the short story project


Jamal Parson

Blue Gills

“I’m excited to have you here. Not necessarily here, in this Waffle House – the place or time doesn’t matter. The question is: can you accept everything I’m going to say as the truth without Judge Judy eyes?” The tone of my voice feels rigid and particular. I want to sound cool in front of this man. Will my story become quotable? Will there be movies, TV shows, or even a possible spin-off? I always think back to the scene in the Hannibal movie where he pries open that head and gives his monologue. When I was a child admiring it all, I thought that brain looked so tempting I would have eaten the small morsel he cut off with his scalpel and savored the wine she passed up. When I was told that the scary stuff in movies doesn’t actually happen, nothing disgusted me more. My hopes were built up only to be dismantled by the truth of the matter that people like me don’t come around very often. I look at this man in front of me and wait for his response impatiently.

“When you’re an angler, you can’t be afraid to open a can of worms,” he says, acknowledging my story. He pulls out a set of Hello Kitty stationary colored bold red instead of the usual shy pink. I’m assuming as a Detective he would want a written confession before turning me in. The Detective then begins to fold a sheet of paper in a meticulous way. I guess I look salty about this because the detective says,

“I like to keep my hands occupied. Please tell me your story. It’s only a story, right?” He extends his hand and gestures for me to begin.

“I have to confess that before I was reborn, I was a mere air breather.”

“Aren’t we all?” the Detective says. His smile fucks with me: I could eat those pretty lips off his smug face.

“I gave the world nothing in return, and I wasn’t fit to repopulate the earth. I was scrawny with skin so damaged from picking at cysts, it looked like a meteor shower decimated my jowls like no force field could save me from it. Whether my bad diet was to blame or my compulsive nature, my mind was too unhinged to change it. My hair was always disheveled; spiders even laid eggs in it. I can’t get rid of the sensation from baby critters crawling around my scalp. I still get critter jitters till this day.” As if on cue, my hand jerks a little, and I spill some of my coffee on the table. I laugh awkwardly as I continue on to say,

“When I got to college, I decided I would study something as disgusting as me, so I majored in entomology…” I paused for a second. “That sounds lame; let me rephrase it. That’s not true, the real reason is that my heart weeps for the underdogs. People step on the Blattodea, but they always come back resilient and more vast in numbers than ever.”

“But you’re not a roach – there’s a million of them but only one of you,” he says. Even though what he says isn’t wrong, I refuse to agree out of principle.

“Anyway, upon graduation I took a job as an exterminator. 70-hour weeks, restaurant after restaurant, I became fragile and wanted it all to break. With a poisonous spray on my hip at all time, it was bound to happen, but the way it happened makes me question my sanity even now. Everything changed: it was the last day I would work my route. When I came on site, the drama began right away. A competing exterminator, who they thought would be cheaper, didn’t get the memo that his services were no longer needed. Like a third wheel, he followed me and the owner around the deli trying to justify his work to us, showing us how much he’d done. He was an old fart just lingering around this hellhole. Is this my future playing out before my eyes? The thought upset me. His face looked like a walnut with liver spots, and his bald head exposed his sunken skull. I was obsessed with it; I think focusing on that dent in his skull was the only thing keeping me from losing my cool and beating him with the hose attachment. The owner finally decided to cut him half of the check. As he left to get his checkbook, my rival tugged at his bottom eyelid with his wrinkled finger, and a worm-like creature crawled out of his eye socket. It jumped on my face and pried its way into my mouth. The feeling was ten times more unpleasant than what I experienced during the baby spider incident. Last time, it was my own undoing, but this time, I was just doing my job.

As if I were schizophrenic, I heard voices all of a sudden. It was only one word whispered over and over again: “Die.” The voice wanted me to die so badly that I felt like I was the aggressor bothering it. I locked myself in the accessible bathroom and shoved the hose attachment down my throat – thankfully, I didn’t have tonsils. When I pulled the trigger, the pain was impossible to rate: I felt as if death just pushed through my bowels, and my whole body convulsed and shut down. I couldn’t have thrown up enough of the bug spray to survive – I just know I couldn’t have, but I did. I was passed out on the bathroom floor until the knocking and the constant asking if I was okay had awoken me. I felt good; there’s no other way to describe it. I got up and off the floor with such ease it was surreal. I rinsed my mouth out. I was blessed to make it to the toilet to throw up, so there wasn’t even a need for a huge cleanup. I then thought to myself: could that whole episode be a lie? Then I looked at my face, noticing my cheeks specifically, and saw that all my blemishes had vanished, and so did my crow’s feet, my creased forehead – all the signs of aging gone. I felt like Spiderman until I heard the voice again and realized it was more like Venom.

“A figment of your imagination had become real and took over your body,” the detective interrupts.

“What do you mean imagination – all of this happened in reality?”

“The world isn’t magical by nature; we make things so with our minds. Take these paper cranes I’ve folded, for example.”

At this point, the Detective has burned through the whole stationery set without me noticing.

“It’s amazing how you folded so many in such a short time, but I wouldn’t call this act magical.”

“My origami skills are mediocre, but not everyone’s creations come alive. It happens for me half the time. This is one of those times; sure they might not all take flight, but the ones that do are under my control for the time being, trapped in an invisible bird cage.”

“Then why don’t you set them free, how else will I believe you?”

“Why did you make those little slits in the victims’ necks if you used enough force to crush their cervical bones?”

“If I answer, will you?”


It was the first time he looked serious, the first time he gazed upon me with such curiosity. No ordinary man could crush a neck like that, even if his victims were petite and lacked calcium in their diet. So I oblige him and continue my story.

“First of all, I would like to say I don’t have yellow fever.”

“That’s what every rich white male says – it’s more like a yellow streak,” the detective fires back.

This remark makes me curious if his wife is Asian; his wedding band is white gold, nothing glamorous about it at all, but his fingers move with such dexterity.

“Anyway, a long time ago, I would go to visit my grandfather. Like most of my family, he had a particular view on things, and one thing he said really spoke to me. According to him, all races were created differently: black people came from monkeys, white people came from pigs and Asians came from fish. It’s only quite natural that as I knew I was born to be God of this earth, I would change some things, starting with the gills on the side of those water breathers’ necks. But no matter how many I throw into the sea, they always find land.”

“Maybe it’s because you crush their necks?”

“I give them the option to be reborn, but the body must die once first.”

The conversation is moving along, but I can’t help but notice an argument between a customer and the cook. It escalates into a shoving match. The cook gets manhandled by the scruffy looking customer. Everyone has their cameras out, humanoid CCTVs capturing vulnerable moments that expose the nature of man. A fight for dominance, a dominance I never had because I was everyone’s bottom bitch, but now I’m a God amongst mortals, a force that alters skin and bones at a whim. The Detective seems disinterested until he says,

“Why is that guy taking his shirt off as if he’s going to fight any better?”

“Shouldn’t you stop this type of thing?”

“Shouldn’t I stop you?”

“Your point is made; I will continue my story now. Though I go on about being a God, I know that I’m more of a god in training. I figured Asians would be easy to convert back to their natural state, so I crushed their necks so they couldn’t breathe in that absurd matter.”

“So you gave them gills instead, thinking they would evolve right there on the spot?”

“Evolve? No. Transform, detective, but they all fall shore…”

I want to continue, but the spectacle of customers cooking their own food is too distracting: one guy even nailed a sunny side up. I’m still working on not burning the butter; the last time the fire department showed up and gave me this huge lecture about mixing oil and water. At this point, everyone is distracted, including me. When the Detective tells me he had heard enough, I try to suggest changing locations. He gets up to use the restroom and settle the bill; then he pretends to lift up the invisible cage, and around half of the paper cranes are suddenly perched on his shoulder. My spine straightens, and I realize that the fight going on in the Waffle House isn’t the most interesting thing going on right now.

“Like I said, happens half of the time, and all it takes is believing.”

He walks away from the booth to the register and places some money down, and even though I watched his back and those cranes the whole time, I didn’t see it coming until my blood starts to run down my throat, several vitals hit in one go. I became afraid for my safety; I’m the essence of death, but I can’t exist without these inferior creatures. They’re nothing that ties me to this world; by myself, I’m an empty threat. The naivete of me feeling secure in a body so easily punctured by a paper cut from cute stationery. Those fools all huddled around the counter haven’t even noticed yet. I never even got a refill; I’m so vexed. I don’t want to die in this pathetic human. I should escape; I could last for at least a minute or two without a shell. The Detective comes back to the table; he looks down on me literally and figuratively. As if he knows I’m still there, he tops our mugs off and looks at me and says,

“Everyone deserves a last drink and a last meal. I want you to know that even if you escape this body, I’m leaving my little friends behind, and they will pick you apart the moment you do. It’s only fitting that a friend of your creator puts an end to you. Murderous intent should never take on life. You’re not wrong: you really are a waste, and society is better off without you, not just before but after.”

Nothing he said means anything to me: I just want to live. Death is only beautiful when it’s not my own, because nothing is beautiful without an observer for its beauty.

The detective takes one last look, as he walks out sipping his black coffee, darker than the last time you close your eyes.                          


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