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Food Chain: Fiction by Phil Temples
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The Broken Seashore and the Fishermen: Poem by Partha Sarkar
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Phil Temples: Food Chain

97_ym_foodchain_davis.jpg
Art by Michael D. Davis 2023

Food Chain

 

by Phil Temples

 

 

Jimmy Dexter, 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.

The microscope 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 package—"

His mother 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.

"Where do you think you’re going with one of my canning jars?"

Jimmy was 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!

Although 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.

The following 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.

#

The following 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. Patrick Whiting.

"Mr. President, if this situation persists—and there’s no reason to believe it will not—we’re facing a worldwide catastrophe—essentially, a ‘Doomsday scenario.’" 

"But it’s only the tiny, single-celled organisms that are affected, right? I mean—that’s not as bad as an entire species—like birds or fish—going extinct." 

A moment passed. The President turned and faced his chief science advisor. In a more subdued, and far less confident voice, he asked,

"Is it?"

"I’m 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."

Whiting started to say more, and then he paused.

"What is 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."

"Well, it’s 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."

"Huh," said 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? How long until people start to die?"

"Rough estimates are seven to ten days. People will begin to feel the effects within the next 24 hours."

The President sank into his chair. He let out a long sigh.

"Bob, get 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 my watch."

Within days, 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 her planet. 

Soon, mammals 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.

#

The small 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.

The burning 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 had five 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.



If Charles Addams, Edgar Allan Poe, and Willy Wonka sired a bastard child it would be the fat asthmatic by the name of Michael D. Davis. He has been called warped by dear friends and a freak by passing strangers. Michael started drawing cartoons when he was ten, and his skill has improved with his humor, which isn’t saying much. He is for the most part self-taught, only ever crediting the help of one great high school art teacher. His art has been shown at his local library for multiple years only during October due to its macabre nature. If you want to see more of Michael’s strange, odd, weird, cartoons you can follow him on Instagram at mad_hatters_mania.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2023