By DiVitto Kelly
Marineworld, one of the first ever-created aquariums of its kind way back in mid-twentieth century Florida, stood vacant, victim of the newer, grandiose-style species. Seventy years is a long time in the entertainment business to be the top dog, or in this case, the top dogfish. It was a good while it lasted.
The storied aquarium enthralled thousands of visitors of all ages, eager to experience the undersea world of Jacques Cousteau up close and personal. There were dangerous sharks, slippery seals, and a myriad of tropical fish. All visible through three-inch thick walls of tempered glass. Even Hollywood got in the act, using the facility to shoot B-horror movies.
But now, the only thing remaining were rust covered railings, crumbling cement walls, and the ghostly cheers of children soaking in decades of dolphin shows.
At least two locals still appreciated it.
“You brought the spray paint, right?” Daniel Butler blurted out to his friend, Seth Healy, as they approached the abandoned aquarium on foot at half past midnight.
Butler was built like a treasure chest, simple, stocky and rounded. He always wore the same big-tongued Rolling Stones concert t-shirt complete with baggy olive drab shorts that went past his knees. With his scraggly facial hair, he appeared like some sort of Neanderthal groupie.
“Keep it in your pants, dill weed,” Seth answered, a former high school football star now fulltime slacker at age nineteen. “See? I got it right here: red, white, and blue. Very patriotic don’t you think?” Independence Day was only a week away, but he could read his friend’s disappointment. “Hey, it seemed appropriate.”
“Idiotic is more like it,” Daniel replied. “Where the hell are the neon colors? No orange or green in that bag? That’s what gets us noticed, dipshit!”
The two soon to be twenty-year-olds thought of themselves as budding graffiti artists, but more closely resembled bored, middle class burnouts. They had taken a fancy to defacing the vacant aquarium, filled with ungroomed palm trees and tallish weeds. The duo generally preferred spray-painting fat rounded letters around the crumbling facility like some sort of Botero inspired alphabet. A week before, Butler broke out his cartooning prowess with a seven-foot neon orange Jaws face accented with a big fat dube hanging from the corner of its crescent shaped mouth.
Tonight though, Daniel was feeling antsy and in an investigative mood. He began scavenging around the old exhibit hall building hoping to find a left-over souvenir before venturing outside near the dried up waist-high touch-tanks. From the corner of his eye he spotted the maintenance building walled in by unkempt vegetation.
The young man tracked the overgrown gravel walkway like a zealous hound dog, following the meandering pathway through and around coconut palms and melaleuca trees when he suddenly tripped over a low-slung line of barbed wire. He didn’t even notice the bold lettered metal ‘Keep Out’ sign he’d just stumbled over.
“Son of a bitch,” he shouted, falling face first onto a gathering of dead-dry hardened sabal palm fronds. He would’ve much preferred landing in soft autumn leaves piled high as baled hay. Sometimes he really wished his parents hadn’t moved away from the Buckeye State.
“What’s up?” Seth called out. He was putting the finishing touches on a patriotic portrait of Homer J. Simpson, about the only thing he could really draw well. He placed the spray cans in the plastic Wal-Mart bag and jogged over, following his friend’s voice down the worn path.
“Over here,” Daniel called out as he brushed himself off. He called out again, this time with more urgency like he’d discovered a hidden treasure. He waved Seth over with the flashlight, pointing it at the eight-foot high wooded fence. “This could be very interesting.”
“Cool . . . but what’s with the warning signs?” asked Seth, observing the two posted at each corner of the rotted out wooden fence.
Daniel stood on top of a sawed-off palm tree stump. “Shit, that sign is probably a hundred years old. More importantly, I’m gonna need your physical expertise.” Butler flashed a very Grinchian grin.
The six-foot-three Healy, still catching his breath, was Frankenstein strong, enough where he could tear the whole fence down to the ground with his bare hands. The ex-jock stepped forward, wrapped his meaty fingers on the top of the fence and ripped off a slat. He repeated the primeval process six more times before peering through the opening.
Butler hopped down off the stump before poking his chubby face through the opening. “Hey, there’s a chain-link fence behind this one and some sort of building.”
“Fucking-A, I got a splinter,” winced Seth, preoccupied now to remove it. “Uh, what was that?”
The stout teen finally took a gander at the double fenced barricade. “The aquarium people musta forgot something in there – maybe it’s valuable.”
Seth accidently dropped the bag of spray paint cans, but didn’t bother to pick it up. He was too excited. “Yeah, who knows what lurks beyond these walls!”
“You can be creepy sometimes, you know that?” said Daniel
Both young men perked up. Seth especially, whose greedy imagination brimmed of dollar signs. He was dead broke, and his parents were tired of flushing money down the toilet for their non-working leech of a son.
The two managed to squeeze through the wood fence opening then greeted the chain link variety; the door secured with an old model heavy-duty padlock the size of a soft ball. Seth inspected the device. On the back of the lock was a faded Universal Studio logo. The image didn’t register as he pulled with all his strength to open it.
“Crap, looks like we’ll have to climb it,” said Seth, slamming the lock against the chain link fence.
“It’s doesn’t look too bad, maybe ten feet tops,” said Daniel confidently. “I’ll lend you a hand.”
“Hey, why me first?” replied Seth, sounding like a dimwitted sidekick. He looked at his friend; he knew what was coming next.
“Chicken are we?” squawked Daniel, a bottom of the barrel dead-weight loafer who specialized in nothing particular. “Here, take the flashlight with you.”
Seth snarled at this friend. He grabbed the yellow object from Butler’s hand and placed the safety band around his wrist. “Alright, but I get sixty percent of what’s in there, you hear me?”
Daniel nodded, a bit surprised by his friend’s sudden assertiveness. He was fairly certain, actually one-hundred percent certain, that Healy could pound him into the ground like a Jobe’s tree spike anytime he wanted too, so he knew when to rein in the verbal barbs.
Surprisingly, the limber Seth scaled the fence like a circus monkey; already halfway down the other side in a minute before dropping the last four feet onto a bunch of tall, standing weeds. There were scattered empty beer cans, a couple even had the old style pull-tabs, along with an assortment of fast food trash. He spotted a sun bleached movie poster on the door, the watermarked image of a curvaceous woman, along with a weird shaped face. The rest of the walls had miscellaneous deep groove marks intertwined with the peeling dolphin blue paint. Seth paused for a moment, thinking that was rather peculiar. He was suddenly hit with an all-encompassing body chill, but it didn’t last long. The thought of money, and lots of it, evaporated those feelings in a heartbeat. He surveyed the grounds before heading towards the rotted door. It looked like the place hadn’t been visited in half a century. It was locked.
Healy squinted his eyes in deep concentration at the door like a blitzing linebacker ready to tee off on a receiver running a crossing route. He took a few steps back, crouched down in a battering ram position, and hit the door straight on with his still muscular shoulder. It busted wide open.
The momentum carried him inside into a dank room. As Healy stood up, he took in a deep breath and gagged. “Ugh.”
It smelled stale, like a junked refrigerator that hadn’t been opened in years. The cement floor was partially carpeted with moist, putting green shaded moss. His heavy body weight created an echo with each step he took. “Hey, there’s a pool in here; decent size too.”
“Maybe there’s a rare species of fish in there,” Daniel called out, who was horrible at climbing anything. He quickly experienced an elementary school flashback where in gym class he failed to climb the fitness rope. All he could remember was his whole class laughing at him. He was forever nicknamed ‘butterball’ after the brand of Thanksgiving turkey.
“Are you coming or not?” asked Seth, looking back at his friend. “This is really, really cool.”
Seth waved away a few cobwebs then strolled over to the pool. He focused the light beam as he paced around the surrounding four-foot high cement barrier wall like an archeologist discovering some ancient temple. The strange body of water was still as death. An indistinguishable growth drooped along the cement texture. The lone circular pool, no more than fifteen feet in circumference, remained unspoiled. It was filled to the brim with stagnant water, a thick film of algae resting on top. Moonlight shined through the lone rectangular skylight, providing the young man with additional visibility.
“Hey, I see bubbles; you gotta get over here!”
“I’m tryin, I’m tryin,” barked Daniel, slipping back down to the pavement floor. His blunt-nosed black boots made it impossible to get a grip inside the tight chain link spaces.
“Try taking your boots off; you’ll get better footing,” suggested the nineteen-year old. Daniel shrugged his shoulders like he should have come up with the idea himself. The floor was damp and he wasn’t keen on dirtying up his white tube socks but figured if his friend could climb it, so could he.
“I’m on my way,” announced Daniel, like he was doing something monumental. “Not too bad, so far.” The fence rattled and squeaked as he prodded his heavy frame upward ever so slowly.
Seth continued to circle the pool, hoping to spot anything living in the murky goop. He changed gears and aimed the flashlight on the cement floor. The young man spotted cigarette butts and more empty beer cans – some unopened, littered along the cement floor.
“Hey, other people musta been here.”
He noticed a jagged-shaped opening on the opposite end of the structure where someone had smashed through. He picked up one of the full cans of beer, sniffing it.
“Dude, I think this beer ain’t too old.” Seth wiped the top off on his shirt then popped the top. Beer shot out everywhere before subsiding. He poured some in his mouth, not wanting to place his lips on the can.
Seth quickly spat it out. “Ugh, man this beer is skunked supreme!”
“I coulda told you that, pumpkin nuts,” boasted Daniel, still struggling with his inner climbing demons.
“Come on Heavy D, get moving,” encouraged Seth, as he combed the surroundings like a behemoth sleuth looking for clues.
He peered over the edge, pointing the cheap dollar store flashlight that began fading already. There, under a sheet of rotting cardboard he picked up a foot-long stick, clutching the nub on the end. The young man stroked the surface of the water, brushing away the coated layer of slime. Something didn’t feel right. He felt a tickling sensation.
“What the hell?” Seth ran the paltry beam of light down the stick. “Oh for Christ’s sake!”
It was a human bone. Ants paraded up and down his fingers while nibbling away on the remaining bits of flesh. His foot then knocked into something heavy. The object bowled over, banking off the cement wall. His heart racing, Seth reluctantly pointed the flashlight beam down to the ground. He nearly puked at the sight of a half decomposed human skull. The teen could still make out the partial straight black ponytail with a pink ribbon still in tow.
He trembled, doubling over in horror. “Oh, holy shit,” he uttered in a weak, high-pitched tone under his breath.
Seth glanced back at the pool and was suddenly mesmerized by slight movement in the thick soup. The moonlight above shone on the surface like a stage light. His eyes followed a stream of bubbles heading in his direction. He inched closer to the edge of the pool and gazed as hard as he could through the cloud, but couldn’t decipher much. There, suddenly, a pale shape slowly emerged through the murkiness -- closer and closer, like a revealing magic eight ball. Seth gazed harder.
It appeared as a horrific reflection, humanesque, but with reptilian features. The face had a textured, hunter-green appearance, tapered snout, eyes sinister and slanted, and a mouth lined with savage piranha sharp teeth. Seth’s wide eyes were way ahead of his words. He didn’t have time to scream. The shape lunged out of the water, chomping down on Seth’s jugular, dragging him underwater in an instant. The sudden fury calmed in seconds.
“Here’s Johnny,” mused Daniel, finally scaling the chained metal fortress, jumping down to the ground with a thud. “Seth?”
He marched through the open doorway and spotted the flashlight on the damp floor. He looked around pensively then picked it up. He pointed it around the room, nothing. From the corner of his eye he noticed a faint ripple in the water.
“Hey Seth,” he called out, wondered if his friend had fallen in, or maybe too off instead, leaving him there alone. Always a practical joker.
“Okay, time to jump out and scare me,” posed Butler as he strolled over to the pool. He took a deeper stare. The water had a peculiar, brick red hue, almost rust colored; he could have sworn his friend said the water looked green.
Seth’s body suddenly rose to the surface, bloody and mangled. He cried out. Half his face torn off. Daniel let out a horrific scream, frozen in disbelief. He stumbled back when the thing emerged from the water, shoving the tattered body back underwater. Daniel scrambled towards the chain-link fence. He flung his outstretched hands upwards in desperation, grasping the rattling thin metal, trying to make a frenzied attempt to escape. He shouted at the top of his lungs. “Help me, anyone! Help!”
The creature, with its plated body, slithered out of the pool and stood upright on its two scaly limbs. It was nearly seven feet tall. There was a rusted shackle attached to its right ankle and a chain that led back to the deep center of the pool. Whatever it was, it was meant to stay hidden. The creature snarled, unable to move any closer to the man.
Daniel, approaching the top of the fence, quickly glanced back and saw the creature stuck near the pool. He noticed the weighted chain attached to the creature’s limb. A monstrous sense of relief filled him. He laughed hysterically then flashed his sausage-like middle finger towards the beast. He proceeded to fire off a slew of expletives ending with an elegant," fuck you, gill weed.”
The creature howled. It began to tug violently at the chain. One of the rusted links snapped. Its yellow eyes sensed freedom then raced over in long strides towards Daniel. The young man slipped momentarily but managed to hoist himself to the top of the fence. He was almost free and clear . . . almost.
The creature, using its webbed hands and claws, easily scaled the fence like a spider. It latched onto Daniel’s left bowling-pin thick calf muscle and tore into it. The man sported a fiery orange skull and crossbones tattoo there, but it was now non-decipherable as the creature sheared the flesh to the bone. Blood cascaded from the tattered wound. The creature climbed higher, grasping its claws around Daniel’s waist. It pried the victim off the fence as both fell to the ground. The creature twisted like a fighting gator, pinning the young man to the floor. The last thing Daniel experienced was the creature’s open maw targeting his throat. In the blink of an eye, the teen was dead. The creature plunged its blackened claws deep into Daniels’ midsection and dragged him to the side of the pool. It glided back into the water, creating a slight ripple. In seconds, the water was calm.
Two weeks later, a construction crew was out in full force demolishing the remaining aquarium structures, a proverbial ‘march to the sea’ to make room for a brand new facility that promised to be bigger and better than the last one. A foreman surveying the wood and chain-link fences ordered them to be removed.
Three men armed with sledgehammers smashed and trashed both fences before stumbling upon the shed-like structure. The trio easily brought down the decaying cement exterior, revealing the pool of water. One of the men raised his sledgehammer and crushed part of the barrier wall. The water poured out thick like a mint green shake.
It was later drained completely, revealing a mass collection of human bones.