. Running his fingers through his hair, he turned back toward his computer. The document was still open.

He bent to read the words again. The last line of the client letter he‘d been typing read:

“For consideration of the facts that?/lkhmkjy ffffrreee meee freeeee mee fffrresaEE ME../ FREE ME FREE ME FREE ME”

Taan looked back at the fish. After a moment’s consideration, he picked up the carcass and carried it out. The light in the hall reflected unnaturally on the orange scales of the creature cradled under his fingers. He went into the bathroom and entered a stall.

Staring at the goldfish, Taan wondered if the thing had actually tried to communicate with him or if the letters typed were some bizarre coincidence. He dropped the small body into the toilet with a plop.

He pulled the handle to flush, and the water began to circle clockwise, yet the fish wiggled, then moved counterclockwise. Taan blinked and dropped to his knees. Was it swimming in the opposite direction? Before he could formulate an answer, the goldfish went straight down the drain.

the end

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