This is my 789-word response to today’s prompt at http://oneminutewriter.blogspot.com/2013/05/fff-fish-tale.html?m=1. Warning: I have never written flash fiction before.
“Absolutely not.” The Principal huffed up, pointing a fin toward the guards swimming circles around the wriggling morsel drifting near the ground.
“What – why not?” The little one spluttered in disbelief. “It’s been so long since I got stuck under that shell -”
“You’re welcome, by the way.” The Principal looked meaningfully at the little one, obviously seeking gratitude.
“- I will die if I don’t get something to eat soon.” The little one concluded weakly. “That’s a fact.”
“There’s a chance that you will die if you eat that. It might be rigged, you know. If there’s a death-tooth in that morsel and you eat it, you will get pulled right up into the surface and we will never see you again. Everyone knows the surface is death.”
Death. The little one had already come to terms with that concept. He had pondered and cried and railed his little fins against the side of the shell he had been trapped under until the edges of his fins were ragged, and finally he had decided he was okay with it. But if there was a chance…
“That’s a chance that I’m willing to take. I’m failing right now. I can’t even feel the tips of my fins,” he fluttered his fins in annoyance, trying to get some feeling back into them, “and this is my one chance to survive, right here.”
“Our hands are tied, you know that.” The Principal appeared sympathetic, but every one in the school knew that their chief was a dogmatic rule-mongerer. There was no emotion in rules – no sympathy, either. “It’s the way things are done.”
“It’s barbaric and cruel, that’s what it is.” The little one began to nose around in the sand, hoping to find some little morsel of food, but with little hope. He could try to rush the guards, but there were several of them; they would attack him, and in any event there would be only one outcome to that.
Then everything went crazy. One of the guards shouted “eels!” A small hunting party had crept up through the seaweed, their stealthy bodies glistening green-black in the shadows. Their cover blown, the eels shot out while the guards and the Principal zipped away, saving their own scales and leaving the little one alone and defenseless – easy pickings. His reaction would have been the same, had he had more strength; all he could do was duck into his former prison, the now-overturned shell, and hope for the best.
The water calmed and the little one crept out. The Principal and the guards were gone, and so were the eels. Then he spotted the wriggling morsel, just a little way from where it had lain before. He looked around. The eels might be lying in wait, or the Principal could return at any moment – now was his chance. His strength ebbing fast, the little one swam toward the wriggling morsel and reached it soon after he thought he would die from sheer exhaustion.
Taking the morsel into his mouth, he swallowed it whole; he also felt the death-tooth bite into his lip as his mouth closed. It hurt more than anything, but still weak from hunger, all he could do was float and whimper in pain, wishing that the death-tooth would not start pulling him mouth-first toward the surface. He started moving his face back and forth, trying to wriggle the half-embedded thing free.
He had almost gotten it out when suddenly with a sharp, tearing pain, the death-tooth pierced through his lip and began pulling him up toward the menacing blue light above.
Screw the hunger, the guards, and the eels. It was all going to end right out there, in the great beyond; so be it. The little one swam toward the surface in defiance of death, of the pain in his lip, of the utter finality which was wiping out his peace of mind. He broke through the surface, feeling a new sensation even as he was struck blind: something in him was straining, and his heart began to pound heavier and heavier as his senses were flooded with blinding light, thin whistling sounds, and a sickening sensation of quick motion.
The little one began to spasm. He felt the painful death-tooth as it was removed from his lip, a wave of nausea that came from more quick movement, and a violent slap across his entire side. The spasms eased, his heart began to slow back to normal, and the light dimmed, leaving black spots in his returning vision. The little one realized that he was back in his world, sinking back down toward the ground.
What’s more, his strength was beginning to return.