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Sea Canaries

Originally published in Anemone Enemy in 2017

I told the department not to send you,” Professor Eric Tyler said as I exited the chopper. He didn’t shake my hand. He just turned and walked away, so I followed. We were heading for a make-shift cool room which had been shipped in from Perth.

     “Have you made any progress ID-ing the body?” I asked.

     “Bodies,” Eric corrected.

     I stopped. “There’s more than one?”

     “They’ve been washing up all morning. Ten so far.”

     “Any other debris?”

     “It’s not the missing plane,” Eric said.

     “How do you—“

     “See for yourself.” He wrenched open the door to the cool room. The temperature change was welcome. Northern WA was usually hot, but with the cyclone season getting longer, the air was thick with moisture. My sense of relief was short lived.

     Two yellow, bloated bodies were laid out on tables, draped with thick plastic. Another seven bags were piled at the end of the small room. Eric pulled back the cover on the nearest body.

     Totally hairless, it was impossible to place the gender, despite the mostly intact face. The eyelids were so tightly closed that they sunk over the collapsed eyes. I couldn’t guess how long the person had been in the water, but something had eaten its ears off so cleanly that no wound was visible.

     “His eyes aren’t closed,” Eric said. He put his fingers on the cheek and brow and pulled. The skin went taught; unblemished and unbroken.

     “Have you seen that deformity before?” I fought to hold my voice steady.

     “Yeah, I have. Nine other times actually.” He pulled back the plastic from the second body. It was also eyeless and earless.

     “How...” I took a closer look. Inch-long cuts ran in parallel down the side of its throat. “Was this injury sustained post-mortem?”

     “It’s not an injury. They’re gills, hence the lack of ears,” Eric said, as if one fact followed the other.

     The door opened and three men brought in another large body-bag. Sweat beaded on their dark skin like diamonds as they quickly dropped it on the pile. All three averted their eyes from the freakshow on the tables, leaving without a word.

     “They think it’s a sign,” Eric explained. “An end of days portent.” He shook his head but his eyes remained on the body closest to us. “And they’re right,” he added.

     “You don’t strike me as the superstitious type.”  

     “I’m not. I’m a scientist.” He indicated the jaundice flesh. “Kinked tissue walls, de-pigmentation of the skin. These creatures were made for deep-sea living. They probably washed up from the Java trench.” An expression between sorrow and fear flashed across his face before the scientist in him wrestled back control. “They appear to share our mitochondrial DNA. Distant cousins we didn’t even know we had.” He stood up and turned away. “Not until we started killing them.”


     “These beings didn’t drown,” Eric said, turning back to face me. “The trade-off for evolving for life at such great pressure was being powerless against temperature and acidity changes. They probably went as deep as they could go. They had nowhere left to escape.”

     The door opened again. One of the men from before stepped inside, his eyes still downcast. “Professor, another group is washing in.” He briefly glanced at the body. “At least twenty more.”

     Eric looked at me. “Soon we’ll have nowhere to go either.”


The End


© 2017 & 2024 Natalie J. E. Potts

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