by Jennifer Lynn Krohn
It started with the goldfish; slender metallic orange bodies propelling themselves out of bowls into the suffocating air. By the end of fifth grade, all of the class’s goldfish were dead. Lily, my former best friend, claimed it was because the water lacked oxygen, but I knew it was because we cornered Caroline in the empty classroom during recess and forced her to swallow one of the little fish. She had cursed me, or maybe it was karma. Lily said, “Weird how you keep talking about Caroline.”
I thought as long as I avoided fish tanks there’d be no more deaths. Then my sixth grade math class was interrupted by a thud. Blood was smeared on the window, and a sparrow, neck broken, was sprawled on the ground below. At lunch, Lily sat at a different table and meticulously avoided eye contact with me.
Worms baked on hot sidewalks. Squirrels and raccoons threw themselves in front of my parents’ cars and the school bus. Pigeons, doves, crows, and even a blue macaw dive-bombed the sides of my house, the school, and the doctor’s office. Cats choked to death on mouse bones, and dogs became rabid and were put down.
By high school, everyone recognized that death followed me. My sophomore biology class went on a field trip to the local aquarium. Students crowded around a shallow pool and watched rays swimming in circles as teachers yelled for them to keep their hands out of the water. The rays’ wide diamond shapes thrashed and careened into the sides of the pool. One, then another, and another catapulted out and convulsed on the carpet as teenagers screamed. I ran out of the building, but as I passed one fish tank after another, I could hear the aquatic life smash into the glass. Bang after bang, bodies killing themselves.
That night I decided to apologize to Caroline. Maybe she would lift the curse. I found her on Facebook and sent a message. I received no reply. I’ve checked her wall several times every day, but five months have passed since she last posted.
Two nights ago, I dreamed that sun-dried worms and crunched June bugs tried to crawl between my lips. I kept my jaw clenched, but I couldn’t breathe. This feeling must have been what Caroline had felt as Lily held her nose. She had to open her mouth to breathe, and that’s when I thrust the goldfish so far back she couldn’t help but swallow it. I gasped in my dream, and the bugs scurried down my throat. Angelfish, clownfish, garter snakes, frogs, and toads broken, smashed, and dehydrated followed. Then shattered, fluttering wings of swallows, blue jays, turtle doves, crows, magpies, parrots and cockatoos. Every splattered and bashed squirrel, raccoon, cat, dog, and coyote squeezed through my esophagus. My stomach bulged. I thought I would explode. Instead the bulbous flesh became a limpid blue that swarmed with goldfish. Every animal I swallowed, another goldfish joined the school. It would not stop growing until I swallowed every living thing: elephants, whales, giant squid, sequoias, and human beings. I woke.
Each breath I take, each time my heart beats, I am guilty of murder. I am a catastrophe; I am extinction, the comet that killed the dinosaurs. There is only one ethical thing for me to do, but, before I take that leap, I call Lily and leave her a message to meet me on the bridge over the gorge. After all, it was her idea to go back in the classroom when we realized Caroline was alone. She’ll listen to the message and then delete it, but I suspect the sound of my voice will be enough.