Catch of the Day
by Dan Kopcow
forum: Catch of the Day
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Catch of the Day


           "My father was a seafood lover," said Newberg.

           "Obviously," said Valerie, the pretty seamstress.

           "He was always fond of your work. Said it was like you had six hands," continued Newberg as she finished taking measurements for his tuxedo. "That's why I came to you for this fitting."

           "Thanks," said Valerie through a mouthful of pins. She couldn't look him in the eyes.

           "Also, because you're the only one I know who doesn't mind… my affliction," said Newberg. He withdrew the giant pincer he had for a right arm behind him. The feeding claw made a clicking sound with his crusher claw.

           Valerie took a deep breath. "You mean…"

           "Yes," said Newberg, looking distantly, "my shyness."

           His eyesight was getting worse by the day. Everything was a blur to him. He knew it had something to do with the compounded eyes on top of the stalks growing from his head. He kept the stalks under a hat, but to see correctly, the stalks needed to breathe.

           "Well, I mean, you're not the only one who understands my shyness," he continued. "Of course there's my girlfriend, Elsie. She loves me for who I am."

           "How nice for her," said Valerie in a suddenly curt manner. "How nice for both of you. And you said she and her family are from Maine?"

           "Yes, she's a local. Oh, can you turn up the radio? I love this B-52's song."

           Valerie put down her measuring tape, pins, and chalk and crossed the main room of her tailor shop. She had been Newberg's father's tailor for years. The needle had always been her life. Lately, though, she felt that something pivotal was missing. Then, out of nowhere, she stumbled on the missing thread: Newberg.

           She knew a little about Newberg's history. Newberg's parents had passed away a year ago, leaving him with all their possessions. Newberg's father had been a local fisherman who was rumored to have caught a fabled set of pearls in his day. Despite all the nets and lines he set, he was the one finally caught by Newberg's mother. She was the new manager of the town aquarium. His marriage to her caused a bit of scandal in the small fishing village, since she wasn't local. Also, there were rumors that, for extra money when Newberg's mother was in college, she had volunteered for strange spinal cord injection experiments. Valerie knew the rumors were true since she had recently volunteered for these experiments herself.

           "So," said Valerie, returning to finish the tux fitting, "tell me all about this Elsie and how you two met."

           "Not much to tell, really," said Newberg. "She came to the docks where I work one day and we struck up conversation. After a few months, she invited me to meet her parents. That's what the tux is for."

           "I don't follow."

           "Her parents are very traditional. And apparently well-off."

           "And has Elsie told them about your…"

           "My what?" asked Newberg.

           Valerie considered how to broach the subject. Although she had known Newberg for years, she was never able to get close to him. "You said the other day that you felt like an outsider. Since when?"

           Newberg sighed, deciding to confide in her.

           He had been walking through his town last winter wearing an overcoat during rush hour. He came to a busy intersection. Pedestrians started crowding behind him, waiting like him to cross the road. The traffic signal changed. Newberg started crossing then suddenly stopped when he got an itch on his head. He raised his large, red pincer claw to scratch it. To the people behind Newberg, the pincer claw appeared to be a large red stop sign being held by a crossing guard. Obediently, they stopped walking. Suddenly, a tractor trailer came barreling down the road, the driver unaware that he would have mowed down a tenth of the town's population if they hadn't been stopped from crossing. After the initial shock, the crowd gathered around Newberg to thank him. As they were patting him on the shoulder, his overcoat slipped off and people saw the pincer claw. Some screamed, but mostly, they ran away.

           Newberg always thought it was due to his painful shyness. Valerie knew better.

           She decided to break the tension. "I once knew a woman who had the head of a badger and the body of a badger but here's the twist: it was the body of a different badger," she said.

           "Either way, wouldn't that make her a badger, not a woman?"


           "Elsie loves me for who I am," said Newberg.

           Valerie smiled blankly, finishing up her measurements.

           "And I know she's serious," continued Newberg, "because she asked me to bring a little gift to each of her parents. She said it's traditional right before I ask for her hand in marriage."

           "So," said Valerie, standing up, "already they're asking you to shell out money."

           "No, it's not like that."

           "Well, come back at five tonight. I should have your tux ready by then," said Valerie. Newberg could tell she was concealing her feelings but couldn't determine what those feelings were. That was the thing about Valerie.

           He spent the rest of the day molting and shopping for a gift for his future father-in-law. He knew almost nothing about the man. Elsie had mentioned, in passing, her father's child-like playfulness. Newberg believed he had gotten the man a great gift.

           Elsie's mother, Mrs. Keller, was described as small-boned and having everything she could ever desire. Newberg knew exactly what would set her heart aflutter.

           Newberg returned to Valerie's shop exactly at five. Newberg gave the gifts to Valerie to admire as he tried on the tux. It fit perfectly. He thanked Valerie for her exceptional craftsmanship. She smiled her Valerie smile and wished him luck tonight. He turned redder than usual.

           Newberg was surprised when he arrived at Elsie's parents' house. He had expected something more palatial. It was simply a suburban ranch on a street of identical ranches. They're just not ostentatious people, thought Newberg. He still was overcome with joy at the prospect that someone loved him despite his shyness. Her family would, in all likelihood, be just as accepting of his handicap.

           Newberg knocked on the door. His back still itched. He knew he was developing six walking legs out of his back but the leg-buds were still small enough to disguise with his jacket.

           Elsie was the first to greet Newberg at the door. She wore a beautiful evening gown and wore her hair up in a bun. She commented on how handsome Newberg looked in his tux. Her face displayed shock however when she looked up at his head. He had moussed his hair into dozens of spikes. He told her he read in a magazine that it was all the rage. He didn't have the heart to explain how he was camouflaging his newly formed eye-stalks.

           Mrs. Keller came down the stairs next and greeted him warmly. She looked him in the eye and never looked away. It was as if she was scared to look elsewhere. Newberg took this as a sign that she wanted to help draw him out of his shyness. Elsie called to the next room for her father to say hello. Mr. Keller emerged from the hallway in a wheelchair. He greeted Newberg by extending his right hand in a robust manner. Newberg shook it with his left hand.

           They adjourned to the living room for cocktails. Elsie explained that the ballet started in two hours and they had some time before the car was due to pick them up. They sat around the cozy coffee table. Newberg shuddered as Elsie's father pointed out their displayed cast-iron butter-press collection. Elsie's parents either stared at their drinks or looked directly into Newberg's eyes.

           Newberg asked what ballet they were seeing, then took a sip from his salted water.

           "The Nutcracker," said Elsie.

           Newberg spit water out of his mouth in a giant spray that managed to drench both parents.

           "Good lord," said Mrs. Keller.

           "Great Neptune," responded Newberg. "I'm so sorry. It's just that I hate the N-word."

           "Well," said Mr. Keller, drying himself, "what say I take you for a tour of our little home?"

           "Uh, before we do that, Dad…" said Elsie, nudging Newberg.

           "Yes," said Newberg. He whispered into Elsie's ear how he was slightly embarrassed by his choice in presents to her parents.

           "Come, come," said Mrs. Keller. "Nothing to do for that shyness but to overcome it."

           "Oh, yes. Yes, yes," said Newberg, standing up. "I'll be right back."

           He came back into the house moments later bearing a small wrapped box and an enormous wrapped tube.

           "Well, I never," said Mr. Keller, accepting the large wrapped tube. He opened it, revealing a bright-red pogo-stick.

           "Oddish choice," said the father. "We'll get along swimmingly. Thank you ever so much," he added in a forced manner. He laid the pogo-stick on top of his wheelchair motor.

           "I hope mine's not a mini-pogo-stick," said Mrs. Keller. She unwrapped the small box and opened it. Her eyes lit up by the treasure inside. It was Newberg's father's Anklet of Pearls. Newberg knew that Mrs. Keller would be impressed with them. Newberg didn't care much for jewelry but knew his father would have wanted this piece to stay in the family.

           The Anklet of Pearls was stunningly beautiful. It was known to glisten even in darkness. "Here, let me show you how they glow," said Newberg. "Do you have somewhere dark we can go?" he asked.

           Elsie's mother smiled. "Let's go to the backyard by the pool," she said. Newberg followed Mr. Keller out to the pool while Elsie and her mother stayed a few steps behind.

           Newberg tried making conversation with Mr. Keller. "So, I hear that your family fortune came from your father, Elsie's grandfather?"

           "Yes," Mr. Keller said as they arrived outside in the backyard, "which is fortunate since my wife recently retired from her job as a scientist. My father became famous for his folk art pencil sketches of dairy farm life."

           "You mean…" started Newberg, stunned and appalled.

           "Yes, "said Mrs. Keller, "Our family fortune was made from drawn butter."

           Newberg shuddered, his pincer claw clicking beneath the voluminous tuxedo jacket sleeve. His thoughts were interrupted by Mrs. Keller. She cooed as she inspected the Anklet of Pearls in the moonlight. Then, she closed the box with a snap and she wheeled her husband into the house.

           Newberg, confused, turned around to see Elsie stepping out of her evening gown. She wore a bikini underneath.

           "What's going on?" asked Newberg.

           "My parents saw how uncomfortable the ballet made you so they suggested we stay here and play while they go. Isn't that wonderful?" she said as she walked over to the pool cabana and flipped a switch. Suddenly, the Jacuzzi next to the in-ground pool began to roil. Elsie stepped in slowly as the water heated up.

           "Oh, Poseidon," said Newberg. "That's not what I think it is, is it?" He was suddenly terrified.

           "Come on, lobster-boy, get in. I promise to make it worth your while," she said sexily.

           Newberg didn't know what to do. On one claw, he had waited his whole life for this moment. On the other claw, every instinct he possessed said to run the other way.

           To make matters worse, his head began to itch. When he focused on the itching, everything suddenly became clear. He was seeing the surrounding world not through his eyeball eyes but through his stalk-eyes. Although he was facing Elsie in the boiling water, he could see behind him.

           He saw Mr. Keller slowly and quietly wheeling towards him, a look of menace about his face. Before Mr. Keller could get any closer and push Newberg into the boiling water, Newberg spun around with alarming speed and instinctively swung his pincer claw forward. The crusher claw and feeder claw wrapped around the spring-action of the pogo-stick on the back of the wheelchair. The claws pressed tight and let go. The pogo-stick sprang away from the wheelchair, shifting the wheelchair engine into overdrive. The wheelchair rocketed forward, propelling Mr. Keller into the deep-end of the pool. Elsie jumped out of the Jacuzzi and into the pool to save her father.

           "That will be quite enough," said Mrs. Keller. She wore a lobster bib and held a pair of giant rubber bands. She waved them threateningly. "Get into that Jacuzzi," she demanded.

           "But I just got out of it," said Elsie.

           "Not you," shouted Mrs. Keller. "Up with your hand and claw!"

           Newberg was speechless. How did his evening go so wrong?

           "I was in love with your father," said Mrs. Keller to Newberg, advancing on him as he walked backwards carefully towards the Jacuzzi. "He was supposed to give me the Anklet of Pearls. But he met your mother and married her."

           "Well, part of this is news to me," said Mr. Keller, whom Elsie was pushing over to the shallow side of the pool.

           "You think your fate is cruel?" Mrs. Keller asked Newberg. "I was a scientist conducting experiments on longevity in humans and lobsters. Your mother volunteered. I injected a serum into her spinal cord made up of lobster DNA. Your father still married her. But it all worked out. My little experiment created you and Elsie made you bring me the pearls!"

           There would have been more of her speech were it not for the interruptive sound of a loud, metallic clanging that echoed through the night emanating from the cast-iron butter press coming into direct contact with Mrs. Keller's head. At the business-end of the swinging butter press stood Valerie.

           Valerie grabbed Newberg's claw, and pulled him towards her.

           "Come on, Newberg, surf's up. Let's get the hell out of here." Valerie walked him to her car.

           Newberg looked despondent. "I've lost the two most important things in my life: my great love and my father's pearls."

           Valerie reached into her purse and pulled out the Anklet of Pearls. "I switched them and gave you the phonies when you were trying on your tux," she said. Then she kissed him hard on the lips. "And just one more surprise," she said as she wrapped her recently-sprouted six walking legs around him.



copyright 2006 Dan Kopcow.

Dan Kopcow is the author of numerous short stories, novels and screenplays and has always been fascinated with the art and craft of storytelling. His work has been published in the Wild River Review and Silverthought. His passion for stories is also reflected in his love for film and theater. He is a founding member of the Ambler Writers Group. He earned his B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Syracuse University and, by day, is an environmental remediation project manager.

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