In the year 2020, the animals reemerged, discovering a new world unlike any they had known since the days before the Industrial Revolution. The humans had disappeared, faded into their houses, though the animals knew not why. Could not quite pinpoint when, one by one, they started to retreat. But soon, there was nary a bipedal soul to be found. Not on the streets, nor in the waters. In Venice, this voidness of the canals lent an even eerier feel than in most cities, for its entire pulse–the ventricles of its heartbeat–rested in the canals. Without boats–whether gondola, sandòlo or carolina–the lifeblood of the entire city seemed void. At least, to any human that might be beholding the sight from an objective vantage point. Alas, none of them could see much of anything beyond their four walls (though many in Venice barely had even one). Forced into quarantine, they lived an existence almost as inhumane as the painful death that might be wrought by the virus that had been unleashed.
The animals, chiefly the sea-dwelling ones like dolphins, stingrays, jellyfish and even a few of the smaller-sized octopi, heard news of the strange phenomenon from the birds (mainly those notoriously gabbing gulls), who had carried the message from the swans that had flooded the canals in droves. Wanting to see what all the fuss was about for themselves, the dolphins were among the ilk to flock to the Canale di San Marco to cautiously feel out the situation. And yes, it was true, lo and behold, there were no boats to be seen, of any kind, neither big nor small. Timoteo, a cob who had long ago placed himself in charge of his V-shaped swimming fleet, decided that the barrenness in this canal signaled the safety of being able to drift into the Grande Canale.
They eventually paused in the water near the Chiesa di San Giacomo di Rialto, finding it a tranquil spot to take refuge, to take in the sight of a humanless tableau that only their forebears of centuries ago had known the luxury of. Timoteo took the opportunity to turn to his mate for life, Celestina, and muse, “It’s all ours now.” Celestina was more timid in her estimations, shyly asking, “Are you sure? What if the humans come back?” “They won’t,” Timoteo hissed, in a manner suggesting she was daft for even thinking of such an anomaly. The chance of which seemed as unlikely now as the humans ever vanishing in the first place. Yet clearly something terrible had befallen their race, something that could not–or would not–be undone. They weren’t a very clever group, after all, least of all not in times of crisis when one would think that scarcity of resources would spur some kind of Mother of Invention. But no, all the humans could seem to do was cower in fear. Bowing to their weakness whenever anything got too rough, too bleak to bear.
As Timoteo finished explaining this to the other concerned swans expressing a similar sentiment to what Celestina had voiced, they calmed down a bit, letting his logic wash over them with the same soothing feel as the water beneath them. It was only one dissenter, Donato, who tried to play devil’s advocate in suggesting that maybe some of the humans might recover from whatever had happened and inevitably return. Timoteo shut him down with a squawk and a wing to his bill. He would not be subject to this insubordination when it was apparent he was the only one with the sense and the gumption to take back what rightfully belonged to them: these here Venetian waters. So it was that the Cygnus took back the watery earth, with the next couple weeks seeing a surge of white flooding the canals. And it was glorious…until the other animals caught wind of the news about the humans’ disappearance.
It was a minimal amount at first, with the unassuming jellyfish and octopi migrating over. But when the stingrays showed up, many swans started to fear for their livelihood, heading back to safer Sardinian waters in response. But things reached a head when the dolphins showed up. In droves, as was their annoying wont. Timoteo was infuriated, insisting on speaking with whoever was in charge of their brood. To his surprise, a female named Soleil flipped to the front to address his outrage. Timoteo was already annoyed that she had adopted a French name when they were in Italian waters. An animal ought to adapt their name to the jurisdiction they fell under. Nonetheless, he listened to her so-called plea, which he recognized for what it was: an entitled demand. But she was so charming, so convincing and so sugary sweet that even the other swans were blockheaded enough to fall for her yarn.
Timoteo tried to tell them as much when they were once again alone, roosting back in the Canale di San Marco, a fact that made him realize the dolphins were already pushing them out. They had even scared away most of the stingrays with their abrasive enthusiasm and “subtle” dominance. It was infuriating, that they could hide such aggressiveness behind their passive aggressiveness. Timoteo felt as though he was the only one who could see this species for what it was: nefarious. No wonder they were so frequently compared to humans, right after monkeys in terms of similarities. Knaves all. Well Timoteo was not going to endure it any longer. Only five days had passed and already their fins had taken up all of the good real estate. Timoteo was going to put his webbed foot down now. For yes, the animals were starting to turn on one another based on species. Just as it was when the humans reigned and turned on those they deemed different from themselves. And Timoteo could not abide this. The entire joy of the hominid holiday–the glorious non-presence of these environment-destroying arseholes–was that they weren’t around to impinge, to step on toes. The dolphin fucks were making the latter’s extinction useless to the swans.
As Timoteo explained this to select members of his “militia,” the ones he knew would be willing to follow him into battle, this could not go on. Something had to be done, a standoff created. May the best species win. Maybe that’s what the animals as a collective should have done from the outset when humans started to step above their station. They were given an inch when they learned how to make hunting tools and then took an elongated mile when the animals showed weakness to the invention. It was the most fatal mistake of their collective history. Of course, Timoteo didn’t want it to come down to a battle with another fellow animal, but Venice could only contain one dominant breed and, by his estimation, the swans had a far greater right to it based on aesthetic pleasingness alone.
The sects were set to meet at midnight in the Canale di Fusina. It would give them the space they needed for a proper tussle, each one using their visceral brute force to determine the victor and send the weaker party packing. Timoteo was assured of their victory over those slick-backed weaklings, sharpening his beak before battle as Celestina pecked at his feathers in an arranging manner. As the moment of truth arrived–the stalemate between the races visually manifested by the small patch of a bluish-green divide in the form of water separating their factions–something truly incredible happened. The humans emerged. First in tiny clusters and then in massive hordes, walking and squawking with more vexing panache than any dolphin or swan could ever be capable of…
It was at this instant that the timer went off and Claire concluded her report on a roundup of the barrage of fake news about animals reclaiming the earth that had emerged in the wake of the quarantine, realizing that, for most of it, her teacher had accidentally muted her from the other students on Zoom.