Evolution Kit

According to the manual, the “Theistic-Science World Building Kit” contains the following:


1. One forty-gallon terrarium (48″ x 12″ x 16″)

2. One shaker of “Evolution Mix” biosphere food (red)

3. One prepackaged rock to make the core

4. One shaker of “Planetary/Ecosystem Dust” (blue)

5. Something called “Matter,” which has the exact color and consistency of chalk dust

6. The Evolution Manual, as yellow and glossy as a school bus


The manual tells Katie that she should expect all life in her biosphere to map onto the evolutionary trails of Earth species. She can expect fish to crawl up on land, sprout into dinosaurs and birds: an inherited morphology spread throughout the ages.


STEP ONE: Pour Matter into biosphere and add one to five shakes of Evolutionary Dust.


STEP TWO: Begin.


Katie pours the chalk dust into the terrarium. She sprinkles a heavy dose of blue dust and a bit of red. It looks as though she has dumped food coloring into milk. The blue gains dominance, takes the red and drowns it. Katie imagines hydrothermal vents blasting within the rifts of the biosphere’s surface like primordial, cosmic wounds.


She does not regret her drunken purchase. The kit was purchased whilst shitfaced the night she got laid off. The package arrived on May 21st, which Katie remembers only because it was an ex-boyfriend’s birthday. The return address listed the town of Gammelstad, Sweden, but the box claimed manufacture in Stockholm, and the postage stamps revealed a journey from Oslo to Reykjavik to Paris for some reason to Reykjavik again to Halifax to Denton, Texas, where it found Katie’s front door. The return label said Play God Theistic-Science Company in block blue lettering, followed by a clip-art icon of a FedEx truck, even though the shipping service was a third party called Ilmarinen, Inc.


Katie adds more Planetary/Ecosystem Dust and goes to bed.


When she wakes, fish have formed in the theistic-biosphere. The terrarium is an aquatic underworld: jellyfish sway near the surface; shadowy agnatha—jawless fish—swarm at the bottom. Small, armored sharks with little plated spines of cartilage that the manual calls acanthodii appear. In the tank’s center, there is a tiny quadrant of shore.


STEP 3: So, you think you’re beginning to see fish.


Titaalik roseae, a four-limbed Devonian vertebrate fossil found in Nunavit, Canada is thought to be one of the first creatures to have walked on land from the sea. Both fish and tetrapod, the Titaalik supported gills, fins, a pelvic girdle, and partial wrists. Keep watching. The next step is dinosaurs.


Katie looks back at her terrarium. She wonders if the tiny creatures she sees emerging onto the shore resemble Titaalik, their toothy mouths gaping, marble eyes glistening like new olives.


The world around her but for these little creatures feels ill with the lack of hope.


It is sunset by the time there are dinosaurs. Evening coats Katie’s window in shades of blue. The dinosaurs are small at first, but by the time Katie is getting ready for bed, wings break through their scales in the most beautiful colors: Jupiter red, asteroid brown, Neptune green. Katie falls asleep in front of the terrarium.


In her dream a great wind blows through the house, far too powerful for her tiny dinosaurs to fly. To protect them Katie must huddle over the biosphere with a blanket around her shoulders, arms spread out like a mother bat, to block the wind.


When she wakes, the dinosaurs are the size of bumblebees, flying and bumping into the glass. One of them belches a candlewick cough of flame.


STEP 4: After archaeopteryx, notice mammals.


But there are no mammals, and Katie recognizes the dinosaurs for what they are: dragons. They buzz like trapped flies, spurting flame at each other. It is impossibly cute.


If any cryptozoological creatures appear, immediately implement World Extinction Kit (sold separately at a 15% percent discount with purchase of a second Theistic-Science World Building Kit).


Online, Katie looks up the Extinction Kit. There is a tiny rock that looks like an asteroid and a shaker of something called “Anti-matter.” There is no explanation as to why the dragons must die. Why can’t Katie have dragons instead of dinosaurs? She watches the dragons play with each other. They keep bumping into the glass. Katie opens the top of the terrarium.


One immediately begins to nest in the rafters. Another begins hoarding loose grains of rice in her pantry. It sits atop the rice as if on a bed of gold. Katie chucks the Evolutionary Manual in the trash. There is no real plan to a world, she knows this. Only chaos.


The terrarium is a dead planet now. No more creatures will appear. Katie wonders if the dragons feel like astronauts, like explorers. She wonders if they are triumphant or afraid. If the sound of her microwaving ramen sends a message of doom throughout the apartment. If they heave a tiny sigh of relief at the “ding.” She wonders what it feels like to have left behind the world of false order and live in the stars.