Shadow of Drought

“Shadow of Drought“ is a short story from the short story collection The bone chime song and other stories by Joanne Anderton. It is written from the perspective of a teenager “Lou”. She constantly compares her experience to a horror movie and throughout the story you can find a lot of clichés that you would expect in one.

Five teenagers, namely Jim, Nathan, and Rob, as well as Emily, and Lou, are the main protagonists of the story. Their characters are similar to the stereotypical cast of a horror movie. The loud one who is responsible for the doom that befalls them (Jim), a naïve but pretty blond girl that is into makeup (Emily), the smart and natural girl who knows something is up (Lou), the leader (Nathan), and the one who sacrifices himself to save someone else (Rob).

They live in a small town and one day come across a creature which follows and kills them one by one. At first, they think it’s a statue, but they are soon convinced otherwise. Jim, who actually touched the creature, is the first one to die.

The small town is in a time of drought. It hasn’t rained in a very long time; the animals are dying and the ground is dry. It’s hard to survive and there is not much of a future here.

The creature comes at night, kills them, and turns them into creatures themselves. They end up looking like the statue. Black and thin with their eyes gone. After Jim’s death, two creatures are seen standing in the distance, just watching, and they increase in count after every death so it seems like the teens join the creature in its endeavor after having been killed.

The town knows of this creature and everything points to the fact that they have made some kind of pact with it. The life of the teens in exchange for rain. After the second death, rain starts to fall and it doesn’t stop.

After Jim and Emily’s death, Nathan complains about their looming fates whereupon George, a guy they went to school with, tells them that they are selfish and asks who is more important; some useless kids without a future or the rest of the town. George thereby hints at the fact that they are sacrifices for the town. He also tells them that they are lucky because they just stumbled upon “it” without understanding it, and now have everybody’s respect for being a sacrifice. He seems jealous, and it appears like George knows more about the creature and its history.

Rob and Lou decide to escape town after Nathan dies. They decide to jump on the coal train that passes by every afternoon. However, the whole town is watching them, so they are followed to the train tracks and are even chased when the town realizes what they are planning. Rob helps Lou to escape but is then caught by the towns people before he can escape himself. Lou manages to escape the town but soon realizes that the creatures followed her and did not stay within the town. And with the creatures following her, so does the rain.

There are quite a few gothic elements in this short story. First of all, there’s an omen foreshadowing that something bad is going to happen. After Jim touches the statue in the beginning of the story, his hand turns black. First the teenagers think it is paint from the statue, but Jim isn’t able to wipe or wash it off. The black sticks and indicates that something is not right.

The dry landscape doesn’t appear to be particularly gothic, but the storm, the rain, and the black clouds that are forming throughout the story are. This creates an eerie and gothic environment even though the landscape itself isn’t. An ongoing theme is the deaths of the teenagers and their funerals. There are scenes at the morgue and at the graveyard.

I found it interesting how often something black is referenced. The story begins with a description of the creature. It is compared to a shadow and then Jim’s hand becomes black after touching it.

After he was killed, Jim turned completely black. The funeral clothes are black and stand in contrast to the white coffin. The coal train transports something black. The creatures are “all dark”, they kill at night and bring dark rainclouds. There is a black hearse and people in mourning clothes who are forming a funeral procession. The color black is often associated with and is used to symbolize death, evil, and misfortune. The recurring use of it helps to create the gothic atmosphere.

Another recurring thing is the railway. This can be seen as foreshadowing and it is always reminding you that an outside world exists. The group is sitting in the shade of broken train tracks; the coal train is passing the mourners on the road, and the next day the remaining teens are sitting beneath the old railway tracks again. Rob and Lou also decide to escape while sitting there. The road out of town runs along the train tracks and Lou actually gets out of town by train.

I found the short story to be very interesting, but it left me wanting to know more about the creature. Where did it come from? And what is it? What exactly is the pact the town made with it? How often does it happen? Does it only exist in this particular town or are there more? What does Patersie have to do with it? The creature was first seen on his land, and his farm somehow is still green while everything else is dried up. All these questions remain unanswered and in the end, I don’t know any more than Lou did.


by Sarah Pauler

One of the major topics in James Bradley’s novel Ghost Species is the climate crisis and how humans are or presumably already have destroyed the planet and its inhabitants. Many animals are extinct or on the brink of extinction. And shortly before something goes extinct there has to be one unlucky specimen who is the last of its kind: a so-called endling. Once the endling dies, the species is extinct. In Ghost Species, Eve is compared to an endling because she is allegedly the only one of her kind.

‘Is she the only one?’

Kate hesitated. ‘As far as I know. Why?’

Hugh looked thoughtful. ‘It must be very strange, to be alone like that. There are animals I’ve seen, birds mostly, that are the last of their kind. Endlings, we call them.’

Excerpt of Ghost Species, page 164

After learning what she really is, a Neanderthal and not a human, Eve struggles with the thought of being the only one and different from everyone else. But could she be seen as an endling? She isn’t the last of her kind but rather the first one alive, after a long time of extinction.

Another “Endling” mentioned in Ghost Species is the white rhino.

“Did you see the news this morning?” […]

“The last white rhino. Gone.”

Excerpt of Ghost Species, page 18

In our reality, the white rhino isn’t gone but is endangered. The southern white rhino is on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list, and is labeled as near threatened with a decreasing number of 10,080 mature individuals (2020). The only confirmed surviving wild subpopulation of northern white rhinos has decreased massively due to poaching since 2003, and in 2006 only four northern rhinos were confirmed. This subpopulation is now considered probably extinct. In response, the San Diego Zoo is developing reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertilization and embryo transfer. They are using the southern white rhino as a model species and potential surrogate for this.

To prevent the extinction of species, scientists are preserving the DNA of endangered species by building a biobank full of biological samples to preserve genetic diversity. These samples are supposed to act as a foundation that can be used together with reproductive technologies in an effort to try and restore endangered species.

Some programs are trying to stop the extinction through the re-introduction of species into the wild and ex-situ (away from natural location) breeding programs. Sadly, those programs are not always successful. Nevertheless, these programs can be compared to what Davis is trying to do in Ghost Species. He also wants to reintroduce species into the wild to try and fight environmental changes.

I want to mention some known endlings from our planet:

The last Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog “Toughie” died in 2016 in the Atlanta Botanical Garden. He was brought there in 2005 when he was rescued from his natural habitat in Panama, where a deadly fungus wiped out 85% of all the amphibians there.

The last Pinta Island Tortoise “Lonesome George” died in 2012 in the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island.  Before his death, they tried to mate George with genetically close females which would have produced hybrids, but resulting eggs were inviable.

“Celia” the last Pyrenean ibex (a wild goat species) died in the year 2000 after being crushed by a fallen tree. She was released into the wild with a tracking collar because wild goats don’t do well in captivity.

The last Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) “Benjamin” died on September 7th, 1936 at Hobert Zoo in Tasmania. At the time it wasn’t known that he was the last of his kind. Sadly, he died due to neglect, as he was locked out of his shelter in harsh weather. Since 1996 “The National Threatened Species Day” has been held annually on September 7th in Australia.

Benjamin, although not by name, and thylacines are also mentioned in the novel Ghost Species. Davis shows revived thylacines to Kate and Jay when they arrive at the facility for the first time. In that scene, the live thylacines are compared to the last photo of Benjamin in its cage in the 1930s.

“Yet unlike the jerky film of the last specimen pacing around its cage in the 1930s, they are pulsing, alive and – perhaps most unsettlingly – fitted to the landscape.”

Excerpt of Ghost Species, page 21

Endlings are symbols of the extinction crisis and should bring attention to the importance of conserving species. Way too many species are still going extinct every year. In case you want to learn more, I am going to link the Frozen Ark Project, the IUCN-Red List, and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance below.