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No Bones About It

by Nanako Water about a year ago in fantasy
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A short story based on Japanese folklore

Beautiful teenage Angel Fish was sick and her devoted father, King called the doctor.

The doctor, a wise old crustacean, wasn’t one to refuse to help.

“Doc, make my little girl better,” King demanded.

The doctor examined Angel and knew he could not cure her. It was a severe case of adolescence. However, he also knew King was not one to give up easily, so the doctor said, “There’s a new medicine which might work. But it’s going to be hard to get.”

“What. What is it?” the anguished father cried. “I’ll do anything.”

The King’s two henchmen, Shark and Killer, flexed their muscles.

The doctor said, “She needs a liver from an anthropoid.”

Killer said, “Just tell us where this...liver stuff is and we’ll get it for you, boss.”

The doctor took off his glasses and wiped them on his coat. “But you boys won’t be able to get it. Anthropoids live on land. And you’re going to have to bring me really fresh liver. One liver is all I need.”

Shark and Killer looked disappointed. Angel was relieved. She hated Shark and Killer.

The doctor knew Angel might recover if a hero went on a mission for her. A mission for love. He said, “Why don’t you have Trilobite go? He could do it.”

That was true. Trilobite was handsome and Angel fancied him. With his sturdy exoskeleton and dozens of legs, he should have no trouble travelling on land. And there would be plenty of room on his back for an anthropoid. The King called for Trilobite to come to the mansion.

“Trilobite, get an anthropoid liver and bring it back here,” said King.

Trilobite gave a smart salute with one of his strong arms. “Yes, sir. No problem.”

This was the first time King had ever asked him to do something so important and he was excited. I’m going to be a big hero when I come back. I’ll save Angel and she’ll fall in love with me. Then I’ll be a somebody... he dreamed as he embarked towards the island where the anthropoid lived.

When he found the island, he went on shore and immediately went in search of an anthropoid. He checked his notes: Anthropoid = small, hairy four-legged animal that climbs trees. Trilobite strained to look up. Then he saw one. High up in a tree near the shore, a small creature clung to a swaying branch. Trilobite couldn’t climb up the tree.

He had an idea. He yelled up to the creature, “Hello there, friend. I’m Trilobite. Sorry to bother you. I’m a stranger here from a hundred miles north. I’m quite impressed by your home.”

The creature saw Trilobite and climbed down the tree to take a closer look. Trilobite gave a big smile.

The anthropoid thought, Seems friendly enough even though he looks odd, and not wishing to be impolite, she said, “Hi, Trilobite. I’m Anthropoid.”

Trilobite said, “Can you tell me about your home?”

Pleased to introduce her home to this stranger, Anthropoid said, “Sure.” But she stayed clear of Trilobite’s strong arms and legs and remained on the swaying branch. She waved her hand towards the horizon. ”I have fantastic views—a great beach for sunbathing, and plenty of bananas growing wild— there’s no finer place.”

Then Trilobite laid his trap. “You’re lucky to live on a rustic island like this.”

Rustic? Anthropoid was a little irked. Rustic? Who is this guy? She said, “What do you mean?”

“Well. Back home we’ve got bridges made with silver and roofs plated with gold. Pearls and coral line the rooms of my place. It’s much too showy.” Trilobite patted his round body. “And I eat too much —about a hundred kinds of sea vegetables.”

Anthropoid’s mouth watered. She crept closer. “Hey, friend. Is that really true? There’s too much for you to eat there?”

Trilobite smiled his most sincere smile and said, “Yes. it’s true. Beneath this armour, I’m all fat. I really envy you.”

Anthropoid wrapped her skinny arms around herself and felt her ribs sticking out. I am getting pretty sick of the bananas, she thought.

Trilobite saw a look of longing wash over her pinched face and said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you come over to my place and see for yourself?”

Anthropoid was too embarrassed to admit she was terrified of water and couldn’t swim. She nervously scratched her hairy head, picked out a flea and ate it. As soon as she did that, she realized she must look like a boor to this sophisticated foreigner.

Trilobite said,“You know, I’m on my way back home now and I’d be happy to give you a ride.”

Anthropoid was so grateful for this kind offer that she immediately hopped onto his hard back. Trilobite slowly went into the water and made sure that the ride was smooth and comfortable for his passenger.

As they slowly drifted on the wide ocean, Trilobite’s mind wandered. This is so easy! Who says anthropoids are that smart? And he couldn’t help but smile to himself. How stupid Anthropoid is. She can’t get away now. Trilobite was so proud of his accomplishment that he couldn’t help himself. He said. “I’ve heard that you have something called a liver, right?”

Anthropoid said, “What? A liver? Sure, I’ve got one but why do you ask?”

“Oh, nothing,” Trilobite snickered.

Anthropoid started having a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach but she kept her voice jovial. “Hey, Trilobite. I know you’ve got some reason for bringing up my liver—come on, give me a hint. What’s so funny?”

Trilobite thought, If we’ve come this far, there’s no harm in letting her know. “To tell the truth, King’s daughter, Angel, is sick, and Doc said a liver from an anthropoid would cure her. That’s why I’m taking you back there.”

Anthropoid was horrified. But she didn’t cry or moan. She kept her wits about her and calmly said, “Is that so? It will be a real honor for me to help Angel.”

Trilobite was impressed. Anthropoid is dumb but good- hearted. She’s probably so hungry, she’ll do anything.

“But...Trilobite, I wish you had told me about this earlier,” Anthropoid said sadly. “...so we don’t have to make an extra trip.” She mumbled as if ashamed to admit her negligence, “...I left my liver back at the island.”

“What?” It was Trilobite’s turn to be horrified.

“I’m so sorry,” said Anthropoid. “When you came along, I had just finished washing my liver and hung it out to dry on top of that tree,” she said with an earnest face, hoping Trilobite wouldn’t mind.

“If I bring you back without the liver, King’s not going to be happy,” said Trilobite. “And Angel’s going to stay sick.”

“Oh, don’t say that. I feel bad,” said Anthropoid. “I promise to give it to you later.”

Trilobite felt his exoskeleton redden as he imagined what would happen when he got back to King and Angel with no liver. He stopped swimming.

Anthropoid sighed. “I’m sorry. If you’re going to be nice enough to take me all the way to your home, the least I can do is to get the liver so I can help Angel. Let’s go back. I’ll get it.”

Trilobite turned back to the island. As soon as they reached the beach, Anthropoid hopped off and said, “All right, friend. Wait here for me. I’ll be right back.” With that, the agile anthropoid clambered up to the very top of \his tree.

Trilobite waited and waited. But Anthropoid didn’t come back. What was taking her so long? Finally, Trilobite yelled up to the tree, “Hey! Hurry up! We’ll be late for dinner!”

“You stupid Trilobite!” she yelled from the top of the tree. “Everyone knows I’d be dead without a liver!”

She let out loud whoops and her friends joined in the hilarity. Trilobite’s armour couldn’t protect him from their shrieks of merriment. He crept back to the ocean in shame. He cried, “I trusted you and...you tricked me! You lied!” Trilobite had never been so mortified in all his life. But he realized there was nothing he could do. He went back home.

When Trilobite arrived, Angel sighed, “Is my hero back yet?” Her color looked bad.

The anxious father said, “Where’s the anthropoid? You brought the liver, didn’t you?”

“Well...that’s the problem...the liver...,” Trilobite mumbled. He told King how close he had been to getting a liver —how easily he had gotten the anthropoid to get on his back—when he was tricked by the nasty, lying creature.

Upon hearing Trilobite’s story, Angel arose. Her beautiful silver stripes faded. She said, “I can’t believe how stupid you are!” Her heart was broken.

When the King saw his beloved daughter shrivel, he shouted at Trilobite, “You idiot!” His usual short temper was exacerbated by Angel’s illness. He nodded for his thugs to do their work. Shark and Killer beat poor Trilobite with clubs and fists. “Crack! Snap!” went his body.

Trilobite screamed in pain. Every single bone in his body fractured until there were no bones left at all. His beautiful shiny exoskeleton shattered into a thousand pieces. The armor he was so proud of had fallen away until all that was left was a quivering, gelatinous mass—a pale round plump body and his weak arms and legs.

At the sight of the brutal beating, Angel cried out, “Father! Stop! Stop!” Her disappointment at Trilobite’s stupidity was overcome by her horror at her father’s cruelty. Men! Angel was so digusted with the male species, her adolescent sickness was overcome by severe case of disenchantment. The poison in her body metastasized every cell so that Angel was no longer Angel. Her beautiful sleek silver and black body morphed into an ugly spiny grey form dominated by a huge mouth with fangs. Just as Trilobite was no longer Trilobite, Angel Fish was no longer herself.

From that day on, Trilobite was known as Jelly Fish. He floated aimlessly, at the mercy of the currents of time. Meanwhile bitter Angel left her father’s kingdom. No longer beautiful or angelic, her lovely stripes faded, her fins grew short, she grew fangs and sank into the darkest depths of the sea. But the most curious of Angel’s new form was her hatred of males.

No more heroes or courtly admirers. No more love. She still had to mate to produce young but her mating became monstrous. A small male was allowed to approach her but in return, she consumed his face, heart and organs, and fused his body to hers. So that he became her appendage. No longer able to move her ungainly body fast enough to catch food, she devised lures to trap innocent victims to devour. Angel became known as Angler Fish.

* * *


About the author

Nanako Water

I write short stories based on Japanese mukashibanashi (folklore). Strange, scary and funny. Not necessarily for kids. I'd love to hear what you think of these stories. What does it mean to you?

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