“Fish Out of Water,” by James Dupree

Aug 20th, 2018 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

There’s a fish on my desk and it’s weirding me out. It’s just sitting there. Where did this thing come from? How could it have possibly gotten on my desk? The damn thing isn’t even cooked! It’s not baked, or sautéed, or pan fried, or pan broiled, or grilled, or poached, or deep fried, or prepared in any way that would be beneficial to me. It’s just raw, and not in a creative or delicious way, like sushi. Raw!

Suspicious, I look around the office to see if any of my co-workers had arrived before me. I’m early, but not that early. Gregg is always the first one to arrive, but I don’t see him. Maybe he’s late today. That’s unlike him. Is it a holiday? No, of course not. I would know. There is no one, no one to explain this ridiculousness. This must be some form of loathsome prank.

I hurry back to my cubicle. The fish is still there. Of course it’s still there. I inch closer to my desk. The smell is atrocious (Stupid smelly fish). It’s long and slender, with silvery scales that shine under the light of my desk lamp.


Who turned on my lamp?

If this situation had been funny in any way before, (which it wasn’t), then it is most certainly not funny anymore. What type of disrespectful and uncaring individual leaves someone else’s desk lamp on? If there were not a fish on my desk at this precise moment, then I would have promptly made a formal complaint to Carol in H.R.

I force my attention back to my uninvited guest. Perhaps there’s a clue to its purpose underneath its ugly, fish body. I place my messenger bag on my desk and pull out two newly sharpened pencils, which I brought from home, because apparently I can’t keep pencils in my PENCIL HOLDER due to Janice always “borrowing” them (Stupid unprepared Janice). Using the pencils I carefully flip over the fish to reveal absolutely nothing.

Could something be in the fish? If so, how would I even retrieve it? I grab the fish by the tail using a large binder clip and shake it vigorously. Nothing falls from its stupid face. I can’t stick my hand in the damn thing.

Or can I?

I open my lunchbox and carefully remove my sandwich from its plastic bag. I wrap the sandwich in a napkin and place it back into my lunchbox, then place the bag around my hand. I carefully pry open the fish’s mouth with a ruler, gently slipping my fingers in. Its small teeth create little tears in the bag. I remain calm and diligent as the back of my hand begins to graze its ribbed gills and squishy guts. Once again, nothing, except gross fish stuff.

I look up pictures of fish on the Internet. Perhaps the type of fish has something to do with this. I search through hundreds of different species. Could it be a Herring? A Bass? A Tarpon? A Mackerel, Snook, Bacha, or Wahoo? This damn fish is so generic I can’t find it! “WHAT ARE YOU?” I scream.

I have only one more option, security. They may have captured footage of the culprit. I will take the fish with me as proof. I check my bin for a trash bag, but it is empty. Damn. I stare at Janice’s desk in contemplation. Her children’s art hangs on her cubicle wall; sloppy finger paintings of malformed imp people and happy suns. I cringe. A face is constructed from uncooked pasta glued to a paper plate. Orange Rotini is placed indiscriminately in what I can only assume is hair. An elbow forms a nose, while a short spaghetti noodle shapes the mouth. Soulless Rotelle eyes stare back at me, a hardened streak of excess glue trailed down the cheek. At the bottom of the plate in large black scribbles reads: “Mommy.”

How hideous.

It looks just like her.

I rip the plate from the wall and scoop the fish onto it. The plate folds under the weight. I hurry to the elevator. I pass several floors when suddenly the elevator stops. The jolt frees the fish from my grasp and it falls to the floor. The emergency lights cast a dim yellow. Did the power go out? How could it have gone out? I pace back and forth in the cramped space. I bang on the walls and door. I beg, “Help! Please help! I’m trapped in this stupid elevator! I know someone must be there. You have to hear me. I know you can hear me!” No one responds. I slump to the floor, back against the corner of my prison.


How long have I been here? Has it been an hour? Two hours? Maybe more? I haven’t moved from my pitiful position. My legs are stiff and my stomach gurgles. I should have eaten breakfast. I think about my sandwich. It’s just sitting there at my desk, unaccompanied, unprotected. The mere thought of someone enjoying my lunch, relishing in the combined flavor of portabella mushrooms, avocado topped with feta cheese and a thick red pepper hummus, causes me to seize up in anger. I have nothing except… no. I could never. I would never. Disgusting. It’s undignified. It’s not even cooked. What if someone were to see? But it’s just sitting there… watching me.

No, I will not eat pasta art.

I eat the pasta art of Janice. Thin strips of paper and glue linger on every noodle I pry off. It adds a sweet chewiness I never anticipated. The eyes go first. They break and splinter under the force of my molars. Sharp edges scrape my gums, drawing blood. I don’t care. I eat it up. After I finish the hair and nose, I use the single noodle mouth as a toothpick. It will be enough. It will last. Any moment, I will be free.


The fish lies motionless against the carpeted floor. I’m curled into a ball on my side, I stare deeply into its eyes, each one a black abyss that shows a twisted version of myself. Something appears to dribble from its open mouth. “Stupid mouth breather,” I say.

“You’re stupid,” retorts the fish.

I quickly lift my head. I’m imagining things. I must be. One ear was to the floor. The elevator mechanisms, that’s it! That’s what I heard. Just as I predicted, my confinement will be short lived. “You hear that?” I ask the fish. “I will be free from you shortly.”

“Nuh-uh,” replies the fish.

The voice is real. I heard it. I clench my fingers as they begin to tremble. I must stay strong. “What do you know?”

“I know you’re stupid,” says the fish.

“No I’m not! You take that back!”


“You’re mean! I hate you!”

“Billy said you smell and that you couldn’t write good too.”

“Oh yeah? Well… fuck Billy!”

The fish gasps. “I’m telling Mrs. Stanley and Billy and Billy’s mom and your mom that you said that!”

“You can’t do that!”

“You’re gonna be in trouubllle.”

That’s it! “You do not scare me stupid, smelly, bastard fish!” I scramble towards the creature and grab its fishy throat. I squeeze. I squeeze so hard and so tight! Slimy orb eyes bulge out from its face. Our struggle slams us into the walls. From my throat erupts an animalistic war cry that channels all of my inner strength. I tear my enemy in two. His insides rain down upon my face. I collapse to the floor in relief. My adversary lies in pieces, defeated, lifeless. I have won.


James Dupree graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in English and has no idea how to use it. He currently has way too much time on his hands and spends most days in cafes attempting to write anything worthwhile. Occasionally he looks up from his computer to stare into the void with all the other writers, where they think about life, failure, their own self-worth, and cats on the Internet. Sometimes he makes eye contact with those other void-starers for a moment of uncomfortable recognition. You can find his work at https://www.jamesmichaeldupree.com.

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