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Today's Story by C.D. Reimer

“I will not eat our pet.”

The Hungry Red Devil

Derek slipped through the front door with shoes in hand to avoid waking up his wife from her afternoon nap. No sooner had he closed the door behind him did his stomach betrayed him, rumbling louder than a fat cat in pursuit of a skinny mouse on a hardwood floor.

“Is that you, honey?” April called out from the living room.

“Yes, babe.” He sighed and dropped his shoes on the floor next to the door, making no effort to stay quiet now. She lied wide-awake on the sofa, her eyes red from crying. He motioned to sit down next to her. She got up and they hugged for a long moment. He then broke the bad news to her as gently as he could. “We’re not poor enough for food stamps.”

“What?” Her voice broke from the strain. “We both been out of work for nearly two years. Unemployment benefits that barely covered our monthly expenses are almost gone. Our savings and retirement accounts are nearly depleted. We can’t refinance or sell the house. We have no food to eat. And we don’t qualify for food stamps?”

The last part came out in a wail. She buried her face into his shoulder as her cries came in muffled sobs. He leaned back into the sofa to cradle her in his arms.

Across from the sofa was a 50-gallon aquarium where a TV set would be in most homes. A ten-inch red devil cichlid fish with a dark red face, a predominate hump on its forehead to indicate that this specimen was male, and a bright orange body, paced the front of the aquarium when he noticed that they were in the room. Big eyes and a bigger mouth worked together to flash a simple expression that every fish owner was all too familiar with.

Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

April’s crying subsided when Derek stomach rumbled again, making her giggle uncontrollably.

“Short of filing for bankruptcy and losing the house,” he said, tilting her tear-stained face with his hand underneath her chin after she stopped giggling, “we don’t qualify for food stamps because we don’t have any kids.”

“What does having kids have to do with anything?”

“Extra mouths in a family are more urgent than feeding a couple of mouths with no incomes and no kids. The bureaucrat at the social welfare office suggested I sell one of our cars.”

“The gas in the tanks is worth more than our old cars are worth together. Did you tell Mr. Bureaucrat that?”

“He told me to sell the gas.”


“Or we could start a family.”

April snorted. “Start a family in this economy?”

“A pregnant wife should count for something,” Derek said, hugging her. “We could win the food stamps lottery by having octets?”

“Eight babies, no way.” April pushed herself away, her face now serious. “Or I can prostitute myself by putting an ad in Craigslist. ‘Desperate housewife willing to trade sex for food.’ That should work.”

“No, you won’t,” Derek said, smiling. “We’re married. I’m your number one customer.”

“No offense, honey, but you’re not a paying customer. I can easily make some money on the side.”

“And I would make for a poor pimp, babe.”

April laughed and cried again when she rested her head against his shoulder. “What are we going to do?”

Derek stomach growled again. “I don’t know.”

They held each other while watching the red devil pace back and forth in the aquarium, which paused every now and then to look at them with the same expression that they felt themselves.

Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

“You know what I want for dinner?” Derek asked, watching the red devil with narrowed eyes. “A fish filet on the barbecue.”

“Where would we get the money for fish filet?” April asked, laughing.

“We just go fishing.”

“We have no fishing poles and no money for the fishing licenses.”

“We don’t need that because we already got the fish.”

April looked at her husband, at the fish in the aquarium, and back at her husband before shaking her head. “No way.”

“There’s a nice dinner right in front of us. Eating that fish isn’t like eating the neighbor’s dog.”

“That fish is our pet since we got married six years ago. We’re not eating our pet no matter how hungry we get.”

“That pet eats better than us. Bad enough that pet ate ninety dollars in other fishes before we find out that red devils aren’t community fishes. That’s a very expensive dinner waiting to be eaten.”

“I will not eat our pet.”

“Fine. I’ll eat the whole thing then.”

Derek went over to the aquarium, opened the top of the hood, and put his hand into the warm water. The red devil swam away into the back corner of the aquarium to watch this intrusion into his domain.

“What are you doing?” April asked.

“I’m grabbing dinner,” Derek replied.

The red devil rushed forward to chomp down on his thumb, which looked like a fat wiggling worm.

Derek jerked his hand out of the water. “Mother–”

“What happen?” April asked, jumping off the sofa and taking his wet hand.

“Damn fish bit my thumb.” He showed her the parallel lines of red prick points along the top and bottom of his thumb. “He never bit me before.”

“You never tried to grab him either.” April closed the top of the hood. “We’re not eating the fish. The way you’re handling this, the fish will have your fingers for dinner. Now get into the bathroom to take care of that bite. Let’s hope that you don’t have to go to the emergency room. Otherwise, we won’t be eating anything for a very long time.”

They sat down on the sofa after the bitten thumb was cleaned and bandaged. Derek now had a sore thumb along with his still growling stomach. The red devil, meanwhile, continued to pace the aquarium, watching them as they watched him.

Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

Derek laid his head against his wife’s bosom. “I’m hungry, babe.”

“How much does it cost to feed that fish, honey?” April asked, running her hand through his hair.

“Flakes and live food cost about twenty dollars a month, give or take.”

“You bought a big can of flakes last month. How long would that last if we fed him only flakes?”

“Three, maybe four months. But he won’t be a happy fish if we fed him only flakes.”

“But that wouldn’t hurt him?”

“No, he’ll be hungry like us.”

“He always hungry,” April told him. “I’m thinking that an extra twenty dollars a month is a lot of ramen.”

“Ramen!” Derek rolled over on his back to put his head in her lap, looking up at her face with disbelief. April put her hand on his chest, smiling at his reaction. “We haven’t had ramen since our college days.”

“Would you rather eat feeder guppies, ghost shrimps and snails?”

“You know I’m not a big fan of French cuisine.”

“Than that’s settled then.” She kissed the top of his forehead. “The fish is eating flakes until we get ourselves new jobs. When we get our last unemployment checks tomorrow, we will go grocery shopping to get twenty dollars worth of ramen.”

“Ramen,” Derek said, crossing his eyes. “Okay.”

“And you leave that poor fish alone.”

“Poor fish.” Derek waved his bandaged thumb like a distressed hitchhiker. “What about poor me?”

“You got what you deserved.”


April smiled. “Were you joking about starting a family?”

“You mean in this economy?” Derek asked, surprised.


“Would make qualifying for food stamps easier if the economy stays in the crapper and we have to file for bankruptcy.”

“Do you want to or not?” April asked, her eyes tearing up again.

“I always want to,” Derek said, getting up to put his arms around her. “We just need to let Mother Nature take care of the rest.”

The red devil continued to pace the aquarium–

Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

–until they left the room without feeding him. He poked around the gravel bed, looking for left over scraps. When a translucent ghost shrimp climbed up on top of a nearby rock, he pounced on it in one bite. Still hungry but satisfied for now.


C.D. Reimer lives and works in Silicon Valley. His interests are ceramics, painting, tropical fish, and web programming. These keep him out of trouble when he’s not fixing broken users and consoling hurt computers. He is currently working on his first novel, two short story collections, and various short stories.


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