My Monster in the Closet is a Fish
By Anna White
When I was around eight or nine years old,
my family took a summer vacation to the Florida Keys. The condo we rented for
the week was a water-front property, so we only had to step outside to be on
the beach. The area was full of life. Hermit crabs defended their portable
homes in the shallows, the occasional iguana glared out from the broad-leafed
bushes, and there were always dolphins arching gracefully in sunset waters. Above
all else, I was amazed by the many different species of fish.
There were puffer fish, parrot fish, fish with yellow racing stripes, and fish with scales that glinted like polished silver in the warm shallows. This water was the clearest water I had seen in my young life, and I marveled at how far I could see. Though I don’t trust my memory, I can reasonably suggest that there was around 15 to 20 feet of visibility.
The seafloor was clogged with swaths of slimy aquatic plants, the type that likes to slide its slick fingers behind your knee in a horrifying caress that triggers your fight-or-flight response, so I didn’t dare put my feet down. Instead, I floated face down on the surface, letting Mom guide our slow but controlled drift. Eventually, I noticed that my feet wouldn’t reach the bottom if I tried to stand, and, while this was slightly discomforting, I wasn’t terribly worried because I knew Mom could stand for us both if need be.
While we snorkeled, looking at all the brightly colored fish, a hissing sound began to fill our ears. At first, I thought it was that underwater sound of a distant motorboat, but as it got louder it changed. It seemed to be composed of many individual clicks, all blending in a strange, single-toned harmony. It wasn’t long before the source revealed itself.
It was like a wall, pushing towards us, then quickly retreating out of sight, then returning even closer than before. It was an undulating curtain of silver scales, whipping around us, circling us so fast that it was hard to discern the individual shapes in it. It was a school of fish, roughly the size of small dinnerplates. And the sound? That was their teeth snapping together over and over, adding to their terrifying display of force and number. They would spiral away, disappearing for up to thirty seconds before shrinking their circle around us again. We could always hear the hissing clicks of their teeth, even when we couldn’t see them.
I was convinced that they were barracudas or piranhas, some predatory fish that was out for our flesh, and that there would be nothing left of us but gnawed bones. Despite my fears, we swam safely to shore and, after some Googling, learned that they were likely just a school of young, slightly aggressive permit fish. I’m still not convinced that they didn’t want to kill us. To this day, it takes a great deal of peer-pressure and sometimes flat-out bribery to get me into water that isn’t crystal clear.
That said, it’s been a long time since then, and I desperately need a new video game to play (I’m down bad folks, I’m replaying RDR2), so I have resolved to face my fears and play the one video game that I have been avoiding at all costs: Subnautica. Wish me luck.