Fearful Symmetry

A colleague, genuinely perplexed, even outraged, asked me what the fuck was going on with all those dead birds in Arkansas. And, he added tongue-in-cheek, what would Mulder and Scully say about them?

Scully: Mulder, it’s me. I got your message. Really, Beebe, Arkansas for a flock of dead birds? Did Skinner approve this?

Mulder [eating sunflower seeds]: There may be more afoot, or a-wing, Scully. I emailed you your boarding pass.

Scully: Are you suggesting that these die-offs are anything but a statistical anomaly? Die-offs occur routinely enough that overlaps are inevitable. As for their specific causes, preliminary autopsies indicate the blackbirds suffered trauma. They were probably startled awake by a night storm or New Year’s fireworks and hit by lightening or hail or, disoriented, each other.

Mulder: And the fish?

Scully: Disease specific to bottom-feeding drum perhaps compounded by other factors, such as hypoxia. The season’s heavy snow is keeping oxygen from diffusing through ice into waterways across the Midwest. Metal-mine drainage on the Arkansas River is notorious.

Mulder: But are such anomalies likely to occur by chance alone when they arise mere miles from each other? Geography matters, Scully, and suggests, if only within the realm of extreme possibility, that the kills share a mechanism.

Scully: Which would be, uh, what exactly?

Mulder: A government experiment gone awry? Corporate malfeasance is hardly unheard of in this Great Recession. We need no little green men, no Cigarette-Smoking Bastard to account for bad omens, Scully. Capitalism is an open conspiracy, whose day-to-day business is no mere mythical harbinger of death, but itself the destroyer of worlds.

Scully: Mulder, you are inferring a process from a pattern, neither of which is at this point substantiated.

Mulder: And the 500 blackbirds and starlings found dead in Louisiana? Also anomalous?

Scully: Merely a marker of the story’s national legs. Troll Lexis-Nexis and you’ll find similar reports of such events over the past year published in local media alone. The present interest is crowd hysteria gone viral.

Mulder: Or the collective unconscious picking up a signal in the commercial noise. The die-offs are more than background mortality. Since 1970 animal population sizes have declined 30% worldwide. Deforestation, pollution, yes, but perhaps something else in this case, specific to the region. There is something weird in Arkansas, Scully, something worth our time out there among the razorbacks. Which is why we fly tonight! Lightening willing.

Scully [sotto voce, rubbing her temple]: On a goose chase. Detoured. Away from the conspiracies we want to believe.

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