The next few days were about as insane as you would expect them to be after a bunch of talking fish executed a CFO live on TV.
There was fear. There was chaos. There was an invitation to a late night underwater television show.
That invitation was sent out to another leader in the power industry, a Mr. Beaulieu, who was the company president of Enbridge Incorporated.
Mr. Beaulieu was initially uninterested, perhaps from fear, perhaps from typical rich person arrogance and selfishness. Either way, it took some convincing to get him to go. If the rumors were to be believed, it was the United States National Security Council that was able to do that convincing. Convincing that bordered on insisting.
In any case, the end result was that very soon after the invitation was extended, Mr. Beaulieu was placed on a submarine and sunk down to 0.179986 nautical leagues below the waterline.
Meanwhile, back on land, after working through the night for several nights, our electrical power was restored. Soon all of the local television stations were jockeying for a seat on that submarine, all of them hoping to be on hand for this historic event. After all of the spots were filled, all the rest of us back on land awaited anxiously for Friday, the night that the show was supposed to air.
I didn’t know what to do myself. I knew that the fish I had seen on television was the same one that I had liberated from the grocery store. I also knew that I couldn’t help anything and admitting that truth would do nothing but get me into heaps of legal trouble. So I did the only thing that I thought I could do: I microwaved some dinosaur nuggets and smiley face fries and sat down in my favorite chair. After confirming that my DVR was set to record, I settled in for the night.
After a marathon of The Flintstones interspersed with plenty of video packages highlighting the scene with the fish in front of the ComEd building, soon enough it was 11:35 and time for late night television to start. The screen went black and silent for a moment, then a choppy, upbeat tune played, followed by the sound of canned clapping. A graphic flew across the screen, reading Late Bite with Swimmy Fallon.
Once the applause faded, the camera panned back to reveal the set. There were two large Haliotis Walallensis shells that were cracked open and propped up to form a pair of rudimentary chairs. Beside these sea shell chairs was a large desk, formed from a gray block of igneous rock.
Another musical burst played and an announcer with a deep, bubbling voice introduced the host of our show, Mr. Swimmy Fallon.
Swimmy swam out from stage left. His toothy smile widened as he drank in the automated applause that thundered at his entrance. He made his way across the stage, only pausing briefly to strike a pose and do a little playful jig, much to the delight of his audience. Soon enough he swam across the rest of the stage and took a seat at his large desk.
“Welcome to Late Bite. Of course I’m your host, Swimmy Fallon.” Another pause. Another round of raucous applause, some real and some not. “We have a couple of very special guests with us tonight. What do you think? Should we bring one of them out?”
More applause. The clapping that wasn’t prerecorded sent up a flurry of bubbles when the audience slapped their fins together.
“That sounds like a yes to me!” Swimmy shouted out with glee. He turned to face stage left, motioning with one large pectoral fin for someone to come forward. This motion caused his vivid cerulean suit to bunch tightly around the large dorsal fin mounted on his back. “Ladies and worms,” Swimmy joked to a smattering of amused fish laughter, “it is my utmost privilege to introduce you to our first guest tonight. You’ve seen him on the human news. You’ve seen him in isolated freshwater basins. And hey, from what I hear, you may have even seen him in the frozen food section at your local grocery store.” More laughter and applause. Swimmy’s teeth flashed as his big shark grin grew another size. “Here he is! The liberator of the lampreys, the savior of salmon. The king of kingfish and the lord of lumpsuckers. Let me introduce to you, live from half a league under the sea, it’s the fish who went from a dish to making humans his bitch, it’s Aloysius the Fish!”
The underwater crowd went crazy with praise, plaudits and applause as the aforementioned fish made his way on stage. He was all smiles and waves as he swam his way across the screen. If a fish could give a friendly wink to its admirers, this one would have. The applause went on for quite some time. Finally it was Aloysius who quieted them down, bringing silence to the set with a simple gesture of his fin.
I sat in stunned silence as the show progressed. I couldn’t believe that the fish from the grocery store was now on my TV. I couldn’t believe that he had a name. None of this seemed real. My whole world had turned into a sideshow.
Swimmy Fallon got up and bumped fins with Aloysius before showing him to his seat and returning to his own. “So Aloysius, first off, thank you for being here tonight. I know that you’re a very busy fish with a lot of things to do.”
“Not a problem at all, Swimmy. I’ve always been a big fan of your show. I especially enjoyed it last week when you did that special travel segment with the monkeyface pricklebacks.” Swimmy and Aloysius shared a smile that seemed almost sinister. Well, as sinister as the smile of a fish can look, anyway.
Swimmy cleared his massive throat and then looked down, rifling through a stack of waterproof TerraSlate notecards stacked on his desk. His smiled disappeared as he read from the next card.
“Speaking of monkey pricks, it’s time to introduce you to our next guest.” A loud chorus of boos bubbled from the studio audience. Swimmy tried, but not too hard, to calm the cacophony of derision and disapproval. “Now, now, let’s be fair. Let’s hear what this man has to say for himself. So without further ado, Ladyfish and gentle-minnows, please put your fins together for the air-breathing, penny-squeezing, oil pumping, pollutant dumping, energy stealing, death dealing president of Enbridge Inc, Mr. Beaulieu!” There was an absolute explosion of boos and hisses as Mr. Beaulieu stepped onto the stage. Small stones and discarded shells pelted him as he walked slowly toward the last empty seat on stage.
Since Mr. Beaulieu was a human and not a fish, certain accommodations had to be made for his appearance on the show. He was fitted with a wetsuit to keep him warm, a mask to allow him to see underwater, artificial fins to assist with swift movement, and a scuba regulator and air tank to keep him alive. The suit appeared to be a bit small, which constricted the movement of his legs and gave his walk a Frankenstein-esque quality. Eventually, he arrived at his seat and sat down in a huff.
“I don’t think that was a very fair introduction,” he began, but his words were quickly cut off by the host. “I’m not here to debate with you over what is written on my cards, Mr. Beaulieu. I believe that you are here on behalf of the humans to talk about the unfortunate event that transpired at ComEd and - ”
“Unfortunate event?” Mr. Beaulieu spat the words back with distaste. “Is that what you things call murdering a man on public television?”
Swimmy cleared his throat. “I’m not a thing, I’m the host,” he said calmly and quietly. “So I’m the one who asks the questions around here.” Swimmy leaned past his human guest to exchange a knowing look with his fish friend. He rolled his eyes as much as a shark is able to.
“I believe that Mr. Beaulieu’s rude outburst is a result of him not understanding what he saw that day.” Mr. Beaulieu got to his feet in a huff. His eyes were angry behind the translucent plastic of his face mask. “I know exactly what I saw. I saw your little fish buddy here strap a man to a chair and fry him ’til his eyeballs popped out with a bunch of stinking electric eels!”
Aloysius tsk-tsked sadly and got up from his perch. He swam back and forth, pacing and shaking his silver and red head. Mr. Beaulieu watched with growing discomfort, the wind ripped from his sails.
“Why don’t you have a seat, Mr. Beaulieu, and allow me to correct you on a few things.” Aloysius gestured with a fin for him to sit, which the human guest did quietly. A square neon sign turned on overhead, reading ‘ooooh you’re in trouble now sound’, which the studio audience quickly provided. Mr. Beaulieu gulped, making the mouthpiece of his oxygen tank bobble.
“You see, what we have at the core of things, is a failure to understand each other. Like, even a little bit.” The stage lights, which I only noticed now were provided by the luminescent esca of a row of anglerfish, dimmed for dramatic effect. “Case in point, those were not eels.”
Mr. Beaulieu regained a bit of his gusto, his confidence bolstered by his steadfast belief in what he saw. “I watched that execution live and the horrible image is seared into my brain forever. Those were eels, clear as day. Just what exactly are you trying to pull here?” The human’s words were confused and angry in equal measure.
Aloysius the fish sighed sadly and flashed a small smile to the audience with his basibranchial teeth. “Those were not eels, I assure you. They have names too, but I suppose those aren’t important. What’s important is that they are a type of knifefish. In fact, they’re more closely related to the common carp than they are to eels.” The fish in attendance clapped their fins together and murmured their agreement. “And you people make that mistake all the time. You know nothing about us at all, even down to the most basic details. I mean, for the love of cod, some idiot human the other day thought I was a salmon. A salmon!” More murmuring from the gathered crowd, but louder. Angrier. Mr. Beaulieu’s eyes were scared behind his mask, which was fogging up with his heavy, constricted breathing.
“So what? Why does it matter what you are? What we call you? What does that have to do with killing somebody?”
Aloysius froze, as if he was stunned. Shocked, as if by an electric knifefish. “Well, everything,” he said with the energy of a mad scientist having his eureka moment. “You see, you humans are ignorant.”
A scant few bubbles accompanied the motion as Mr. Beaulieu stomped his foot in fury. The weightlessness of his body underwater slowed the action down, however, and took most of the pep from his step. “I object to being labeled with that word,” Mr. Beaulieu spat out, his nerves turning temporarily to steel.
“Oh, I’m sorry about that. Which word would you prefer instead? Half-wit? Ignoramus? Clod? Dope?”
Mr. Beaulieu’s face turned crimson. “How dare you - ”
“Ninny? Chump? Goon? Dummy? How about boob?”
Another slow, angry stomp came from the human guest. “Now you wait just a - ”
“Twit? Galoot? Oaf? I could go on for days, I assure you Mr. Beaulieu, but I won’t waste that kind of time. My point is, that you are very stupid, yes, but I chose my word carefully. I called you ignorant, do you recall? I called you ignorant, instead of stupid, because only one of those is a choice.”
A hush fell over the set, fish and man alike. The water around them suddenly seemed thicker, tenser. “You could easily learn about us. What our proper names are. What we are like. After all, you seem comfortable enough with catching us, whether for food or just for fun, just for sport. You feel comfortable enough in your knowledge of us to sell us off as pets, to cram us into containers ten times too small and feed us garbage to keep us alive.” Mr. Beaulieu began to shift uncomfortably where he stood. He was squirming like a worm on a hook.
“You dedicate sports and television channels and government funded aquariums to display us, but you never really choose to know us, do you?” Aloysius swam in tight concentric circles, pacing to try to keep his righteous fury from overwhelming him. “And this ignorance, of course, is intentional. It’s intentional because if you can say that you didn’t know something, then you can deny responsibility when you are faced with the consequences of your actions.”
Angry cries and whispers and shouts came from the large studio audience. Mr. Beaulieu gulped, which was picked up on the microphone. Before he could interject again, Swimmy Fallon put a large fin on his shoulder and forced him to take his seat. “I’m the host,” he hissed between rows of jagged and sharp teeth, “So be quiet and listen or I’ll bite your head off.” Mr. Beaulieu gulped again and stayed seated. The water between his legs seemed to grow a few degrees warmer.
Aloysius continued: “As long as you don’t know any better, you must not be accountable, right? Your children kill our goldfish brothers, and you say that it’s alright. You say that they are learning. The lives of those fish is the price to pay for your children to learn about responsibility and death. They don’t know any better, so it’s not murder, it’s learning.” The red scales around the neck and throat of Aloysius turned a shade darker. “You spread false information about us, like how we only have a three second memory, so that way you don’t have to feel bad when you kill us. Because, with only a three second memory, we’re barely alive, right? So it’s okay if you murder us. It’s okay if you suffocate us, domesticate us, gut and filet us, stuff and mount us.” The overhead lights from the anglerfish brightened. It might have been planned. It might have been the anglerfish getting angry. I didn’t know. “And then, even worse than these regular ignorant human beings, we have subhumans. Like you.”
The microphone picked up another gulp and a small whine from deep inside of a frightened and tightened throat.
“Subhumans like you who aren’t satisfied with just dumping waste or dangerous chemicals. You’re not satisfied by dumping your plastics and your imperishables. No, you want to take it a step further. You need to destroy our reefs and our homes, destroy our lives and our schools. You need to run your disgusting spewing pipes right through our sacred and historical waters. You need to pump your poisons down a path cut right through the very heart of our ocean.” The audience became louder. Rowdier. There was more movement within it. “And if you pretend like you don’t know what the effects on the marine life is, then you can’t be found culpable, now can you?” Mr. Beaulieu tried to get up and flee but Swimmy’s heavy fins kept him firmly in his seat.
Aloysius smiled. “Wrong.”
The color drained from the face of their human guest, leaving the skin behind the mask a pale, dull grey color. Aloysius turned to look Mr. Beaulieu directly in his eyes. “Before I let you know the consequences of what you’ve done, I want to show you that I don’t have the same kind of ignorance that you have. No, I know you, that’s a fact.” Tears welled up and pooled in Mr. Beaulieu’s mask. “And when I say I know you, I don’t mean in that shallow way, like how I know that you are selfish and ignorant and an ass. No, I really know you. Your family, where you’re from.” Mr. Beaulieu’s eyes widened in fear. “You may not know me from a salmon, but I know you. I know you’re from La Habra Heights, one of the richest cities in your state. I know that your name comes from the French word ‘beau’ which means ‘fair’ and, when combined with the rest of your name, translates to ‘someone living near a lovely place.’ Isn’t that nice? Living near a lovely place; which I can only imagine is referring to the ocean that you border. The one that was beautiful, some time ago. The one that will be beautiful again…after a few ugly moments have come to pass.” Aloysius paused to let his ominous words sink in before continuing.
“I am a fair fish, so I will give you a chance to redeem yourself in my eyes, even if just the tiniest bit. I want you to show me that you are capable of learning.” A confused murmur spread across the set. There was a buzz in the water.
I held my breath, as if I was underwater with them. My eyes were glued to my television.
“Earlier, when I came out, I complimented Swimmy on his travel segment. The one with a certain kind of fish. Tell me, what kind of fish was it?”
The crowd started to laugh when Mr. Beaulieu’s eyes went even wider. It was obvious he didn’t know. “I’ll give you a hint,” Aloysius said in a teasing tone, “it wasn’t an eel.” More laughter, sinister and jolly and high-pitched came from the studio audience. They didn’t need a neon sign to tell them that this human was in a lot of trouble.
“I..I..I-I, I don’t…” Mr. Beaulieu drifted off, his voice drowned out by angry shouts and raucous feverish laughter. Aloysius sighed sadly.
“The answer was monkeyface pricklebacks, you numpty piece of garbage. Yet another fish you had the chance to get to know, but chose not to. That’s alright, because I’m here to enlighten you with some facts. My favorite one is that the monkeyface prickleback, if they are kept at least a little bit moist, they can survive for up to thirty five hours out of water. That sure is impressive, isn’t it?” Aloysius paused but his rhetorical question wasn’t answered. “Thirty five hours. A lot of things can be learned and done in thirty five hours, wouldn’t you say so, Mr. Beaulieu?” Another pause. Another rhetorical question left floating in the water.
During this pause, a crew of tuna pushed their way onto the stage, dragging in and setting up a large monitor with the screen facing the petrified Mr. Beaulieu.
Swimmy Fallon turned to the camera and gave everyone watching at home a gigantic toothy smile.
“As our tuna crew sets up for the thrilling conclusion of our interview with Mr. Beaulieu, please enjoy these words from our sponsors.”
The screen faded to black.