Fish Face is a scary campfire story about a deformed man who lives on the banks of a lake in Tennessee, USA. It is based on an old short story by Irvin S. Cobb called “Fish Head”.
Reelfoot Lake is like no other lake that I have ever seen. It was formed by the great earthquake of 1811. The earthquake caused a section of the earth’s crust, sixty miles long, to fall down, taking trees, hills and hollows with it. Then, the banks of the Mississippi river broke and ran up stream, filling the hole with water.
The locals say it is a lake of mystery. In some places it is bottomless and in other places, it is shallow, but it is very dangerous to swim there because of the weeds that can entangle your legs. The skeletons of the underwater trees still stand upright beneath the surface. If the sun is shining at the right angle and the water is less muddy than usual, you can peer down into the depths and see the slime-covered branches stretching up like the fingers of drowning men.
The locals say there are monstrous creatures that live in the lake. Pale, scaleless, slimy things with corpse-like eyes and poisonous fins. They say they have mouths wide enough to eat a man alive and greedy enough to eat anything, living or dead. There are many tales of the wicked and evil things that live in Reelfoot lake, but the strangest of all is the tale of Fish Face.
He was a strange, disfigured man who lived in a makeshift shack just below the spot where the river feeds into the lake. He had lived there all his life, but nobody knew his real name, they just called him Fish Face.
His parents were both dead. The story was that, before his birth, his mother was frightened by one of the big fish that swam in the lake and when the boy was born, he was hideously deformed.
Fishhead was a human monstrosity. He looked like something out of a nightmare and the older he grew, the more bizarre-looking he became.
His skull looked like it was squashed. His forehead sloped back at an odd angle and he barely had any chin at all. His eyes were set far apart, almost on either side of his head. They were large, round and bulbous with pale-yellow pupils and they stared at you, wide and unblinking, like the eyes of a fish.
His nose was little more than two tiny slits in the middle of face and worst of all was his mouth which stretched from ear to ear like a catfish.
Fish Face mostly kept to himself. He lived a lonely existence and didn’t bother anybody, tending to his corn patch and trapping small rodents in the swamp. He cooked his food over an open hole in the soggy earth and he drank from buckets of water he dredged from the lake.
His neighbors were all superstitious people and they feared him. Many times, they would see him there, crouched on a rock, silent and motionless, peering down into the murky waters of the lake. They avoided him like the plague and left him well enough alone.
Further up the river, there was a small, dilapidated cabin built of logs. It was the home of two brothers named Jake and Joel Baxter. They were a violent and irresponsible pair, always up to mischief.
They lived on whiskey and tobacco when they could get it, and on fish and cornbread when they couldn’t. Every day, they traveled up and down the river in their motorboat, checking the traps they had set along the weedy banks and collecting their catch.
One day, the brothers were out on the river. Jake sat at the back of the boat, manning the motor and steering while Joel was in the front, checking the nets. They always kept a crate of beer between them on the boat.
As the story goes, the brothers were drinking heavily and, as they made their way downriver, they came across Fish Face, crouching on a rock outside his shack. Emboldened by alcohol, Jake and Joel shouted at him and hurled abuse, calling him every name under the sun. Fish Face didn’t respond. He just crouched there silently, eyeing them suspiciously.
Then, the brothers grew bolder. They got out of the boat and approached the deformed man on the bank of the river. One thing led to another and when Fish Face didn’t react, the brothers slapped him across the face.
Quick as a flash, Fish Face turned and gave them both the beating of their lives, bloodying their noses, bruising their faces and leaving them lying in the dirt. The drunken men were utterly humiliated and ran off like whimpering dogs with their tails between their legs.
The next evening, the brothers were out on the river again. Jake had a rusty old shotgun propped between his knees. Their hearts were hardened and their minds were set on revenge. The river was deserted and no one was around to witness what they were about to do.
The sun was setting and the shadows lengthened, stretching across the water. The sleepy river lapped lazily at the muddy banks. Green flies and big mosquitoes buzzed around their heads. Bats flittered back and forth above the tops of the trees.
As they approached the little shack at the mouth of the river, the brothers saw Fish Face crouching on a log. He was squatting there silently, staring into the water.
Joel stopped the motor and Jake stood up in the boat, raising the shotgun and pointing it at Fish Face.
“Hey freak!” he shouted. “You made yourself a big mistake yesterday. Nobody messes with us. Get ready to meet your maker!”
Fish Face opened his shapeless trap of a mouth wide and let out a startled cry. It sounded like the high-pitched laugh of a loon. Suddenly, all of the night noises ceased and the river was deathly still.
There was a deafening Bang! as Jake let loose with both barrels of his shotgun.
The blast hit Fish Face in the neck and the force of it blew his head off.
His decapitated body fell down on the log and hung there, flipping and flopping around like a dead fish. His legs twitched and kicked like the legs of a dying frog and blood poured out of his neck.
Then, as the brothers watched and laughed, his body slid off the log and sank into the water, leaving a burst of bubbles in its wake. The surface of the water turned a bloody red.
The brothers lingered there a while, sharing a beer and chuckling at their vicious crime. Then, Joel started up the motor again and turned the boat around.
As they were about to speed off, something bumped against the bottom of the boat. It listed from side to side and then tipped over, throwing the brothers over the side. They landed with a splash in the murky water.
Jake came back to the surface, coughing and spluttering. He was still holding his shotgun in his hand. He clung to the upturned boat with the other and started treading water.
All of a sudden, he felt something below the surface grip him by the legs. It slid up his body and circled around his waist, squeezing hard. Some slimy, sinewy and unseen thing had him in its grip and it was crushing him.
As it squeezed him tighter and tighter, he let out a cry of agony and his eyes popped out of his head. They landed in the water with a soft Plip! Plop! He was pulled down, down, down and as he went, his fingernails left long scratches in the bottom of the boat.
Joel’s fate was even worse because he saw much more. He watched in horror as his brother was dragged to his death and there was nothing he could do to save him. Then he saw it. The enormous grey thing rose out of the water. Ancient mud and slime from the bottom of the lake ran off its pale, repulsive skin.
It was the head of a gigantic fish, with corpse-white eyes and a gaping maw enclosed by rows upon rows of razor-sharp serrated teeth.
Joel only had time to let out a yell of unimaginable horror as the thing bore down on him, opening its jaws wide and devouring him in one bite. With a huge splash, it dived, whirling and churning, beneath the water and disappeared.
Soon, the whirlpool died away, leaving only ripples in its wake and the river became still again. All that could be heard was the buzzing of the insects and the croaking of the frogs.
Days later, three bodies surfaced downstream. The bodies of the two Baxter brothers were so mauled and chewed-up that they had to bury them together in the same grave because nobody could tell which one was Jake and which one was Joel.
The third body was headless and couldn’t be identified. They buried it in an unmarked grave. Later on, they assumed it must be Fish Face, but try as they might, they never found his head.