Marsh gutted and cleaned his catch on the picnic table in the backyard. It was late afternoon on Sunday. He was feeling weak from the intense sun while fishing on the pier and the arduous bike ride from the trolley with two King Mackerel packed in ice, strapped to the seat rack. They were both about 30 inches long and weighed over 35 pounds together.
Uncle Albert surprisingly offered to start a fire in the bar-b-que. Then, he sat down across from Marsh and began gutting a mackerel. He was an expert. A deep cut along the long belly, pulled the gills up and cut them from the body, and with one hand grabbed the gills and gut and pulled the whole of it out. Then he cut along the spine to drain the blood. He was a master.
“What the f— is that?” Uncle Albert was staring at a dark mass in the gut tissues.
Marsh cut the strange growth from the enveloping mesentery. He poked it with his knife, then his finger. It felt gummy. He picked it up and gave it a sniff. It smelled like something familiar but he could not recall what that was.
Uncle Albert followed Marsh’s observations with keen interest. “I’ve never seen a thing like that,” he said. Then, he disappeared through the back door for a beer.
That was the extent of his Uncle’s attention. Marsh was left to finish the cleaning and grill the fish. He put aside the odd mackerel with disappointment. It would have provided many steaks and fish tacos. But, he was smart enough not to eat it. Instead, Marsh planned to take it to his biology teacher.
Before school started, Marsh and Shaundra delivered the deformed mackerel to Mr. Paine. It was smelling ripe by then. Shaundra took photos on her smartphone.
“This is strange, indeed.” Mr. Paine examined the black clump of tissue through his bifocals. “Perhaps this could be a project for the two of you” he said as he laid the black mass underneath a dissecting scope and leaned down for a closer look.
“Whoah,” he leaned back suddenly.
“What is it?” Shaundra said.
“I got a strong whiff of petroleum,” he said placing the specimen in a collecting jar.
“That’s it!” Marsh recalled that odor. “I couldn’t place it yesterday, but that’s right!”
The bell rang for first period. The teacher promised they could discuss the fish in science class later in the day. After the teens left, Paine wrapped the carcass and stored it in a cooler. It was probably too toxic for his students to work with, but he could point them toward reporting the find to the proper authorities.