Jordan Gills had one thing going for him, and one thing only: he was smart. After almost breaking his hand trying to open a jar, Jordan had invented a device that would open anything for him using only a half a dozen paper-clips and twice as many rubber bands. Talking to girls had always been impossible for him, mostly because he was a terrifying smelly fish boy. The gills didn’t bother people too much – even his scales weren’t as bad as some of the other people around – but he was pretty sure that not having eyelids was what was really putting women off. Really, though, not knowing if someone is staring at you while you sleep or far away in dream land can be very unsettling. He’d had a girlfriend, once, but he was pretty sure she was just using him to satisfy her insatiable sexual appetite. When he’d found out she was sleeping with almost half of their city block (that week, anyway), he had forgiven her, and apparently his forgiveness was what made her want to leave him. She said that being with him had just been “too easy”, whatever that meant.
The young man worked at the local arcade on weekends, and on weekdays as a cook in the back of some trashy fast-food restaurant that mainly served fish. They’d been quick to hire him because he looked like he could make the perfect mascot, then stuffed him in the back when they realized his social skills on the register were actually costing them more money than it was worth. Jordan knew they didn’t fire him because of some discrimination thing, since the place was a fish fry joint and he figured there would have to be a lawsuit in there somewhere if they got rid of the fish guy. If they fired him, he could easily file a claim against the company, saying that the entire time he’d worked there he had dealt with cannibal puns and offhanded threats to throw him on the fryer. So long as he kept his mouth shut about all that, though, he kept the job. It wasn’t like he liked it or anything, but it wasn’t exactly easy to get a job when even goblins thought you were icky.
Today was Wednesday, and when other people were opening their eyes, Jordan’s were already staring wide at his ceiling. He’d been up for hours, mostly in a meditative state somewhere between consciousness and actual sleep. It was hard to sleep when you could see everything all the time. Even in the pitch darkness of his room, a small gust of wind would send a series of shadows dancing across his wall. Once the sun came up, though, that was the end of any real sleep he’d managed to get. If his eyes weren’t so big and round, he would have been able to wear one of those sleep mask things, but that would only be the equivalent to rubbing cloth on your eyeballs and calling it a sleep aid.
As usual in the mornings, Jordan wasted no time in getting ready. He slipped his webbed feet into a loose pair of shoes and put on a nice collared shirt (with long sleeves, of course, to hide as much of his finned arms as possible), a long pair of loose jeans, and the “Frying Fish” hat which donned a small flying fish jumping out of the ocean and into a bubbling pot of grease. Leaving the bedroom, he hurried down the stairs to meet his mother, who always drove him to his weekday job. Frying Fish was several miles away, and the last time that Jordan had tried to walk it, he’d had a horrible asthma attack and missed the entire day of work in exchange for hospital bills. The Penny Pincher Arcade was just down at the corner – where he worked on weekends – so he usually walked there (though, sometimes his mother insisted she let her drive him, and he couldn’t really say no).
Despite being nineteen, Jordan did still live with his parents. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford to move out, but he really didn’t have any reason to. His parents liked having him home so much that they actually offered to let him live there for free if he promised to be home for dinner every night, and he couldn’t think of any downside to that kind of arrangement. It’s not like he was missing out on any wild parties or sexy nights with promiscuous girls, so he stayed. College wasn’t exactly on his to-do list, either. Between the cost of schooling and the idea of having to sit in classes with more people who would plug their nose in disgust, Jordan could easily learn all he needed to via the internet.
His voice had a sort of gurgling sound to it, as though his tongue were stuck in the back of his throat. “Ready?” he asked his mother as he came down the stairs. She had been bent over the dish washer fidgeting with something, but raised her beady-eyed green-scaled head to flash a wide smile at him. Her mouth stretched all the way across her face, and her big fish lips made it even harder to ignore. Jordan was lucky that he’d gotten his father’s lips, as they were thinner and less pronounced.
“One moment, dear, I’m trying to fish the fishwasher.”
Jordan sighed. “Did…you just say ‘fish the fishwasher’?”
His mother laughed, a girlish giggle that sounded like bubbles gossiping. “Oh come on, it was funny.”
He shook his head. “I don’t really get it.”
“Fish…instead of fix? Fish instead of dish?” she said, as if that explained everything. “Oh, pshaw, you’re no fun. You’re just a fish in the mud.”
Jordan stared a moment, then decided to drop it. His mother was weird, and sometimes the best thing he could do for both of them was to just let it happen and then move on with his life. “Well, I’ve got to be there in ten minutes. Can you fix it when you get back?”
She dried her webbed fingers on her apron and nodded. “I’ll just have your father fish it when he gets home,” she giggled again, then scooted him out the door.
In the car, Jordan was mostly silent. His mother, however, never ran out of things to say. In the first five minutes of the drive, he had learned all of the secrets of menopause and was content to just stare out the window. For once, he was glad that he couldn’t close his eyes, because he feared the mental images he would start to have if he did. Suddenly, mid-rambling, his mother stopped to ask a question. “Speaking of children, when are you going to marry that girlfriend of yours?”
“Mom, I already told you, she broke up with me,” Jordan replied, eyes skimming a park that they passed as they drove.
She made a tsktsk sound. “That’s not enough to stop true love. You know, when I was your age, I left your father three…no…four times before I finally married him.”
“That’s not healthy, mom.”
“Oh, what do you know? I’m the one who’s been married twenty years.”
“So, when are you going to propose to her?”
“I’m not, mom, okay? Just drop it, please.”
“Well, if you don’t propose to her, how am I supposed to have grandchildren?”
Not this again. “Maybe you can just adopt her, I’m sure she’ll get pregnant sooner or later from one of the hundreds of guys she sleeps with.”
“Oh, honey, you’re being too harsh on the girl. She’s young and adventurous, she’ll settle down one day, and you want to make sure that when she does it’s with you.”
“She’s a succubus, mom. She’s not going to just settle down one day.”
His mother slapped him across the face with a webbed hand, swerving the car slightly as she did. He turned to look at her looking straight at him as she drove. “That is racial stereotyping, and no son of mine will be judging people based off of their heritage, do you understand?”
“Mom! Keep your eyes on the road!” The car veered, and she moved both webbed hands back to the steering wheel and her eyes back out the front window. She was clearly still upset, though, and kept lecturing.
“You know when I was your age, we accepted everyone for what they were on the inside, not the outside. My best friend was a dwarf, and she married a vampire, and they had little succubus babies who all grew up and settled down and I will be damned if my own son will say bad things about interracial marriages, I just can’t believe that I raised someone who would be so-”
Jordan couldn’t listen to this. Not only did everything she just said make no sense whatsoever, but it was all completely made up. It was pretty common knowledge that, ‘in her day’, things were more racially tense than ever before. That was the time when the dimensions had merged, and everyone hated everyone except their own kind. His mother’s best friend wasn’t a dwarf, and there was literally no way for a dwarf and a vampire to have all succubi children.
More importantly, though, succubi didn’t calm down when they got older. In fact, their sex drives got worse with every passing year. It wasn’t a choice they made. It wasn’t an addiction they could just give up. It was in their nature. The only way one of them could settle down is if they found one person who had just as active a sex drive as them, and no job – because keeping up with her sex drive would be a full-time job in and of itself. The guy would also probably have to be some form of super-man with incredible stamina to keep her not only interested but going at all hours of the day and night. No, succubi weren’t loyal creatures. Though, Jordan would have been willing to let her sleep with anyone to satisfy her needs, if Lily had stayed with him. He understood the nature of things, and if it meant keeping her happy and healthy, he would have allowed almost anything.
“-and when I say big, I mean BIG. But you know, that didn’t keep me away from your father, and look where we are now. I’m telling you, Jordy, if you love her, don’t let her leave you like this. I’ll call her mother if you want, would that help?”
The car pulled up at the restaurant just in time. “No, mom, I’ve got it under control. Maybe you’re right. I’ll talk to her tonight, okay?” he said as he climbed out of the car.
“Oh, that’s wonderful Jordy. Well, have a nice day at school.”
He closed the door with a sigh, then turned to the open window behind him. “Work, mom. It’s work.”
“Oh,” she giggled, “My fishtake.”
Jordan groaned and hurried into the restaurant, only to be greeted by the unsurprisingly angry face of his boss. “You’re late.”
“I’m five minutes early,” he corrected, and pointed at the clock.
The tall man, surprisingly human in appearance save for his sharp teeth and slitted red eyes, looked up to the clock then back down to Jordan. “You’re supposed to be here ten minutes early, which means you’re five minutes late.”
Jordan wasn’t about to argue with him. He resigned with yet another sigh. “You’re right, I’m sorry, sir.”
“I’m docking your pay for the first hour. Now get into the kitchen, there are fish to fry. And you better be quick today, not like yesterday, or I’ll have your ass on the fryer instead.”
There it was. Jordan nodded silently and rushed back into the kitchen.
~ ~ ~
Most of the day proceeded normally: Jordan had been left alone to cook the food, the restaurant was understaffed, and the mindless monotony let his mind slip into a steady stream of thoughtlessness. While some people let their minds wander while they did menial tasks, Jordan preferred to let his stop altogether. It was better that way.
About halfway through his shift, the girl at the counter had pulled his boss back into his office for a ‘talk’. As Jordan stood at the fryer, he could hear his boss yelling angrily at his coworker behind the closed door. The fish-boy flipped another orange patty over on the grill as he tried to pretend he wasn’t listening. In truth, he couldn’t hear much, but he was already dreading the side-effects of this interaction. He had seen the girl go back there with him with a very distraught look on her face, and by the tone in their boss’s voice it was evident that he had zero sympathy for whatever was bothering her. Not that that was a surprise, but Jordan knew that this altercation would only make the already-mean man angrier than usual. He didn’t have to guess who that anger would be taken out on.
The door swung open abruptly as the small human girl stormed out of the office, the boss not two steps behind her. His face was beet red to match his slitted red eyes. Storming to the front of the store, the girl hurried out of the building without a word to her coworkers. That was probably for the best. While Jordan hated to see anyone in that kind of pain (especially when the jerk who ran this place was to blame), he really didn’t want to get roped into anything if he could avoid it. He already knew that the rest of the day was going to be hell.
“Well, you fishy freak,” the man’s angry voice sounded behind him, and Jordan gulped. “Little miss ‘my-social-life-is-more-important-than-my-job’ decided she gets the day off to keep her stupid sister from marrying a werewolf. You know what that means?”
Jordan shook his head, flipping over another patty and not saying a word. He felt a strong hand on his shoulder turning him, and his body wheeled to face the front of the store. “It means you’re on counter-duty. Remember, no smiling at the customers; you’ll only freak them out. Follow the prompts on the screen, and for God’s sake, kid, put some cologne or something on. We want people to think fish are appetizing, not disgusting pond-scum.” With that, he shoved the young man slightly, sending him lurching forward toward the register, spatula in hand.
At the counter waited a rather impatient-looking young elven woman, dressed in what Jordan thought was far too formal for a fast food dinner break. She wore a three-piece suit with a skirt for bottom, and her fine blond hair was pulled back tight against her scalp. As Jordan approached the counter, she stopped tapping her foot and tilted her head with a grin.
“Oh, Tony would love this,” she said, pulling a small pad from her breast-pocket and scribbling something on it. “Do you fly?”
“Um, no?” Jordan replied uncomfortably, setting the greasy spatula down on the counter next to the register.
The woman eyed it with disgust for a moment before turning her bright eyes back to him. Gosh, she was pretty. “Well, I can still work with that. Another time, though. Right now, I need food,” she said, then tore a sheet of paper off of the small pad she held and handed the piece to Jordan. “All that to go, please. Oh, and, um…” She looked up at the menu above his head, and Jordan glanced down at the screen. He was told to follow the prompts, and he really didn’t want to mess this up – again.
“Welcome to Frying Fish,” he said out of turn, reading directly off of the screen. “Would you like to try our Deluxe-” He paused, sighing a bit to himself before continuing on begrudgingly. “Our Deluxe Fish Dish for only one dollar more if you order the Gone Fishin’ combo meal.” He wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a question or a statement, but by the end of the sentence it felt more like a nail in his foot than anything.
The elf stared at him a moment, confused at how the conversation had backtracked. She reached over the counter and snagged the paper from him, skimming down the list of whatever was on there before shaking her head quickly. As she handed the paper back to him silently, her eyes went back up to the menu. “Don’t you guys serve anything but fish?” she asked, seeming disappointed with the selection.
Jordan looked at the screen, pressed ‘no’, and read the next prompt. “How can I serve you today?”
The woman’s eyes now came down to his big bulging ones, staring at him a moment. She tapped a finger to her lip, “Are you dumb, or just don’t care if I have a good experience?”
Again, he looked to the prompts, but nothing had changed. Jordan sighed a bit, “I am not good with people.”
From the back room, he could hear his boss shout, “Follow the prompts, kid!”
The elf laughed, a singsong sound that made the small fish-boy turn a funny shade of blue. “Ohhhhh, I get it. You’re new here.”
“Well, try and take it slow. But not too slow, because this place smells something awful. I’ll take that Deluxe Fish thing you mentioned, whatever that is, and everything on this list. Think you can handle that?” She didn’t seem like she was trying to be condescending, but that didn’t change that Jordan was feeling more like a useless waste of space the longer she talked.
He looked down to the sheet of paper, then back up to the tiny woman. There were enough orders on this list to feed a small army, and she didn’t look like she could finish even one of them in a single sitting. “It’s going to be a while,” he said, knowing that he was the only cook there, and now the only counter-person as well. God forbid his jerk boss get off his butt and do some actual work.
She pursed her lips in response. “Well, what exactly is a while?”
Looking at the clock, Jordan sighed a little. He could tell she didn’t like that, because she placed her hands irritably on her hips. She certainly was moody. The dinner rush was about to come in, and he had no idea how he was going to take orders and cook them at the same time. Never mind the fact that this woman had probably just ordered enough food to fill their quota for the dinner hour, which he would have to get done before anyone else’s food or she was probably going to raise hell about the smell. The fish-boy started breathing fast, gills on the side of his face flapping furiously as he started to panic. “A-about thirty minutes, give or take.”
The woman rolled her eyes and, much to his surprise, smiled. “Fine, then Tony will be coming to pick them up. Do you need to write that down or give me a number or…?”
Pressing a webbed-finger to the screen, Jordan started inputting the order for the woman. “No, I uh, I just need you to pay before you leave.”
“Before I get my food?” she asked bewildered, as if that were a novel concept.
Jordan’s large fish eyes looked up to her, silently begging her not to make this more difficult than it already was. “Yes, ma’am. It’s store policy,” he replied sheepishly.
Thankfully, the woman relented, reaching into her small purse and pulling out her IDAF card. She slid it into the small slot on the front of the register while Jordan was still inputting the order. “Do I have to wait around for you to finish poking the computer, or are we done here?”
Of all the things to do at a register, the thing that Jordan was best at was inputting the orders. He’d only had to glance at the paper once before the memory of it was imprinted in his mind. He finished navigating the screens just as her question was finished, and the order went through to the back. Now he just had to hope that nobody else came in for a while. “Thank you for your business and have a fishy day,” he said, loathing every word of it. Is that where his mother was getting all of those fish puns?
The woman hurried out of the restaurant without so much as a thank you, and Jordan wasted no time in removing himself (and his spatula) from the register to get started on that order. As soon as he got back to his grill, though, a bell rang at the front of the building. He hadn’t even had time to start on the other woman’s food before someone else was in the store needing help. It was going to be a long day.
Shuffling to the front of the restaurant, Jordan’s eyes quickly went to the floor as he saw who was at the register. If the fiery-red skin and slitted-orange eyes hadn’t been a dead giveaway, it would have been the two long horns reaching out from a pile of curly black hair. “Lily,” he greeted his ex as coldly as he could manage. She wore nothing but a bikini, even in the cool spring weather. He could feel the heat emanating off of her from the other side of the counter as she hung her arm around a tall, muscular man’s waist. The man was tanned from head to foot, wearing a shirt that showed off all of his muscles, with a patch of blond hair on his head that Jordan thought looked ridiculous against his dark skin. From what he could tell, the guy seemed completely human, but that didn’t really surprise him. If she’d sleep with a fish-boy, what would keep her from a human? At least they didn’t smell bad, though the guy must have been thick as a board to be dating a demon. At least fish-boys had scales. Humans were squishy and easily cooked.
“Jordan,” she hissed seductively, removing her arm from her newest boy-toy and leaning over the counter. Her upper-arms pinched her chest as her pointed tail reached over the counter to pet the scales under his chin. “My darling, how are you?”
The fish-boy looked to the screen. “Welcome to Frying Fish. Would you like to try our Deluxe Fish Dish for only one dollar more if you order the Gone Fishin’ combo meal?” He had enough smarts this time to read it as a question, despite the screen having the wrong punctuation.
Lily’s blood-red lips folded into an exaggerated pout. “What, no love?” She glanced over her shoulder to her man-friend who stood staring at the menu as if he didn’t even care that she was flirting. “Lenny, be a dear and go the hell away, mkay?”
“But I didn’t order my-”
“Get the hell out of the store!” she screeched, and Jordan jumped. The blond man didn’t seem startled, however, but did get a bit irritated.
“Fine,” he retorted, turning to walk out the door. “Bitch,” he muttered over his shoulder.
Lily smiled, but a hiss sounded behind it that caused little streams of steam to seep from her nostrils. “There. Now you can talk. Don’t have to be intimidated by the competition. You know how it goes, darling.”
Jordan hit ‘no’ on the screen. “What do you want?”
“The script!” his boss shouted from the back room, and Jordan’s webbed hand went into a tiny fist on the counter.
“How can I serve you today?” he asked, quietly, wishing now that the prompt had been worded differently.
The woman on the other side of the counter giggled, a sound that had almost a purr behind it in her chest. “Oh, you know what I like to hear, baby,” she laughed, then leaned farther over the counter towards him. “I think I can handle the Fish Stick, if you want to give it to me. And a side of hot sauce, just to spice things up. Do you think one will be enough? Maybe I should get two, just in case. I can always save the other one for later. You know how much I love your Fish Stick.”
Jordan sighed. “Knowing you, I’m sure you could handle all the fish sticks in this place and still be hungry for more. You want that to go, or do you plan on staying here and torturing me?”
She bit her lower lip, tail whipping back and forth behind her excitedly. While Lily lived for this kind of flirtation, Jordan loathed every second of it. Not because he didn’t want her attention directed toward him, but because he knew the nature of it. It wasn’t because she loved him or wanted him; it was because she was insatiable. “I hadn’t thought of torture, but if you’re offering, I have the time,” she winked with a laugh.
“Lily, you can’t just come here and-”
A loud bang sounded from the back of the building, and his boss came storming up. “I told you to follow the damned script, you imbicile. Can’t you just do one simple-” His words caught in his throat as his eyes landed on Lily and all of her mostly-nude glory. Straightening his collar, the man cleared his throat and addressed her directly. “I’m sorry for this idiot, he’s, and you’re- wow.”
Lily giggled girlishly, “I am, aren’t I?” Her pointed red tail reached up to her cheek to caress it gently, the way most women would use their hands to feign sheepishness. Lily’s hands were too busy on the counter, outstretched so her arms pressed her breasts together like the whore that she was.
“Great,” Jordan said, clearing the screen on the computer hastily. “You take care of her. I’ll just go make the food, if that’s okay.”
“That is more than okay,” his boss said with a wide grin, stepping up to the register for the first time probably ever. Jordan didn’t care who the succubus was flirting with, as long as he didn’t have to deal with Lily. As soon as she had someone else to give her attention to, someone new, she’d all but forgotten that Jordan was even there. From the back room, over the sound of grease popping and patties sizzling, he could hear the two laughing every so often. At least, he thought, maybe the rest of the night wouldn’t be so bad. Somehow, though, he just knew this was going to blow up in his face.