A Strange Little Town

#PromptlyWritten The Daily Special — Oct 7th

Melodi Menase
Promptly Written
Published in
5 min readOct 9, 2021


Photo by Kameron Kincade on Unsplash

Dear Reader,

It is unfortunate that you’ve stumbled upon this story.

I will do my best to spare you the nausea and heartache that comes along with learning the truth about the strange little town called Herring, but I can’t promise anything. If you want to know the truth, keep reading. If you’d rather keep your blissful bubble of denial intact, I’d suggest you pick up a novel, instead.

I see that you’ve decided to keep reading.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The fisherman got up everyday at 3 AM. He donned a comfortable pair of trousers, a shirt and a cozy sweater to keep him warm for the next three or so hours at the sea.

And thus began the morning ritual — kiss wife gently on the cheek without waking her. Tiptoe to baby girl’s room, watch her sleeping peacefully in her crib for just a moment. Feed Tofu the cat and Coffee the dog. He would repeat the same things each morning tirelessly with a smile on his face.

After checking off all the items on his list, he slipped on his yellow fisherman’s boots under the curious yet indifferent gaze of Tofu who would soon make herself comfortable in Coffee’s bed for her post-breakfast grooming session. Coffee was watching the fisherman intently, his tail wagging and tongue sticking out, like he always does. The fisherman darted through the door with a bucket of live bait and a fishing pole in hand.

In the seaside village of Herring — population 10,000—most of the people earned their living by catching fish or harvesting seafood. The inhabitants of Herring led slow and peaceful lives until quite recently. A new factory manufacturing plastics was to open its doors at what used to be an abandoned junkyard, just a few miles north from the shore and the construction had been going on for months. “We are glad to be creating hundreds of job opportunities for the people of Herring,” the CEO had said in a press meeting. The fisherman listened but didn’t really care. He liked being a fisherman — becoming one with the sea, which provided him with serenity and sustenance, was something he wouldn’t trade for the world.

The fisherman met his friend at the port. They hopped on a small wooden boat and made their way to their usual spot. The hideous concrete building with multiple large chimneys made of stainless steel was looming over the horizon.

“Looks like they’re finally done with the construction,” he said to his friend.

“Yeah. It just seems so…out of place. Like it doesn’t belong here at all,” responded his friend.

The fisherman knew exactly what he meant but he just nodded as the two waited patiently for the fish to find themselves in their hooks.

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and months to years.

His baby girl started elementary school and his wife was now pregnant with their second baby. Much had changed in the little town of Herring, where the sky was now a filthy shade of grey instead of the deep blue it used to be, but the fisherman’s rituals never dwindled.

One morning, when he was completing the third item on his list, he noticed Tofu acting strange. She had developed these nervous tremors that the fisherman would notice occasionally but hadn’t read much into it until now. Coffee had also stopped wagging his tail. He would lie under the table after breakfast and watch the fisherman slip into his boots from a far.

The sea also seemed strange to him — the once clear and shiny waters felt heavier than before and less translucent.

Turns out, the entire town of Herring had been experiencing some peculiarities for the past few months or so. The fish were listless, people, cats and dogs were falling ill.

One night, when he could no longer tolerate the tormented wailings of Tofu and Coffee that pierced through the night, he woke up to check on his wife whose body was now covered in blisters. Her breath was labored and she was burning up.

When the paramedics showed up, it was too late.

The autopsy report read: Complications related to mercury poisoning.

One day, a week later, the fisherman got up at 3 AM. He stared at his wife’s empty side of the bed. His sacred ritual had been tarnished, broken.

At 4 AM that morning, someone broke into the factory.

He lit a match and dropped it to the ground, the flickering flame illuminating the darkness on its way down.

Next morning, a pile of ashes laid where the factory used to stand in all its ominous grandeur — its once menacing facade now coal black and sickly skeletal. A bright yellow barricade tape with the words, DANGER: HAZARDOUS MATERIAL surrounded everything that remained.

There is something eerie about this place, the foreigners would say upon their arrival to the small town of Herring. The locals knew what they meant but they wouldn’t say anything because how do you explain to them that the visibly grey air that smelled of chemical vapors and smoke was dense with death, grief and sorrow? That the air is burden at Herring, where a hefty sigh follows each deep breath — a lament in disguise for those who are no longer able to breathe.

I often think about how to respond to the foreigners who find the town of Herring unsettling. I think I would tell them that the insatiable greed of those few people is what painted Herring’s sky an icy, depressing shade of grey that’s impossible to dilute. Greed made the sea heavy and toxic, poisoned its fish, cats, dogs and people. Greed killed their nature, their bodies.

And greed will not stop until all is lost, forever.

This story, inspired by real events, was a response to The Daily Special— Oct. 7th for the publication, “Promptly Written” created by Ravyne Hawke.

Here’s the article that inspired my story: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_in_fish



Melodi Menase
Promptly Written

Trying to navigate through this thing called life, one step at a time.