Wide Wet Grins by Lyndsie Manusos

They were already among us. Unheard-of numbers swimming into bays and inlets, and some found their way into freshwater lakes and rivers. Tagged ones disappeared from tracking. For a species that occupy every ocean on the planet, their disappearance was stark and swift. A squeal cut off mid-sound.


My father said I used to hold my breath above water. Even if it were a toe, the tiniest bit of skin, I’d hold my breath.

I was so good at holding it, that when a swim instructor finally dropped me into the depths, it was like coming home.


On land, groups of people, of all races and shapes, appeared huddled together on the beach. Fully grown yet naked. Grinning ear to ear, speechless, save for the snaps of fingers, clicking of teeth, and the occasional high-pitched squeak, giggle, and scream.

The teeth gave them away. A hundred domes rising into pointed ends; uneven smiles with too many teeth. It became clearer after the first kill on the beach, a surfer who got too curious, too excited, too bold. A scream cut off mid-sound. They played with their food, squealing, keening, lobbing pieces back and forth.


When I was twenty-two, I met someone at a dive bar in San Francisco. I was a good liar, making friends with people who thought I grew up sunbaked along the beaches of California rather than sandwiched between a cornfield and soy field in the Midwest.

“You’re one of us,” they said.

At the bar, about a week after the event the news labeled “Landfall,” a white woman with clothes too big for her slight frame bought me a drink. She sidled over to me, suppressing a grin. She took a saltshaker and sprinkled it over my cranberry vodka.

“I feel like I know you,” she said through slanted lips.

“Maybe you do,” I said.


After Landfall, they made their way up beaches and onto roads. At first, it was easy to tell them apart, sticking in their large familial groups. But their skin was blubber thick, resistant to our brand of violence. They’d left their tenderer parts in the ocean.

Too soon, they discovered how easy it would be to split up. They closed their mouths, no longer grinning. They played in shadows and corners, the evidence found pooled in clubs, alleys, and stores closed after dark.

They liked to knock on doors and leave.

Sometimes they knocked along the sides of buildings and houses. Giggling all the while.


Three months later, I held her in bed. I didn’t believe her when she said her name was Bella. When she laughed, it shook my bones. She was patient but distant. She fucked like she was diving for treasure.

“Do you think they’ll come for us,” she asked once, nodding at the TV. Another murder, this time in Oakland. Too many teeth marks over a body.

Landfall was able to roll together mutual hate like a playdough ball and point it in another direction. People who would have rather died than be in the same room as their former counterparts now went on “hunting parties” together, searching for that uncanny grin.

I’d had people gunning for me ever since I came out to my parents, ever since the Supreme Court overturned another law. I admitted it was a relief to see the guns, the fingers, the goddamn rhetoric, pointed elsewhere.


Unnatural, they’re called. But how could anything be less natural? Evolution in front of our eyes.

And what next, the comedians asked? Bees? Birds?

And what next, the government asked? We jail anyone with a smile? In this economy?

A marine biologist went on 60 Minutes and said one of their trackers came back online, but rather than the ocean, it triangulated to a house in Columbus, Ohio. Google Maps showed a swing-set in the backyard.

AITA posts poured in, pondering whether their partner might be grinning too much, leaving at night and coming home smelling of sweetness and warm meat.

A child called 911 and said her parents were lobbing a dead animal back and forth on the front lawn. When the police showed up, the house was cleared out. An empty shell.

What next, the scientists said? Because it’s so hard to tell them apart now. Some say they’ve gone back to sea, but there’s no way to know, and we don’t know who to ask.


Bella left. Like a fool, I thought I had something, like I was holding water in the palm of my hands. She left a note saying she had family in New England, and it wasn’t going to last anyway. She left her clothes, and they smelled of salt and sunscreen. I held my breath as I shrugged on one of Bella’s shirts and trudged to the beach. I sat on the sand and watched a trio of friends walk from the parking lot toward the surf. Their shoulders shook. They slapped each other on the back.

They staggered into the water and did not surface.

 I stood, wondering whether I should call 911.

“Don’t bother.” I turned, and there was a police officer, binoculars up, scanning the horizon. “They do that sometimes.”

“But what if…”

“What if what?” The officer lowered the binoculars and eyed me. For the first time in months, I tensed, waiting. “You don’t think we’re better off?”


They are not our friends, someone wrote, when we were all rooting for boats to sink. Let them giggle. Let them squeal. We thought, oh finally, nature was doing the work for us, and we didn’t have to try so hard anymore.

Remember when we were all entertained as hell but land-locked, ground dusty and dry beneath our feet? When we nestled, content to fight among ourselves, comfortable and rage-filled, on our tectonic plates?

Plates, we grin. Ha ha. Hee hee.

On plates. We are all on plates.


Lyndsie Manusos’s work has appeared in Tor.com (now Reactor), Lightspeed, F&SF, and other publications. She lives in Indianapolis with her family, works as an indie bookseller, and writes for Book Riot. Her debut novella, FROM THESE DARK ABODES, is forthcoming from Psychopomp in the summer of 2024. You can read more at lyndsiemanusos.com.