Written by Jonathan Wojcik

Spooky Aquarium Stuff

   I'm not sure why it never occurred to me before to talk fish-tank decor in my Halloween posts. I mean, it's always had a love affair with spooky pirate skeletons and broken skulls, and some full-blown sci-fi horror aquarium figurine lines have cropped up over the past couple years that are still going strong. I guess it took one final push from a single, special item I found at Petsmart just this past week, so here you go, a tour of some of my favorite creeps your carp can crap on.

"Swimming Dead" Zombies

   These is part of a whole line of aquarium decorations under the label "The Swimming Dead," all of which glow in the dark, and all of which are colorful, charmingly cartoonish ghouls that would still look as great on your desktop or bookshelves as they would underwater, though the addition of algae and pond snails is definitely a major plus. I thought I'd lump their four most "generic" zombie figures together, though they're fairly beautiful individually or as a set, especially the ones with built-in spooky moon backgrounds. "Cartoonish" zombies like these are pretty much always more appealing than a majority of more "dramatic" undead.

"Skeleton Diver"

   There's something about old fashioned diving helmets I automatically love on damn near anything. They are by far up in my top three or four favorite categories of headgear, so you can only imagine how much I love this adorable diving-helmet sitting on a big pile of my favorite animal, holding a skull that I like to think is its own, so it basically replaced its head entirely with that helmet. It really shouldn't even be able to hold that thing up with its water-logged bones, and for that matter, that helmet isn't even the right shape for human use at all, is it?

Purple Glowing Eye Alien

   This is part of a series of aquarium aliens with glow-in-the-dark, goggle-like eyeballs, and this is one of my favorites, because it immediately reminds me of H.P. Lovecraft's monsters as they were meant to be potrayed. When Astounding Stories first published The Shadow Out of Time, these fish-eyed babies were fairly typical of what people regarded as a "creepy" monster, and in my book, still far superior to the loveless, red-eyed, gnarly-fanged horror icons we see today.

"Swimming Dead" Zombie Wolf

   As I already hinted, there's plenty more to the Swimming Dead line than its four full-bodied zombies. There's even more Swimming Dead figurines than I actually care to feature here at all, even if they all have unique charms. The Zombie Dog is the least cartoonish and most menacing of the bunch, and it's just really interesting to me that you can buy a statue of a rotting dog for your fish tank. You're decorating an aquatic pet's enclosure with a symbolic representation of an entirely different, terrestrial pet's decomposing corpse, as if to say "I want everyone to know I bought a fish primarily out of spite towards dogs."

Guitarist Skeleton

   Yes, this is a skeleton with flowing black hair shredding an electric guitar as he guards a sunken treasure chest, manufactured especially for your fish tank, and he's not alone. You can also buy two different vocalists and a drummer, all skeletons with the same identical hair. You can have an entire tiny, underwater skeleton hair band silently yet passionately playing their eternal drowned skeleton metal to an audience of uncaring tetras and plecos.

"Swimming Dead" Skull Pile

   I know this doesn't seem all that exciting, but the simple fact that just one of these skulls has luminous eyeballs really stands out to me. Is only that skull undead? Is it hiding amongst actually-dead skulls as a brilliant form of camouflage, waiting to bite at passing prey? Maybe they all used to be animate and have eyeballs, but after a long war for dominance, only one remains, sitting atop its fallen foes and just laughing, just mindless cackling in endless triumph forever and ever. Underwater.

Spooky Tree

   This is our first sampling of Petsmart's 2014 Halloween offerings, and if you want any of them, you'd better find a Petsmart in your area soon, because while the other items here are year-round, these are going to be gone by November and likely never produced again, and in our out of an aquarium, who wouldn't want a howling, angry-eyed rotten tree waving Jack O' Lanterns around in its tree arms? It's like it's throwing some whole spooky tree tantrum over them, or it's just REALLY mad that it's been trying to show you its pumpkins and you AREN'T LOOKING enough.

Horrible Fish Oubliette of Death

   I'd like to mention that Petsmart is also selling these Halloween-flavored "Betta" "habitats," and I almost thought about getting one for how cute it might be to contain one or two cockroaches or a garden snail in, but it can't be stressed enough that these things are torture for an actual betta, or any kind of pet fish. A single betta needs two and a half gallons to swim around in at a minimum, it needs a nice filtration system, and it needs a couple types of shelter to choose from. You can buy tiny "betta bowls" and "betta vases" almost anywhere you can buy pet supplies, and it's all just a cruel sham. As with goldfish, the manufacturers know you'll have to keep replacing your pet (and thus give more money to the pet supply industry) as each meets a young and unpleasant demise in a claustrophobic prison.

If for some reason you really want an aquatic animal that can survive well enough in only a fishbowl, consider planarians. You can keep a colony of those going for years in like, a mayonaisse jar.

You have to take the mayonaisse out first.

Green Glowing Eye Alien

   ...Where were we? Here's another Glowing Eyes alien, which particularly brings to mind the Great Old Ones from Mountains of Madness. Can your fragile, human mind endure the "MONSTROUSLY INDESCRIBABLE" sight of gumdrop people with wiggly googly eyes? Freaking precious. Did you know Shoggoths were supposed to look like big piles of frog eggs, too? Definitely not black roiling tar-demons with a million Todd Mcfarlane mouths.

Diver Skeleton at Ship's Helm

   While this is a lot more interesting than the other diving helmet skeleton, I had to include at least two just to prove to you that more than one exists, and their artistic styles differ just enough that I'm not entirely sure they're even all part of a series. I've seen at least five variations on Amazon. What I love about this one, however, is how it's apparently trying to steer a long sunken ship, and since nobody normally steers a ship while wearing a diving helmet, this is not a case where a captain simply went down with his vessel. This diving helmet skeleton found a sunken ship, and now he is trying to steer it. How heartbreaking is that. He's just gonna stand there in his big ridiculous helmet on the bottom of the ocean, turning that wheel until either his bones are consumed by Osedax worms or what's left of the ship is consumed by gribbles. Where does he even think he's going?!

Petsmart Aquarium Figures

   These are the smallest and cheapest of Petsmart's seasonal line, and quite a ecclectic bunch. You've got snorkeling Frankenstein's Monster, Surfing Dracula, underwater owl witch, and serene, tasteful underwater tombstone with a cheerful starfish no doubt attracted to the smell of a decaying corpse, as starfish are wont to be. All of them kind of feel like they were designed by completely different artists and would look kind of weird together.

   I guess you're probably sick of me comparing some fishbowl knick-knacks to Lovecraft, but too bad. Here's two more of those aliens. I actually have the jellyfish-like one, the smallest and most affordable of the series, but the blue thing with the owl-eyes and the weird brainy knob on its head is also lovely. Seriously, these things do a better job of being "Lovecraftian" than virtually anything else that's ever deliberately aimed to be described that way. If you still don't think so, here's one more piece of Astounding Stories art from the man's lifetime:

Now that's what I'm talking about. Stop throwing identical green keth'lu'thulnus at me. Let's get back to real "eldritch horror" and draw giant carrots with pac-man eyes again.

If you think I'm being sarcastic you must be really new around here.

"No Toilet" Skeleton

   What is our obsession with skeletons sitting on toilets? Why would a skeleton be sitting on a toilet at the bottom of the ocean? For that matter, who put up a "NO TOILET" sign immediately next to a toilet? The sign even has a place for presumably waterproof toilet paper to go, what kind of bizarre mixed message is this even trying to send?

...Wait, I think I get it. Originally there was just a "NO TOILET" sign, and this skeleton was just so punk he went and installed a toilet exactly where someone specifically requested there not be one, then he even had the audacity to use the sign itself as a toilet paper holder and immediately set about using that very toilet. Of all the irreverent punk-ass skeletons we've seen, I think this one has clearly achieved maximum punkocity.

Petsmart Fish Mausoleum

   You got a glimpse of this earlier, and from the front, it's just a perfectly ordinary looking mausoleum, complete with a couple of headstones and what is either an actual bat or a stone carving of a sleeping bat, which isn't something any mausoleum has probably ever had, but every mausoleum probably should.

   It's only when you turn the mausoleum to the side that you get to see what makes it so special; skeletal fish reliefs! They look just enough like nondescript decorative patterns that you can completely miss their piscoid nature, but there's no mistaking that this mausoleum was actually meant to be underwater. It's actually for fish. Possibly vampire fish.

"Swimming Dead" Zombie Skull

   This is the one Swimming Dead figurine I actually own, and I just find everything about it distinctly attractive. It's just the right shade of ghastly, bloodless blue, really bringing out the pink edges of its half-lidded eyeballs. I wound up ordering one of these especially to use in an actual aquarium, and an aquarium set up exclusively for my first-ever actual, bona-fide pet leeches. Here is a shoddy picture of them eating frozen beef heart:

   These weren't the long-lived, medicinal-grade bloodsuckers, of course; those are much harder to acquire if you're not a scientist or a doctor. What you see here are just "bait quality" ribbon leeches, omnivorous scavengers who only live about a year and were already adults when I acquired them. I'm happy to say they continued living another four months of elderly leech years in my care, I still have one left as I type this, and they actively used that zombie head. When there were still half a dozen of them, they were almost always lying together in a pile directly in that fake zombie's mouth. And yes, when they decided to swim, they often swam in and out of its fractured head-hole. I should probably just keep ordering leeches every time they pass way, keep refreshing them like people buy fresh flower arrangements every so many months. I'll definitely be needing more, in any case, if I'm going to get some mileage out of another, more recent acquisition.

Petsmart Fish Coffin

   This is it; this is the one item that gave me a pressing urge to write an entire page about haunted goldfish statues. There are actually quite a few aquarium coffin decorations on the market, designed to hook up to an aerator and open up as bubbles flow through them, but they usually just house more pirate skeletons. Open this one up, and you get an appropriate yet surprisingly rare surprise:

   How. Cute. Is. That. Not only a fish skeleton, but a happy fish skeleton. Who is even burying fish in coffins and mausoleums? What is this, the Bikini Bottom graveyard? The one where Mr. Krabs fought an army of fish skeletons over a soda drinking hat? That was such a good episode, wasn't it? Spongebob used to be so so good.

   ...............Anyway the best part of the fish coffin is how similar it is in size and style to the non-aquarium, closeable decorative coffin I was given in 2010, and I've always made good on my original promise to open it during the Halloween season alone, officially signifying that Halloween is in its "on" position. Now, at long last, Halloween can also be activated for fish, whether or not they possess the cognitive faculties to know and appreciate it.

But seriously, Spongebob. What happened. It was hysterical. It was a cultural treasure. Who could forget that chocolate episode? Or Rock Bottom? Oh man. I don't think I've ever seen a cartoon go from consistently excellent to consistently unfunny and terrible so abruptly, so thoroughly, and so permanently. Usually a show can have both brilliant episodes and complete stinkers from time to time, but it's been years now since anybody writing on Spongebob Squarepants has managed to churn out a completely good episode. It's incredible. I feel like even if they pulled random people off the street to write each new episode, people with no experience at all, they could still do better. Ugh.

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