The Fish Who Felt No Pain – David Hartley [Fiction]

The Fish Who Felt No Pain

Once there was a fish who felt no pain.

He would swish and dart through the ocean, waving his tail and flapping his fins, catching the light to make it glint off his scales as if to say; I am the fish who can feel no pain. No-one and nothing can harm me. Challenge me to any feat and I will pass it without so much as a whimper.

The other fish would bash him and bite him and rush him to the surface, but the fish who felt no pain would just laugh it all off with a swish and a sway and a dodge and a dart, scales alive in a rainbowed glitter.


One day, Giant Squid visited the fish and spat out a cloud of ink. It read; I’ve heard you gloat from leagues away that you are the fish who can feel no pain. Well, let me grab you and crush you with my strongest tentacle. Your flesh will squish and your bones will shatter under the immense squeeze of my superior strength. If you let out but one murmur of pain, I will take you away to the murky depths forever.

The fish smiled and winked. I accept your challenge! he said with a flick of his flukes.

And so Squid took him in his strongest tentacle and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed the fish until he was flatter than the flattest flounder. But the fish gave no whimper, no sign whatsoever of the slightest bit of suffering. The squeezing went on for hours and hours until finally, Squid collapsed, exhausted, and the fish slipped free and twirled around until he was his old self again.

Bad luck, Squiddy, said the fish with a flutter of his fins, and Squid slipped down to the murky depths where it stayed, ashamed, for a whole year.


Next came the Great White Shark to try her luck. She never thought much of the showboating Squid and relished the challenge to show her dominance of the ocean waves. She circled the fish and with a big wide grin she said; So, you are the fish who can feel no pain? Well; I offer you a challenge, little one. I will open my mighty jaws and you must swim along the razor edges of each of my teeth, front row and back, and try not to scream as your skin is split and your flesh is torn. If you make so much as a mutter of discomfort, I’ll chomp down my jaws and eat you.

The fish bobbed and flipped like a seal; Bring it on, big mouth.

So, Shark settled and opened her mouth and the fish scraped along the razor edge of every tooth, front row and back, and his skin split and scales scattered and flesh flayed, but the fish felt not one jot of torture at all. In fact, he rather enjoyed the experience; the scrub and the scrape of it, the itch and the scratch.

When he reached the final tooth, he dashed out of the mouth, up to the Great White’s eye and tumbled a somersault bow. Many thanks for your service, he said to Shark who snapped her jaw shut and shot away to the lonely distance, not to be seen again for ten long years.


But then came the Blue Whale, the hugest beast of the seas. She had watched Squid succumb to the squeeze, and chuckled at Shark’s trial of teeth, and as soon as she saw her chance she loomed up from the dark and swallowed the fish whole.

Little fish, she boomed from the depths of her flesh, you may think you cannot feel pain but that is only because you have not yet felt pain. But inside my great stomach, you will meet my acids, the most corrosive of fluids, and every tiny piece of you will fizz and hiss away until there is nothing left at all. And then, only then, will you know the greatest and deepest agony.

The fish tickled its fins at the walls of the whale’s insides and said; a mighty challenge, old maid. Let us dine together!

And the fish pushed down the whale’s gullet and found the great cave of the stomach. But he didn’t stop and wait for the acids; he pushed on and on deeper into the guts, and he broke his way out and found the streams of blood, and he dashed all along the ribs and the spine, and he slid over the skull and into the eye and with a pop, he burst out, as whole as before, not a scratch or a scar or a speck of corrosion.

That was fun, said the fish, and Whale howled an ancient moan and fled to the icy north where it hid, encased, for more than a hundred years.


The next day, the fish who felt no pain swam up close to the surface of his world. There he met Worm, a land-creature, who seemed to be holding an enormous metal hook.

Hello Worm, said the fish, with a gawp of its mouth.

The Worm fluttered, ends bobbing, as if to say; I have a challenge for you.

I’ll take you on, said the fish, and opened wide and clamped down on the worm, and the great hook pierced through his gills and yanked him up.

And the fish was taken clear of the water, up into the empty air which flooded inside and filled him right up. And the fish felt the hand of a man around his middle, and the hook was yanked out and the fish was flung down and he landed on wood, not water, and he flapped and bucked but he could not get back, could not return to his home, to his breath, to the embrace of salt, and all he could see was this man, this human, who just watched and waited until he went still and silent.

And the man tossed Worm away and he took the wood to the land and took the fish to his home by the sea. And he grabbed a knife and cut off the fish’s head, and his tail, and then he slit the belly open and tugged out all the guts. Then carefully, very carefully, he peeled out the bones, the whole spine and the ribs, and then he put the flesh in hot oil and he cooked it. Then he ate the flesh, which went down in his stomach where the fish finally met the acids he had been promised. And the acid broke down the flesh and mashed it up with the other bits to become waste.

That night, as the acids worked, the man slept in his bed and the fish, who had seen all this happen, broke free of his flesh and swam up through the man’s aether, skipping along synapses, to the shadowed depths of the man’s brain. There he saw glinted glimpses of some warped and fizzing portal. It was the man’s dreams, and he entered them, where he became a fleeting thing without fixed form; just a memory, a feeling, a hunch.

And he spoke to the man and said; You have defeated me, the fish who felt no pain. And so, I pass my gift on to you. You shall become the man who feels no pain. Be wise with how you use this power, for your fellow creatures will not understand it.


The man woke the next day and, as soon as the fishy waste was expelled, he remembered the voice in his dream. Dazed, he went to his kitchen to make a breakfast of bacon and eggs, but when he lit the gas on the hob, something stopped him.

He watched those blue flames as they roared up at the metal and, a moment later, his fingers were among them, cooking. He could feel the heat and the tickle of the flames, but he felt no pain.

He left his fingers in, turning them to blacken them evenly on all sides, and then, once done, he lopped them off with the same knife and slit open the skin. Carefully, very carefully, he removed the bone from each finger and then dug out the flesh and ate it, raw. It was delicious.


By David Hartley


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