Robert Feeney is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing working on a novel inspired by the life and work of the Irish-born Japanophile writer Lafcadio Hearn. Robert goes back to another natural crisis in 2011 in this piece of short fiction. Mona Lynch who graduated from the MA in Creative Writing in 2017 considers the virus in mythical terms.
BLACK AND RED
The man is swept from the bridge by a tsunami of dark water and sports cars. No matter how many times he watches this, he can’t tell what the man is doing in those final moments. That’s probably a phone in his hand, but it could be a small book. The camera is too far away. The man is just an insect. The clip finishes and the newsreader returns. He can’t hear what she’s saying. Nami, the bartender, has the TV muted. She plays light jazz from a DJ setup in the corner. The TV is normally set to some soft porn channel, but that seems crass now. The man was some daughter’s father, some mother’s son.
In about ten minutes, the power will go off. It’s a scheduled cut, part of a national power-saving initiative. Kris deals the cards quickly, so they can get one more game in before the lights go out. The game is skulls and roses, but now they just call it black and red.
“Paul got a ticket on the Thursday flight out of Osaka. Twenty-four-hour stopover in China though.”
Paul is a traitor. Paul is a coward. He doesn’t even have the excuse of children. They’ll have to cover his classes while he eats his mother’s rank cooking. When classes begin again.
“I hope the Chinese detect and cut off his irradiated cock.”
Kris flips over a card. It’s a skull, no, black. He smashes the counter with his palm. Nami comes over, refreshes the complimentary dishes of corn nuts. Normally it would be potato sticks, but they come from Fukushima, so supplies are low. Corn nuts are fine, but they wreak havoc on your teeth. And no-one wants anything else to go wrong; no trip to the dentist, no lost credit card, no unexpected call from mum at three am because she’s forgotten the time difference. It’s too much right now. Kris flips over a card. It’s red. Nami changes the channel. The man gets swept away again. Maybe it is a book.
Nami shows them a video on her phone. A Russian man is testing tap water in Tokyo with a Geiger counter. It’s fine. Everything is fine. Nami makes a good White Russian. It’s good because it’s about nine parts vodka. It dissolves the bits of corn nut that get stuck in your teeth. The windows in the bar are tinted, but outside they can see people hurrying home, back to their families. They’re probably hurrying because the power is going off in a few minutes.
Last night, after Nami’s, he went home and realised the cockroach traps had been empty since the meltdown. He says this to Kris, who’s deep in thought. He needs to turn over one more red to win. A man outside is in so much of a hurry, he falls over in the street. Paul was always rushing about, always running, the stupid bastard. When something bad happens, the trick is not to run. Just sit still on a bar stool and let it flow past.
Nami taps her watch. She left her phone on the bar and now it’s showing the man again. He probably gets crushed by a car before he drowns. Hopefully it was a good book. Kris is frozen. There are only two cards left, so it’s a straight fifty-fifty to win, nothing much to think about at all. He finally makes a decision and flips over a card, just as the lights go out. Everything is so silent, Kris’ breath sounds like a sigh.
They sit in the dark for a while, until Nami sweeps them out the door.
REVENGE ON THE WORLD
Elena was leading a stolen life with a man she loved, who had no idea that the girl he had met basking on the rocks below his house – who stole his heart – was a selkie. As news of a dreaded virus spread through the land, she knew her time was up.
She loved her underwater family from the tiny periwinkles to the giant octopus.
The mollusc family was in the forefront of the revolt. They had suffered most due to increasing human activity. They had tried minor kickbacks; they could cause anaphylactic shocks. Their snails in the Philippines caused death to thousands, hosting a fluke disease. In India they fought back with another intestinal fluke. In America their clams and mussels fought back with poisoning and the conus omaria used its venomous sting to inflict injury and even death.
But these efforts did nothing to stop the devastation. Their families were being used for aphrodisiacs, as medicine for sore throats and coughs.
Windowpane oysters were being used in a plasma for youth and vitality. Paolin from oysters was extracted for use in polio and flu vaccines, venom from Conus as a muscle relaxant. Snails were being wiped out in the Mediterranean, their glands harvested for a dye that did not fade for 100 years. There was greed for their pearls stolen from the oyster shells. Add to this the massive fish markets where humans delighted in buying molluscs to boil while still alive, enjoying their cries of pain.
Elena had grown up with the fear of extinction all around her.
They needed to teach humans a lesson. They enrolled the help of the electric eel, knowing they could spread the word to the population in the Sargasso Sea, who migrated to Europe, and through the Panama Canal to the South China Sea. China with its vast fish markets was chosen for the first strike.
Razor fish from the Yangtze river volunteered, knowing that due to human activity, their neurotoxin had become more insidious having morphed into a virus which when they were sufficiently aroused and angry they could spit out onto an unsuspecting host.
As the virus spread, Elena knew what she had to do.
That night she left Cathal’s bed, ran barefoot through the night garden, through a pathway edged with spring buds where daffodils were already in bloom. A full moon guided her as she made her way down to the cave hidden under the overhanging cliff. Moonlight sent enough shafts of light through the entrance to show her where she had hidden her seal skin.