Author : Sarah Rankin Gordon

Fighting his arthritis, Professor Fitzsimmons carefully rolled his stool to the corner of his laboratory. In front of him sat three large sealed coolers. After slicing the duct tape, he pulled out and inspected the first pressure vessel, a specialized piece of oceanographic equipment used to transport living samples taken from high-pressure environments. They allowed microorganisms to survive the trip to the ocean’s surface from extreme depths. After unpacking the first cooler, he discovered that all five vessels in the second cooler had acquired a black, powdery residue. He used the wrinkled handkerchief in his back pocket to wipe them off.

When the building’s toxic gas alarm sounded and blue emergency strobes started flashing, he concluded it was a malfunction…one of many building repairs that the university had deferred. Alarms didn’t impress him; he had survived more than one laboratory fire in his storied career. Agitated by the rhythmic shriek, he took his hearing aids off and tossed them onto the lab bench.

Film crews had filmed man-powered submersibles erupting through the waves as they returned from their mission to collect samples from the deepest point in Earth’s oceans, Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, almost 11,000 meters below the surface of the Pacific. Although unable to make such trips anymore, Professor Fitzsimmons’ clout in the field of marine microbiology had afforded him an invitation to study some of the many priceless samples that had taken years of preparation and millions of dollars to obtain.

The professor didn’t hear the team of safety personnel approach his lab, their faces hidden behind full-face respirators, and was angrily startled when they tapped his shoulder and insisted he evacuate the building. Rolling his eyes, he mumbled an international selection of curse words under his breath, but allowed the team to escort him out of the building. Knowing his age, the safety responders didn’t think his sallow complexion peculiar.

Professor Fitzsimmons was the first to enter the building the next morning at half past five. Gone was the yellow caution tape the safety department had strung around the perimeter the night before. Upon entering his lab, he was instantly transported to childhood hunting trips with his father. He hadn’t thought of them in years, but now had a metallic taste in his mouth as if witnessing his father gutting a carcass, the blood forming a dusty puddle on the ground. He spent a considerable amount of time scratching into his lab notebook, capturing several ideas that had come to him in the night, and then strode across the hall to his office.

Although he didn’t remember where he had left his hearing aids the night before, he now enjoyed the sound of distant waves crashing near the coastal campus and seagulls laughing at early morning beach walkers. As he finished sending emails to professional colleagues in Ushuaia, Tokyo, Stockholm and Moscow, Miss Nguyen, the perky administrative assistant for the Marine Biology Department, peeked her head into his office. The professor leapt from his chair and rushed towards her with unexpected speed, popping the dentures out of his mouth as he clashed his teeth together. Embarrassed, she squealed with laughter at his awkward and comical greeting. Her embarrassment turned to panic as he clawed at her eyeballs, blood pouring from her face. The river of blood gurgling into her throat quickly muffled her horrified screams. The screaming ceased when he pried open her scull and savored the taste of her brain.

After a time, Professor Fitzsimmons scrambled out of his office to look for his next meal.