“Christ, Jimmy, here comes another one.”
“Sheeeit. We ain’t got room in the boat. Use the hook and tie his leg up to starboard. Same with any others we find. We’ll just go real slow back to the landing.”
“Aight. I ain’t even know why we bother. Every day, we come out here and every day, there’re more bodies. No end to them.”
“We bother because we getting paid. We doing the lawd’s work, Carl; keeping everyone safe.”
“I ain’t know how safe everyone is if we keep finding floaters out here,” Carl grumbled.
Jimmy ignored him, “C’mon, hurry up with that one. We gots to make tracks.”
Carl finished tying off the leg of the latest floater and looked accusingly at the sky. It was a beautiful summer day. The sun was shining, the trees were green and the water was rich blue; the same blue and green hues it had always been. If it hadn’t been for the mound of dead bodies at the stern, everything would have seemed normal. How strange it is when everything goes to hell that the weather stays the same. It seemed to Carl as if the sky ought to be purple and the trees should be bright orange for all the weirdness around the lake lately.
Jimmy throttled so slowly that Carl didn’t even notice they were moving at first. He resumed his job scanning for floaters. If they caught one in the prop, they’d be sitting ducks after dark and no one would come to their rescue.
Jimmy kept his eyes on land. He focused on the tiny speck that was the landing, their destination. How many times had he made this trip in his life? It was as familiar as the back of his hand. A week ago, Jimmy and Carl made their living taking tourists out fishing. Now, they spent their days fishing out those same tourists. Jimmy thought how ironic it was that he was still making his living from tourists, dead or alive.
They docked at the landing and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife warden, their de facto employer of late, met them there with a clipboard. “Quite a haul today, fellas. How many?”
“Not sure. Lost count. There’s another hangin’ off starboard when you’re done with these. We ran out of room,” Jimmy said as he stepped on the dock and lit his pipe.
“Alright, fellas. Bag ’em and tag ’em,” the warden said to three well-built men standing on the dock behind him wearing rubberized coveralls, rubberized boots and rubberized gloves. The men started pulling bodies from the giant heap at the back of the boat and laid them on an open trailer on the dock, heads one way, feet the other.
Jimmy felt mildly ashamed that they brought the floaters in on a huge tangled heap, while these men were laying them out carefully, but then he realized it was probably easier to count them that way. He thought the bodies looked like sardines laid out like that in the trailer. It was so easy to lose perspective that these were once people, just like him. The floaters had quickly become like fish to him, just another commodity to be traded for cash.
“Are you gonna close the lake?” Carl asked the warden as he had every day since they started finding floaters.
“Maybe. We’ll see what the numbers add up to. It’s up to the government muckety-mucks. They don’t want to lose all the tourist money and cause a panic.”
“Well, the way they dying off, there won’t be any tourists left in a few days,” Jimmy said.
“It isn’t up to me, Jimmy. I just count ’em up and pass the information along.”
One of the rubberized men came up to the warden and said, “47.”
“Alright.” The warden wrote on his clipboard and walked over to count the bodies himself. A few minutes later, he said “47.”
“Did you get the one hangin’ off starboard?” asked Jimmy.
“Damn, 48,” the warden corrected his clipboard while the rubberized men retrieved the last of the floaters.
Carl said incredulously, “That’s 13 more than we found yesterday!”
“Yeah, that’s more than I was expecting. We’ll see what the muckety-mucks have to say about it.”
“You find out what’s causing this yet?” Carl asked the warden as he had every day since they started finding floaters.
“Oh, yes, we did actually. It’s a mutated member of carassius auratus auratus that has become omnivorous.”
“In English?” Jimmy prodded.
“The common goldfish.”
“Somehow, some way, the common goldfish, which isn’t native to the lake, was introduced to the Castaic ecosystem, mutated, and has started killing people by the dozens. We don’t know how or why, or even how many of them there are, but they’re out there.”
“I know how weird that sounds, but it’s true.” The warden turned to one of the rubberized men, “Show them, Tom.”
The man took off a glove, reached inside his coveralls and pulled out a phone. “This is a news report from channel 3 that we had to confiscate,” the warden continued, “It won’t be going live.”
On the phone screen, Jimmy and Carl saw a reporter talking, then footage of a man standing in the lake holding a giant goldfish.
Jimmy and Carl just stood there, not knowing at all what to say. They had no frame of reference to process this “killer goldfish” information, so it just kept bumping around in their heads without anywhere to go.
The warden continued, “Weird, right? We’ve caught at least two dozen of the buggers. They’re very hard to catch. Their teeth bite right through fishing nets. We’re working on a solution, but in the meantime, we’d appreciate your continued cooperation and discretion. We don’t want this information getting out yet. I’m only telling you guys because you’re out there in the water every day. Keep any eye out. Damn, goldfish.”