Aurealis #155

My short story ‘Shitmining’ was just published in Australian science fiction/fantasy magazine Aurealis. Buy a copy here.

In the beginning of the world, Pachacamac, the male child of the Sun and the Moon, created a man and a woman. But he did not supply them with food. As the man lay dying of starvation, the woman prayed to the Sun for help. In answer to the prayer, the Sun descended from the heavens, gave her relief, and impregnated her with his fertilising rays.
—Origin story of the Peruvian coast

I first see the island from the air, arriving the way the birds do. Ten thousand cormorants scatter to make room as our helicopter shudders in the ferocious winds and then perches on the uneven surface below. Even while I’m waiting for the blades to stop rotating and the dust to settle, my nostrils wrinkle up in disgust. So, the rumours about the awful smell are true.

My boys already have a nickname for the place—they’re calling it the Shithead God. No one knows exactly what lies beneath the huge dome of guano that covers the island, but in our ground-penetrating radar it looks like a giant face carved out of stone. Ricky did some research and reckons it’ll be a sun god with a feather headdress. The other blokes in the crew are betting on a giant turd emoji.

Mining engineers—I hire them for their expertise with rocks and logistics, not their cultural sensitivity.

Outside the cockpit, the smell is even worse. The birds live off Peruvian anchovies and are famous for both the quantity and pungency of their shit. It’s like someone has attached a wind tunnel to a men’s urinal, and you’re standing there getting the full blast. First thing I do is double over and dry wretch. Beneath my boots is a thousand years of droppings, about ten metres deep, and deeper still is the giant face itself, an ancient statue that no one alive has ever seen. Soon it’ll all be gone. The birds will have a freshly renovated perch, the greedy local militia will have a new landmark to exploit for tourist dollars, and my company will have a stake in the richest natural fertiliser left on the planet.

Five minutes later I’m back at the chopper, having reached my limit of reeking guano fumes. The seabirds start returning to roost, dropping like hailstones from the restless flock above. I’m stepping into the cockpit, raising my right leg high, when my left foot slips on the dusty ground and I bang my head into the doorframe. Blood immediately starts gushing from my nose. It’s got a crooked bridge from the fateful match that ruined my rugby career, and now every bump sets off the waterworks.

Cursing, I look down to find the culprit. The soles of my boots are covered in a layer of cracked eggshells, and yolk is splattered across the steel-capped toes. I slam the heel on the edge of the cockpit door to dislodge the muck, haul my weary body inside, and tell the pilot to get us out of there—fast.

Finish the story – buy Aurealis #155 here.