Leonard the Tang Fish
Leonard was approaching his fifth birthday. All Tang fish knew what this meant - adulthood; at least these days it did. His yellow scales shimmered when the light touched them, like a glistening jewel newly discovered. His new set of teeth had fully settled in his mouth, and his eyes had widened as much as they would in his life. It was still a bit awkward for Leonard to close his mouth all the way, but he was getting used to to the occasional scrape or poke on his lip from his newly acquired sharp teeth.
Leonard lived on the reef with his parents and siblings - what was left of his some twenty-odd siblings, Lucinda and Howard. The other seventeen didn’t make it on the reef. There wasn’t enough food to go around. Leonard and his small family lived a peaceful life on the reef, with not much to do, and not much to see except some pale coral and random pieces of blue cellophane. For the most part, it was them against the world. It was them against the coral corpses, against the empty ocean.
One day, as Leonard was cruising through the quiet reef, he overheard his parents talking. His frail mother barely pushed the words out of her mouth. “Deary, we only have three left! We can’t afford to lose another!”
“What we can’t afford is to not eat through another feeding season. Leonard is old enough. He will understand.” As Leonard’s father guided Leonard’s frail mother back towards the other fish, he spotted Leonard. “Ah, my son! We were just talking about you.”
“I know you were, Dad.” Leonard started to swim the opposite way.
“Now son, come back here.” Leonard’s father furrowed his brow as his son came closer. “As you are approaching adulthood, I’m sure you know what is coming up.”
“Feeding season, Dad.” Leonard sighed as he forced a grin.
“Ah, I’m glad you are aware. Now Leonard, you are the oldest child in the family, so of course that would mean--”
Leonard interrupted his father. “It would mean that this feeding season, it is my duty to provide for the family.” Leonard rolled his eyes. “I know Dad, I know.”
“Ah, I’m glad we are on the same page.” Leonard’s father grinned, exposing his snaggle-tooth. “You do know we love you son, and that we are very grateful to have such a brave son to do this for us.”
“I know Dad, I know. It’s to better Mom. It’s to better Lucinda and Howard. It’s to better you. It’s to better the reef.”
“Ah, that’s my son. I am so proud of you.” Leonard’s father swam away with a wide grin on his face.
Leonard’s mother sighed as she looked over the reef. “Leonard honey, you know you don’t have to do this. Just say no. Just run away.”
“Mom, you can’t just tell me to run away. Even I know I can’t just run away. There’s nothing outside the reef.”
“Leonard, there is nothing left in the reef!”
“Mom, exactly. Theres nothing for you, or little Lucinda. You need me mom. You all need me. It’s okay.” Leonard's mother caressed him for a few moments.
As she grabbed her son’s fin, she said, “Leonard, look me in the eyes.”
Leonard looked up into his mother’s hazel eyes.
“Leonard, you have two days to make a decision. It’s okay if you don’t want to do this. We’ll just have to make things work here on the reef, like we’ve always done.”
“But mom, I’m old enough now. I’m practically an adult. I am going to provide for the family this year.” Leonard stared wide-eyed at his mother. “You guys are going to make it this feeding season.”
It was feeding Day. Leonard swam out to his family, tears streaming down his face. “Mom, I’m ready.” Leonard and his family had one last goodbye filled with kisses and kind words, mostly from Leonard’s mother.
“Leonard honey, I have never been so proud before. You are truly a brave fish.” She kissed Leonard on his forehead. “Are you sure dear? Are you ready?”
Leonard chuckled and kissed his mother’s cheek. “I was born ready, mom.”
Leonard’s family took in a communal breath and rushed Leonard to the floor of the reef.
Leonard shut his eyes, bracing for the pain. But strangely, he felt no pain-- he felt removed. He didn’t feel anything. As he opened his eyes, to his surprise he was hovering above, watching his family savage over his body. They crowded around him, pushing and tugging, each wanting to get a meatier part of Leonard. Their eyes were wide, their jaws seemed to uncontrollably open and close. He saw his hesitant mother, leaving a large space between her and his father. He saw his mother leaving him enough room to escape.
Leonard blinked. After a sudden shake from the world, it was apparent that he hadn’t passed on yet. His chest was constricted by his younger brother pressed against him. He heard the gnawing of his sister. He felt the tongue of his bloodthirsty father. He felt his mother biting at his fins, tearing his flesh and exposing his innards. He cautiously opened his eyes. Out of the corner of his eye, Leonard saw his escape route. Leonard saw his chance, and he took it.
He squeezed his eyes closed as he bit back. His mother shrieked and began to weep. Her tears dripped onto Leonard's squeamish and bloody body. Leonard squirmed and hissed until he was free. And then, he swam.
Before Leonard knew it, he was out in the Deep Blue. There was nothing in sight. No other fish, coral, or plastic. Nothing. It was empty. It was just Leonard and his trail of blood. He found the further he swam, the harder it was. It became harder to breathe, to see, and most importantly, swim.
But Leonard continued to swim. Where? He didn’t know. But he swam and swam until he gave out; he swam until he wasn’t trailing blood anymore. He swam until he couldn’t remember why he swam away in the first place, that he was trying to stay alive.
His limp body lay on the ocean floor. His scales had lost all sheen, and his teeth became the only identifiable part of him left. He was away from all life, all sound. He was left to rot at the bare ocean’s peace.