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A Night at the Aquarium

There's always a bigger fish.

By NJ Gallegos Published 7 months ago Updated 7 months ago 10 min read
A Night at the Aquarium
Photo by Oleksandr Sushko on Unsplash

Trigger Warnings-Mentions of sexual assault.

“I can’t believe you got the keys for this place!” Karl remarked, his eyes wide as he scanned the walls. Earlier this year, some local artist spray-painted the inner walls of the building, adorning the brick with colorful creatures. Hammerhead sharks with fearsome teeth, pink starfish with puckered limbs, and every fish from the Finding Nemo franchise watched sightlessly as I pulled the door shut behind us.

“Well… that is one of the perks of having a father who works here,” I replied, tucking the keys into my hoodie. I turned to the pad mounted by the door and keyed in 3-4-7-4 (F-I-S-H, how original) and disabled the alarm system. My dad had brought me here many times throughout the years, both because I was obsessed with sea life and hoped to become a marine biologist one day and—I suspected—because he felt guilty about the whole divorce thing. Nothing made up for a deadbeat mom like a bunch of fish.

Karl’s mouth was still agape as he looked around. He acted like he’d never seen such sights before, although in elementary school we took twice yearly class trips to the aquarium. Of course… that was for students on the honor roll and if I recalled, Karl pulled straight C’s unless it was lunch or PE. So maybe he’d never actually been here.

Ugh… PE… the mere thought disgusted me. I was never particularly athletic and was often picked last for any team sport. They even picked Anton over me and Anton had a glass eye. Now that was embarrassing. As if it heard my internal laments, my nose throbbed. I reached up and stroked it, my finger sliding over the bump on the bridge. That came courtesy of Karl, years ago in elementary school. He’d gleefully chucked a softball at my face while I made daisy chains in the outfield, completely oblivious to everything going on around me. Then he’d delighted in calling me “Raccoon-face”, an absolutely inventive name for someone with a broken nose.

He was such a dick.

Was still a dick… actually.

Just ask my friend Liz.

My jaw clenched, remembering how she came home from their date, mascara tears still running down her cheeks, torn leggings, and the bruises high up on her inner thighs.

She'd been so excited, so happy that the star quarterback had asked her out. Hours spent changing outfits, applying and re-applying make-up, and for what?

So some piece of shit could take advantage of her?

My blood boiled at the thought but I pushed my feelings aside, slapping an artificial smile on my face. My cheeks burned with the artifice.

“C’mon,” I said, looping my arm around his. Nausea rose up within me, feeling his skin touching mine, but for the moment, I had to pretend all was well. A lazy smile spread across his face and dimples appeared on both his cheeks like a magic trick. I hated to admit it but he was rather handsome. Bone structure like a model: strong jaw and sharp cheekbones. Hazel eyes that sparkled when the light hit them just right. Perfectly straight, white teeth—all the better to eat you with.

But appearances could be deceiving.

Under that gorgeous surface lingered a predator, worse than any of the sharks in this aquarium. Far worse than the great white shark named Bruce who resided in a massive tank on the opposite end of the building.

Who, incidentally, we were visiting today.

Over dinner last night, my dad said casually through a mouthful of spaghetti, “Hey sugar bear, wanna come by the aquarium this weekend? They’re gonna feed Bruce.” He always made sure to tell me when something special was going on, whether it was a new penguin arriving or a special guest making an appearance. Lyle the Dancing Sea Lion was a notable favorite of mine, spending a week at the aquarium with his handler before moving on. He'd brought in bookoo bucks.

I’d been texting with Liz, hiding my phone under the table out of sight. Dad hated when I brought my phone to the table, long ago decreeing that dinner time was family time. Well… me-and-him time anyway.

But I felt like chatting with Liz had to be an exception… especially since she was still reeling over what Karl did to her. The day after that date-gone-wrong, I went with her to Planned Parenthood, held her hand while the doctor performed her exam, and I personally went to the pharmacy and purchased the Morning-after-pill for her. And it wasn’t surprising but a month later, she was still struggling. Her physical wounds had healed, the bruises faded until they nothing more than a nasty memory, but the emotional damage… that was a real bitch.

“Where are we going?” Karl asked. Still gripping his arm, I tugged him past the tank where Ocho, the California two-spot octopus, resided. He was a regular Houdini and they’d had to rig an escape-proof closure for him. Once they’d found him in a neighboring tank, just chilling with a cadre of tiger sharks. Luckily no one ate anyone.

I turned to Karl. “We’re gonna go see Bruce. He’s my favorite, here in the aquarium.” I fluttered my eyelashes and tipped Karl a wink. “I was hoping we could say hello and then…” I trailed off suggestively. Karl’s eyes widened and a shit-eating grin spread across his face. Stupid asshole thought he was going to get lucky.

Well… someone was getting lucky today, that was for sure.

More tanks passed by: fierce piranha that could famously strip a cow to nothing but bones within minutes, the sting-ray exhibit (I was still mistrustful of them… after Steve Irwin, RIP), and—


He lazily floated within his tank and from my vantage point, I could see the ragged scars on his side. His left pectoral fin had a stunted appearance and was half the size of a normal fin. At some point, he’d suffered some calamity—a passing boat motor perhaps—and had been grievously injured. Someone spotted him, half dead, and notified the appropriate people. After a lot of R&R, he recovered, but marine veterinarians thought that releasing him back to the wild would spell certain death for him. So… he ended up at the aquarium where he was fed biweekly. A comfortable life with guaranteed meals. The trade off? Booger-snot kids constantly banging on the glass.

Things could be worse.

“Whoa,” Karl said, his mouth hanging open, giving him an imbecilic appearance. Bruce was rather impressive, even when he wasn’t doing anything at all.

“I know, right? Isn’t he the best?” I grabbed Karl’s hand, fighting the urge to recoil away from his cold, clammy palm. “Let’s get a better look!”

“Um… is that a good idea?” Karl asked, his voice coming out high-pitched. His Adam’s apple bobbed, reminding me of buoys in the ocean during a storm.

“Oh c’mon. You mean to tell me that a tough football player like you is scared of a little shark?” I teased, waggling my fingers playfully. Macho douchebags were so predictable. Very easy to manipulate. Call their manhood into question and they'd do anything.

He shot me a look, his hazel eyes taking on a hard, flinty cast. “Oh please… I’m not scared. I’m not a fucking pussy. Let’s go.”

“Follow me,” I said, tugging him towards the hidden door that led to the top of Bruce's tank.

God, he was an idiot. He totally fell for it.

Hook, line, and sinker.

Using my dad’s keys, I unlocked the door and started up the metal stairs, my sneakers clanging with each footfall. Karl closely followed.

“And… here we are!” I proclaimed when I reached the top. The water was still and I could just make out the overhead lights’ reflections on the surface. They dimmed the lights at night, both to save on money and to give the marine life some semblance of normalcy.

“Okay… this is really cool,” Karl said, staring down into the tank. Bruce hadn’t moved and for all Karl knew, he was sleeping. Not that sharks slept per se, at least, not like we did. But they did have restful periods. And based on Bruce’s lack of activity, he was in a rest period right now.

Of course… sharks could—and would—move with startling speed.

A fact I intended to take full advantage of.

I walked to the edge of the tank, beckoning Karl to follow with a finger. “Have you ever made out in front of a shark tank?” I asked, pitching my voice low, going for a seductive air. Men were so easy... promise them some action and you could make them do anything.

That fucking shit-eating grin again. “Can’t say I have.” He sauntered towards me. I smelled his Axe body spray and suppressed a gag as it wafted over me, enclosing me in a smog.

“Time to change that then,” I said. I grabbed his shirt, pressing my lips to his. His lips were horribly chapped, rasping over mine like lizard skin. His breath smelled of mint with an onion undertone. Gross, but I persisted. Because of his height—a solid 6’2” according to the stats on the school’s football webpage—he had to bend over to meet my measly 5’2” stature.

“Mmmmm,” I murmured, turning ever so slightly, maneuvering him to the edge of Bruce’s tank, the water a mere six inches away from his Converse sneakers. I snaked my tongue out, shoving it in his mouth, earning a gusty inhale of pleasure from Karl, and—


“Wha—“ he started, his arms pinwheeling frantically, desperately trying to right himself. I shoved him again and without ceremony, he tipped right in, making a massive splash that completely soaked me. Which honestly, was his only chance of getting me wet tonight.

Ugh… I hated wet jeans. There was nothing worse than wet jeans.

Except… maybe falling into a shark tank.

With a hungry shark.

His head broke the surface, his brown hair plastered to his skull like the football helmet he was so fond of. “What the FUCK?! Why did you do that? Fucking BITCH!” He began swimming and quickly reached the edge of the tank. I stood on the platform, a foot or so higher than the tank’s edge, and he thrust his right arm up, grasping the platform with his fingers.


I felt his fingers grind and snap under my heel. He let out a high-pitched yelp that his football buddies would have teased him mercilessly about, had they heard it.

THAT was for Liz, you stupid piece of shit.” I said through gritted teeth.

His face paled.

“Listen… she wanted it, I promise—" he started but a flurry of movement underneath him diverted his attention. His eyes widened and his nostrils flared.

Massive jaws opened, closing on Karl’s torso with a splintering crunch that might have made me sick in other circumstances.

But not tonight… no tonight the sound brought me great joy.

Even better? His choked scream, burbling and pathetic as he sucked down water, flooding his lungs.

Not that he would drown.

He wouldn’t live long enough to drown.

Bruce pulled Karl under the once calm water, now roiling from Bruce’s feeding frenzy and Karl’s panicked movements. Tendrils of blood rose up, at first only a few, but then a massive bloom appeared, looking like the nasty red tide seen off the coast when the algae proliferated like a disease.

As I watched, I popped a slice of mint gum in my mouth, hoping to obliterate Karl’s nasty breath that lingered like a bad nightmare. I chewed, my jaws gnashing, very similar to Bruce's.

Karl wouldn’t be bothering any more women… that was for sure.

He’d met a bigger predator.

One with a really big appetite.

I smiled.


About the Creator

NJ Gallegos

Howdy! I’m an ER doc who loves horror, especially with a medical bent. Voted most witty in high school so I’m like, super funny. First novel coming out in Fall 2023! Follow me on Twitter @DrSpooky_ER.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (4)

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  • Natalie Demoss6 months ago

    Squeeee! I was almost bouncing in my seat in anticipation. You always delight me with your macabre sense of humor.

  • Donna Fox6 months ago

    Your writing is quite insightful and surprising. I also enjoyed all the nods to Finding Nemo, specifically Bruce the shark. Your descriptive imagery made for an easy read and even easier to follow.

  • KC Jones 6 months ago

    Awesome story. The axe body spray comment had me laughing out loud.

  • Mark Crouch6 months ago

    I loved this. Very well written and captivating from start to finish.

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