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by Chestersmummy 

Posted: 21 June 2018
Word Count: 896
Summary: For the current challenge

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 The sun was beating a tattoo right in the middle of Jack’s bald patch and reluctantly he shifted into the sparse shade of a young oak.  He closed his eyes, savouring the silence.  What a relief to be away from the constant nagging of his wife - what had she called him this morning?  A useless slug - that was it.   A warm breeze blew a waft of elderflower towards him and he relaxed.  This was the life!   Even better, it was a Sunday which meant no bullying boss, obviously sharing his wife’s convictions, and no cocky workmates such as bloody Harry, forever bragging about his house, car, kids – you name it. Luckily, Harry was on holiday (shark fishing in South Africa) but still Jack dreaded his return, him and his raucous voice.  Here, there was nothing to listen to but the sighing of the wind and the buzz of insects going about their business.  There was absolutely nothing to worry about, not even the fish because he didn’t expect to catch anything.  He opened his eyes a trifle and peered at the oily expanse of pond lying passively at his feet, its grey-green surface inert except for an occasional burp of gas.   The pond had been fished out years ago, even before the water had been poisoned by the nearby chemical factory.  Jack’s rod and line were just for show.

His mind drifted serenely until it reached a familiar road-block that not even the peace of the countryside could shift.  He wondered if his wife realised he’d sussed her shenanigans with Bill next door.   He’d first suspected it when she started tarting herself up just to mow the lawn.  To be honest, he didn’t really care.   Idly he wondered if there was some way he could turn the situation to his advantage.   There probably was, but an excess of sun had made his brain muzzy.  Anyway, she’d be bound to make a fuss and Jack decided it wasn’t worth the bother.  Plus, there was Joyce, Bill’s wife.   Jack liked Joyce and wouldn’t want to upset her.  He settled himself more comfortably and closed his eyes again.            Suddenly, there was a tug on his line.   Not just a little one either, quite a big tug.   A bite?  Couldn’t be - line must have got caught in something.  He got up to investigate and as he did, something reared up in front of him - something enormous, something green, something with scales that glittered as they caught the eye of the sun.   For the first time in his life, Jack felt terror as he stared at the fish-like creature looming over him.   Particularly, he noticed its great gaping mouth that opened as it caught sight of him.   It was pure instinct that made Jack grab his rod, he heaved on it and obligingly the fish drew nearer.  Realising his mistake, Jack turned and tried to flee but his feet caught in the line and he fell.   Immediately, the fish gulped and swallowed Jack whole, along with his rod and line.    Round and round Jack plunged headfirst, spinning down the fish’s slimy gullet until at last he landed with a squelch into what he imagined was its stomach.   He stood up and rubbed his head.   ‘This is a turn up’ he thought.   The cavernous space was dimly lit by an opalescent pink glow and as Jack’s eyes adjusted they started to roam.   Plastic straws, plastic cups, plastic carrier bags, its stomach was littered with the stuff and just as Jack was beginning to feel sorry for the fish, he saw something that totally astonished him.   A half-digested jacket was caught in the folds of mucosa and it was a jacket that Jack recognised, even though it was mostly covered in slime.  There was the faux leather along with the epaulettes and club badges that Harry was always boasting about.   After astonishment, Jack’s next feeling was one of outrage.   The liar!   He’d said he was going to South Africa!  Then, despondency blanked out both emotions as Jack realised that, if there was an afterlife, he was going to have to spend it with Harry.   Gloomily, he tugged a KFC box free from a loop of muscle and sat down   This obviously irritated the fish because it gave an enormous belch and a torrent of greasy water flooded down its oesophagus swirling around Jack, picking him up and swiftly ejecting him out of the creature’s mouth.    
Dazed, he lay sprawled on the bank and watched as the fish disappeared back into the oily depths.  It seemed there were advantages in being a slug, even fishes couldn’t stomach him.   He watched as the scummy water settled.   Surely, it hadn’t been a dream.  He hadn’t fallen asleep, he was certain of it.   He tried to get up and failed.  Looking down, he saw that a gelatinous mess covered his shoes, anchoring him to the ground.  After an hour of scraping himself clean, Jack was certain it had been no dream.
 As he trudged homewards, Jack wondered if there were some way he could persuade his wife to visit the pond.   Perhaps it would be better to speak to Bill and, during the conversation, casually mention that it was her favourite place.   He perked up, that might work but then there was still the problem of his boss…..
(893 words)

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Comments by other Members

michwo at 17:26 on 21 June 2018  Report this post
I approached this story with the idea that it was going to deal with some sort of addiction, but the penny's now dropped that you've taken the word literally.  Jonah in the belly of the whale comes to mind, of course, and the pike in Ted Hughes's poem of the same name, only a lot more than three inches long, though I can quite imagine it having a 'malevolent aged grin' just before it swallows Jack whole!  It's one of your monstrous presences, isn't it?  A wolf within.  An unavoidably sinister, fiendish creature, and omnivorous as well.  It's one way of ensuring that the pond is a litter free zone admittedly.
At least Jack won't have to face Harry again when he goes back to work.  I've started to think that in your fictional world the female of the species is deadlier than the male - the jealous wife in "The Pupil", for instance, who picks a couple of death cap mushrooms to get rid of her unfaithful husband, and, in this story, the nameless bullying model of marital infidelity who'd rather have Bill next door than Jack any day.  Poor Jack.  He is allowed perhaps to fantasize about using a larger-than-life piscatorial hitman to get rid of her and his hard to please boss.  As with the 'Thing on the Ice' in Dan Simmons's "The Terror" no-one's too big or too brash to be prey.  The harder they come, the harder they fall.  Jack seems to have been let off the hook in this case because, by and large, he's ineffectual.  If even fishes couldn't stomach him, he's going to live longer than Harry anyway who has presumably been devoured and digested by now, leaving only his coat behind.

Chestersmummy at 09:51 on 22 June 2018  Report this post
Hi Michwo,
Many thanks for your comments - as usual you are spot on although I haven't read 'The Pike' or 'The Terror'.  How disgraceful - I shall have to make an effort to read more!


FelixBenson at 18:21 on 24 June 2018  Report this post
Janet, I loved this - the building of the character, his swirl of thoughts and enemies, and then that unexpected monster leaping from the depths! That'll teach him to pretend to fish near the chemical factory. But actually he's saved in this story, no end for Jack in the belly of the fish, like the unfortunate Harry! I love how he's completely unredeemed or bothered by his brush with death, it just gives him the presence of mind to concoct the perfect murder plot for his wife. Haha. I love a dastardly MC. Beautifully done!

Also this bit is spot on:

Plastic straws, plastic cups, plastic carrier bags, its stomach was littered with the stuff and just as Jack was beginning to feel sorry for the fish, he saw something that totally astonished him.   

The dreaded plastic and chemicals will surely make for killer fish - all too believable!

TassieDevil at 07:55 on 25 June 2018  Report this post
Engaging story Janet. I loved the tone of Jack's thoughts and the idea of some mutated fish was refreshing. A great read.

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