The Dead Fish Trap: A Scary Southeast Asian Tale

The Dead Fish Trap

The Dead Fish Trap

The Dead Fish Trap: A Scary Southeast Asian Tale
An early Halloween treat from Chongchen Saelee

Deep in the jungles of Southeast Asia where it constantly rains and the dark brown earth is covered by darker shadows from the thick canopy above, the people struggle to survive day-to-day despite living in an environment that seems to be fertile with life and serene.

One day, along a stretch of man-made trail, which was no wider than 2 feet and was basically bare dirt surrounded by thick grass from all the years of people trekking the same path, a gang of young dirty starving but happy children none older than about 10 years of age were walking and chattering carrying a small worn-out wooden bucket filled with a couple small fish from a fishing outing by the creek earlier.

From the opposite end of the trail approached an old bald fisherman with spots on his bald scalp and he had a long unkempt white beard. The old man was really thin, his eyes were baggy and tired, and he was always smiling and humming old songs but his teeth were yellow and crooked and many had fallen out. The old man was carrying a crude fishing rod made from bamboo and had a fancy bamboo weaved basket, a decent size, which might hint for locals that he may be quite proficient at what he did. The old man had a pipe dangling in his mouth, although it wasn’t stuffed or lit. He enjoyed smoking opium while he fished.

When the old fisherman and the gang of youths eventually meet in the middle of the trail, the old man couldn’t resist the youths’ potent young energy. The old man asked to see what kind of fish the children had caught and they were more than happy to brag about their measly two tiny fish. The old man laughed loudly and insulted the children, calling them stupid and smelly and dispensed his tips and tricks on how to catch the biggest fish in the village, fish so big you could eat for an entire week.

But the gang of children just rolled their eyes and screeched like angry kittens, saying the old fisherman was crazy and a pervert and looked like a turtle addicted to opium. The mangy children would spit to the side and scratch themselves as though they were covered in ticks and fleas. The old man was disgusted by these rude uncivilized children. He thought it was probably because they had horrible smelly idiot mothers. Confident of his own abilities as a master fisherman and a wise old trickster, he thought maybe he could take advantage of these snarling children one day and ultimately take advantage of their mothers.

The gang of children gave each other dirty secretive looks with their young evil eyes, with sinister smiles on their cherub dirt-smeared faces. They had already sized-up this old bald man with the old perverted white beard. They already surmised the old man was lying about his fishing skills due to how frail and emaciated he looked. For someone who had plenty to eat, this old man sure wasn’t eating any fish, let alone giant fish you could eat for an entire week. So the gang of smelly children plotted to later take advantage of this old perverted fisherman for all he had.

Before they parted ways, the children observed the pipe in the old man’s mouth so deduced he was fond of smoking opium. They invited him to their village, gave quite detailed directions, look for this broken sapling, this huge boulder, this strange blue plant that grows only in this region, etc. The children gave promises that their village had plenty of opium, as their mothers made the best, the most premium opium you could find in the region. The old man’s ears perked up like a dog thinking how naive and stupid these children were to invite a wolf like himself to a nest of hens, so he accepted their invitation.

In return, the old man invited the young children to his tiny home on the opposite end of the trail where he promised he had buckets of giant fish, some very beautiful and exotic they could raise as pets, some that could even bring them good luck or protect their village from demons. The evil little children feigned interest and curiosity as they put on their best faces and their eyes lit up like ravenous rodents. Now that they know where the old man lived, they could easily go rob him for all he had any time he wasn’t home.

So they parted ways.

The next day, the old fisherman shows up at the children’s village with a huge fish to offer the idiot mothers as a gift. In exchange, the mothers indeed gave the old man some of the best opium he has ever smoked in his entire old life. The children chastised themselves quietly giving each other dirty looks now realizing the old man was indeed telling the truth about his fishing skills. Maybe he might house a fortune of valuable fish at his home after all. They were going to steal and eat all the fish.

The children praised and confirmed to their mothers that this old man’s tall tales were true and how this old man was most noble and trusting. As a result, the children’s mothers were elated and now filled with pride that they now are associated with such an honorable, intelligent and competent man. The idiot mothers give their blessing for their children to visit the old man’s home unaccompanied.

The next day, the children make the trek alone to the old man’s home on the opposite end of the trail. They had not informed their mothers of their plan to rob the old man. The children brought tiny hand-made knives, slingshots, and stones for bashing little critters’ heads in, weapons they’d use anyway while they were out hunting as a gang of starving children.

When the children get to the old man’s home, they find that their first instincts were indeed correct, that the old fisherman had lied about everything. The old fisherman lived in a small broken down shanty near a creek. There were no buckets of giant fish. There was nothing. But the children were greedy and stubborn and adamant on searching every inch of the shanty and grounds. They thought surely this old man was hiding his valuables out of sight. So the greedy little chipmunk children tore the place apart looking for valuables.

Later that day, the mothers were getting worried that their children had not returned home and the sun was setting.

Another day passed and the children were still missing.

Then a week.

Then two weeks later, the old fisherman shows up to the mothers’ village with a giant beautiful shiny fish. He consoles the grieving mothers and promises to feed them with the fish he catches. He promises the mothers they will never starve while he’s in their lives. They don’t even have to give him any opium in return. The old man says he feels guilty because he might have been the last person to see the gang of children. He tells his sad tale of how he returned home from fishing only to find his place turned upside down and with no children in sight. He says he wonders if a gang of bandits had showed up and robbed him and taken all the children. The mothers seeing how weak and non-threatening and honest and noble this old man was believe him and forgive him.

But then emerging out of the thicket came one of the children completely naked and emaciated screeching like a banshee, his eyes wide and glazed over with horror, and he was hysterical. The little boy started recounting the horrors he and the gang of children have been through, about how the old fisherman had set a trap for them and now the children are dangling in a net over the creek unable to escape and being used as bait to catch fish. The boy points to the giant shiny colorful fish the mothers had been eating for the past weeks and tells them those were caught using the blood of the children as the fish nipped on their tiny toes.

The mothers believe every word the hysterical boy says. So now all the mothers, the boy and the old fisherman head to the old man’s home on the other side of the trail. And sure enough, as the boy recounted, there were all the children tied up in a net like little fish, dangling over a dark scary creek as scary mythical colorful shiny fish were nipping at them.

One by one, the young children were freed and returned home to the village with his mother. But one child was still missing. His mother was starting to get hysterical. She demanded the old man to tell the truth and return her child within a day to her or she will go to the local authorities and have the old man hanged.

The old man is genuinely spooked and frantically searches his grounds for the missing child, calling out into the night hoping there may be a peep from the lost chick. He knew he was clever, maybe too clever and he replayed his trap over and over. He re-examined the trap and every inch of this grounds.

Until finally, the old man re-examined his netting. Sticking through the top of the creek was just a smooth white lump of flesh caught in the netting he didn’t think much of it. The old man looked closer and realized that it was the white bloated corpse of the missing child. The old fisherman screeched in horror enough to make the witness monkeys in the trees holler.

The old man tugged at the child’s corpse but could not extract it from the creek. It seemed to be stuck. He tugged and tugged until eventually the corpse gave way but the old man did not fall backwards. He felt something tighten around his ankles and how he was pulled up the heavens.

The old man had fallen into a trap. He was now hanging by his ankles over the same creek. He cursed himself for being played a fool by these children. From up high, the old man looked down at the bloated white corpse the child and noticed the cuts on the dead boy’s ankles and wrists. He wondered, but he didn’t own any knives…

The next day, and every day, for the next few weeks, the children would bring their mothers a giant shiny colorful tasty fish to eat. The mothers would ask how these children were so competent and generous and how blessed they were to have given birth to such angels.

The children just laughed and told their mothers to enjoy the stinking fish. They learned it all from an old man.

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