age 14, of Milford, Delaware, was quite probably the
first person to discover it. A few days later, grownups also began to take
notice. Smart people, mostly scientists. People from all over the planet.
was his pride and joy. He had saved up almost $200
from his paper route to buy it. Jimmy placed the order online, and after nearly
a week of waiting, the UPS man delivered the package to Jimmy’s mother while
Jimmy was at school. When he got home, Jimmy rushed into the kitchen, and
without even saying, "Hi mom," he instead asked, "Did a
grinned and nodded, stopping him in mid-sentence, then
walked over to the counter and handed Jimmy the box. Jimmy eagerly tore into it
and carefully removed the contents, inspecting it with admiration. He ran over
to the kitchen cabinet and grabbed a glass container.
you think you’re going with one of my canning
half way out the back door before his mom finished with
her question. He kept running for almost a quarter of a mile until he reached
Fishers Pond. He assumed that a small sample should contain millions of single
and multi-celled organisms for him to peruse with his new microscope.
It was a
humid, sunny afternoon in late spring. The pond was thick
with green slime. Dragonflies and other bugs were buzzing to and fro, just
above the surface. Jimmy bent down at the water’s edge, unscrewed the lid, and
carefully dipped the jar into the water, capturing some of the algae along with
the liquid. After screwing the lid on tightly, Jimmy darted back home. Up in
his bedroom, he quickly collected a small sample and placed the pond water onto
a viewing slide.
To say that
Jimmy was disappointed would have been an
understatement. In fact, his initial reaction was one of disbelief. There was
no life at all visible in the sample! He compared it with tap water from the
bathroom faucet. There was no discernable difference between the two samples.
Jimmy discarded the slide and prepared another. Again, he observed the same
result. And again, on the third and the fourth ...
What am I doing
wrong? Jeez, Louise! This
microscope is broken!
something was obviously botched, Jimmy carefully recorded
the results of his first-ever experiment in the laboratory notebook he had
purchased just last week at the bookstore. Feeling defeated, Jimmy went
downstairs and washed up for dinner.
day, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center
in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Falmouth,
Massachusetts, were making similar observations to Jimmy’s. Interestingly,
they, too, arrived at the same initial conclusion as Jimmy did. Something must
be broken with the equipment. Except, the scientists had many
microscopes as well as other sophisticated pieces of equipment with which to
confirm the initial readings. After repeated tests, there was no doubt in their
minds: something was causing the disappearance of simple life forms in their
laboratories—indeed, across the planet.
day, the President of the United States and other
key cabinet members received a top-secret briefing about the crisis from the
Chairman of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Dr.
if this situation persists—and there’s no
reason to believe it will not—we’re facing a worldwide catastrophe—essentially,
a ‘Doomsday scenario.’"
only the tiny, single-celled organisms that are
affected, right? I mean—that’s not as bad as an entire species—like birds or
passed. The President turned and faced his chief science
advisor. In a more subdued, and far less confident voice, he asked,
afraid it’s infinitely worse," replied Whiting.
"Not even taking into account the destruction of crops and livestock, you
see, sir, the human colon harbors one of the densest microbial communities
found on Earth. For every human cell in your body, there are roughly ten
single-celled microbes. Without those microbes in our gut, we’ll soon be unable
to digest food. Already we’re seeing evidence of die-off of these microbes in
test subjects all over the world."
to say more, and then he paused.
it, Pat? There’s no need to hold back on anything
now. I don’t suppose anything you have to say could make matters worse."
just that it’s very mysterious. It may not help
us solve this dilemma, but the bacteria and other one-celled organisms don't
actually die. Instead, they’re disappearing right before our eyes."
the president. There was no emotion in his
voice—only a simple acknowledgment of a scientific mystery. Of course, the
scientists who would collect data and conduct research until the very end of
mankind’s existence were speculating over this critical piece of data,
wondering if it held any answers to the impending apocalypse. But they were
quickly running out of time.
How long until people start to die?"
are seven to ten days. People will begin to
feel the effects within the next 24 hours."
sank into his chair. He let out a long sigh.
the top religious leaders in here for a meeting
within the hour. It’s time to draft a message for the nation. Let’s hope that
the people of this great land will have the courage to die with dignity and not
riot in the streets and kill one another. So help me God, I’ll not have that on
more complex life forms began to disappear. Insects,
birds, fish, and snakes were the first to blink out of existence. There was no
disputing it. Eyewitness accounts numbered in the millions. One second, they
were there. The next, they were PHOOF! Gone. Cults preached of the
Rapture, and new-age environmentalists claimed that Gaia had come to reclaim
like dogs, cats, cows, horses, and other farm
animals were also disappearing. The swine were the next to go. Later, apes
began to go missing from laboratories and zoos.
waves lapped gently against a large female humpback
whale. She was a part of a pod of fifteen humpbacks who were situated off the
coast of Hawaii. A stream of air and mist rose from her twin blowholes. She
dove, and soon rejoined the cacophony of moans, howls, cries, and other noises
of the conversation in progress.
question on the minds of all the pod members that day
was: "Where have all the krill, plankton, and fish gone?" Then one of
their pod posed the seemingly insignificant question:
"Where are the humans?"
Phil Temples resides in Watertown, Massachusetts. He's
mystery-thriller novels, a novella, and two story anthologies published, in
addition to over 180 short stories online in: The London Independent
Story Prize; Wilderness House Literary Review; Boston Literary
Magazine; and Ariel Chart; to name but a few. Phil is a member
of New England Science Fiction Association, the Mystery Writers of America, and
the Bagel Bards. You can learn more about him at https://temples.com.