by Don Hucks
At the bottom of the lake, there's catfish as big as Volkswagens. I've seen them myself. They like to sit there in the mud, down close to the drain. I work for the Army Corps of Engineers, driving a submarine at the bottom of the lake. It's a one-man sub, about eight feet long and six feet high. Behind it, I tow a single four hundred kiloton nuclear warhead. My job is two-fold. My first job is to scare the catfish away from the drain at the bottom of the lake. If one of those bastards knocks the rubber stopper loose, there'll be pandemonium. No showers. Unflushed toilets. Dying lawns. Price-gouging on bottled water, clear across the county.
My second job is to launch the missile, in the event of nuclear war. If that ever happens, I'll get an email from Arkansas Dave Rootabaw. The message will be entitled, Check this out! and will read, "Would you look at the size of that dog!!!" It's the punch line from a vaguely racist joke, set in Vietnam, during the war. The email will have an attachment-- a picture file, a photo of a tiger walking through the jungle. When I see that tiger, I'll flip back the glass case and press the red button and launch the missile. Nine and a half minutes later, three hundred and twenty-seven thousand people will be incinerated. I won't tell the name of the target. Chances are you've never heard of it anyway.
I've been reading about the target online; I have plenty of free time down here and they don't mind if I surf the net. I'm not supposed to look at porn. Too distracting. I can tell you their number one industry is tourism, thanks to a couple of pro sports franchises, a theme park, and the second tallest water slide on the continent. And that they have more chain restaurants per capita than any city on earth. And that their country's leading exercise magazine has voted them the fittest city in the nation for three years running. I'm skeptical about that last bit. I suspect this is based on the number of gyms per capita, which might suggest they're the fattest city in the nation, if you think about it.
Now, manning the missile and scaring away the catfish used to be two separate jobs. They were merged a couple of years ago, due to budget constraints. Still, it's a pretty cushy job. Mostly I park the sub over near the drain with the headlights on and the motor running. If the catfish get too close, I honk the horn a few times or drive over and chase them away. Stubborn bastards, catfish-- they always come back.
Of course, my job is top secret. My wife doesn't even know what I do. Thinks I drive a cab. I even get my paychecks from a cab company. The ACE thinks of everything. And I'm required to carry at least forty-seven dollars in small bills at all times. Simulated tips.
Sitting down here, guarding the stopper, I think a lot about the day I finally get that email from Arkansas Dave. I'll sure hate to vaporize all those fashionably thin people, even if it turns out they're self-consciously fat, and the theme park, and the professional athletes, and the restaurants, and the second tallest water slide on the continent. It's nothing against them; it's my job. And, of course, I'm not the only one. There's thousands of guys in thousands of subs in thousands of lakes. And somewhere on the other side of the world, there's some over-qualified, under-achieving, middle-aged suburbanite driving around the bottom of some lake, scaring away catfish and reading all about me. When I launch my missile, I'll know that he has already launched his, or that he will in the next minute or two.
Yes, I think about it a lot. I can picture the whole thing. When I launch that missile, the lake will be displaced by the blast. It will start raining, from a cloudless sky, all over town. Here and there, it will rain fish. And aluminum beer cans. And bikini tops. If you step into your backyard one evening and it happens to be raining fish, you have about ten minutes to live, give or take. If you happen to drive down to the lake on a Sunday afternoon and you notice it's gone, replaced by a big mud bog, with an eight foot submarine sitting there honking at some giant catfish, flopping around on their sides, you'd best make your peace with the universe. Or, if you're quick, and if you don't get stuck in the mud, you're welcome to join me in the sub. I've got a bottle of '68 Dom I keep chilled in the kitchenette for just such an occasion. See, I made my peace a long time ago, and when the end of the world finally comes, I plan on being pleasantly buzzed.
About the author:
Don Hucks's fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Baker's Dozen Review, Brink, Clockwise Cat, The Pedestal, and 971 Menu.