First Monday Free Fiction: The Sphere That Ate the Mississippi Delta

Southern MonstersWelcome to the July 2021 edition of First Monday Free Fiction.

To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.

Since I’m currently in the middle of the 2021 July Short Story Challenge, here is a cosmic horror story that was one of the stories written during the 2016 July Short Story Challenge. It’s called “The Sphere That Ate the Mississippi Delta” and it may be found in the collection Southern Monsters.

So follow our narrator, an astronomer from Tulane University, as he faces…

The Sphere That Ate the Mississippi Delta

It all started in early March, just after Mardi Gras, when a streak of light appeared in the night sky over the Mississippi River Delta. Sheriff’s departments from Galveston to Mobile were inundated with reports of everything from UFO sightings via World War Three to angels, demons and the rapture.

But I was an astronomer, a man of science and reason in a part of the country all too often beset by irrationality. I’d clawed my way up from the Lower Ninth Ward all the way to Tulane, a local boy done good. And so I immediately recognised that the strange phenomenon that lit up the Southern sky was a meteorite, a meteorite that had landed somewhere in the delta. My calculations could even pinpoint the meteorite’s landing place with fair accuracy, estimates that were bolstered by eyewitness reports from fishermen who claimed to have seen a ball of fire fall from the sky near Delacroix Island.

The next day, three geology students from Tulane University set out in a small boat to locate and secure the meteorite for the University’s collection. They were never heard from again, just vanished without a trace. At first, no one was overly worried about that. A tragedy, for sure, but hardly unexpected. After all, the bayous were treacherous, the alligators perpetually hungry and the students had been inexperienced, three boys from the Midwest who’d probably never even seen a boat before, much less steered one.

So the university mourned the three lives lost, the dean of the geology department mourned the loss of a valuable addition to his meteorite collection and I mourned the chance to have my calculations proven right. But otherwise, we all went on with our lives.

Two weeks later, a tiny article in the local part of Times-Picayune caught my eye. A fishing boat had gone missing in St. Bernard Parish, near Delacroix Island. I didn’t think much about it — just another pointless tragedy — and promptly forgot about it.

But then, the following week, there was another article in the local section of Times-Picayune. A fisherman from Shell Beach had gone missing. His wife said that he’d gone crab fishing at Delacroix Island.

Then, two weeks later, another boat went missing, this time a speedboat carrying three young never-do-wells from Wood Lake. And once again, the boat had last been spotted near Delacroix Island. The three boys had been known troublemakers, drinking and driving, drinking and boating, all combined with weed and meth. It was only a matter of time before something happened, the locals said.

It was at this moment, when I read the article about the three missing boys from Wood Lake, that something clicked inside my head. Of course, boats went missing on the delta all the time, for any number of reasons. But four boats in six weeks? And all near Delacroix Island?

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This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in Southern Monsters. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.

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