(This is in response to a writing challenge in Jeff VanderMeer's Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction)
The polka-dotted bat-flounder always wanted to be an opera singer. She balances on the slim fins of her tail, somehow, amid a tangle of ribbons and roses, her head flung back and mouth open in an ecstasy of sound. Her bat wings, as spotted as the rest of her, are open in a gesture of expansion, curiously human, as is the smile on her fishy face. It is all meant to show her total enthusiasm for the project of singing opera, for her ambition.
Of course, a flounder's head is always flung back. They have no necks. We don't wonder where her voice came from, just as we let her wings pass unquestioned. She wants to be an opera singer, and that is enough to allow her to sing. But to sing well...that is another matter. This is where the critic comes in.
He leans against a stack of books, ink pot at his feet, a book in one hand while the other strokes his lengthy and pedantic beard. His brow is furrowed in thought. An owl sits on one shoulder; a parrot on the other. (It wouldn't make sense for him to have a demon and an angel, after all. He is his own conscience). What he says depends on which one he listens to, but it is a fact that the parrot talks more. The owl only asks questions. The critic, in response to them, says "Hmm," or sometimes, "Undoubtedly!" neither of which are actually answers.
The operatic bat-flounder believes the critic is here to help her, but that isn't his job, not precisely. Any help he provides is coincidental to his true purpose. He isn't here to make an announcement, either. He is here to judge.