There was no water in the stream anymore. It was just solid fish.
They were packed in between the creek banks like sardines in a can made from dirt, gravel and scraps of driftwood. They wriggled a little bit; actually more than a little bit, they did it constantly and when you tried to walk across them it made for unsure footing. Yes it did. Very unstable.
There was just enough moisture left to lubricate the scales and fins rubbing together so there was a seamless pattern of movement and it was more fun to look at than to step on. If you bent down and pulled a couple out to take home and eat, it took only a minute or two for things to realign.
The problem really started when some of the fish started showing up with paperback detective novels and they would be sitting there reading their hard-boiled mysteries and goofing around and wriggling every which way and the chemistry was all thrown off. The books were a different texture than the fish flesh and the paper did seem to soak up some moisture from somewhere. Pages would swell up, covers would warp.
Perhaps worst of all it changed the sound. It changed the soft little noise that the stream made. It made it rustle. Not smooth like before. No longer seamless. Kind of a rasping sound at times in fact. Grated on one's nerves. Not the best environment for a person to be spending a lot of time in.
Then one day somebody said, "I am tired of eating these God-damned fish. They are starting to all taste the same and it's not good. I wonder if any of these books are worth reading?" And with that somebody started pulling out the paperback books and taking them home and reading them.
The fish who had been reading the books were very upset because they were just getting to the good part where the suspicious guy who worked at the pharmacy, the one with the bony face and the nostrils that were always flared, the one that everybody thought was killing the women -- well they had just found him dead with an insulin syringe poking out of his eyeball. And now the book was gone and -- Jesus, man, what happened? We need to know!
There was a soft knock at my bedroom door.
"Howie?" It was my mom's voice. Damn it.
"Howie? Are you still in there? I thought I told you to put that book away and come down to dinner. Your father is getting angry - he says the fish are getting cold."
Shit. We were having fish again. Shit.
"Mom, I'm not hungry. I think I will just stay here and read my book. Okay? Okay? Tell Dad he can have my portion."
I reached down and slid my hand between the mattress and box spring. Sweeping it back and forth, my fingers touched the smooth cold steel of the Ruger 9mm semi-automatic. I wished I could remember where I left that stupid book.