Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

S H O R T   S T O R Y
CURIOSITY
b y   j o h n   b r i g g s   ~   g r a n v i l l e ,   m a s s a c h u s e t t s

THE MAN (who wished to remain anonymous) said he was driving fast along the highway past an open field. What? Perhaps it was just a large abandoned bag.

The grass was ankle high and lush green as he crossed the field. His first thought was that (impossibly) he was looking at the thorax and abdomen of an insect, the size of a tall, slender man. On either side of the carcass (if that’s what it was) stretched networks of black veins containing silvery flakes, or scales, clinging to grass. They reflected the sunlight like mirrors. On closer examination, they were transparent. In soft gusts of wind, some drifted off. He could imagine them shattered from the “windows” formed between the veins in the creature’s wings. This added to the impression that what he’d discovered was the remains of a gigantic dragonfly or linnet.

The man reached out and touched the thorax. The dark brown surface felt glossy and hard. He tapped it. It resounded dull hollow thuds. He tried to lift the object. It was incredibly light.

What was it? Though the anonymous man was rational, not subject to flights of fancy, he couldn't suppress the thought of horror films. He rejected the idea. The object's smooth shiny material must be synthetic. Was the object a high-tech kite flown by some kids until it had gotten away from them and crashed? A military drone used for spying on terrorists or drug dealers? Someone's weird practical joke? He remembered pranksters who for years had invaded farmers' wheat fields in the dead of night and left the mysterious designs of "crop circles" that others claimed were communications by extraterrestrial visitors. The hoax had been exposed when the pranksters revealed their method for knocking down the grain in intricate patterns.

In the spirit of skeptical truth, the man hefted the carcass and carried it to his car.

He went back to the laboratory technician a few days later.

"Well, it's a chiton," the technician said.

“You mean like in the shells of real insects?”

“We x-rayed it and did a DNA analysis. The thorax and abdomen have internal organs. They’re dried up and aren’t of any species we can identify, but they’re an insect’s. DNA shows it might be related to a mayfly, but the body type is different.”

"So what the hell is it?"

"I have no idea," the technician said.

“Could somebody have concocted this by molding a shape out of ground-up insect shells?”

"No. You couldn't make this by any method I know of. As far as I can tell this is one big insect."

The man wrapped the carcass in a sheet. Later he unwrapped it on lab tables and academic desks. Some experts speculated it was a freak mutation, others thought it was the result of a genetic experiment. A politically active biologist speculated the environmental crisis had hatched it somehow. An art historian represented it as a postmodern work of art. When the man started to hear speculations that it was the harbinger of a new race of insects or the body of an alien intelligence, he rebelled. He decided he wanted nothing more to do with the thing and gave it anonymously to a museum.

The museum put the object on display as a curiosity. For a time it attracted the attention of crowds and the media. The museum exhibition responsibly recited only the facts with no explanation. Some religious fanatics construed it as a “sign” of the apocalypse, and their lurid speculations caused a momentary stir. Other theories mirrored those its finder had entertained. Television stations and newspaper reporters interviewed a new round of experts, but since the object didn’t fit conveniently into anything known or believed, the trail went cold as before. So after a while, the curators meticulously packed the carcass in a crate, catalogued it and stored it in a warehouse, where it crumbled to dust.

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