by Ava Bergen
2nd Place – Flash 405, June 2017: “Nemesis”
When the first human babies were born with gills, I guess the world could finally agree. Or at least, we could agree to disagree about why the babies had gills. What remained entirely indisputable was that for some reason, in the year 2030, every single drooling baby flopped into existence with webbed fingers and little slits on the side of their necks. Doctors were freaking out. Parents were freaking out. Snapchat stories were FREAKING OUT. You were lucky, when you were born. I heard that before the gill-babies became recognized as a worldwide phenomenon they were murdered for the world’s own good. Killed in a fear-mongering, “Is this baby the antichrist/sign of the impending apocalypse?” kind of way.
But when you popped out of Mom with your wriggling webby fingers the world had pretty much agreed that, “I guess this is happening. I guess the world is a real life X-Men movie.”
I’m pretty jealous of you, to be honest. I even hate you a little bit. I’m your older brother, and see, I don’t have gills. I can’t breathe both air and water, like you can. When you grow up and your evolved peers build underwater cities and underwater Disney World and all that shit, I won’t be able to go with you. I’m pissed, dude. The sea is rising, and California is underwater, and we’re all pissed, all the kids without gills.
And I guess the world is pissed too. We can’t play, “Who’s got the biggest nuclear bomb?” anymore, we’re just trying to figure out what’s happening with the human race. You’re happily gurgling and splashing in the newly installed living-room aquarium, racing the family catfish, and every damn thing is about you. TIME magazine says you’re “Humanity’s New Hope” and yesterday I heard some girl was actually born with fins. It’s starting. You’re evolving faster and faster, and you’re leaving us behind.
Will we fight? Will you grow up to hate me? Will we have anything in common? After a generation or two, will people just stop breathing air altogether? Will there be a war, or will all the people without gills just die slowly when the rising sea swallows us?
Hey, little guy, I’m really sorry. I don’t mean all of this. I’m excited for you, you little merbaby freak. Just… promise you won’t leave me alone on the land. Promise you won’t leave Mom and me?
I love a supernatural twist, and Gillead manages to create a whole new world in less than 400 words. Though Bergen introduces a fantastical concept, the details are so believable—of course they would create an underwater Disneyland for fish babies—but what really stood out to me in this piece was the narrator’s balance of envy and love for his younger sibling.
Ava Bergen is a freelance writer, artist, and videographer based in Minneapolis. She’s studied Creative Writing at Oxford University, and her short film, Wendigo, will appear as a 2017 Permafrost New Alchemy Finalist.