Concept Art Writing Prompt: Flight of the Fish Airships

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: Flight of the Fish Airships

We love a good airship, but what about airships made of giant floating fish monsters? What kind of stories take place in a city in which these creatures fill the skies?


This week's concept art piece is "Floating Fish" by Mats Minnhagen, via The Art of Animation. You can see the full image below. Study it, let its fishiness work its way into your brain, and see what kind of story you can come up with—and post it in the comments.

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: Flight of the Fish Airships

Here's my story:

Bela Bellí came up with the idea for the ridiculous airships over lunch. He was halfway through his battered cod and french fries when he held up a half-eaten tender, struck by a bolt of tartar-fueled inspiration. "Fish and ships!" he cried out. Then he repeated the phrase several times, the pronouncement getting softer after each bite of fish. Bellí always had been fond of puns.

Bellí was a famous eccentric, and while the public had little use for his singing toast or stuffed puffins that screamed when turned upside down, orders poured in for his floating fish airships. The bloated beasts ate special pellets that they could convert into a gas that was lighter than air, and the operator could regulate the rate of the conversion process.

Bellí christened the first ship the "Findenburg," which made Noreen, his mechanic, roll her eyes. If there was one thing Bellí liked more than puns, it was tempting fate. Noreen quietly invested in a caterpillar train endeavor.

For a while, the fish ships floated through the city if not majestically, then at least efficiently. They bypassed the crowded streets, and could haul more than even the sturdiest mule. (Although there was a distinct increase in injuries by falling parcel.) During the downpours of monsoon season, they hovered high above the mud, happy as fish in water.

When the first fish ship exploded, it was easy to write off as an accident. Maybe the fish ate too much. Maybe the operator ramped up the conversion too quickly. But soon the skies were filled with schools of fishy fireballs. When it was discovered that the roasted debris was not just edible, but quite tasty (with a note, some people insisted, of cayenne pepper), Noreen realized this was another one of Bellí's jokes.

Bellí insisted the problem was that fish were simply too flammable. Sea cows, he assured his customers, would make more stable airships. He even knew a gene tweak that could make them as a big as whales.

Noreen, who had seen Bellí's old recordings of the Hidenburg disaster, could spot a pun a mile away. After closing on each new airship order, she sent Bellí's customers across the street, where her cousin was making a killing in insurance.

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It was a balmy day in early Summer. Shanna stood amongst the bustling crowd of parade-goers. She felt the fishbowl sloshing around under her arm as she anxiously shuffled her feet on the spot. The whirr-pop of firecrackers entered the confetti-filled air, mixing with the cheers and screams of children and adults alike.

She noticed the family to her right standing and staring upward in awe as the giant fish slowly crept around the bend. The children pointed as its bloated body bobbed and swayed, suspended in the air. Then behind it, another one emerged, and then another. The crowd went wild.

Shanna turned to leave, as the water in the fishbowl under her arm sloshed again. "Herman," she said loudly enough to be heard over the commotion, "I think I'm going to be sick." Covering her mouth, she picked up the pace, heading for an alley to escape and collect her thoughts.

"Ey, now. Cut that out, missy!" A tiny cockney voice shouted up from the bowl. "Ya gonna spill me right outta me 'ome, if ya don slow down!"

Shanna looked down and grinned at the little pink-and-orange scaled fish as it frowned over the lip of the clear glass bowl. His flippers comically hanging on for dear life. "Sorry, Herman," she said, "I just need to get out of here. I can't watch this anymore."

Herman flashed his razor-sharp teeth. "Oh yeh? 'Ow duya think I feel?"

The pair slipped away into a relatively quiet alley to discuss their next move. Shanna pulled over an old wooden crate and sat down, placing Herman's bowl on her lap. She grimaced as she attempted to set aside the nauseating scene she had just witnessed.

When her turning stomach calmed she brushed away the strands of brunette hair that stuck to her forehead in the midday heat. "We need to get to the top of that building over there." She pointed up to a tall, rundown-looking building a block away that would provide a decent vantage point, as well as a safe distance from charges when they went off.

"Why there?" Herman asked, somewhat worried about the answer he was going to get.

"Because," Shanna said as she got to her feet and began the brisk stroll to their destination, "we'll need to be safe from the security patrols—oh, and the explosions."

"E-e-explosions? What in the bloodly blue blazed are ya plannin'? If a single one a me family is hurt, missy. Yer gonna be next!"

"Relax, Herman." Shanna shot back. "The explosions aren't much more than big firecrackers, really. It'll be just enough to snap the cables and set my friends—and your family, free."

Herman looked incredulous. "Oh? Is tha' so? And when the wind picks up and they float away, what then? We jus' wave bye-bye and that's it?"

Shanna stopped in her tracks and held Herman up to eye level, some water spilled over the lip. In that instant, she realized that they were standing just shy of a security patrol, and the group of uniformed guards slowly walked by, looking quizzically in her and Herman's direction. Shanna ignored them and played cool.

Luckily their attention was drawn to a rowdy scuffle had broken out further down the street. They moved on.

Shanna looked Herman directly in his bulgy green eyes and sighed. "Listen, I need you to trust me. If I hadn't saved you from that hellish fish-blimp processing facility I just so happened to be working at, you'd be up in the air along with your family."

"Maybe I'dda been better off!" Herman bubbled back at her. Shanna shook her head. "I just need you to trust me, Herman. I'm going to save everyone. Once we get up to that building, I'm going to detonate the charges. After that, we just need to pray. I'm counting on Franny and her airship to wrangle them in before the wind takes them. After that, we're heading for the ocean!"

"I'll believe it when I see it! Oh, and who the bloody hell is Franny?"

"My sister." Shanna said. "My family to your family, Herman." Herman frowned and swam to hide behind a piece of coral—the only other thing in his bowl besides him.

Frustrated, Shanna placed the fishbowl back under her arm, and she continued her steady jaunt to the old building. After walking the long city block, and pushing her way through the Blimp Day crowds, she and Herman had arrived. She made the exhausting climb up the 10 flights of rickety stairs, Herman silently sloshing around in his bowl, too angry to even complain.

When they reached the top, she placed the fishbowl on a concrete ledge to give Herman a good view, she then reached into her shorts pocket and dug out a small black remote control. She looked back over her shoulder at her friend. "Are you ready?" Herman frowned and bobbed up and down slightly in his water to signify a nod.

Shanna hit the button and waited. Nothing happened. She looked back again at Herman. He shrugged, and turned around to face the concrete behind him. Shanna let out a frustrated sigh and slouched down to her knees. A few more seconds when by, and then she could hear it. POP POP POP POP POP POP. The small explosions went off in succession. Herman spun around to get a look. Shanna grabbed the fishbowl and darted back to the ledge of the building. The huge menacing blimp-fish rose up in front of them like painted zeppelins heading off to war. The crowds screamed below, first with delight, then with terror as the people watched their precious Blimp Day monstrosities floating away.

Shanna held her breath as she and Herman waited for the whirring hum of Franny's airship, The Pegasus. "Come on, Franny. Where are you?"

Herman's family began to float up above the tops of the surrounding buildings. They were higher in the air than where Shanna was standing. She spotted security guards on the tops of nearby buildings trying to grab ahold of the ropes that dangled from the giant fish. The wind was picking up now, and Shanna began to worry that their entire plan was for nothing.

Just then the massive gunmetal grey airship rose over the horizon. The powerful turbines kicking up a storm of dust and confetti. The security opened fire on the ship to little effect. A hatch on the ship's underside opened and a huge make-shift fishing net dropped out and snatched up the three fish blimps with ease. It then zipped out of sight.

"Talk about an entrance!" Herman shouted from the lip of his bowl. Shanna jumped and wooted, unable to contain herself. More water spilled from the bowl. "Ey! Watch it!"

"Sorry, Herman. Lets get out of here." Shanna turned and ran for the other side of the building. She put the fishbowl under her arm and sprinted for the shoddy rope bridge that connect to another rundown warehouse. They crossed the bridge, it swayed and jerked from side to side with every step, but Shanna barely noticed. She then darted for a rusty water tower and began the climb up the precarious ladder that she hoped would hold her weight.

When they reached the shingled top, Shanna doubled over to catch her breath. She brushed away the hair from her forehead and waited. "What now?" Herman asked.

"We wait," Shanna puffed. Another moment passed, and the familiar wirring hum of the airship returned. This time a large rope ladder was dangling from the deck. Shanna could see her sister waving down to them. As she reached up to grab the ladder that would take them all to the sea and safety, she looked down to her little fish friend in his bowl and said, "I told ya we'd do it."

Herman grinned as he grabbed tight on the lip of his bowl and away they flew.