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Stories

Picklefish

Part One

And so it was a very grizzled Sargeant Pickle that intently battled alien hockey players on his television one rainy Saturday night. Pickle sat in his tidy dark living room, lit by the white glow of the TV from the front and the dim yellow fishtank from behind. Despite the haze of several painkillers, the retired army sargeant was focused on the noisy game.

"PIIIIIIICKLLLLLLLLLLLLLE!!!" gurgled a voice behind Pickle.

Pickle started at the sound and took his eyes off the video game to turn around in his chair. "What the hell was that?" he grumbled. He looked at the fishtank and at the handful of little fish swimming back and forth, and listened to the low murmur of the tank’s filtering apparatus. One fish, of particularly indistinct brownish gray coloring, swam to the front of the fishtank, and seemed to stare at the grizzled sargeant through the glass.

"PPIIIIIIIIIIIKKKLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLE!!!" The voice gurgled again, accompanied by an angry surge of bubbles rising to the top of the fishtank.

"Holy shit!" said Pickle. His old war wound made his legs move slowly, but he got up from his seat anyway, grunting. He peered closely at the bubbling aquarium, but the strange little fish had gone back to its monotony of back and forth swimming, its goggly eyes gazing past the perplexed sargeant.

Part Two

Sargeant Pickle tapped the front of the aquarium and watched as fish darted abrubtly in all directions. Momentarily, all the fish resumed swimming back and forth. “I must have taken one too many percosets,” Pickle said to himself.

Suddenly the distorted, tinny voice of the video hockey announcer yelled “HE SHOOTS! HE SCORES!!!! MERCURON FOR THE ALIENS!!” followed by the canned raucous cheering of the crowd.

“Shit, “ Pickle muttered, turning back to the video game. He lurched back to the chair and grabbed up the controller. “Damn! Only two minutes to go in the period. Aliens, you are fucked,” he said. The grizzled Sargeant Pickle quickly became entranced once more in his pursuit of video victory.

He continued to play, oblivious to the low background noise provided by the fish tank behind him.

A few minutes passed. Of course he didn’t see the little brownish gray fish with the goggly eyes stop swimming at the front of the tank.

"PPIIIIIIIIIIIKKKLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLE!!!"

Pickle started at the gurgling. “GodDAMMIT! What IS that?!” He jumped up too vigorously, and instantly his bad knees croaked up at him. Pickle winced at the familiar but unpleasant sensation of pain.

"PPIIIIIIIIIIIKKKLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLE!!!
PLLLAAAYYY PPIIIIIIIIIIIKKKLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLE!!! PPLLLAAAAAAYYYYY!!!!!!" gurgled the voice, much louder than before.

The sargeant rubbed his aching knees while turning toward the fish tank. He approached the front of the tank impatiently. “Jesus Fucking Christ, are you TALKING to me?!!” he asked, rapping the glass hard with this knuckle.

The fish darted away from the glass, but only for a couple of seconds, then swam back to the glass. “SSTTOPPPPPPP THHHHHAAAAAAATTTT!!!!!!” it gurgled at Pickle, who stepped back, stunned.

“What the FUCK!!!” said Pickle. He tapped on the glass again, now snickering nervously.

The fish darted away from the glass again, and again only for a second. It then angrily swam back to the front of the tank, actually bumping into the glass.

“IIII  SSSSAAAAAIIIIIIDDDDD  SSSSSTTTTTOOOOOPPPPPPPPP THHHHHAAAAAAATTTTTTT!!!!!!”

Bubbles raged at the surface of the water in the fish tank.

Part Three

Pickle jumped back from the fish tank as the apparently talking fish swam backward momentarily, getting ready to slam into the front of the tank again.
“This is NOT happening, this CAN’T be happening!” Pickle said. “I gotta go tell Bubble about this.”

He hurried out of the living room to his clean little kitchen, then opened his apartment door, which led to the building’s main stairs. He groaned a little as his knees adjusted themselves to the first step, then began calling his upstairs neighbor’s name. “Bubble! Hey Bubble!” he yelled excitedly.

He made short work of the stairs, ignoring his creaking knees. In a few moments, the sound of a baby crying pierced the stairwell, the noise muffled only a little by the walls. Pickle reached the top of the stairs and knocked twice before the door squeaked open and Vivo Bubble appeared. Bubble was unshaven and looked generally unkempt, the rings under his eyes doing little to mask his annoyance at the disturbance.

“Groan, what do you want, Pickle? You woke up Junior.” Bubble was clutching the crying infant, who now started to wiggle in the hapless father’s arms. “Groan, c’mon Baby Leon, be a good baby,” he cooed. Baby Leon glanced over at the excited Pickle standing in the doorway and redoubled his crying effort.

Pickle raised his voice over the baby’s screaming. “YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE IT, BUBBLE!” he shouted. “YOU HAVE TO LOOK AT MY FISH.”

Bubble continued to try to calm the baby down, and hadn’t heard what Pickle had said. “WHAT DID YOU SAY?!” he shouted.

“MY FISH, YOU HAVE TO SEE MY FISH!!”

“WHAT ABOUT YOUR FISH?!” Baby Leon was really wailing now.

Mrs. Bubble called out from somewhere behind Bubble. “Vivo, why is he crying?”
This was enough for Bubble. “Groan, I gotta go,” he said, shaking his head. He closed the door, leaving Pickle alone on the stairs, muffled baby screams now punctuated by the angry voices of Bubble and his wife.

Pickle trudged down the stairs to his apartment. “He’ll never believe it,” he muttered.

M eanwhile, back in Pickle’s living room, a strange gurgling speech emanated from the aquarium, unheard by human ears.

"PPIIIIIIIIIIIKKKLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLE!!!”

Part Four

Pickle played video hockey for another hour, then began to feel himself tiring. As he turned off the game and the TV, he blamed his current losing streak on the impending onset of sleep. "Grumble grumble, can't play when I'm fallin' asleep," he said to himself. Of course, it couldn't have been the percosets and beer that made him tired. In fact, the grizzled sargeant was finding himself getting sleepy earlier and earlier each evening. Yet each evening, the little orange-tinted bottle
sat on the end table, waiting for its master to open its child-proof cap for another dose.

As was his nightly ritual, Pickle went to the aquarium to feed his fish. On this night, however, he was more cautious, mindful of the peculiar behavior of one particularly indistinct brownish gray fish with goggly eyes. He opened the cover of the tank and all the fish instantly swam to the top of the tank, in conditioned anticipation of their nighttime snack. Pickle sprinkled some flakes into the water and watched the fish feed voraciously.

"Where are you, you little bastard?" He peered into the tank from all angles, looking for the fish that he was sure had spoken to him earlier that evening.

But the little fish was apparently more interested in eating than in talking, and soon Pickle grew bored and closed the cover. He turned off the living room lights and withdrew to his immaculate bedroom, where his creaking knees dropped him onto his bed. He closed his eyes and soon fell into an agitated sleep. In minutes, his ruined sinuses began their nightly snorefest.

Back in the living room, the fish had finished their meal and returned to their mindless swimming, back and forth, back and forth. One little fish stopped in midstroke at the front of the tank and if anybody had been watching, they would have seen the ugly little fish mouth open, would have seen the surge of bubbles rising to the surface of the water, and would have heard a strange low gurgling noise.

"SSSSSSSLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPP,  PPIIIIIIIIIIIKKKLLLLLLLLLLLLE,
SSSSSSSLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPP!"

The other fish continued swimming, quite unaware of their mate's unlikely outburst. Soon, he too resumed his monotous swimming.

Part Five

The grizzled sargeant awoke with a start to the sound of someone knocking on his apartment door. He rose slowly from his bed, groaning as his clogged nasal passages and stiff knees adjusted to wakefulness with equal difficulty. The pounding continued, now punctuated by unintelligible foreign speech.

Pickle sat up at the end of his bed and let the sleep drain out of himself. Annoyed, he picked up the little white K Mart alarm clock that sat undisturbed next to his bed. "Seven o'clock in the fucking morning," he grumbled, reading the time. Putting the clock back down, he wearily rose to his feet, grimacing at the familiar morning knee ache and honking his nose clear. "This better be fucking good."

The pounding increased in volume as Pickle shuffled to his door. He unbolted and unlocked the door, and in burst his Puerto Rican friend, Humanos deShield, dressed in his ski outfit and, as usual, overflowing with energy.

"'Ayyy, Peeekle, wassamatter, joo forget or sometheeng? Heh-heh, wake you sorry ass up, man!"

Pickle groaned. What was deShield doing here this early in the morning? On a Saturday, yet. Pickle always slept in on Saturdays. "Fucking hell, asshole, it's seven in the morning!"

"Joo forget the Winter Carnaval, Peeckle? Hah, I KNEW joo'd forget!!" The wirey little Hispanic laughed. "You see? I tol' you joo forget, and I was right, joo forget! Wha, joo take too many painkillers again, man?" deShield began walking around the apartment, and started to sing in Spanish as he performed a mock inspection of Pickle's apartment.

"Man, what Winter Carnival? I can't go to any carnival, man, it's my day off. Besides, my knees are killing me." Pickle had no intention of leaving the confines of his apartment on his day off. And he certainly did not remember agreeing to go to any carnival with deShield. "You dick," he said, "you're full of shit, as usual."

"Whachoo talkeen about, man? You been complainin' bout your knees for years, man. Do you good to get out, man." He started singing again, and started conducting an invisible orchestra with his hands. "Oye como Peeckle," he sang, "Got bad knees, Oye como Peeckle!"

Pickle was getting annoyed. Humanos deShield was just too much work this early in the morning. His friend was now moving through Pickle's apartment, singing and conducting, frequently stopping for a moment here and there to inspect some item or another .

"Peeckle, Peeckle, joo got some bad knees, joo got some painkeellers," sang deShield. He continued into Pickle's living room, followed by the grizzled sargeant, and saw the fish tank. Humanos immediately went over to the tank and turned the light on so he could see the fish. "Ahhh, leetle feeshies!!!" he exclaimed, tapping on the glass. The fish darted in all directions. "Hola leetle feeshies!!
Fish! Pickle suddenly remembered the talking fish from the night before. "Hey Humanos, you'll never believe what happened last night!" he said, shuffling over to stand next to his friend.

"Wha, joo win Lotto, man?" deShield opened the aquarium cover to get a better look at the fish.

"No, asshole, something unbelievable. One of the fish talked."

deShield took his attention away from the fish for a moment and looked warily at Pickle. "Man, joo just GOTTA stop takeen those painkeellers, man." He laughed suddenly. "Man, joo almost got me, you clever Peeckle you."

"No man, I'm serious. One of the little fuckers actually spoke. Said my name. Watch."

The grizzle sargeant peered into the tank, looking for the strange little brownish gray fish with the goggly eyes. "There you are," he said, and rapped his knuckle on the front of the tank just as the little fish swam by. He glanced over at his suspicious friend. "Watch this, man."

All of the fish darted haphazardly around in the tank, then the little brownish gray fish turned toward the front of the tank and actually swam into the glass!

Humanos deShield took a step back in surprise at the fish's unexpected outburst.
Then, much to his surprise, the fish spoke.

"SSSSTTTTTOPPPPPP   THHHAAAAAAATTTTT, PPPPIIIIIIIICCCKKKLLLLE!!!"

The stunned hispanic gaped at the unearthly gurgling sound emanating from the aquarium.

"Jesus Christos, joo talked. Joo actually talked!! Holy sheet, man!! Hey Peeckle!"

Pickle looked at his friend and raised his eyebrows in satisfaction. "See? I told you, man. Fucked up, huh?"

deShield was getting very excited at the discovery of the talking fish. "Hey man, let's make him talk some more!" He reached his finger into the tank. "Here feeshie, feeshie, come here leetle amigo."

While the grizzled Sargeant Pickle was satisfied that someone other than himself had heard the fish talk, he was still very protective of his aquarium. He never let anyone stick their fingers in his fish tank. "Hey man, get your fingers out of the—"
"OWWW MOTHAFUCKA!!!" screeched Humanos deShield, pulling his finger out of the tank.

"Leetle bastard fuckeen BIT me!!!" He put his finger into his mouth for a couple of seconds, then withdrew it, inspecting it for damage. The little fish stayed at the front of the tank, its eyes goggling in smug satisfaction. Seeing a drop of blood on the tip of his finger, the wirey little hispanic become visibly angry, his face getting red.

"Leetle FUCK!!!" he sneered. He reached into the tank again, ignoring Pickle's
protests. "I'll get joo LEETLE TALKEEN FUCKEEN FEESH!!"

The sudden invasion of deShield's hand in their water frightened the fish into a frenzy of darting back and forth. The little talking fish, however, swam to the bottom of the tank, avoiding the angry Puerto Rican's clumsy grasp.

"Hey you dick, get your fucking hand out of the tank!" warned Pickle, to no avail.
Suddenly and without warning, the little talking fish scooped up a mouthful of gravel from the bottom of the tank and swam to the surface of the water. deShield's angry red face loomed over the opening of the tank. The fish then began spitting gravel up at deShield's face, PING PING PING one after another.

"OWW SHEET!!! MUTHAFUCKA!!!! AAAAIIIEEEE!!!!" screamed deShield, trying to remove his hand from the tank to protect his face. In his surprise at the sudden attack, his hand got stuck in the narrow opening at the top of tank. He desperately tried to free himself as the little fish continued to spit gravel at up at his face. Pickle grabbed his other arm, trying to stop him from toppling over the aquarium.

The fish spat gravel with increasing speed at Humanos deShield's face, scoring several hits in his eyes. deShield's eyes burned as the wet gravel bits effectively blinded him. "AAAAIIIEEEE!!!!!" he screamed, tears of rage and pain now streaming down his face. Pickle continued to hold his friend fast, his only concern for the welfare of the fish tank. The two men began wrestling in place against one another, deShield's hand still stuck in the tank, the tank itself now wobbling on its
stand. The little fish darted to the bottom of the tank for a fresh supply of gravel.
The attack continued as the gravel bits left angry wed welts on deShield's face, now wet with tears mixed with aquarium water. He renewed his struggles with one final effort, and succeeded in freeing his hand from the tank and tearing away from Pickle's grasp. In doing so, he spun around wildly and with a screeching "AAAAAIIIEEEEE!!!!" fell backwards against the tank.

THUD!!!!

Humanos deShield's head seemed to lurch inhumanly forward as it banged against the sharp corner of the fish tank. A surprised look crossed his face as he locked eyes with the stunned Pickle, then the look glazed over and he fell lifeless to the floor. A trickle of blood started to flow from beneath his head.

"OH SHIT!!!!" moaned Pickle, who had seen many buddies killed in the war, but never one in his living room! He bent down quickly, grunting at the pain in his knees.

"Oh no, oh no, oh shit, oh SHIT OH FUCKING SHIT!!!! GET UP YOU STUPID SPICK!!!!!" he shouted.

But Humanos deShield was quite dead. The trickle of blood was growing into a pool on Pickle's carpet, and Pickle lowered his head and started to moan softly.
He didn't notice the little brownish gray fish with the goggly eyes stare out of the tank at him. And he didn’t hear the low gurgling noise emanating from the tank.
"PPPPPIIIIIIICCCCCCKKKLLLLLE!!!!!"

The fish seemed to be smiling.

Part Six

In the frantic minutes that followed Humanos deShield's unexpected demise, the grizzled Sargeant Pickle began the horrific task of cleaning the blood from the carpet. He shuffled quickly to his kitchen and returned to the living room moments later with carpet cleaner and paper towels.

He first tried to clean up the blood under deShield's head, trying in vain to avoid the touching his dead friend. "Aaaah, shit, this ain't gonna work," he muttered. So he set to moving the body. He tried to simply shift the dead man a few inches using his foot, but all he managed to do was strain his already wrecked knee. "Goddammit, you FUCK!!!" he yelled, rubbing the offended joint. Then, gritting his teeth, Pickle got down on his knees and started to shove deShield's limp form using both hands.

"C'mon, you dead motherfucker, move." He finally succeeded in shifting the body over a few feet, then, using a heavy wad of paper towels as protection, lifted the head up from the floor. "Aahh, what a mess," he grumbled.

The paper towels quickly became soaked with his friend's blood, and Pickle glanced around looking for a place to put them. His eyes lit up momentarily when he saw the open trash can by the living room doorway. Still holding deShield's head up with his left hand, Pickle brought his right arm back and threw the bloody wad of paper towels to the kitchen.

The wad sprayed blood over the living room on its way to making a sloppy landing on the floor next to the trash can. "Shit!" Pickle exclaimed, and he dropped Humanos' head with a thud, causing fresh rivulets of blood on the carpet.

"CCCCLLLLLEEEEEEEEEEAAAANNN,  PPPPIIIIIICCCKKKKKLLLLLLLE,
CCCCCCLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAANNNN!!!!!" gurgled the goggle-eyed fish, who appeared to be watching Pickle from the front corner of the fish tank."

Pickle angrily turned to the fish tank. "Shut the fuck up, you! This is all YOUR fault!" Pickle's nerves were understandable on edge, so he was no longer shocked to be holding a conversation with a fish.

"SSSSIIIIIIILLLLLLEEEENNNNNNNNCCCCCE!!!!!" gurgled the fish.
"YYYYYYYOOOOOUUUUUURRRRRRR FFFFAAAAAUUUULLLLLLLTTTTTTT!!!!"

Pickle ran his sweaty bloody hands through his thinning hair in desperate frustration. "You stupid fucking fish, I'll get you!" he muttered. He rose from the floor, leaving his dead friend bleeding on the floor. Pickle's knees groaned as he got up and grabbed the net he used to catch individual fish. "Now you'll get it, you goddamned talking fish."

The talking fish swam angrily into the glass of the tank, gurgling angrily. "NNNNNOOOO  YYYYOOOUUU  WWWWOOOOOONNNNNTTTTTT, PPPPPPIIIIICCCCCCKKKKLLLLE!!!!"

Pickle snatched the aquarium cover, ripped it from the tank completely, and carelessly threw it aside. "YOU LITTLE SHIT!!!" he shouted, and plunged the net into the tank water, the fish all darting frantically in all directions. The little talking fish easily evaded the grizzled sargeant's net and began taunting him as he
swam by the swishing net.

"PPPPPPIIIIICCCCCCKKKKKKKLLLLLE, YYYYOOOOUUUUU
FFFFFFFOOOOOOLLLLL!!!!!" he gurgled repeatedly.

"DAMN YOU!!!" shouted Pickle, now so angry that his face was bright red. He swung the net through the fish tank more violently now, and the tank started to teeter on its stand.

"NNNNNOOOOO,   DDDDAAAAAAAMMMMM YYYYYYOOOOOOOUUUUUU!!!"
came the gurgled reply, and then the little fish jumped straight out of the tank and lodged its sharp jaws on Pickle's sweaty exposed neck.

Pickle dropped the net instantly at the attach and reached up to pull the fish off of his neck, toppling the aquarium over with a loud crash, spilling water, gravel and fish everywhere. But the fish hung on tight and closed its jaws on the grizzled sargeant's jugular vein.

"AAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!" Pickle yelled and started to flail uselessly about the room, sharp pain emanating from his neck. Blood started to flow from the wound even as the little fish bit down harder. Pickle tripped over deShield's dead body and fell onto the floor, still clutching his neck. He continued to kick and flail on the floor as his strength bled out of his jugular vein. In minutes, his struggles ceased, and everything went black.

------------------------------------------------

The noise from downstairs woke Baby Leon, whose screaming woke Mr. and Mrs. Vivo Bubble. "Vivo, go see what that is," ordered Mrs. Bubble, who got up and tended to the crying baby.

Groaning, Vivo Bubble donned his robe and slippers and sleepily headed downstairs. While banging on Pickle's locked door, a foul odor assaulted his senses from beneath the door.

"Groan," he said, and he trudged back upstairs.

Later, after the police had come and taken over the entire building to conduct their investigation, and after both Vivo and his extremely annoyed wife had answered question after inane question for what seemed like hours, the lead detective, Joe Shmolnick knocked on the Bubbles' door one last time.

"Groan, what now?" asked Vivo.

"Sorry to bother you again, Mr. Bubble, but we just finished going through all the mess downstairs and found this in Mr. Pickle's apartment, just barely alive." He held up a plastic baggie that contained some water and a little fish of indistinct brownish gray coloring with goggly eyes. "This is the only fish that's still alive, so I was wondering if you'd like to take it?"

Just to be rid of the annoying cop, Bubble agreed. Might as well keep something of the grizzled sargeant, he thought.

A few days later, while Mrs. Bubble was out with Baby Leon, Vivo was enjoying a glass of wine and some well-deserved privacy. He had put the Pickle's little fish in an old goldfish bowl that he'd found in his attic. Finally able to relax, Bubble leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes.

Suddenly, a strange gurgling sound came from the little fishbowl.
"BBBBBBBBBUUUUUUUUBBBBBBBLLLLLLLLLLE!!!!"

THE END.

2006 Michael S. Cohen

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