Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

News & Features » October 2015 » “Fish and Sand, Salton and Sea” by Joseph Mattson

“Fish and Sand, Salton and Sea” by Joseph Mattson

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, Joseph Mattson goes to the sea, but not to swim.

Fish and Sand, Salton and SeaJoseph Mattson
by Joseph Mattson
Salton Sea, Salton Sea, California


We saw him running. Down, down. From the mountain, across tracks, across highway, State Route 111, Southern California, right there alongside the Salton Sea. Salton Sea. Why is it named so? Endorheic. Like Saudi Arabia, too, dry, an anomaly, but even more so, if I might attest. And I know the difference between sultan and Salton. Crude oil versus the toxic Alice in the people. See, the beaches—“beaches”—lining the Salton Sea are encrusted, filled, flushed, wrought with dead fish. Tilapia, I think. Fish from olde Mexico or when California first had one of its many births. An ice age into a dryness supreme. Tons of white sand. These fish, been dying in this place ever since. Bones and bones, everywhere. The place stinks, but there’s something drawing about it, some esoteric magnetism. That’s that. Trailer parks.

So this man, running. Running down the mountain east of the Salton Sea. A killer. We could see him coming a mile away—a dot in the distance transforming from symbol to slayer. White T-shirt, camouflaged shorts, new pair of Nike running shoes, ball-cap. Skin of the Devil. Lastly, sunglasses. Wrap-around, “blades,” or whatever the kids call ’em. I’d say he was about thirty-years old. Maybe not quite. Fastest runner I’d ever seen, perpetrator or otherwise. It was August. Over 105-degrees, F. And he ran all that way. His sweat was sweet as liquor, you could smell it. Drink it if not just borne into evaporation. Inhale, hope to exhale. But I don’t think he was drunk. Speed, maybe. Meth has a way here. Almost a necessity. Up to us, that burning mile, he ran it. We were at the old, gutted, abandoned hotel ruins by the beach, decades ago someone tried to make the Salton Sea something of a tourism destination. Some people live there. The man was a hunter.

He spent thirty seconds with us, if that. Laundered, but gunpowder, a scent.

He said, “Thank you so much for visiting the Salton Sea.” His Nike shoes were bright, pink, yellow, white, suspiciously untouched by the dusty desert we’d watched him run through, not to mention any grease of the train tracks or the roadway grime. “Bested the others, visitors.”

Then, again. He ran back the way he came, across the shores into the scrub fields of the Salton Sea, the highway, the tracks, up into the mountain, and for the death of us, we couldn’t see a trailer up there for anything, not even in debris.

This might sound strange, but I hoped he was on speed. On meth. I don’t know how one could run back and forth like this otherwise. Well, I hope he’s clean; if so, he was superhuman. Armed for sure. Unmistakable beneath cordiality: residue.

Ominous tone in what he’d said. In thanking us? As if things were going to change and we were among the last to bear witness. Like he was assassin documentarian of some strange departure or ascent, altercation of biota toward murder, prophetic beyond poison.

The Salton Sea has more salinity than oceans. The deadest fish upon its shores I’ve ever seen. Watching the man run another mile back into the hills without once closing our eyes, he disappeared. Like that. We made camp at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. I am from Los Angeles. My two friends, from San Francisco and fascinated by all this. I myself am both fascinated and repulsed and ultimately confused about the Salton Sea. Its ecology disgusts me, yet I have been compelled to live here. It must be one of the unhealthiest places on earth, the ground, and Earth, the planet. I don’t know. It’s magnetic and repulsive all at once, all I can say. Maybe, I can say more. Someday. Will. Crimson. End.


Tents, night. The next morning, all of the dead fish—I’m talking thousands upon millions of fish bones, some fresh with flesh, but dead—these that line the Salton Sea. They were gone. All gone.

That’s not all. The white sand lining the 375+ miles the Salton Sea occupies was gone. We arose, unzipped our shelter. All of the sand was red. It wasn’t wet, but it was blood-red. And now: All of the dead fish there for decades were gone. Red hairs, afloat. The man with his body in the saline, he soaked in blood with revolver raised. To a temple. The people, gone. Like that. Bloodletting. And dead animals—animals die, fish, humans—never again appeared.


JOSEPH MATTSON is the editor of The Speed Chronicles and the author of the story collection Eat Hell and the novel Empty the Sun, which was a finalist for the 2010 SCIBA Fiction Award. He lives in Los Angeles.


Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Oct 5, 2015

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , ,