A big fish
It was Bob's third day at work and he showed up bright and early with a smile on his face. He didn't care that a sea park's interns, like him, spent most of their time sweeping, picking up trash and cleaning animal pens. Most of the sea life did their business in the water but not all did and he didn't mind being the guy with the flat head shovel and a bucket. As for the ones who did it in the water, well, someone had to clean the filters and that was him too. He'd always liked animals and it was a useful weekend activity to put on his resume. He was a veterinary major and planned to specialize in sea mammals.
When he arrived that morning he glanced at the white board and discovered nothing in the INTERNS block. Normally there'd be half a dozen tasks there and the past two days were much the same so he considered just getting out the broom and going to work.
Instead his eye gravitated to the FEEDING block and there he found the following: FEED CHARLIE. BUCKET IN FRIDGE. He popped open the door of the rather battered fridge used to store animal chow and sure enough a galvanized bucket sat on the bottom shelf full of fish.
He looked out the window at the concrete and rocks of the sea lion enclosure and there was Charlie, a streamlined whiskery lump stretched out like a speed bump next to the pool. Charlie was a California sea lion of middling years with very poor eyesight due to a whack on the head he got from a propeller and that led to him being a rescue animal. He performed for crowds just fine and was well socialized but was not considered able to return to the wild. Charlie was seven or so feet nose to flippers and weighed perhaps twice as much as he did.
Bob had already picked up many of the animal names and backgrounds and he'd seen Charlie fed the day before, so he grabbed the bucket and headed out onto the concrete. He walked right past the TRAINED PERSONNEL ONLY sign because, after all, he was trained, wasn't he? He'd been here two whole days.
"Hey, Charlie! Who's a good boy?" The speed bump of sea lion twitched awake and lifted its head, peering vaguely in his direction.
"Ort," Charlie proclaimed, and Bob grinned.
"That's right. Breakfast." He hoisted the bucket up for the sea lion to see, then cursed as the fish shifted and the whole bucket tipped. Half a dozen mullet slithered out on the near side and slapped wetly into his chest before sliding down his front and hitting the concrete slab.
"Darn it all. Just a second, Charlie." Bob set down the bucket and spent a minute gathering up the fish, the largest of which was two feet long and over ten pounds. Like most pinnipeds Charlie had sharp teeth suited not to cutting up prey but rather to simply hold it until it was swallowed whole. Bob grumbled as he tried to wipe the fishy slime from his clothes but it'd already soaked in and he stank of it. His shirt was stuck to his belly and his shorts clung to his legs. Just the same he reached into the bucket and pulled out one of the larger fish, a mullet as long as and thicker than his arm.
"Here you go, Charlie," he said as he presented the fish's head, and the sea lion's maw opened like a trapdoor to accept the morsel. Two feet of fish slithered into Charlie's gullet as easily as a letter disappears into a mailbox slot and the sea lion swallowed briefly as he easily sent ten pounds of fish down his throat.
"Ort," Charlie commented. "Ort, ort."
"Good boy," said Bob, and leaned down to grabbing two of the smaller fish from the bucket. The slippery things tried to squirt from his grip and as he struggled with it he didn't see a fat foot-long haddock slip down the side of the bucket onto the concrete.
"Catch, Charlie," he said, and tossed the first fish into the air. Charlie could just about distinguish light from dark and his cavernous maw snapped open to catch the fish.
"Ort!" The sea lion slapped his front flippers together. That fish was so small it slipped down his throat without even a gulp to propel it. Ten pounds of mullet in one swallow was one thing, one pound of haddock another. The first was almost a meal, the second was just teasing.
"Ha, calm down Charlie. I've got another one right here." Bob stepped forward to drop this one into the sea lion's yawn and his foot came down on the fish he dropped earlier. The slimy fish was as slippery as a rotten banana peel and his foot shot out from under him. He was already moving forward and his other leg straightened, sending him hurtling forward toward the hard concrete. Unfortunately Charlie's gaping maw was in the way.
There was a wet thump as Bob flew headfirst into Charlie's jaws and for a moment each was stunned. Bob blinked back to reality with hot slimy throatflesh pressed against his face and his arms pinned to his sides by the sea lion's jaws. Charlie saw stars for a moment and when he recovered he found his maw and throat stuffed full of a bulky fish far larger than any he'd ever eaten. His jaws creaked and strained, wrapped around Bob's elbows, and even the thick fat of his neck couldn't conceal the bulge of shoulders. The texture of this fish was very odd, soft, not scaly, and it was alive!
Charlie blinked as the bulky fish began to struggle, the parts so far swallowed pressing against his gullet and bulging his neck oddly and the parts still outside thrashing to and fro. One section of the outside part braced itself against the concrete and the other hooked back and struck him atop the head, but his thick fat and equally thick skull absorbed the impact. It was all a blur to Charlie and he couldn't quite make out what sort of fish this big one was, but though it had an odd soft texture and was the wrong shape it smelled and tasted like ones he'd eaten before. Maybe the keepers found a really big one?
Whatever it was was struggling to vigorously in his throat that Charlie gagged. A couple of inches of the big fish slipped back out, wet with saliva, and he faced the choice all predators face when something maybe-too-big sticks in their craw. Spit or swallow.
Unfortunately for Bob, Charlie was a hungry sea lion and Bob let out a muffled shriek as the walls of the throat squeezed down in a rippling contraction. Charlie swallowed with all his might and for a moment Bob stuck fast in the tight-stretched throat before the thick coating of lubricating saliva on the walls allowed him to slide slowly deeper. The start of the gulp was painful for both as the sea lion struggled to get him moving and the walls of the gullet pressed in on Bob almost hard enough to crush him. By the end of it Charlie relaxed even as Bob panicked, for the sea lion's swallowing muscles proved equal to the task and he felt fangs scrape over his hips as he slid down the beast's throat.
Bob thrashed and squirmed as his head and shoulders pushed past a fleshy valve into the sea lion's long belly. A scaly mass pressed against his cheek as he encountered the mullet Charlie swallowed and thick rivulets of stomach juices soaked his hair and dripped down his forehead. Folds of belly wall slithered wetly past his cheeks as the downward slide continued and Bob yanked one hand past the squeeze of the throat-to-stomach sphincter and elbowed the inside of the sea lion with all his might.
Charlie grunted, his belly already oddly distended though his meal was still partly outside his jaws. His long torpedo body twitched on the concrete as the very unhappy yet very tasty fish protested this treatment. It wasn't the first time he swallowed a live one, the keepers sometimes released them into his tank and he found them by touch, but this was far larger than anything he'd ever swallowed. Just the same Charlie stretched out his whiskery muzzle, got his jaws around the odd bumpy texture and strange flavor of the last of his meal, and swallowed.
Bob shrieked and thrashed as he felt the sea lion's jaws close over his shoes. The hot stinging fluids burning his face and soaking through his shirt told him what would happen if he didn't escape and he kicked at the inside of Charlie's jaws and did his best to knee the sea lion in the throat. The inward pressure of thick sea lion fat made it hard to put much force behind the blows, but Charlie's swollen neck changed shape and the sea lion let out a pained grunt. Bob could sense the discomfort and nausea his struggle caused and redoubled his efforts despite the weight of meat pressing in all around him. He was half in the thing's stomach already and had no wish to stay even another second.
Charlie groaned, his belly already tight and his throat bulging from an inner struggle that made him very much want to cough up this meal. Bob's thrashing made his body twitch as though in sympathy and the long bulge in his body changed shape as the big fish tried to escape. Charlie lifted his whiskery muzzle, stretched out his nose and made one last heroic effort to finish his breakfast. Charlie swallowed, gagged, and with a final straining gulp the great bulge drained out of his thick neck to add to the long lump in his belly.
"God, no!" Bob kicked and squirmed as he felt the powerful swallowing muscles grip his legs, but with his entire body inside the sea lion he was at its mercy. Mercy was not forthcoming and he whimpered as a great contraction of its swallowing muscles pushed him neatly into its stomach. The sea beast's long body bulged oddly as he came to rest, not even the thick layer of blubber able to conceal the shape of human skull, the broad shoulders, torso, hips and taper of legs all stretched out in the thing's lengthy stomach. Charlie's torpedo of a body assumed the shape of his meal, rounded off by four-inch-thick fat but still plainly an entire man swallowed whole.
It was too late for struggle. Bob did anyway. The acids flowed in and the gurgle of digestion started even as he elbowed the slippery walls with all his might and even tried to find a fold of belly wall thin enough to bite. He tried to knee the thing as well but the weight of all the fat and muscle pushing in from all sides made movement exhausting. It was as though was were buried, entombed, wrapped in a fleshy coffin of sea lion. Two minutes before he stepped forward to happily feed Charlie a fish and new he felt the sea lion relax as it settled down to digest its meal. Bob kept fighting. It didn't save him.
Charlie groaned. His whole body cavity was stuffed full of fish, and not a bunch of little ones, either. One huge lumpy fish as long as his streamlined torso stretched his gut to new limits. It hurt everywhere, from the hard lump of skull pressing against his pelvis to the broad shoulders stretching the lower end of his ribcage wider to the torso and hips and legs and feet all stretched out in a line, making his belly stretch in length as well as width.
And the lumpy fish was still wriggling, still convinced it would get out the way it got in. Charlie had other ideas. Uncomfortable as he was, at least he was full. Bit by bit his distended belly grew used to the long lump of food and the pain eased, and at the same time the inner struggle weakened. The heat and pressure squeezed his meal into submission until finally, a few minutes after swallowing it, there was a last twitch and it was still.
The suffocating pressure, heat and lack of air was too much. Bob's desperate struggle to escape, to live, ended in the fleshy coffin of a sea lion's stomach. The last thing he heard as the wet darkness pressed in was the beast's long belch.
He missed the coughing fit that followed. Charlie gagged, burped up more air that went down with his meal, and hacked until something came up. Or two somethings, rather. Pulled off Bob's feet by the muscular undulations of Charlie's throat, two wet sneakers popped out of the sea lion's jaws to splat on the concrete.
Charlie wheezed in a breath, grateful to be able to breathe again, and blinked owlishly at the sneakers. They were dark shoe-shaped blurs on the white concrete but just the same he knew something odd had happened. He'd never coughed up anything after a meal before. Fish went in one end and came out the other. That was how it worked. Curious, he nosed one of the shoes but no, it wasn't one of the small fish that went down before the big one.
That reminded him of the bucket full of fish sitting a few feet away and he dragged his swollen body over to sniff at it. He was so full he just gave a pinniped shrug and ignored them. With a last long burp consisting mostly of the air from Bob's lungs he lay down his head and closed his eyes. Digesting a fish this big was some work. Best to nap and let his body do what it did. Big fish, small fish, food was food.
"Another day, another intern." The senior staffer grimaced as he put the sole of his shoe against Charlie's swollen midsection. Partially digested man sloshed as his heel sank in. Charlie, deep in slumber, didn't even flinch. Ever after an estimated couple of hours of digestion the shape of Bob inside the sea lion was obvious. In a few hours the bulge would soften and become a long smooth swelling as the skeleton collapsed into the mass of softened meat and it'd be at least a day before the larger bones dissolved and were passed. The last of Charlie's droppings from this meal would be chalk white with powdered bone. Their fat half-blind sea lion was just getting fatter thanks to idiots like Bob.
"These are his shoes all right." The other staffer held up a sneaker, still sticky with gullet mucus. It was slick as an oiled doorknob when wet to lubricate the slide of prey down the sea lion's throat but it dried to a gummy film in the air.
"Yep." The first staffer pushed harder on Charlie's belly and the sleeping sea lion burped. "He usually wears what, shorts and a T-shirt? Those'll go through just fine. Lucky for Charlie. Last time this happened the vet had to use an endoscope to get that shoe out of the walrus. And then there was that thing with the dolphin..."
"Interns come and interns go," the second joked. "Some go all the way through. They just look different coming out than they did going in."
"It's not funny," grumbled the first.
"Sure it is," said the second. "He went out to feed Charlie and look, he did!"
"Easy for you to laugh," complained the first. "I'm the one that has to update the safety briefing. Again."
They joked and complained a bit more as they gathered up Bob's shoes, the bucket and fish. These things happened. People snuck in at night, or foolish interns did things they shouldn't. Some got away with it, some got caught by security or fired. Some, like the softening bulge that used to be Bob, weren't so lucky.
Bob's slimy digestive fate did have one long term effect. New interns and visitors who pass by the TRAINED PERSONNEL ONLY sign now find a smaller one tacked up underneath it.
WATCH YOUR STEP, it read. YOUR FIRST SLIP MAY BE YOUR LAST.
Bob the intern is new at his job. One day he decides to feed the sea lion. And what do you know, he does.