LITTLE FISH • by Dani Ripley

Carl crouched high inside the canopy of an enormous leafy oak, pressing his body against its knotted trunk, gripping the branch beneath him with powerful talons. He rested his smaller, clawed hand upon a thinner branch sprouting three inches above his head. Velvety down still covered his horns. He kept his dark, leathery wings folded tightly against his back as he watched a pack of peoples drag a sun-bleached wooden table into the shade at the edge of the forest.

But for them the campground was deserted. The big male peoples placed a large white box on the ground with a grunt. Carl smelled the dead fishies inside from his perch. He had no appetite for the peoples yet — he was still too small to eat them — but he was allowed as many fishies as he wanted! Quickly he drew back as the two little peoples in the pack chased each other around the table.

Carl’s mother had been gone three days; otherwise he’d have never come out on his own. Peoples was too dangerous, sure! Peoples sailed concrete rivers inside the bellies of giant metal creatures that would squish Carl if he ventured close. Smoke excreted from the creatures’ rears choked Carl, and though he sometimes excreted things from his own rear, his smells never offended or burned throats! The pack of peoples had spilled from their own boxy creature. Now the beast sat off to the side, shining in the sun and hurting Carl’s eyes.

He didn’t see well in the daylight so he leaned forward again as the little peoples settled at the table. The big female placed a bowl containing dozens of flat yellow disks before them. Carl gently flared his nostrils. The fatty disks were layered with salt, lots of salt; he loved salt!

The big male started a fire. The big female took the fishies out of the box and set them on the table before going to stand beside him. The fishies on the table still had their heads attached. The heads was Carl’s favorite part! Maybe if he flew down fast, he could snatch the littlest fishy on top before the pack of peoples saw!

Carl was good at catching fishies in the river, sure! His talent earned him the nickname Little Fish, given to him by his mother. She had left for her nightly hunt several nights before. Now Carl missed her badly. And he wanted food.

As far as he knew, he and his mother were unique in the world. One night the previous summer, Carl had ridden into the city on the back of his mother, flying low over treetops and staying in shadow until they arrived at an imposing stone monument built by peoples. His mother flew him to the top of that special place, which she’d called a library, to see one of the statues there.

It was a fierce rendition of what Carl might look like when he was full-grown. His mother explained that peoples placed these stone renderings atop their larger dwellings in order to ward off demons. This one had happened to look just like his father.

Carl still stared down at the pile of glistening carcasses. While the big peoples stood at the fire, he unfurled his wings to their full two-foot span and flapped them hard, flying straight for his prey: the littlest fishy on top of the pile.

The smallest peoples — the girl — saw him coming and shouted, pointing as he streamed forward like an arrow. At the last minute he tried turning away, but the boy peoples had already seen him. The boy slapped at him, making Carl come in for a clunky landing. Carl knocked over the bowl of salty disks, spilling them across the table, but he realized with delight that the blow had landed him right next to the pile of dead fishies!

He grabbed the one on top while the girl peoples screamed, trying to wave him away. Carl bit her, sinking his small, sharp teeth into her fleshy, pink arm, then hopped to the edge of the table and bit the head off his prize, watching the peoples with hooded eyes as he chewed. The little girl howled, holding her bleeding arm as the big peoples ran over.

Carl tried to fly but the boy peoples grabbed him by the scruff, immobilizing him.

“Hey,” the boy shouted, “it’s a little monster!”

Carl squirmed. He was no monster. Peoples was monsters! The bigs arrived and stared down at him. “What the hell?” the big male asked in a thundering voice.

“Kill it, Steve!” yelled the big female, but her mate didn’t respond. He looked down at Carl with a blank look upon his peculiar, hairless face.

“Steve, do something!” demanded the female.

“Yeah dad, let’s kill it!” said the boy. The girl peoples scooted to stand with her back against the big female’s legs, clutching her hurt arm to her heaving chest. The boy squeezed Carl’s neck, but Carl twisted around, managing to free himself momentarily and nip the boy (drawing blood!) as he did.

Spreading his wings, he dropped the headless fishy to the table, but the boy recovered and slapped him again. Carl tumbled to the ground and hit his head, slicing one of his baby horns on the edge of a sharp rock. He mewled and blinked up at the boy, who glared back down at him with eyes full of no mercy.

The boy raised a foot clad in a heavy boot, making ready to stomp Carl’s head. Carl’s eyes filled with brackish tears. He cursed his rumbly tummy. All he’d wanted was one little fishy; he hadn’t hurt the peoples on purpose. Now they’d kill him for it, sure!

Suddenly a piercing shriek filled the forest. The boy paused with his foot held midair, and everyone looked up as a giant shadow loomed, darkening the afternoon sky above their heads. Little Fish’s mother had finally returned. And she sounded hungry!

Dani Ripley lives and works in Michigan where she dreams of spaceships and zombies (though usually not together) and all other things supernatural.

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