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What Goes Around……Karma!

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June 25th 2017  |  0  |  Category: Other  |  Author: Tim Krzys  |  75 views

A Fish Dinner

 

            School children and parents were often unaware of the cruelty of their ways, or the anger they made simmer in a young child because of their teasing or lack of parenting skills. The old saying, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,’ is perhaps the biggest lie a child is ever taught in kindergarten. The pain from stick and stones fades quickly and rarely leaves scars. But words echo in the mind for a lifetime until the scourge of Alzheimer’s or another dementia finally erases them from the brain cells.

            Words hurt Donny Baker. The school kids called him Dumb Donny because he wore glasses and needed braces. He looked nerdy as a young child, and when adolescence finally began sculpting a man’s body from a child’s, the look didn’t really go away so much as solidify into an adult nerdy look. His parents couldn’t afford braces, and the large, front crooked teeth remained that way. The biggest challenge they presented, aside from social settings and getting dates, was eating sweet corn, and Donny learned to hate sweet corn, even the Green Giant brand from the can that was off the cob. Corn only reminded him of his looks and all the teasing. He refused to even touch corn bread or corn tortillas. He held a hatred for anything that reminded him of his appearance and the cruel teasing he had endured for years.

            The home was not the sanctuary from teasing. His parents weren’t much better than the kids at school. His father was never home; he was either working at the factory, at the bar after work or chasing whatever female who would pay attention to him and the drinks he paid for. His mother simply stayed home and drank. It was a blessing they never had a second child. Donny figured it was his fault. Who would want a second child when their first turned out to be such a failure?

            When he graduated high school, Donny went to trade school for a while trying to learn to be an auto mechanic. His dad thought it was a stupid idea and would remind his son what a failure he was putting Legos together. How could he assemble anything mechanical? Donny dropped out and got a job at Pete’s Pets near Kissimmee, south of Orlando. It was there he found comfort in animals that loved him unconditionally, animals that never insulted him, or hit him, or teased him about his looks. Giving back love still remained a problem, so he stayed away from anything he could hold and cuddle, and raised fish.

            His parents died young, the result of abusing their bodies with cigarettes and alcohol. When Donny was thirty-two, he had buried both parents, his mother last, sold their very modest home, auctioned off their belongings, and took the money and bought his own place a few miles outside of the small town of St. Cloud. He didn’t want neighbors nearby, they only snooped and talked about you, and made too much noise when a person wanted quiet. He dug a huge pond in the back yard by hand, seventy feet wide and over 8 feet deep by the short dock. The task took three months, most of it working in the sweltering, humid summer heat; but each shovel full of dirt was tossed aside with muscle strength fueled by years of hurt and anger. The digging felt good, and when he was finished, he leaned against the shovel and beamed with pride at the finished hole.

            The pond took days to fill with the hose. He added filtration equipment and a heating system, using some of the money he inherited, and then began adding Piranhas he raised in aquariums in his home. Donny studied everything he could find about the fish, and after a while considered himself an expert. He studied about other animals that were sold at Pete’s Pets, and customers looked up at him like he was a pet genius of sorts.

            Piranhas had a bad and undeserved reputation, and for that reason, Donny could identify with them. Often portrayed as fish that hunt in huge schools that will strip a carcass down to the bone should an animal fall into the Amazon, they were often shy fish that preferred to hunt for food alone, or in groups of twenty of less. One fact was true, their mouths held razor sharp teeth designed to chomp off pieces of flesh in a single bite to be swallowed whole.

            In the house, he had numerous aquariums in which he also raised Piranhas. He quickly found they did better in small numbers unless the aquarium was large with sufficient hiding places. They also became cannibalistic in larger numbers. On more than one occasion, a tank housing four would suddenly have only three, with no trace whatsoever of the fourth, missing fish. 

            Piranhas are not the king of their jungle. They are hunted by larger fish, river dolphins, crocodile or caiman, river turtles, and otters. While often quiet and aloof in the Amazon River and its tributaries, the locals can recall endless and true stories of horses, donkeys, and men being devoured within minutes after wandering into a hungry school of fish. The red, churning water of such an event was an image no witness could ever forget. 

            Because of Donny’s love of the Piranha, and his desire to get as close to them as possible, he sported the scars on most fingers to prove it. The tips of his left index and middle finger and the tips of his right index finger were missing. He thought the look simply went along well with the thin, black hair, buckteeth, an overbite and big ears.

            Pete Skinner owned Pete’s Pets. He was forty-nine and recently divorced from a woman who decided she had had enough of his obsession with anything that walked, jumped, slithered or swam. She wanted a normal life and a normal house that wasn’t shared with ‘critters’ as she called them. She was sick and tired of finding frozen brine shrimp and other delicacies in the refrigerator, so she filed for divorce, took fifty percent of what they had, and moved to Pittsburgh to be closer to a family. Pete was stocky from eating too much and moving too little. A few beers every evening helped the waistline grow over the years as well. He was a decent boss who treated Donny well. In many ways, he felt sorry for the younger man who seemed to not have a friend in the world. He kept to himself, never talked of going out with girls, but he treated the customers great, always willing to demonstrate his knowledge. In fact, Pete was certain that Donny knew more about the pets they sold than he did. He often invited Donny over for a simple dinner, but each time Donny turned down his invite. Still, he would ask on occasion.

            “It’s been a slow day,” Pete said as he tidied up behind the counter. Pet stores were never known for excelling in cleanliness, especially the stand alone types that weren’t inside a shopping center or mall.

            “It’s Monday,” Donny acknowledged. “It always gets better later in the week.” Donny was busy cleaning an aquarium that housed about a dozen South African tree frogs. They were colorful frogs, and some he knew, were extremely poisonous if accidentally eaten.

            “Yeah, I suppose it does. I’ll be glad when tourist seasons swings into full gear.”

It was May, an awkward time for Florida. The snowbirds had gone north, and with school still in session, families and kids weren’t vacationing yet.

            “We’re doing okay,” Donny told him. He finished wiping the glass sides, and then replaced the lid over the aquarium. He tapped gently on the glass. “There you go, little guys. All clean!” Donny smiled, grabbed the bucket and sponge and put them away in the back room.

            The door opened and a doorbell sound chimmed to announce a customer had entered.

            “Good afternoon!” Pete said with a wide grin. “How are you today?”

            “Oh, just fine, thank you,” the man said. He looked to be about Donny’s age.

            “What can I help you with, or would you prefer to look around? We don’t use high-pressure tactics here. We sell little friends, not used cars.” He smiled again.

            “I’m looking for an interesting fish. My wife left me not too long ago, and I decided to get something she would never let me have.”

            “Well, I’m sorry to hear that, I mean your wife leaving you.”

            The man waved his comment away. “Don’t worry about it. She was a nagging bitch anyway.”

            The comment took Pete by surprise. What did a person say to that? “What kind of fish are you looking for?” Pete finally asked.

            “Something different and exotic,” the man answered, as he looked around the store.

            Donny returned from the back room after hearing the conversation. Any lead in to talk about Piranhas was welcomed. “Hello there,” he said beaming. He always smiled with his mouth closed, which was difficult to do with buckteeth. It took a lot of training in front of the bathroom mirror, but he had perfected it a long time ago. “Interested in Piranhas?”

            The man looked at Donny for a long time before answering. It was a stare of recognition. “Do I know you? You look familiar.”

            “Well, I’m not sure. How would you know me?” Donny suddenly felt uncomfortable. The conversation was moving toward social talk. He didn’t want to be known or recognized. He wanted to be left alone.

            “I don’t know for sure.” The man rubbed his chin briefly. “Where did you go to school?”

            “High school?”

            The man nodded. “Yeah, high school.”

            “In Orlando.” He stopped and studied the man’s face. He did look familiar.

            “Not at Cypress Creek High School?”

            “The one on Bear Crossing Road?” It was a stupid name for a road and an even dumber response to a question.

            “Yeah, that’s the one. What year did you graduate?”

            “Eighty-nine,” Donny said slowly. Meeting anyone from his past was the same as thinking about it. He preferred the past stay dead and buried like his parents.

            “You’re kidding? Me too.” The man smiled, walked up to Donny and held out his hand. “I’m Scott Morris.” The two shook hands.

            “Glad to meet you. I’m Donny, this is Pete,” he said sheepishly, pointing to Pete Skinner.

            After Donny released his hand, Scott stepped back a little and looked at Donny. “Donny Baker, right?”

            “Yes, that’s right.” Donny wanted to run into the back room and hide. Scott was the star high school quarterback. He was brains in class, good looking and dated half the cheerleaders. The two couldn’t be more opposite.

            “Donny Baker,” the man said, saying the name slowly. “Well, how have you been all these years? What’s it been, fifteen years now? I haven’t seen you at any reunions.”

            “I didn’t go to any. Guess I’ve been busy.”

            “Hey, we’ve got to get together and talk. Most people I knew from Cypress Creek have left the area. After fifteen years, people lose touch.”

            We were never in touch, you jock bastard, Donny thought. “We’ll have to do that. About that fish, do you like Piranhas?”

            “You know, I’ve always been intrigued by those fish. Man eaters!” he said with a chuckle.

            “They are amazing fish. Generally, though, they have a bad reputation they don’t deserve. They mostly either stay to themselves, or in very small groups of less than twenty. In the wild, they’re more likely to nibble on the fins or tail of a fish than to eat something whole.”

            “Really?” Scott began to look very interested. Suddenly Donny was the smart one who knew all the answers, and Scott was the stupid one. Stupid Scott. It had a nice ring to it.

            “Come over here and I’ll show you a few.” Donny lead Scott to a fifty-five gallon tank that housed two, large silvery Piranhas. “We have smaller ones too,” he added.

            Scott bent down and studied the fish. “What do they eat, besides fingers,” he said with a chuckle. There was something about that laugh that Donny hated. It reminded him of high school, but he couldn’t recall exactly why.

            “They do eat fingers, if you’re not careful.” He showed Scott his hand.

            “Wow, they did that?”

            “Both hands,” Donny added, holding up the other hand. “You really need to be careful. When these fish are hungry, they’ll eat each other.”

            “That’s really cool. What do you feed them?”

“Smaller fish, small pieces of meat, frozen brine shrimp, things like that. They’re really pretty easy to care for.”

            “Wow, they are cool looking. I’d love to have a few. Wouldn’t it be a blast to sit back, have a few beers and watch this thing devour some fish?”

            “It doesn’t usually happen like that. They’re shy. They usually eat when they know they aren’t being watched.”

            “Oh really?” Scott stood straight. “Bummer. But they are cool looking.”

            “Do you need a tank set up too?”

            “I’ll need everything,” Scott answered.

            “I have quite a collection of Piranhas at home. In fact, I have a small pond of them in the back yard.” He suddenly had an image flash through his mind, one of pushing Scott into a hungry school of Piranhas. He held back a wide grin, the kind that would bare his buckteeth.

            “You’re kidding? Wow, that would be a cool thing to see. Any neighbor cats ever fall in?” He chuckled again.

            “Ah, no, no they don’t.” There was that laugh again. It was beginning to poke at old memories. “Perhaps you’d like to stop by, see the pond, have a beer and talk about old times.”

            Pete found his opening and jumped in. “Why don’t you cut out early and show Scott your pond. I’m sure he’d find it very fascinating.” Donny needed friends, and here was an opportunity. Perhaps this Scott fellow knew of some single girls.

            Donny looked at Pete, and then checked his watch.

            “Oh, don’t worry about the time. You work hard. Cut out early and don’t worry about losing anything on your paycheck,” Pete told him.

            “Really? Well, first let’s see what Scott needs to buy.”

            Donny showed him all the equipment he might need. He ended up selling a fifty-five-gallon aquarium, filtration system, heater, gravel, and other supplies for a total of four hundred twenty-two dollars. Scott was disappointed when he learned he’d need to set up the tank and get it stabilized before he could buy the fish.  Donny helped him load the purchase into his car and then told him to follow him home. It was a fifteen-mile ride south, ‘to the middle of nowhere’, he told Scott.

            As Donny pulled into his dirt and gravel drive, a tiny cloud of dust erupted into the air. The old car bounced over ruts in the drive and came to a stop beside the back door. 

            Donny got out of his car carrying a small, paper bag and waited for Scott to join him. “The pond’s back here,” he said and started walking towards the back yard. The yard was scrubby, not landscaped at all except for around the pond. Bushes bordered the pond, there were a few Banana trees, a Hibiscus, a couple of palm trees, but it was bare by the short, ten-foot dock.

            “Wow, this is cool. You have Piranhas in there?” Scott said as he walked closer to the edge of the pond. He stepped cautiously as if the water almost had the power to draw him in. “I don’t see anything.”

            “They’re in there. I planted lots of weeds and other plants to give them plenty of hiding places. I worry they’d start eating each other if the pond was nice and clear like a swimming pool.”

            “I guess that makes sense.” He stepped closer as Donny walked up behind him.

            Donny opened the paper bag and pulled out a large can of brine shrimp. “They love this stuff,” he said as he walked out onto the dock. Scott followed close behind.

            “Shouldn’t you have some railings or something? Don’t you ever worry about falling in?”

            “I’m careful,” he said. He opened the container, walked to the very edge of the dock and then got down on his knees. “I like to watch,” he said. He brought the container over the water and then turned it upside down. The contents fell into the water with a hundred tiny splashes. In seconds, the surface began churning, and it turned to boiling water as the hundreds of fish devoured the food. Within ten seconds, the food was gone and the water began to settle. Hundred of tiny, circular waves expanded to the shoreline.

            “Wow! That was amazing! How many are in there?” Scott stepped back a little.

            “I’m not sure. There must be hundreds, perhaps a few thousand. I have no idea really. They breed on their own. I’m thinking of digging a bigger pond, but they are getting expensive to feed.”

            “What else do you feed them?”

            “Small fish, gold fish mostly. And sometimes, I toss a rat or mouse in. That’s always interesting to watch.” Donny replaced the lid on the container and put it back in the bag to throw away later. “Care for a beer?”

            “Sure. This hot sun calls for one.”

            “Come on inside. It’s air conditioned, but I’ll need to turn it on. I leave it off when I’m at work to save money. Electricity in Florida isn’t cheap.”

            “That’s for sure.”

            They went inside where Donny got them each a beer. After he turned on the air and closed the windows, they went into the small living room and sat down. The house was sparsely furnished but was relatively clean and uncluttered. Scott walked around the room looking at all the aquariums in the house. “This must be food,” he said, stopping at a small tank that housed rats.

            “I raise my own. I have a few more in a spare room. I don’t like to keep them out here. In fact, I’m thinking of moving that tank into the other room.”

            Scott sat down and chugged on his beer. “Nice little place here.” 

            “I like it.” He took a long drink. They talked for a while, steering away from high school discussion, for now. Scott was a bank teller, a far cry from the success he enjoyed in high school and bragged he would be in life. He was twice divorced, had herpes, had been arrested once for domestic assault, which he claimed never happened. His wife was simply angry over an affair. The more Scott drank, the more Donny learned about his life. And like most jocks, Donny thought, he loved to talk about himself. It was almost a totally safe conversation. They finished several beers, and then Donny got out a half full bottle of whiskey and they did a few shots. Maybe it was the years of loneliness, the high school classmate that reminded him of old, simpler times when he didn’t have to fend for himself, or just someone to talk to beside the fish. Donny almost enjoyed the conversation. Until Scott got too drunk to hold his tongue.

            “Didn’t people call you Dumb Donny?” Scott asked as he took another shot of whiskey. His words were beginning to slur now.

            “Ah, yeah, some did,” Donny answered.

            Scott laughed. “I remember now. You never went to a football game, did you? Too bad. You missed some great ball.”

            “No, I didn’t. I was never too interested in sports, I guess. My dad never took me to a game. My mom was a drunk.”

            “That’s common,” Scott slurred. “Didn’t guys always snap the towel at your dick in the locker room?” He chuckled again. “They always did that if you had a tiny dick,” he added.

            Donny sat in the recliner holding the cold beer between his hands. “That wasn’t me. Perhaps someone else.” Being ugly was one thing, but no man ever admitted to having a tiny dick. He took a long sip of his beer, rested it between his legs, and then grabbed the beer and took another drink. Sitting still was getting to be difficult. “How about if we go outside and feed a rat to the fish? It’s dark now. They eat better in the dark. They feel safer.”

            “Hey, want to?” Scott stood up and almost fell over his own feet. “Gimme another beer. I don’t want to see this sober.” Donny didn’t think there was any chance of that happening. He grabbed another beer for Scott and they went outside. On the way out, he turned on the rear porch light that was purposely aimed at the pond.

            As they stepped off the tiny, rear porch, a dim cone of light cut through the growing darkness. Crickets and bugs made their evening songs, and the sky was filled with stars. It was still in the mid-seventies and a light breeze stirred the air. Donny walked onto the wooden dock, followed closely by a staggering Scott. The water looked black as ink.

            “How can you see anything? It’s pitch black.”

            “It needs to be dark for the best results. But you’ll see the water churn up, and the blood. Let me run in and get a rat.”

            “Hurry. I probably better be headin’ home soon.”

            Donny stepped around Scott on the narrow dock and ran into the house. A minute later he returned with a paper bag and a flashlight. “I brought this for you,” he said, handing the flashlight to Scott.

            “Oh, thanks man. That will make it more fun.” He smiled as he looked at the flashlight.

            Donny carefully stepped around Scott and walked to the end of the dock. “Now don’t shine the light until I say so. Let them hear the splash first, and then when they start eating, go ahead and shine the light on them.”

            “Gotcha,” Scott said as he swayed on the dock.

            Donny opened the bag and reached inside. He grabbed hold of the small rat, pulled it out and bent down closer to the water. “Get ready,” he said. He extended his arm over the black, inky water. The rat squirmed trying to break free, when Donny suddenly released it.

            There was a splash. The flashlight beam went on and Scott pointed it on the water. The little rat began swimming furiously when all of a sudden, the water began to churn. The biting fish pulled on its legs, sending it partially under water. It had stopped swimming as all of its paws were becoming chewed to the bone. It squealed loudly, a piercing scream of sorts. Donny looked away briefly.

            “This is so cool,” Scott said.

            Donny didn’t think so, not really. It was nothing more than part of nature. How things worked. It was no worse than slaughtering cattle for a hamburger.

            The water churned, and the rat was slowly pulled under. The water boiled rapidly, almost violently as if some giant whisk was stirring it from below. Then suddenly, it fell quiet, and the churning slowed to nothing more than bubbles and waves, and then nothing.

            “That’s it,” Donny said.

            Scott continued shining the light. The beam moved across the water as he swayed in his drunken stupor. “’Member that cheerleader I dated, Pat?”

            “I guess so,” Donny replied, barely recalling anything from high school at that moment.

            “Her name was Pat,” Scott said.

            “You said that.”

            “Someone didn’t like her and called her Pat the Rat. They wrote it on her locker.”

            “If you say so. That was a long time ago.”

            “I just ‘membered that someone said it was you. Is that true?”

            “Ah, that was a long time ago. I don’t even remember anyone named Pat.”

            “I think you do!” Scott pointed the light beam into Donny’s eyes. “You’re a fuckin’ liar!” He tossed the light aside and it fell into the pond with a splash. He took a step closer to Donny who was already standing a foot away from the end of the dock. “It was you, wasn’t it? Did you hate jocks, didn’t you? And cheerleaders too, you hated everyone, didn’t you? Now I remember!” He pushed Donny, but it was a half hearted push. Suddenly, he had forgotten where he was standing. In the darkness, there were no boundaries, no end to the dock, no black, cold, inky water on either side.

            “You’re drunk,” Donny said.

            “I’m right, aren’t I?” He shoved Donny again until Donny found himself on the very end of the dock.

            “Stop that!” Donny yelled. This was his house, goddamn it! He went to shove Scott, but Scott expected it and had raised his arms in preparation. They grabbed each other and struggled. Donny pulled Scott towards him and then tried to push him away. Scott lost his balance and tried to regain it, but in his drunken state, he quickly over compensated. Scott teetered one way and Donny the other. Both of them waved their arms wildly, trying to regain their balance. In the darkness, it was impossible to see the dock beneath their feet.

            “Ahhhhhh!” Scott yelled, his arms flailing. “Ah, shit!” he screamed as he tumbled off the dock and into the cool, black water.

            “Dammit!” Donny yelled. He looked down at the solid black surface of the water as he felt his feet leave the dock’s surface. A second splash followed. Donny struggled to find the edge of the dock. The distant porch light only cast dark shadows across the pond, and the dock was nothing but a different shade of black. His feet could not touch bottom that was about eight feet below the surface. And then he felt it.

            There was a stinging like hot needles stabbing into his legs as the fish found flesh and began ripping through his clothes.

            “Ow! Goddamn it! Ouch, ah shit, that hurts! Damn it!” The frenzy started.

            Scott began swimming toward the dock, but in his drunken state and in the darkness, he actually swam away from it toward the pond’s center. He felt the tangle of weeds wrap around his legs, and then suddenly tiny razor blades dug into his skin.

            “Goddamn it you sonofabitch! Ouch, motherfuck!” Suddenly, like the answer to a dinner bell, every fish sensed food and hurried to the splashing. Using razor sharp teeth, they grabbed onto pieces of clothing, chewing rapidly through to the skin. A Piranha will devour large pieces of flesh whole until it is bulging with a meal. The fish swarmed around each of them, and in seconds, their bodies were covered with an overcoat of hungry Piranhas. Some fish were themselves devoured in the frenzy.

            Scott tried grabbing the fish and slapping them away with his hands. When he brought a hand above water he saw the dark shadows of several Piranhas hanging on to fingers, to the fleshy portion of his palm, chewing and biting off bits of flesh and then dropping into the water to swallow them whole. The water was churning violently, looking like water at a full boil.

            As the fish chewed large holes in their clothing, they entered and begin to feast on the flesh. It was like falling into a pool of hot acid. Within seconds, some were gnawing on the leg bone. Both men were screaming now, unable to curse or find any words to match their fear. Scott let out an ear-piercing scream when a swarm of fish found first one testicle and then the other. In a few quick bites, his penis and scrotum were devoured. He felt the blood flow from his brain, and if it had not been for the darkness, he would’ve seen stars.

            Donny waved his arms, trying to keep something above water when one of them struck the dock. He grabbed hold and was suddenly aware that his hand was now missing three fingers and fish were biting and holding on to what flesh remained. He tried to grip the wooden plank, but there was no strength left in his hand. Burning needles of pain shot up his legs. He was feeling faint. The pain had found every single nerve ending and lit them all on fire. The hundreds of fish biting all at the same time were more than his brain could sort through and register. It simply felt as if every area of his body was enduring the maximum amount of pain it could possibly comprehend. Within seconds, he fell unconscious and slipped under the water.

            Scott continued screaming, but there were no neighbors to help, and help couldn’t be close enough to save his life. His shirt had been ripped to tiny threads. The fish had eaten away at his abdomen and begun entering the bloody cavity. He felt a pulling inside his gut as the fish tugged on his intestines. He tried to kick his legs in the water, but nothing moved in response. He couldn’t imagine that his legs had already been devoured, but they were gone, as the fish continued to chew away at the fleshy thighs that still remained. The water continued to boil and splash, and Scott kept trying to fight away the fish, but there were too many of them. As he slipped lower in the water, the fish attacked his face like a thousand tiny, red-hot ice picks. They began chewing on his nose and cheeks, finding his tongue and eyes and stabbing them with tiny needles. Scott tried to scream, but nothing came out except silence. He felt consciousness slip away quickly, and his vision went black. He thought about high school, and his dying brain conjured up images of a much younger Donny, with tears in his eyes as the other jocks teased him, the times they pushed him around, snapped towels at him in the locker room, pushed his books out of his arms and laughed as papers went flying across the crowded hallway.

            It wasn’t funny now. It shouldn’t have been funny ever. As Scott fell unconscious, his last thought was, how was he going to explain all this in heaven when he met Pat? She had died two years ago in a drowning accident. She had been his first love, in many ways, his only love, the one every high schooler never stops thinking about no matter how old they become. Pat was the one who made him want to be a better person, but she rejected him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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