The Lost Fish | Madeleine Stephens

This alien visitor has a face only a mother could love.

The Lost Fish

By Madeleine Stephens

For The Kneel in the Grass, Bison Award


Its face looked like a Sand-dweller’s behind with eyes. It was roughly five fins tall and had the stripes of a sea cucumber. Thankfully, it seemed more active than a sea cucumber with four irregular-sized appendages protruding from its torso; this ocean had more than enough of the lazy bastards.

The strange being glided further from its metal box and outstretched a scaly limb to examine a shell. I should have told the others but I couldn’t look away. This creature was so… different. Not different like a Sand-dweller or one of those ridiculous fluffy things they swim with sometimes, but definitely not like us. I had heard the old dolphins whispering about a creature like this; stripy, four-limbed, described as harmless and dimwitted and named Lost Fish.

The creature’s long, solid fin extended even further to twist around its body to a hole not dissimilar to my own blow-hole. As the shell approached, the hole enlarged. The big light from above shone onto the deceptively innocent-looking shell and I realised what was about to happen. I launched into action, moving as fast as my tail would allow to knock the deadly shell out of the creature’s grip. I reeled around to see the damage, to find that it was crouched and shaking on the ocean floor with a pink gas wafting from the top of its head. A rather pathetic defense, if you ask me, but at least it was alive.

Its angel fish-shaped eyes looked directly at mine. They had the same wide look Sand-dwellers assumed when they saw a shark. I moved closer. A loud click slipped out from one of the many blow holes punched into the creatures back. I didn’t understand it but it sounded uncannily similar to an obnoxious seahorse complaining about male birth rights. I let out some clicks of my own, in an effort to console the frightened creature. It seemed to be working. The shaking stopped, the gas stopped and the eyes appeared to soften. Once again, the creature extended a scaly limb, this time towards my fin. Just as I reached towards it, I heard trouble; the nearby breathing of two googly-eyed Sand-dwellers. Just my luck. I nudged the creature’s backside, forcing it to glide behind the reef. Through the coral, we watched the googly-eyed Sand-dwellers marvel at the metal box. Their ugly rasping breaths increased and they let out muffled cries from under their black tubes. One continued to examine the box while the other began frantically swimming, beating their fake yellow fins while their eager eyes darted between rocks. I looked to my left to see the Lost Fish shaking again. It had a right to be scared, this time. If Sand-dwellers weren’t here to feed you or kill you, they were here to capture you. And they had a particular fascination with Lost Fish.

With no chance of the Lost Fish coming to its senses and moving, I dashed out from behind the rock, collected a breath of fresh air and watched glee alight the Sand-dwellers googly-eyes. Their long, five-pronged fins aimed at my head. I weaved between them, performing the usual dance and clicks. They were so easy to entertain. I began swimming away from the rock concealing the Lost Fish, urging them to follow. They fell into my trap, but then something stole their attention. A stream of gas started pouring out from behind the rock. More loud muffled sounds came from the Sand-dwellers. I flung my body in front of the rock; diving and cutting them off at every turn. But there was two of them and one of me. One reached their fin down and grabbed a sharp silver spike from his layered, blue skin. While I was occupied, the other Sand-dweller darted behind the rock and wrapped their greedy prongs around the helpless Lost Fish.

I clicked and clicked. I knew something they didn’t: the Lost Fish couldn’t survive out of the Live Zone. They were infuriating; why were they given the long, dexterous fins? I watched from below as the Lost Fish surfaced, became limp and still and disintegrated into a dusting of purple sand. The Sand-dwellers never fail to disappoint.