Fish Replicas Edit
Part One Edit
"Award winning Fish Replicas! 90 day delivery." His eyes widened a bit after reading this. So many questions were raised; what could it mean? What was the purpose? Most importantly, what the hell is a Fish Replica?
Although he had grown up near the Susquehana river, in the vicinity of dozens of public and private gamelands, streams, lakes, and rivers, Travis Vernon had never been hunting or fishing in either his youth or early adulthood. It wasn't quite that the prospect of killing other living beings for the purpose of food, or sport was one he found distasteful, it was simply that he was more interested in other things. Music, visual arts, reading, and other artistic pursuits were more to his liking than the great outdoors.
Travis, like many other citizens of the heavily wooded northeastern United States was well aware of the culture of hunting, trapping, gathering and fishing. It was not odd, nor morbid to him to drive past several dwellings of questionable structural stability advertising in stenciled letters on plywood sheets that within were provided such services as taxidermy, mounting, stuffing, or deer cutting and processing. The business of skinning, butchering, preservation, and general defilement of animal carcasses was as natural and inevitable as a Nor'easter winter snowstorm.
He didn't think he would really ever see the allure of trophy hunting and fishing. While he understood why some folks liked to display bits of dead animals on their walls, it was just not something he had a desire to do himself. In fact he rarely even noticed when a friend or business associate had a bearskin, rack of antlers, stuffed bird or fish hanging inside their rooms or offices.
Perhaps this is why the sight of an internet popup ad selling Fish Replicas seemed bizarre and random to him. It took Travis several moments to simply process mentally what was meant by a Fish Replica; his initial thought was something along the lines of "why not just get a real fish?" After a few seconds it clicked and made more sense. These were trophies. Reproductions of fish that one had caught, and wanted mounted, but for people who maybe didn't know, or have immediate access to a competent taxidermist.
Still, he stared at the ad in fascination for a while longer. Such a strange concept put into such frank terms, "Award winning Fish Replicas! 90 day delivery." No further explanation was apparently needed. That was enough to, pardon the pun, hook the buyer. To one unfamiliar, the oddity remained.
"Not only are Fish Replicas a thing," thought Travis, "they evidently give awards for especially high quality ones." Was there an entire subculture of aquatic animal replication? What went into this process? Is it easier than taxidermying a real animal? Who judges and awards these things? What goes into the process? It seems that 90 days is considered an adequate, or even quick duration for such a thing to be created.
Travis abandoned the article he had been set on reading in favor of a search for information about Fish Replicas. Minimal digging uncovered a relatively booming industry for such a product. Manufacturers took great pride in creating beautiful, hand crafted, one of a kind fiberglass fish for those outdoorsmen who wanted a memento from a fishing trip or memory. This was serious business.
Following his research on the subject, Travis felt a pang of guilt for scoffing at the idea. This was obviously a process that took talent and effort. And those who were willing to pay for such pieces were not the gold-tooth eccentrics he would have imagined beforehand. From a different perspective a Fish Replica could be not only a reminder of a joyous memory, but a custom piece of artwork.
Being a bit of a visual artist himself, Travis Vernon looked into the process of taking a fisherman's memory, or photo and from it creating a three dimensional, and life sized re-imagining. Having dabbled in 3d sculpture in such media as clay, plaster, wood, silicone and resin, Travis found that many of these elements went into the process of fish fabrication.
Organic specimens were gathered and cast in plaster, or resin, leaving a three dimensional mold of the original fish. The molds were used to make a flexible silicone, or latex version of the initial fish, which could itself be posed, set, even adjusted in size to an extent to fit the client's wishes. This made for versatile, and reusable molds. The molds are recast in resin or fiberglass to create a sturdy, lightweight and durable product ready to be further sculpted, sanded, and painted to appear as lifelike as possible.
Travis found himself on more than a few occasions doing more research on the process, and the products. Something about the concept had gotten its barbs into his mind. After a week or so, he had come to the decision that he needed to see one of these pieces in person. It came to his knowledge that several such Fish Replicas (among other examples of animal taxidermy) were on display at a large outdoor activities store called Cabela's not terribly far from where he lived. One Saturday morning he started the 60 mile trip to Hamburg to see in person what he had only seen on an LCD screen.
The store was massive and filled with all kinds of dead animals in poses suggesting they had forgotten they were in fact, dead. Travis looked around at some survival gear, while trying to sneak glances at the taxidermy. Although the display was obviously meant to be ogled and enjoyed, he felt self conscious about staring overtly at the myriad of taxidermied wildlife.
Eventually he found a fishing section which had several trophy catches mounted on the walls. He again tried to get a good look at as many of these as he could while pretending to be interested in lead sinkers and rubber bait frogs. When he felt no one was looking, he walked up to what was labeled as a 33 inch Northern Pike. He wasn't sure how long he had been taking in the sight before an employee approached.
"Quite a beauty, isn't she?" asked the employee whose name tag read Flynn.
"Oh, quite!" replied Travis, a bit surprised.
"You do much fishing 'round these parts?"
"A bit," Travis lied. "Small game is more my thing," he further stretched the truth. He had no idea why he was trying so hard to hide the truth of his identity.
"Ah, well you'll find whatever you're after here. We've got a bit of everything! Anything I can help you with today, sir?"
Travis flushed and tried to choke out an answer. "No, well er, yes. Maybe something. I was just admiring this uh, Northern Pike, and I was curious as to whether it was real or not."
"Most of what we have here is the real deal, mostly donated by generous hunters and fisherman."
Travis felt himself deflate a bit.
"Oh, so you don't have any erm, recreations?" He suddenly felt rather foolish.
"Oh sure, we've got a few on the walls, maybe a couple in storage as well. We rotate the mounts from time to time."
"Are there any out that you know of? I'd like to see one if it's alright."
"Sure thing, I think there's a pickerel near the upstairs men's room that's a replica if I'm not mistaken. Want me to show you up?" Flynn said with the false enthusiasm of a salesman leading a customer to another's department.
"No, I think I can manage on my own," replied Travis. He turned and walked toward the large staircase near the center of the floor. His heart was beating quickly, and he felt very warm. Almost as if he had just lied to a superior, or stolen something valuable. He considered why these Fish Replicas were such a fixation of his and could find no answers.
As Flynn had mentioned, on a wall near the door to the men's room there were a handful of mounted fish. Travis located one labeled "Grass Pickerel 13" - 2009 Maryland." He realized that this must be the one, and felt a surge of excitement run through his body. He walked up and studied the fish at close range. It was impeccably kept, no apparent scratches or dings, and not a speck of dust or grease on it.
He swept his eyes over the fins, the scales, eyes, teeth and contours. He would occasionally glance at another mounted piece, the real, organic preserved fish. They were somehow less impressive, their scales coarser, fins marred by imperfection, their poses more rigid. They didn't match the beauty of the replica. The pickerel had such vibrant iridescence, looked like it may at any moment spring back to life, and start gasping for breath.
Briefly, Travis toyed with the idea of trying to take this piece off the wall and sneak it out to his car. The idea was soon dashed though, as there were dozens of people around, and the fish were obviously mounted to the walls in a way that prevented such a thing. Instead he resolved that he would purchase one at his earliest chance.
Two hours later, Travis was back at this home, sitting in front of his computer. He had initially gone straight to the website of a prominent Replica Fish manufacturer before realizing he didn't know what kind of fish to request. He subsequently spent the next several hours looking at pictures online of various fish species. Freshwater, and saltwater, lake and stream, Atlantic and Pacific, the volume of fish was staggering. It wasn't until two days later that he finally decided on the fish of which he wanted a replica; a Black Grouper. Kind of simple, but still interesting with a fascinatingly mottled skin, beady black eyes, a ridged dorsal fin and an overall powerful and ominous look.
After locating several adequate pictures, he contacted Advanced Taxidermy and placed an order for a 36 inch black grouper in a natural but dynamic pose. The piece was going to run over five hundred dollars with shipping, but Travis was so fixated on this fish replica that the cost was not of any deterrence. The process was going to take 60 days at the minimum, the length of time without the piece was more jarring to Travis than the money it had cost to get it. He felt a mixture of despair and exhilaration after the order was placed.
Part Two Edit
Two weeks after the order was processed, Travis began to get antsy about his Fish Replica. He continued looking up videos of the process, and reading interviews with those who did it. It was a fascinating art form. It wasn't long before he got the idea to try to do a little replica making of his own.
He thought that he would start small. He had a small amount of, and could easily order more supplies for the process; resin, and silicone. He set out to a local wholesale grocer to look for possible models. The lent season meant that there were plenty of packaged and fresh fish on display. Travis elected to buy two whole fresh cod to start with. In no time they were packed in ice and ready to go.
When he got home, he put one of them into the refrigerator right away and took the other to his basement. He quickly constructed a wooden box large enough to fit the cod, and sealed the cracks and seams. Travis mixed up some silicone solution and laid it about 3 inches deep in the box. After waiting a few minutes, the fish, which hadn't been frozen, was about room temperature and flexible. Travis sprayed the creature liberally with synthetic lubricant and laid it into the silicone. In a half hour, he would repeat this process for the top half of the fish.
Following a dinner of canned lasagna, Travis checked his project and saw that he had a nice mold of the cod in two halves. He vised them together, drilled a hole into the top, and poured a two part resin mixture inside using a funnel. The sides didn't drip at all, and within three minutes the resin was hard and cool to the touch. Travis now had a life sized plastic replica of the cod he bought earlier in the day. It was rough and unpainted, and had a seam of excess runoff around its center, but it was a start.
Over the following days, Travis created a half dozen other fish replicas based off of a total of three molds he made. Some turned out better than others, but all of them looked amateurish, and would never have been mistaken for ever having been living creatures even if they had been competently painted. He also couldn't figure out how to do a mold with an open mouth without destroying it to remove the cast.
It seemed that Travis Vernon just didn't have the talent, or knowledge of aquatic wildlife to make a lifelike and accurate replica of a fish. Thoroughly disappointed in himself, he decided maybe it would be best to give up on making Fish Replicas. Or at least take a break from it. He still admired and wanted to use the process however.
He wondered what else he could attempt to replicate, which would be an easier jumping off point. He attempted to make replicas of his own hand, but the process was difficult and sloppy. His hand was always attached to his arm, so he could never get a full 3d model of it, and the chemicals and resins were tricky to work with one handed. He had no interest in molding or replicating anything inanimate.
When his replication hysteria had died down a bit, he was still at least several weeks away from receiving his Black Grouper replica. His life had stopped revolving entirely around making molds, and he began to go about his normal activities again. This included going to the gym and lifting weights alone.
While working out, he rarely paid any attention to the other people at the gym, but on this occasion, he felt his eyes lingering more than usual. Travis made note of another young man also working out alone, he noted the tone of this man's muscles and the fairness of his skin. Though normally quite introverted, especially around handsome and image conscious men, Travis approached this young man.
"Hey." said Travis. The man started and turned around in the weight machine. He had earbuds in and was listening to music rather loudly.
"Oh, hey, I'll be off the press in another 5 minutes. I just gotta do another set, then it's all yours," replied the man. Before he could pop his headphones back in, Travis spat out a few words.
"Oh no, it's not that, and take your time! I was just wondering if you might be able to spot me for a few reps on the bench when you're finished." This was all that Travis's mind could come up with for conversation on such short notice, but it was better than nothing.
"Yeah, sure. I'll be over in a minute." The man smiled warmly.
As Travis walked over to the bench and barbell, he realized that he hadn't lifted free weights in over a year, and didn't know what plates to add to adequately warrant a spotter. He added a few and hoped that the free weight bench pressing was comparable to a machine.
The man walked over after wiping down his machine. When he approached, Travis introduced himself.
"Thanks, I'm... I'm Terrance, by the way." Travis had no idea what had possessed him to lie about his name, but somehow it seemed the right thing to do.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Byron," replied the man. "You all set?"
"I think so," said Travis, sitting and laying back his head on the padded bench. "Here goes."
Travis succeeded in getting about two reps in before he realized that he hadn't accounted for the weight of the barbell when calculating how many plates to add. On his third rep, he needed Byron to ease the bar up, on the fourth rep, he nearly crushed his esophagus. The bar tipped hard to the right, and the plates (which Travis had not clamped) began to slide off. Thinking quickly, Byron slid the weights back on and hoisted the bar up and back onto the rack.
"Jesus, you okay man?" asked Byron kneeling down.
"I, I think so," Travis choked. "I'm usually on the machine, I never use the free weights."
"Ya think?" Byron said, but lightly and with a chuckle. "I'd suggest you stick with the machines."
"Good idea," Travis said weakly. "I think that's gonna do it for me today, thanks for the spot."
"Not a problem, friend."
Travis meekly wiped down the bench and walked to the locker room. He felt foolish in his attempt to break the ice with Byron, but thought there may still be a chance him to get to know Byron better. After showering, he left the locker room and saw Byron on an elliptical machine. He watched Byron's muscles tense, stretch and contract. His tone was somehow unique, well built, but still rather thin. However his calves and biceps didn't have that look of pantyhose with a large potato stuffed inside that some skinnier guys had. Travis approached him once more.
"So Byron, I uh," he stalled as Byron removed his earbuds again.
"Don't tell me you need another spot!" Byron said with a hearty laugh that put Travis's mind a bit at ease.
"No, No! No more of that!" chuckled Travis. "I was thinking, I owe you one for saving my neck back there. How about you let me buy you a beer in a while?" Travis was surprised at his own boldness, but also pleased by it.
"I could probably swing that, I mean, you do owe me one!" Byron said in a voice full of falsely swelled magnanimity. "Where were you thinking?" This was the point in the conversation where both parties were testing each other in a way. Toeing the line, and hoping not to make a false move.
"Well, I was thinking maybe," Travis stalled a bit "I've heard that Pablo's has a good microbrew menu." It was out now. Pablo's was known to have a decent beer menu, it was also widely known as an unofficial hangout for gay and lesbian couples. Byron smiled.
"Yeah, Pablo's is one of my favorite places around here."
At that point Travis felt a weight lift from him for the second time in less than an hour, this time however, it was far less literal. Travis felt that he and Byron were on the same page now, and that was a relief.
"Great," said Travis, who had nearly forgotten that he was now going by the name Terrence. "Want to meet up there around 6?"
"Works for me."
Travis smiled to himself, feeling a contentment he hadn't had since before he first read about Fish Replicas.
Part Three. Edit
Pablo's Tavern wasn't very crowded at 9:20 on a weeknight, so Byron and Travis were sitting at a booth near the corner window for a sense of privacy. The two had been having a rather nice time, Travis bought the first few rounds at 6, and from there, they switched off. By this time, they couldn't remember whose turn it was, but they were both running low on cash.
Around this time, they decided that they had probably ought to leave Pablo's or risk bankruptcy. It was still early, but neither one had much money, nor another place to go. In the parking lot, Byron asked Travis where his car was.
"Oh, I walked here, I don't live far," replied Travis.
"Well, you ain't walking back! Come here, I'll give you a lift, it's the blue Hyundai."
"If you insist." Travis replied in a mock groan.
The two of them hopped in the car and listened to the radio on the 5 minute jaunt back to Travis's place. They pulled up in front of the house.
"This is me," stated Travis, motioning to the split level home.
"Holy shit! You've got a whole house? Man, sure beats my apartment."
"Eh' it's not much" said Travis, then ventured "You want to come in? I can show you around the joint. I think I've got a few beers in the fridge."
"Sure," said Byron, smiling again.
They walked through the home, sipping their beers. Typically introverted Travis was playing the unfamiliar role of tour guide. They eventually finished the tour and wound up back in the living room, sitting on the sofa.
"You know, there are easier ways to pick up a date than crushing your windpipe," Byron stated coyly.
"I'll try to keep it in mind!" They both laughed at this. Then Byron leaned over and kissed Travis. They remained there, holding each other on the sofa for a few moments. Travis's arms and back had become rigid with nervous tension. Eventually Byron leaned back and produced from his jacket pocket a half dozen or so small tablets. He put one in his mouth and swallowed.
"Here, this'll help you relax," Byron said. "It's just a little Molly, I think you'll like it." Travis took a pill and swallowed it.
After the pills started to take effect, Travis did relax. They bounced back and forth between talking, and kissing for a while. The closeness Travis felt with Byron, in conjunction with the ecstasy in his bloodstream had gone to his head.
"You know, I have a confession to make," Travis started. "My name isn't Terrance, it's Travis." Byron looked puzzled and bemused for a moment, then began laughing.
"You're such a weirdo!" said Byron "If you're going to use a fake name, why pick something so close to your real name?"
"I don't know!" replied Travis, "I panicked, and it was the first thing I thought of."
"Well, next time, try to think of something a little more interesting. Something that doesn't use the same basic group of letters as your real one."
Travis thought; 'Same group of letters. same group, group. group... Grouper.'
"You think that's weird, come check this out." said Travis, standing up woozily.
"Yeah, sure, hang on," replied Byron, taking another pill. Travis did likewise.
Travis led him down into his basement and began explaining to him his recent obsession with Fish Replicas. He showed off his studio, and a few of his failed attempts at making plastic fish.
"Whoa... You weren't kidding, you are a weirdo!" laughed Byron. Travis pretended to be hurt by this.
"I should have expected such a lack of culture and artistic appreciation of a meathead from the gym!"
"You were at the gym too," Byron said, smiling.
"Yeah, but I'm hardly a meathead, I couldn't even lift the bar!" They both had a long laugh at this. Travis couldn't remember the last time he had felt so relaxed and giddy. He was feeling warm all over, and a little lightheaded, and it appeared Byron was also getting warm, as he had taken off his jacket. Travis admired his arms.
"Hey, I've got an idea. You want to help me in an artistic endeavor?" Asked Travis.
"I wasn't able to do this on my own, but with a 'model' it should be a piece of cake. Take off your shirt."
"I think I like where this is going," Byron said in a sly voice. Travis laughed and helped his friend with his shirt.
"Now just hold on a minute while I get something ready," Travis said, turning and gathering a few scraps of wood. In a matter of minutes, he had a long shallow wooden box in two pieces cobbled together with a large hole drilled at one end. "Okay, here," He pulled Byron's arm out straight, and fit the box around it. "Perfect!"
Byron looked quizzically at the contraption, and finally said "This may be the second weirdest thing I've done on a first date."
"This will only take maybe 20 minutes, you game?" Asked Travis.
"I have no idea what I am agreeing to, but when I'm drunk and high in the basement of a cute guy, how can I say no?"
"Nice, this won't hurt a bit," Travis said as he sprayed Byrons's right arm with synthetic lubricant. "It will feel a little warm, but that's all." He clamped the box around Byron's arm, set it on the workbench so that Byron was in a comfortable position, and then began pouring liquid silicone through a funnel into the box. "Try not to wiggle your fingers too much."
"Sure thing, Michaelangelo."
Travis was beginning to feel quite strange from the alcohol and ecstasy he had taken on an empty stomach.
"When this is done, you'll have another arm, and you'll be immortalized forever as a work of art."
"Whatever you say man, this just better not take too long, I might start getting anxious."
"Then I'll have to keep you nice and relaxed." Travis said, walking around behind Byron. He started to rub Byron's shoulders and massage his neck. He could feel any remaining tension left start to melt away.
Byron said in a dreamy voice "Keep that up and you can make a mold of any part of me you want."
"It's not a mold, it's a Fish Replica," Travis whispered in his ear. Travis was now starting to hear beautiful music in his ears being sung in a language he didn't know, but immediately understood. He was unsure how much time he spent rubbing Byron's shoulders, but by the time he snapped himself out of the musical daze he was experiencing, Byron was snoring, and the silicone had set.
He unclamped the box, and slid the silicone mold off of Byron's limp arm. He draped the jacket over Byron's shoulders, careful not to wake him. As he put the jacket on, he fingered the pockets and took out two more pills and ate them.
Travis began working, deciding to use the mold of Byron's arm immediately for a Fish Replica. He filled it with another silicone solution so that the Fish Replica would remain flexible and able to swim. While that was setting, Travis listened to more foreign music in his head, and stared at the florescent overhead light tube which was swimming with tiny iridescent Fish Replicas of all colors
Travis thought he might have a better idea to make a Fish Replica. Byron was such a nice boy, he let Travis turn his arm into a Fish Replica. He likely wouldn't mind helping out more. In fact, didn't Byron say that Travis could make a Fish Replica out of any part of his body? Travis was pretty sure that was what he had said. And the magenta Walleye Pike swimming through the air next to him assured him that Byron indeed said this.
Travis picked up a rough-cut hacksaw from the pegboard on the wall. Its blade was jagged and sharp, not quite like the ridge of a North-American-Green-Sturgeon, but close enough. He used the Green Sturgeon to slice into Byron's gullet, it cut more easily than he expected. Travis didn't even have trouble cutting through the opperculum.
Warm saltwater began to flow from the underside of the neck of the North-Atlantic-Byron, cascading down his pectoral fins and teeming with tiny Blue Tang, and Damselfish. It was an astonishing sight. When the ByronFish's head was removed from its trunk, the lovely waterfall ceased. But that was okay, since there was serious work to be done.
Travis began constructing another box to hold the mold for his next Fish Replica. It turned out a bit sloppy, since all the eels kept swimming into his line of vision, but they were cute, so he let them be and only pushed them aside a few times. The Byron had slipped and sunk to the ocean floor, seawater glistening on his well muscled fins. The Northern-Lake-Travis wondered if he would appreciate his Fish Replica when he finally awoke.
The Speckled Gulf Travis carefully placed the Byron's head crest up inside the mold box. He wasn't sure if he did it correctly, since his fins were slick and a little numb, but he was assured by the Argentinian-Sea-Trout that he was doing a bang up job of things. While waiting for this Fish Replica to set and be cast, The Mediterrarian-Widemouth-Travis decided it would be best if he also made a Fish Replica of himself, since he was of course, a stunning example of aquatic wildlife.
He quickly banged together one more mold casting box. Being out of nails, he instead improvised and hammered the spinal ridges of an Oarfish into the box. When it was finished he asked one of the Humboldt Squid if it would be good enough, it conceded that the box would work fabulously, and reminded him to coat his head and face with lubricant.
The Speckled-Travis-Anthias lay down with his head in the box. He used his pectoral fins to lift up a bucket of liquid silicone above his crown and began drizzling it over his face. He was very careful not to pour it in such a way that it drizzled down his body and clogged his gills. He couldn't afford to suffocate with all these Fish Replicas to make!
The Eastern-Trench-Travis didn't close his eyes against the stream of chemicals raining upon him, as he was a species without external eyelids. Astonishing sights filled his head. The view of the red sun dancing across the waves of the surface, starfish, urchins, and jellyfish all dancing an aquatic ballet in perfect step with one another. Before he slipped into the depths, he saw his Black Grouper pass by his eyes, glistening softly.
The police officers who discovered the scene several days later were as baffled as they were disgusted. Two bodies, one mutilated, another lying with its head encased in some sort of rubber material. Evidence of alcohol and drug paraphernalia were found at the scene.
Family members could only speculate what had happened, as it seemed to be what many would refer to as a 'bad trip.' To further add to the mystery, the day police had to enter the home, there was a large package on the front step. It was examined and given to the next of kin, Travis's parents. When they opened it, they saw a large, and very realistic model fish of some kind.
A coroner's report would reveal that The bodies of Byron Wells, and Travis Vernon had in their bloodstreams large amounts of alcohol, ecstasy, and in the case of Vernon, PCP. In a detail that never left the autopsy room, when the silicone was cut and pulled from around the head and face of Travis Vernon, the block was imprinted with a quite nearly perfect imprint of his face, smiling and serene.
Written by Urkelbot