The Museum of Extinct Creatures
2022, Senior, Creative Writing
“Welcome to the Museum of Extinct Creatures.”
The tinny, automated voice came from speakers throughout the room. A teacher clapped to get her class’s attention. Some of her students quieted, but most continued to chatter, filling the large, cavernous room with the sound of their babble.
Their teacher clapped once more. “Students!” she exclaimed. “Listen up! It’s almost time to begin our tour. The tour guide should be here any minute.”
“Ugh,” came a groan from the crowd. “No one cares. These creatures are extinct. Ancient history.”
“Who said that!?” the teacher exclaimed, outraged.
No one answered.
“Well, if you don’t want to talk now, I expect that silence to carry on until we’re done. Not a single word more out of any of you,” the teacher said after distributing a stern glare to her class. “You’ll behave, or you’ll all face the consequences.”
The students stopped grumbling and stood up straighter. They knew she didn’t mess around.
A tour guide came to meet them, an eager expression on his face like he couldn’t imagine anything more interesting than leading an uninterested classroom on a tour he’d probably given hundreds of times already. “Good afternoon!” he exclaimed.
One student leaned in close to his best friend. “No one should be that cheerful—ever,” he muttered.
His best friend snickered, careful to do it quietly. “I would be that cheerful—if this dumb tour got canceled!”
The tour guide started walking to a smaller side corridor of the museum, chattering the whole way. The students followed behind reluctantly, spurred forward by their teacher’s stern gaze.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have time to view all of the exhibits,” the tour guide explained (with what one student thought was a bizarre amount of regret). “And I was told that you’re focusing on later history beginning in the 21st century, so we won’t be able to look at earlier extinctions, like dinosaurs or dodos. However,” he was quick to reassure, “this period was one of the most fascinating in terms of what perished. Don’t you worry—the exhibits we’ll view today are some of the most interesting in this whole building!”
“Because I was totally holding my breath,” came a whispered hiss, just loud enough for the students to hear, but just quiet enough that neither teacher nor tour guide—caught up in peering at the upcoming exhibit—caught the words.
As the tour continued, most of the students tuned out, paying just enough attention to blindly follow the tour guide. As such, they only caught snippets of statements as the tour guide droned on and on.
“Hunting… poaching… overfishing… deforestation… melting ice… warming oceans… climate change… habitat loss… pollution… global warming…”
The same reasons for why the extinctions displayed had happened seemed to be repeated over and over. One student amused herself by keeping track of how many times these words were uttered, but eventually stopped because she kept losing track.
Though the same ten words were used, the sheer number (and diversity, for the few students who actually paid attention) of species that were extinct contrasted heavily.
“…though the last confirmed sighting of the imperial woodpecker was in 1956, the creature was declared extinct decades later, in 2032.
“In 2041, the hawksbill turtle, which had been critically endangered since 1996 and continued to be plagued by poachers up until its final years, was declared extinct. It…
“In 2044, the last western gorilla finally succumbed, its species destroyed by poaching, climate change, and habitat destruction. Unfortunately, other gorilla species soon…
“…claw-toothed salamander… Borneo orangutan… but a reintroduction into the wild in 1987 failed, and the red wolf went extinct in 2050… polar bear… the last rhinoceros ever…
“The mysterious creature called Saola was encountered in the wild only four times, but a gap of over 100 years led it to be declared extinct in 2107. It was barely discovered before it no longer…
“…Sumatran elephant… then the Asian elephant…
Some of the class couldn’t help but get caught up in the tour guide’s enthusiasm, though they would never have admitted it. One student, in particular, found herself peering at these photos and drawings of things that no longer existed, trying to understand what it meant that she was here, and they weren’t. Though the droning fell away for her, too, it wasn’t because she was bored like her classmates. Instead, she was simply caught up in the ghosts of the past.
She met their eyes.
A fierce beast with a striped coat the color of flame.
Another the color of the blazing sun, with a halo of fur around its face.
A fluffy ball of black and white, with black rings around its eyes that made it appear amused.
A creature with feathers of earth and gold and knowing eyes.
She had to look away from that last one. Its gaze penetrated.
“And now,” the tour guide announced, “we’ve arrived at our last exhibit of the day.”
Hearing the words “last exhibit,” the class perked up, every student now paying attention.
“For centuries, this species ruled the world. In fact, these organisms were the reason many of the species we just viewed went extinct.”
Some of the students, against their own wills, gaped.
“We’ve been walking forever,” one blurted out. “Are you saying all those other things you kept going on about—I-I mean, you kept telling us about—went extinct because of this?”
The tour guide nodded. “It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?”
“But—but,” another student protested. “But it looks so puny! And weak! Those other creatures could have ripped this one apart in a few seconds! This creature looks like someone’s lunch!”
The whole group laughed at her outburst. The student who had spent the tour meeting the eyes of countless extinct animals now met the eyes of the depiction, labeled as a “human.” The creature did look weak, physically. But as she peered into its eyes, she shivered nonetheless.
“It looks… cunning.” She didn’t realize she had spoken the words aloud until the tour guide turned towards her, nodding.
“Yes,” he agreed. “This creature was cunning. Yet, surprisingly, incredibly foolish as well. They destroyed their world, but then they were destroyed. They couldn’t live without the species they pushed to extinction, without the planet and its bounty, its oceans and forests. They killed nature,” he mused. “But then the absence of nature killed them.”
“They didn’t kill us!” one student pointed out, smirking.
“You’re right,” their teacher broke in. “These things may have ruled once, but now it’s our turn to dominate. It’s important to know our past, and how we persevered while all these others fell. We are the ultimate survivors.”
The class looked around at each other, grinning. It felt good to be part of the winning species.
After a few more minutes the tour guide wrapped up the tour, waving goodbye with one feeler. Then the teacher guided her class of young cockroaches out of the museum.
“Thank you for visiting the Museum of Extinct Creatures,” came the robotic voice as they exited.
Not a single one looked back. They had a world to see—a world devoid of any humans. A world that was theirs.
A world where the cockroach was king.
This story is one rooted in dark humor; while we humans know about the possibility of other animals going extinct (we discuss possibilities and projected dates frequently), we don’t seem to realize that the same thing could happen to us. From the start of this story, I intentionally worded it so that it could be a school field trip to the Museum of Extinct Animals. Only near the end is it revealed that one of the exhibits is us. And only after that, it is revealed that the class is not a human class, but a cockroach class. I wrote this story because I think it’s important that we—humanity as a whole, but also individuals—are reminded of our own mortality. Human beings are not all-powerful. We cannot continue destroying our planet and expect no retribution. If the extinction of other species does not inspire action (as sadly often seems to be the case), then the potential extinction of our own species should kindle a bigger reaction. This is serious. We need to do something. We need an inferno of change. I hope my story is an ember, helping to spark that flame.