Fishhead

“Fishhead” by Irvin S Cobb is a wonderful, creepy, simple little story. Lovecraft describes is as “banefully effective in its portrayal of unnatural affinities between a hybrid idiot and the strange fish of an isolated lake.”

Reelfoot Lake was formed by an earthquake in 1811. Cobb paints an eerie picture of its murky waters and mysterious depths:

In places it is bottomless. Other places the skeletons of the cypress trees that went down when the earth sank still stand upright, so that if the sun shines from the right quarter and the water is less muddy than common, a man peering face downward into its depths sees, or thinks he sees, down below him the bare top-limbs upstretching like drowned men’s fingers, all coated with the mud of years and bandaged with pennons of the green lake slime.

All kinds of fish live among the dead underwater forest. “Bass and crappie and perch and the snouted buffalo fish.” Alligator gar (one of the largest kinds of freshwater fish in North America). But in Cobb’s version of Reelfoot, the largest fish are the catfish.

These are monstrous creatures, these catfish of Reelfoot—scaleless, slick things, with corpsy, dead eyes and poisonous fins like javelins and long whiskers dangling from the sides of their cavernous heads.

The title character, Fishhead, is deformed half-breed who lives on the lake’s shore. Rumors say he has some connection to the creepy catfish and most people avoid him. A pair of white trash brothers get into a scrap with Fishhead and, embarrassed by the thrashing he gives them, decide to get their revenge.

Fishhead gets a revenge of his own. Oh, it is very well done but not the sort of thing that one can talk about without spoiling it. You’ll just have to read it.

On Gutenberg

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