“Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.” —“Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace,” The New York Times (2019)
It’s not that they expected there to be a huge crowd, certainly not African Grey Parrot-sized (which had been 30,000 people, easily; they’d had to rent out Fenway Park for that one), or Mary River Turtle crowds (nearly 19,000 people, but that wasn’t too surprising; any turtle, no matter what kind of turtle, put butts in seats), or even Broad-Billed Hummingbird big—well, and, let’s be honest, no one expected the Broad-Billed Hummingbird crowd to be as big as it was. Originally, they’d booked a 500-seat venue for that job thinking they’d be lucky to fill half of it, because who even knew about the Broad-Billed Hummingbird except for Kevin, creeping in the back of the office with all his North American bird books, but then all 500 tickets sold out in 45 minutes, so Geri worked her magic, canceled the smaller venue, booked a theater three times the size across town, and that sold out again in another half-hour, not to mention all the pay-per-view tickets they sold once the rest of the birding community got wind of the event.
“All this for a fucking hummingbird,” Geri’d said, shaking her head at the weeping, the sobbing, as the last bit of life eked out of that last hummingbird. “Just think how much money we’d have made if we’d done this sort of thing for the goddamn Amur Leopard. Or, Jesus, the Asian Elephant? We’d be fucking retired if we’d done this with the Asian Elephant.”
But still, here they were, in a black-box theater in Queens (“Fucking Queens for Christ’s sake,” Geri said, practically spitting) with a capacity hovering at right around 100 bodies, the four of them watching the very last American Burying Beetle on this, the planet earth, breathe its very last breath (“Do fucking beetles even breath?” Geri asked), and you could count the number of people in attendance on two hands.
“I told you we should’ve done my thing,” Kevin whispered.
“Shut up about your thing,” Geri said. “Turn down the lights, cue the soundtrack.”
The problem was, most of your crowd pleasers had already died out. Add to that an oversaturated market? You get six people plus staff sitting in an empty theater in Queens waiting for a bug to kick it. Back when they’d started out, no one was working Extinction Witnessing events. Now there were a hundred companies doing the same.
Kevin’s thing had been simple enough. Don’t sell tickets to witness the extinction of just one bug.
“Nah, nah, boss,” he’d said to Geri, even though Geri wasn’t anyone’s boss. “You gotta make it big, make it flashy. Gather up a bunch of bugs, right? Rent a warehouse. Let them all loose, right? It’s like a big party, you pay to get in, there’s a cash bar, we rent out muck boots, call it, like, the Killing Fields? You’re not just witnessing extinction, you’re causing it? It’ll be huge.”
It probably would’ve been huge, bigger than this, anyway. A competing outfit across town had done something similar. Gathered the last of the North American rockcresses—your Smooth, your Green—and thrown in some variants of sweetgrass and milkvetch, and Geri scoffed. “Who’s going to pay money to watch a fucking plant go extinct?” But then they rented out a big space and four flamethrowers and protective gear, hired some off-duty firefighters, and for $50K a pop, you could torch the place.
Last week, Kevin sent them his résumé and the Killing Fields idea, not to mention some other ideas he’d been cooking up.
The lights went down, all but a spotlight on the stage, lighting up what could have been—from this distance—any goddamn bug. Then Enya’s “Watermark” piped in over the crappy speakers.
“Enya.” Geri closed her eyes. “Always gotta be fucking Enya.”
This story was published with The Chronicles of Now, original short fiction inspired by today's headlines.