The belief that we were living in the end times might have had something to do with the drainpipe at the bottom of the pond. There had been a few deaths related to the drainpipe that year. You couldn’t call it a pattern really. It wasn’t timed or anything. It was just a lot of them, all around the same time. We’re not exactly sure how many there were. No one really kept track. Moreover, none of us really liked to talk about the specifics. Only the vague ideas. If you listened to what everyone said, you might have gotten the impression that there were hundreds, which is not to say that there weren’t hundreds, but it really might have just been ten or twelve.
The drainpipe wasn’t very powerful. It was easy enough to stay clear of it if we wanted, but some of the tadpoles had been getting a little too close lately. The first ones were each a tragedy. They were accidents, youngsters testing fate and the limits of their own mortality. Things had simply gone the wrong way.
Next it was an older catfish. We weren’t sure whether to count him since he was going to die anyway. We figured that he just wanted to spare everyone the mess of a dead fish on the bottom of the pond.
Then there was sort of a wave of deaths. Most of them were from this group of guppies, siblings from the same fry. They all went together. Predictably, the mother was next, so we didn’t think we should really count her. All the guppies together counted as one. There was actually something kind of beautiful about it, them all dying together. It made us remember our own siblings that we had lost touch with. They were all still in the pond. The deaths of the guppies made us reach out to the fish we had forgotten. For a while, we appreciated each other more.
In the months that followed, everyone became preoccupied with idea that the pond was going to dry up. A hover of trout was particularly vocal about it. The whole thing—the pond and everything in it—was intermittent, they said. It was only a matter of time before our home would be no more than a puddle, and we’d all be gasping for water, left to burn in the sun. The only escape was through the drainpipe. They said that our pond had flowed out of the drainpipe long before any of us could remember. That was where we all originated from, said the trout, and it was where we all would end up.
But still, we didn’t do anything except tell our children to stay away from the drainpipe. The trout weren’t the only voices in the matter. The blue gills, the minnows, and the bass weren’t buying it. They were more pragmatic.
There was a campaign to erect a barrier in front of the drainpipe. A committee was formed and a crew was dispatched to assess the danger. They did tests for a few days, blocking off the drainpipe temporarily. At the end of it all, it was concluded—as we expected—that the drainpipe didn’t present any inordinate danger to us. With a little common sense, there was no reason we should accidentally get sucked in.
The argument and ensuing victory invigorated the trout. They became more fervent in their belief that returning to the drainpipe was all of our destinies. By this time, they had decided on the day when they would all set each other free. Their words. The exact date was supposedly handed down to them cryptically through many generations. Recently, through a small miracle, they had finally learned to understand it. It told them the date and time. They listened. It was going to be in the morning.
They wanted us all to join, but in the end, they weren’t really all that bothered when we said we wouldn’t.
On the day that it happened, Very few of us were in attendance at the drainpipe—those of us with something better to do that morning knew to ignore it—but the ones that were there reported this: The whole hover was to go in at once, but first they said some words. There was a leader—most of us knew him from before all this happened. He had been a little hotheaded back then, but now he was the most fervent of them all. He bellowed about this and that, about destinies and the future of trout. He also talked about purity. The pond, said the leader, was impure. It had been slowly poisoning us all. They, the trout, had a duty to set each other free with as little taint from here as possible. They weren’t even supposed to have eaten that morning. He said that this was “the plan.”
He wasn’t all talk though, and he eliminated any doubts about his sincerity when he went first. With a soft plunk and a gurgle from the pipe, he disappeared. Then the rest of them went. They were all gone, and the day’s excitement over.
Then, just as the rest of us were turning around to go home, back to whatever we were doing before, back to swimming aimlessly, to eating minnows, back to nesting, there was a loud thud, then silence. Everyone turned back to where the trout had just been, wordless, watching the drainpipe. Blood and fish guts were steadily flowing out of it. Bodies were coming back the way they had come. Many were still recognizable, though badly mangled. Some of them still had heads. All of them were dead.
A long while passed. Though the pond didn’t dry up, it did get worse. Clear water turned murky. What was once calm and fresh became brown and turgid. There was a terrible stench. Scum developed on the top of the pond, blocking out some of the sunlight—not all of it, but some. Another committee was established, this time to assess the safety of the entire pond. We wondered if the trout had reversed the flow of the drainpipe so that things that once left the pond now came back into it. The thought kind of haunted us. We had seen the trout come back. Would the fry of guppies come back too? The old catfish? Once again, the committee concluded that there was nothing to worry about. The drainpipe stayed there, broken, now merely a monument to stupidity. After the trout, it never had suction again.
We all decided that we had to be less wasteful, dispose of things properly. We did these things. They didn’t really help. After a while we stopped trying. We forgot about the dead guppies and the catfish and the trout. Boredom set in.
Our grandchildren were born into the scum-filled pond. We were uneasy about that. Why bring children into this? Did they really deserve this? Some of us thought a new generation would help clean up some of the mess. Some thought they wouldn’t recognize the mess. They were right. The murk and the scum was normal to the youngsters. Sunlight was a luxury.
As we got older, we often remembered the trout. At the time, they had seemed too radical. All that ranting and raving. Life was peaceful back then. Why did they need to disturb that? But maybe they were on to something. After all, the tadpoles and the guppies and the catfish never came back. Maybe the trout were right in some way about the drainpipe. We would never know, would we? We never regretted our choice to stay. We just wondered sometimes. In our old age, we had a lot of time to think.
Before we died, we made sure to tell the young about the guppies and the trout. We didn’t mention the stream of blood and bones that came back out of the drainpipe. It was too violent. It didn’t make for pleasant conversation. Nearing our own inevitable deaths, we preferred not to think about the violence. We preferred to think of it more as an event to remember solemnly. We tried to make the young see it this way too. It sure was one heck of a mystery, they said, though we suspected that the only time they considered the drainpipe was when we brought up the subject.
Then we croaked, adding our bodies to the detritus at the bottom of the pond. We hoped our children mourned for us.
Cameron Shenassa is a Chicagoland native, English teacher, and current expat living in Seoul, South Korea. His poorly drawn comics can be found at camandrob.com.