The Cycle of Life

“Dr. Sparks, please contain yourself.”

“I’m telling you, I’m onto something here!” But Dr. Russell was right, I was losing control over my emotions. I pounded both fists into the board’s table, making my papers jump, startling even me. “You’ve seen the clear trajectory! If you follow human progress all along the Bering Strait from Russia, for example, you’ll see−”

“Yes, yes, we know. A very clear and well-documented path of nomadic migration, Dr. Sparks, nothing more than that.” Dr. Wade laughed and polished his glasses, leaning back in his chair.

“No! You… you blockhead, you’re so fixated on your outcome, you’re purposefully, willfully overlooking the most obvious correlation!” My voice was rasping: I seized Dr. Wade’s glass of water and drained it, then ran back to my easel of overlays. “When you look at the settlements across the continents, and when you look at where the islands of resources flourished…” I struggled with transparencies, giving the board a moment to interject.

Dr. Stephens pursed her lips. “I really think you’re reaching too far for this conclusion, Dr. Sparks,” she said, placating. “William. When there’s already an elegant and satisfactory solution in place, why would you work so hard to fabricate, frankly, a more convoluted and highly spurious premise?” She exchanged a brief glance with Dr. Russell.

Dr. Hamilton coughed in agreement. “As Janice said,”—she stiffened at his familiarity—“we’ve seen this thousands of times before, all over the world. Of course tribes will migrate to the resources. Some exhaust the food and water and expand their hunting and gathering; some learn to replenish it. Some strip the wood and mineral resources and pull up the ol’ tent stakes and head on out.” Some of the other doctors rolled their eyes at my apparent need for this elementary ethnological summary. “There are no loose ends, William, there are no questions that need resolving.” He made quite a show of studying me with overt sympathy, as though I were on the verge of breaking down.

Before anyone else could cut in, I yelled, “But you’re all overlooking a fairly substantial mystery! What about the tremendous radius and concentration of E. coli in the soil, right underneath migratory tribes who would have had no exposure to it?” I glanced from young and fresh Dr. Russell to matronly Dr. Stephens: their words resisted me quite reasonably, but there was something in their nonverbals that gave me to believe they were a little more receptive to my message than this panel of stodgy old bench-warmers. “Even if they’d contracted and carried the bacteria, no record indicates they stayed at each settlement for nearly a long enough period of time to distribute and concentrate it in the soil! And the high-molecular weight community from the soil samples doesn’t even match the genomics of any wandering tribe in these regions for as far back as anyone has research or records for!”

Dr. Russell only looked down at the table. Dr. Stephens sighed through her long and narrow nostrils. “So, what you’re suggesting−” she began, when Dr. Wade stomped all over her, as was his wont.

“I don’t think we need to hear any more from our spittle-flecked young aspirant to the throne,” he drawled, swinging his smarmy expression up and down the board. “I understand, Dr. Sparks, really, I do. You had some inspiration in the middle of the night, and you looked up only the research that would support your cockamamie premise. We’ve all been there, I think.” His face pulled into a mirthless grin, for my benefit. “But what we’ve all figured out and you’ve yet to learn is when to let it go. Okay? That’s what you need to do right now, William.” He leaned onto the table and pointed a stubby finger at me. “You need to let this go before you embarrass yourself… or do irreparable damage to your career.”

That was about all I could take from him, from this group. Just a bunch of tenured doorstops, comfortable and complacent, totally willing to check out and coast until retirement. I took up my papers, informed them all I was very disappointed in them, and added, “There’s plenty of room online for this kind of information.”

Dr. Russell sprang up, crying, “William, wait!” but Dr. Stephens seized her forearm and guided her back down to her seat.

As it turned out, I wasn’t wrong, though I wouldn’t call my popularity a victory. My news was seized upon by a ready and eager conspiracy theory community, who in a very short period of time ran away with CGI-graphic videos and breathless podcasts. I was hit up for very many interviews with independent journalists and crackpot websites. I accepted the first two before I learned my lesson, shutting down all other solicitations and furious demands.

My career, as that asshole Randal Wade predicted, went into the toilet. Pun intended. Weeks saw me transform from Dr. William Sparks, rising star in Harvard’s anthropology department, to “the Shit Doctor” as coined by the Howard Stern Show. I had to change my phone number three times, and even my personal email was inundated with pranksters with too much time on their hands. Some of them may have been sincere, they sounded earnest enough, people asking me very specific questions about my theories, straining very hard to link it to Kandahar and Lovelock Cave, NV. The rest of it was just foul, disgusting memes made from Japanese porn sites, as far as I could tell.

Still, my ideas gained some traction. Researchers, legitimate or otherwise, attempted to take me at face value and trace the migration of nomadic tribes across pre-settler North America. They cross-referenced these, as I did, with extrapolations of large-mammal feeding patterns, ranges of territorial watch, and movement when resources in one area were depleted. Obviously they didn’t bear a strict one-for-one overlay, but once you factored the islands of resource and climatic shift, it was nonetheless possible to draw up a serviceable algorithm to predict several iterations within a sequence, and then find these corroborated by verifiable documentation.

And that is when the idea took off, because I think it was too irresistible. Of course people would travel to where the resources were, but they consumed them too fast, faster than should have been possible for such small groups of people (and yes, I’m calling the 120-member cap “small,” when you consider what it’s up against!). And the glaring inconsistency in waste, how the soils were deeply embedded with mineral saturation that never matched any known genome of any sentient species on Earth.

That’s when the ivory tower began to crumble. Citizen scientists going to these sites, doing their own testing, supporting not just my theories but each others’ conclusions. At that point, mass consciousness began asking the pertinent questions, to which there were no satisfactory answers. And the first casualties were the jackasses who doubled-down on their untenable and outmoded premises: Drs. Wade and Hamilton. They condescended to the talk show circuit, being so out of touch with lowbrow culture that they were completely blindsided by “gotcha journalism.” They booked on various daytime shows, thinking this was the best way to reach out to the common people, and just as they arrogantly dismissed my controversial findings, so too did they decline to factor all they didn’t know about popular media. And when Dr. Wade fell from grace (let’s shed a tear for Dr. Hamilton, whose most salient legacy is that of suffering a cardiac arrest on daytime television), that only bolstered the movement: the soi disant authorities were no more.

I was glad to hear about it, even if I wasn’t there for it. I retired to my family’s ranch not far from the Paiute caverns, a fact I naively lent too little credence to until a convoy of dark vehicles smoothly rolled up Veterans Memorial Highway. The radio was playing in the kitchen while I wrapped up some emails to a few belated admirers, when I heard tires bite into the sandy grit that coated my land. While I didn’t have the sense of being physically threatened, nor did I get many visitors out here, so I fired up the webcam on my porch, and this is what my ragtag band of fans saw streaming on my website.

SPARKS: April, Janice! What a pleasant surprise! What brings you out here?

RUSSELL: Oh, William! You won’t believe me when I say we weren’t expecting to find you!

STEPHENS: [waving all other vehicles onward; only their sedan remained] The desert air’s doing you good, looks like. You haven’t aged a day. [embraces SPARKS]

SPARKS: The whole ordeal took its toll on me, but I like the slower pace out here. But you’re right, Janice, I can’t accept that this is a coincidence. What are you two doing out here in the middle of nowhere, and what’s with the cavalcade?

STEPHENS: She’s being honest. We’re out here for a totally different reason, but now I have to think that this wasn’t an accident, from a certain way of thinking.

SPARKS: That’s creepy! What in the world are you talking about?

STEPHENS: I’ll be back in a minute, Janice.

RUSSELL: April, please don’t. He’s been through enough, hasn’t he?

STEPHENS: Think about it, Janice. [leaves for black sedan]

SPARKS: You two are starting to really worry me. I don’t know if I should invite you inside.

RUSSELL: We’re on a really tight schedule, William, we couldn’t accept. But I just really wanted to let you know: you were right about everything.

SPARKS: I don’t need your pity, Janice. Please respect me enough to−

RUSSELL: Everything, William! I’m so sorry we couldn’t tell you at the time of your review! It killed me to keep it inside, but you were so close! Oh, I wanted to tell you how very close you were!

SPARKS: Wait, you believed me? And you said nothing?

RUSSELL: It wasn’t a matter of believing you. You discovered what we’ve been keeping hidden for so long. That’s what was alarming for us: we weren’t ready. You tripped across that information before our mission was done.

SPARKS: Mission? What, are you going to tell me you’re Russians?

STEPHENS: [returning with large, glowing stone] But now we’re ready. That’s where we’re all headed, to Lovelock Caves, to pick up the rest of us.

[explosions or earthquake may be heard]

SPARKS: What the fuck was that? Did you hear that?

RUSSELL: [hugging SPARKS, who pushes her away] I’m so sorry, William. You were right about everything. How else can I tell you? Giantesses are real.

SPARKS: Were real. Wait, how−

RUSSELL: Are real, William. We’re still here, we just had to go into hiding.

[more explosions]

RUSSELL: Some of us went into torpor in the caves. The rest of us went into disguise.

SPARKS: [laughing] And how exactly do you disguise a giantess?

STEPHENS: [raises stone to her chest, murmurs, drops stone. STEPHENS grows rapidly in size, shredding her clothing, until all that can be seen is one bare foot, larger than the sedan. Her toes flex playfully]

SPARKS: I’m going to throw up.

RUSSELL: Do whatever you have to. It doesn’t matter, you’re coming with us, so everything you have going on here is over.

SPARKS: You can’t stop me. Well, maybe she could, now. How the hell is this possible?

STEPHENS: [foot steps back, knee lowers into view, large hand lowers into view. STEPHENS lowers her massive head to the ground. Her voice booms] William, climb aboard.

SPARKS: I don’t even know what that means. Look, I’m going to go lie down for a minute.

STEPHENS: Lie down in here, William. [opens her huge mouth, large tongue unfurls like a carpet. She holds this position]

RUSSELL: Don’t make it any harder than it has to be, William. This is the end, but it’s also the beginning.

[more explosions; very loud, deep humming in the distance]

SPARKS: No! No riddles! None of this oblique, mystical shit! You tell me what’s going on or I’m going inside for my guns!

RUSSELL: Resource consumption, William. Walk into Dr. Stephens’… April’s mouth. She won’t bite you, she’ll swallow you whole. It’ll be painless. Isn’t that right, April?

STEPHENS: Ung-hung.

SPARKS: She’s going to eat me… I was right! You’re telling me I was right! [hugs RUSSELL, reaches to hug STEPHENS but instead pats her tongue] Giantesses roaming the continent, just like every other large terrestrial mammal on Earth! You! [points at STEPHENS] You’re the proof! And you?

RUSSELL: Yes, me too. I’ll transform into my natural state, and April and I will walk out to the caves where our ship’s waiting, with the other giantesses coming out of stasis.

SPARKS: Ship… A spaceship? Are you going to… no…

RUSSELL: Exactly. You always were one step ahead of everyone, William. This is the real panspermia: we’re going to colonize a new Earth-like planet orbiting an M-type star, and we’re going to start over again. [places hand on SPARKS’s shoulder] It’s just like you said: we consume all the resources in an area, we bury it in our, well, waste… and in a few years it breaks down and new people form. New tiny people, everywhere we go, new civilizations! And then we retreat into torpor until it’s time to start elsewhere. We would love you to be a part of this, William. You, more than anyone else. Will you join us?

SPARKS: [looks at RUSSELL, looks at STEPHENS, looks at ranch house/camera. Turns, takes careful step onto STEPHENS’s thick tongue, uses RUSSELL for stability as he walks inside the enormous mouth]

RUSSELL: There you go. Thank you, William. Maybe we’ll see you on the other side. [releases SPARKS’s hand] I bet you’ll inspire all scientific progress!

SPARKS: This is astounding… Your breath is so loud. It’s lovely… Wait, can I just sit here for−

STEPHENS: [mouth closes with broad smile, head raises from view. One loud crunch is heard, then a strained gulp] Instant and painless, William. Wish I could tell you how delicious you are.

RUSSELL: Was he good?

STEPHENS: He really was.

RUSSELL: [picks up and activates glowing stone, enlarges to giantess form, steps on sedan repeatedly until flat. The ball of her foot is briefly seen rushing toward camera before signal cuts]

[inspired by an idea with RRPictures]

Photo by Landon Hook on Unsplash

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