The fishermen saw the island first, erupting out of the sea, a boil on the ocean, spitting its toxic gas into the atmosphere. They felt heat reaching out with burning fingers, branding the side of their boats. They pulled their nets in, the nylon slipping and knotting in their hands. Fish slid onto the wet deck, dead, blistered, inedible. They tossed them overboard and left the area, with their holds and bellies empty. They did not wait to see the pitted black mass rise to its full height. They were too busy starting their motors, and shielding their eyes from the volcanic ash that rained down.
They were nearly home when the Red Sea parted and a sheet of scalded squid, with fused tentacles, floated to the surface. Giant Moray Eels, more accustomed to hiding in crevices, writhed and tangled in escape. Sharks chased their tails like dogs on heat.
The island rose, majestic, clothed in limpets and barnacles. The people of West Yemen, safe on the shore, witnessed smoke bellowing from its crater, 65 feet into the air and the thick syrupy lava that spewed out onto the sea’s surface. They recorded its rise as a miracle. A new volcanic island, just 35 miles away, now part of their historic landscape.
Journalists arrived to interview them. The fishermen retold their stories, sticking to the facts; size, shape, density and location. They did not know how to explain the unease they felt when the island had erupted, the way the heat seemed to draw them in, or the stench of death.
The satellites merely recorded the size of the land mass, before and after the eruption.
But there was more to this new island than a landmark. Hidden inside its angular walls, a swarm of predatory shrimp had hatched. With black carapaces and claws like garden shears, they feasted on fish carcasses, broiled to death by the heat. Their chattering was masked from the outside by the thud of falling rocks, as they rubbed their front legs together.
Once sated, some of the shrimp swam through tiny holes in the volcanic rock. But most moved in swarms towards the centre of the volcano, where magma bubbled; a cauldron of intent.
They waited, as they had been waiting for five hundred years, for the lava to lift them out of obscurity. The shrimp rode on the red molten crest, scattered like seed, into the surrounding sea. They re-grouped in back waves, a mass of writhing bodies surging forward, easing their insatiable hunger. They nibbled the flesh of everything they passed. Even sharks, the white-tip and the tiger, more used to stripping others’ flesh, hung suspended in the water, their life torn from them.
The shrimp took their time gorging. They were feasters, created to clear the seas in preparation for what was to come. They had one purpose only, and those lost on the journey were absorbed by the mass that followed.
The island continued to spew the creatures out, and the sea around turned a dense black. The shrimp grew as they devoured the marine life, until they were the size of lobsters, with claws strong enough to snap bone.
On the seventh day, the destruction was complete. The orange coral that had swayed in thick throngs lay shredded, grey and broken on the ocean floor. The fish that had once darted in the depths, their rainbow colours shimmering, had been obliterated. There were no more predators to play hide and seek. The Red Sea had been cleansed.
When the bodies of the shrimp washed up on the shores of West Yemen, the fishermen looked to God for answers. As the giant black carcasses rotted on hot sand, they prayed for the sea to repair itself. The people came to believe it was the sea’s equivalent of a swarm of locusts, certain that when the new island stopped smoking, the fish would return, like the oil spills before.
They changed fishing routes, favouring the Arabian Sea, never once considering that the events were more than an act of God or a freak of nature; a one off. They remained unaware of the other eleven islands, lying dormant under the ocean, harbouring species evolved with one purpose, to consume and clean, ready for repopulation.
Sue L Dawes lives in the far reaches of Essex, England. Since completing an MA in creative writing at Lancaster University, she has been working on her first novel, a crime thriller. Sue finds writing flash fiction is a great way to get focused, and particularly enjoys writing in the genres of sci-fi, horror and mystical realism. When family life allows, Sue can either be found daydreaming on her allotment, or at the local railway station, where she runs ‘Off the Rails’, an adoption scheme which showcases local art and literature (http://offtherailswivenhoe.blogspot.com).