We spent the next month together.
Kiki took some time off to stay with me while I got used to the side-effects from the new medications.
The first few days were the worst, but after that, I began to even out and not feel so nauseous all the time, which was one hell of a relief, let me tell you.
I thought that I’d be stuck feeling like crap for months, but it only took a few weeks for me to start feeling like my old self again. I wasn’t as dizzy, nor as tired, and even though my legs still gave out sometimes, I was getting some of my strength back.
For the first time in over a month, I got a decent night’s sleep.
Unfortunately, I woke up early the next morning. If it weren’t for Kiki arguing on the phone, I would’ve slept until late that afternoon.
She was in the kitchen. Her voice traveled down the short hall and into the bedroom. The door was open just a crack and light from the kitchen spilled in.
I looked at the clock. It was 5:30 a.m.
Whoever called was important. Kiki didn’t get up much before noon on her days off.
“No. I told you, it’s all gone. There’s nothing left.”
I yawned and rolled over. I tried to get back to sleep, but I couldn’t. She was talking just a little too loud for that.
“Of course, of course. Yes. I did. No, no. The footage is corrupted. The samples are inconclusive.”
Ah. She’s talking about work.
I put an arm over my face to block out the light.
“What! Are you sure?”
The tone of her voice made me sit up. Something wasn’t right.
“They’re dead? All of them?”
She better be talking about fish and not people…
Kiki sighed. “Yes, yes. I understand. I’ll see you at the lab. One o’clock. Yes! I’ll be there. Goodbye.” She hung up. “Shit!” she shouted and threw her phone against the living room wall. I heard her scrambling to dig it out from behind the couch.
Yawning, I got out of bed and shuffled to the living room to see what was going on.
Kiki was bent over the back of the couch, her bare ass up in the air, her pink satin nightgown had slipped up when she dove to reach behind it.
I was sorely tempted to smack it, but I decided not to. She was in a bad mood. Doing that would only direct her anger at me. I didn’t feel like dealing with that, so I behaved.
“Hey there, sweet cheeks. Everything all right?” I asked, startling her. She bumped her head on the wall as she stood up.
“Ow,” she said, rubbing her forehead. Her phone was in her other hand.
“What’s going on? Who were you arguing with?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. They’re just threatening to pull the grant money.”
“Again? I thought you guys convinced them that you’re on the right track.”
“Well, we did. But there’s been some…complications.”
I stifled a yawn. “What kind of complications?”
“Sabotage. At least, that’s what it sounds like.”
“The college board of directors thinks that someone actively sabotaged our work in Belize, and they want answers. Glassner is livid. He thinks that the college is purposefully looking for an excuse to shut us down.”
“You never mentioned this before.”
“Because it wasn’t that big of a deal. I mean, yeah, someone stole our research materials and dumped them in the ocean, but we got proof that they worked. The Caddis Initiative formula, the one that we helped create, it had cured coral bleaching. So the board of directors backed down. But now—” she sighed and made a helpless gesture with her hands.
I took them and put her phone down on the coffee table.
“Sit with me chamo. Tell me what happened.”
She sat on the couch and leaned into me. I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a hug. She squeezed my arms and held them close.
I gave her a moment to calm down before I asked, “So, was that your boss on the phone?”
“Yes. Professor Glassner wanted to give me a heads up. He thinks that corporate will send someone to interview us. And that could put us back weeks in our research. We’re at a delicate time in our studies. We can’t afford to put things on hold again.”
“You sure that’s all? Sounded like it was worse than that. Like something, or someone, had died.”
“Did someone die?”
“What? No.” She waved it off with a nervous laugh. “It was just the fish we were using as test subjects. No one died. It’s not that bad. And you know, if we lose the grant money, I’ll still have a job teaching as adjunct faculty with him. He won’t lose his position as department head.”
“More like fish head.”
“I can’t believe you still say that stupid line.”
“I think it’s funny.”
“I know. I just…I don’t need this right now. I have enough to deal with. Why does everything always happen all at once?”
“That’s life chamo. No way to avoid it. It’s just how the universe works.”
“Well, it’s stupid. Fix it.”
“Take it up with God. I’m not the miracle worker. He is.”
“God is an artificial social construct invented by man to make sense of death and random horrible life events.”
“If you say so.”
Kiki was an atheist. I was raised Catholic. It was an interesting combination, to say the least.
“Hey, I’m sorry I woke you. I didn’t realize that I was being so loud.”
“It’s fine. I wasn’t sleeping well anyway. The new drugs give me weird dreams.”
“But, they’re keeping you alive, until they can find a way to safely operate on you, so there’s that.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m hungry. Make me breakfast woman.”
She chuckled. “You know that you only get away with saying that because I love you, right?”
I kissed her forehead. “Yup.”
“Good. Then, I’ll start breakfast.”
I wandered back to the bedroom and got dressed.
That kind of was a big deal.
Why didn’t she tell me about this sooner? She had plenty of time since she returned from her research trip to tell me. Did she honestly think that it wasn’t that big of a problem? Or did she not want me to worry about it?
It didn’t sit right with me.
Kiki had seemed a bit distracted for a few weeks after she came back, but I figured that it was just jet lag and the stress from getting her teaching lessons ready.
But, maybe it wasn’t.
Maybe she was worried about her project, and what it would do to the sea life.
I mean, I was no brilliant marine biologist working on getting a doctorate. I was a licensed plumber. I worked at the water treatment plant. But even I knew that just dumping experimental chemical compounds into the ocean wasn’t a good idea.
Plankton ingests that crap, bigger animals eat them, they in turn, are eaten by larger fish and so on. The substances build up in the larger fish’s bodies—like mercury for instance—and by the time we go to eat them, they are at toxic levels.
The ocean is a fine-tuned ecosystem.
Tip the scales too much in one direction, and there could be catastrophic results.
It was odd that she would keep this from me. Sure, Kiki kept secrets, but she always was upfront with me about things.
At least, I thought that she was, until now.
Made me wonder just what else she was keeping from me.
I sat on the couch and put my feet up on the coffee table while she started breakfast.
Bowser kept jumping on my chest, trying to lick my face. He wagged his tail, and bounced
everywhere, tongue lolling about and he tried to give me what Kiki affectionately called “kisses.”
Dog slobber was nasty.
“Ugh. Get down.” I pushed his stupid little butt until he jumped off the couch. “Kiki, where did you put the TV remote?”
“On the side table, with all of your other remotes.”
“Of course,” I muttered. “Why would I look anywhere else?”
She was in the kitchen, making pancakes. She loved making breakfast. Her cooking wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t the greatest, but it was edible.
“Did you find it?” she asked as she wiped her hands on a cute little frilly white apron with a pair of red lips on it that said KISS THE COOK.
If I wore it, it’d be hideous, but everything she wore looked super cute.
“Yeah. I found it. You don’t have to come over here.”
“You sure?” she asked and Bowser ran over to her and jumped on her leg until she reached down and picked him up. “Who’s a cutie patootie? You are, yes you are,” she said and kissed his nose.
He licked her face and she giggled.
“Hey, don’t let the pancakes burn.”
“Oh, fudge crackers,” she said and dropped Bowser and rushed back to the stove top and flipped the pancakes. “Crap!”
“Shut up. They’re fine. Just, a little over-done is all.”
“Whatever. You know that I’ll eat anything. I’m not picky.”
“You’re so sweet.”
The 8 o’clock morning news came on, and the reporter started talking.
“Hey, turn that up. I want to hear it.”
I turned up the volume on the TV.
The reporter stood outside the fence of the water treatment plant I worked at.
“Over the past few weeks, the CDC has received numerous calls from fishermen and medical officials of Sausautucket, New Jersey. A mysterious new disease is affecting the wildlife, and the townsfolk as well.”
“Oh no,” Kiki said. “It’s in the news now? How many people have come down with it?”
“No idea. I thought they were going to say something about the water treatment plant, but they were just using it as a back drop to start the segment. I was just about to call Frankie to tell him to check it out.”
A guy on the TV showed the reporter a sore on his arm. It was a red oval lesion, with a silvery blister bubble in the center.
“Yeah, I had three that burst on my back last night, and this one showed up this morning. The docs don’t know what to make of it. They just send me home with antibiotics, but they ain’t doing squat,” the man said.
“This is just one example of the strange, unidentifiable disease that’s affected the town of Sausautucket. While it does not appear life threatening, it is painful enough to send people to the hospital in droves.
“Some locals think that it is linked to bacterial contamination of the water supply, and they have blamed the old filtration units of the water treatment plant, which is currently scheduled for renovation this fall. We asked Superintendent Franklin Kelly earlier, and he said that while the water company has no official stance on the matter, he assured me that the filtration units have all been tested by OSHA and are in healthy running conditions. Back to you, Jim.”
I turned down the TV.
“So no one knows what is causing it, huh?” Kiki asked.
“Nope. Not a clue.”
Bowser barked at her, ran over to the door and started scratching it.
“In a sec, puppy! Sheesh,” she said and took off the apron and threw it over the top of a chair.
“What about the pancakes?”
“Ugh! Just, flip them when they start to bubble. I’ll be back in a minute” she said, sliding on her sandals. She grabbed Bowser’s pink leash, hooked it to his collar and stepped out of the apartment.
I sighed and walked over to the kitchen.
She’s crazy if she thinks I won’t murder these things. I’m a horrible cook.
I grabbed the spatula and stood over the pan. I held it like a baseball bat and swung it over the stove.
Outside, Bowser growled and started barking. I heard Kiki shout at him to shut up, and he continued barking like a madman. He must’ve seen a squirrel or something.
The pancakes started to bubble. I tried to flip them over, but they didn’t turn and became a mushy pile of batter in the pan.
“Perfect pancakes every time,” I said, mocking that stupid infomercial they keep playing for the PERFECT PANCAKE MAKER. It’s just a waffle iron with the grid removed. Definitely not worth $29.95 plus shipping.
Damn, that little dog is freaking loud. I wonder what he got into now?
I turned off the stove burner and slid the pancake lumps onto the plate. No way I could make anything edible. She could deal with it.
My phone beeped.
Kiki sent me a text that read, “COME OUTSIDE!!!!!”
Bowser probably got away from her again and was hiding underneath the apartment dumpster out back. He’s done that every time she took him out this week. The little bastard was obsessed with something he thought was under there.
Maybe he smelled a dead rat.
I put on my shoes and grabbed my keys, locking the door behind me before easing my way down the steps and out the side door of the apartment complex.
An ambulance streaked by with the siren wailing.
It was the third one this morning. Stupid tourists. There were always more ambulances out once tourist season started.
“Where are you chamo?”
“Over here! By the dumpster.”
Kiki was squatting by the rusty green dumpster and poking at something with a short stick. Her blue ruffled mini-skirt hiked up high on her thighs. Her panties peeked out from under them. They matched the skirt and had delicate white lace trim around the edges.
“Who you giving fan service to?” I asked and flipped up the back of her skirt.
Kiki reached back with one hand and pulled it down.
“No one. Jeez!”
“What are you doing down there? Helping Bowser fish for roaches?”
She grinned at me.
“I found something.”
“Found what? Where’s Bowser?”
“I tied him to the tree over there so he wouldn’t get bit.”
“Bit by what?” I asked and tried to look around her.
“Wait a sec.” Kiki put out a hand to block me. “I want to take a picture and send this to Professor Glassner before it moves again.”
“Oh, the college guy? The one you’re in love with? Didn’t you talk to him enough this morning?”
“No. Not him, the other one.”
“Oh. Him. I see. Carry on.”
I leaned against the dumpster as she took pictures.
“Okay Bam Bam, come here and check it out,” she said as she sent a text. “I want to see what Prof thinks it is. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
I popped a squat next to her.
“So, what are we looking at exactly?”
“Some sort of marine creature I think.”
In front of the dumpster was a legless purple crab the size of a football. It was covered in a lumpy, pulsating pile of white slime.
The slime wiggled like Jell-O when she poked it with a stick.
“How did it get here?” I asked.
“A bird probably dropped it. Could’ve picked it up off the beach thinking it could eat it or something.”
“Stop messing with it, you’re going to piss it off.”
“I’m trying to observe its response to physical stimuli.”
“You’re poking it with a stick.”
“Don’t question me while I am performing the scientific method.”
“All right, have it your way.”
The creature chittered, and a crab leg unfolded up out the top center of the shell with a loud crack.
The leg batted the stick away.
“What the hell? What is that?” I asked, and took a step away from it.
“I don’t know. Isn’t that great? Becca, this could be a new marine species!”
“A mutant crab? I highly doubt it.”
“You lack imagination.” Her phone chimed and she looked at it. “Prof just texted me. He wants me to bring it to the lab. Help me find something to put it in.”
I spotted a piece of cardboard on the concrete grabbed it.
“Hey, why don’t we use the dog carrier? We’ll shove that thing into it with this, and zip it up tight. After we eat, you can drive it over to the lab and drop it off.”
“Good idea. You’re the best Bam Bam.”
“Why do I get the feeling that I’m going to regret this?”
She leaned over and kissed me.
“I’ll make sure that you won’t. Here’s the car keys.”
I popped opened the back hatch of her Mini Cooper. I looked at the dog carrier and had second thoughts.
If that crab was covered in a nasty parasite or bacteria, and we couldn’t clean it properly, it could infect Bowser.
I shut the door, tossed the cardboard scrap aside and went back over to her.
Bowser was yipping and growling, bouncing back with each bark, digging up grass with his claws as he went.
“Shh! Bow-Bow. Be quiet.” Kiki pointed her finger at him. He ignored her and kept right on barking.
“Oh yeah. He’s trained real good there, chamo.”
“Where’s the carrier? Did I forget it at my place?”
“No. It’s in there. But it’s not going to work.”
“Why not? It’s big enough, right?”
“No, that’s not the issue…Ugh. All this excitement is making me lightheaded. I’m getting dizzy.”
Kiki grabbed my arm and helped me over to sit on the back steps.
“Sit here a minute.”
I took a deep breath and waited for the world to stop spinning.
“As I was saying, for all we know, that thing could be infected with a nasty disease. If we put Bow-Bow in the carrier afterward, and we don’t clean it out well enough? He could get whatever it has and end up being dissected in a lab.”
“Crap. You’re right. I guess we need a box and something to scoop it up with.”
“Sure, let me just pull a shovel out of my ass and we’ll pick it up.”
“The apartment complex has a snow shovel by the back door. We could use that.”
“Oh yeah. And maybe if you ask the complex manager nicely and show him your tits he’ll let you keep it.”
“Good idea. I’ll go find him now.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“Well, you’re the one who loves an idiot, so what does that make you?”
“The smart one in this relationship. Duh. Keep your shirt on and let me think a minute.”
Behind her, the weird crab quivered and shook.
“Oh neat,” Kiki said and walked back over to look at it.
“Hey, don’t get too close.”
Bowser whined. He sounded scared.
The slime coating shivered, then pulled tight against the crab’s body, and disappeared. Like it was rapidly absorbed.
“Chamo, come back here, it could be dangerous,” I said and gently pulled her over to stand next to me.
There was a sharp bone-cracking sound. The shell shrank to about half its size, and ten crab legs popped up from the top and unfolded, pulling the remnants of the white jelly into strings as they parted open.
It was almost as if it had just made the legs out of its shell.
But…that wasn’t possible. Was it?
“Madre de Dios,” I said and crossed myself.
Kiki grabbed my shoulders and hid behind me, using my body as a shield as we watched it move.
The legs were all over, sticking up at odd angles on the top and sides of its body. They twitched and stretched out, tentatively touching the asphalt. They weren’t in the right spots for it to walk with them; some barely reached the ground, others were at awkward angles that would not support its weight.
“What is that?” I whispered.
“I don’t know.”
As we stood and stared, the base sockets of the legs were pushed out of the crab body by tiny orange roots. Like weird alien tentacles, the roots walked the legs, sockets and all, down to the sides of the shell, where they wriggled and burrowed back into the body.
“It has free-floating legs. How is that possible?” she asked.
“No clue. You’re the marine biologist. You tell me.”
Kiki shoved her phone past my head to record a video as it stood up and took slow, measured, jerking steps towards Bowser.
There was no telling what it would do if it got a hold of him.
I had to stop it with something before anyone got hurt.
There was an empty milk crate sitting by the back door. The ground was littered with cigarette butts, so it had to be our downstairs neighbor, Mrs. Waters. She liked to sit when she smoked.
“Stay here. Don’t let that thing get close to you,” I said.
“And what are you going to do?”
“Save your stupid dog before he gets eaten.”
I walked towards the back door, my head pounding with the start of one hell of a migraine.
Kiki picked up the stick she was poking it with earlier and tossed it at the crab. It startled, pulled all its legs close, then made a strange angry hissing sound.
“Why did you do that? You’re pissing it off.”
“I had to see if its eyes worked the same way as a normal crab’s.”
“Yes. Its eyes can sense motion by detecting changes in light and shadows,” she said. “If you don’t move fast, it won’t see you.”
“Like the T-Rex in JURASSIC PARK, right? It can’t see me if I’m standing still?”
“Yup. Exactly like that.”
I took a step and waited.
The crab inched toward me.
I took another step and stopped.
It did the same.
The distance between myself and that thing was longer than the distance to the back door. If I timed it right, I could make it to the milk crate just before the mutant crab reached me.
Keeping my eyes on it, I took slow, long strides on shaking legs over to the crate.
With each step, it moved closer to me.
“Be careful Becca.”
“I got this. Just stay calm.”
When I was an arm’s length away I rushed for the crate. The crab skittered fast towards me; its legs digging into the asphalt, scraping deep white lines as it went.
I snatched up the milk crate and slammed it over the creature just as it tried to spear me with a leg.
The crab grunted and squeaked. Long, black needle-sharp quills popped out of the top of its shell. I pulled my hands away before it could stick me with them.
I snatched the large rock Mrs. Peters used to prop open the back door and set it on the milk crate, anchoring it in place, and stepped back.
The crab stopped quivering. The needles pulled back into its body, which then turned a threatening bright red.
“Holy crap! It has chromatophores too?” Kiki shouted.
“It has what now?”
“Skin cells that let octopi and chameleons change their skin color.”
One of its front legs cracked loudly as it elongated and doubled in size. A set of finger-length, mottled lilac pincers formed on the end.
The pincered leg touched the milk crate in different spots like it was exploring the points to find where the bars intersected on the sides.
“Are you okay?” Kiki asked. “You’re shaking pretty bad.”
“Yeah. I’m fine. It didn’t get me.”
“I’m good. Really, I’m fine.”
She picked up Bowser and carried him over.
“Oh man. This is so scary, and yet so cool.”
“Chamo, that thing tried to attack us. Why are you happy about it?”
“Because it’s unique. We’re looking at what could be an entirely new species of animal. It’s exciting!”
“And that’s a good thing?” I asked, eying it cautiously.
“Yes. Because we discovered it.”
“You know, if you take it to the college, the science department heads will get all the credit for it.”
“No, they won’t. They’re not like that.”
Bowser wriggled, trying to break free from her arms, and she held him tighter.
“You kidding? That’s the way the world works. You’re the lowly peasant. You get no credit.”
“Boo. But, we should still take it to Professor Glassner. We need to study this. It could be super important. I mean, what if you’re right and it has a contagious disease that we’ve never seen before?”
“Fine. But we’re going to need something better than a milk crate to carry it. I have an empty storage tub upstairs. That should hold it. We can throw it out when we’re done. I’ll go get it.”
“You sure you want to run up and grab it? I mean, I could do it for you. You can stay here, and watch Bow-Bow and the crab.”
“I’ll be fine. We’re on the second floor. I’ll only be a few minutes, tops. Just don’t let anyone near it. Tell them it’s poisonous or something.”
“Okay. Be careful Bam Bam. Don’t run on the stairs and fall and hurt your head. I’d hate to have to take you to the hospital again.”
“I’ll be careful, promise,” I said and went inside, going up the stairs as fast as I dared, gripping the handrail to support myself.
She was right, the last thing I needed was to fall and crack my head open.
I opened my door and rushed inside, leaving the keys in the lock and the door wide open. With shaking hands, I grabbed the empty clear storage tub, made sure that the lid would seal tight and locked the door.
I double-checked to make sure I had my keys, then rushed down the stairs. I didn’t hear Mrs. Waters walking up to her apartment and ran right into her, then bounced my hip on the end of the rail and caught myself before I fell and smacked my head on the floor.
“Oh my! I’m so sorry! Are you hurt?” she asked, and took my arm with a pudgy hand to help steady me. Her floral mumu dress was a wall of powder blue fabric with large tropical flowers sticking their tongues out at the world. It was lurid, yet kitschy at the same time.
“Thanks. No, I’m not hurt. Sorry about that. I’m kind of in a hurry.”
“Oh? Where’s the fire?”
“At your mom’s,” I said and she laughed as I stepped outside.
Kiki stood there, holding the doggy carrier—now with Bowser inside—watching the crab with wide eyes.
“Did you turn off the stove?” she asked.
“Yeah. I did that before I came out.”
“Cool. You know, I have to admit, this is rather unsettling. Something’s really off about this thing. I don’t like how quickly its body changed. I mean, those needles weren’t there before. They weren’t hiding in the mess of silver mucous or its lumpy shell. It made its legs and those quills in response to feeling threatened by us. Crabs can’t change their bodies like that. It’s just not natural.”
“You’re right. They don’t. Go pull your car up. I’ll put the crab in this and we’ll head straight to the college.”
“Sure,” she said and got into her car. She backed it out of the parking spot and pulled up beside the dumpster.
I stepped over to the milk crate.
While I was gone, two of the crab legs had moved closer to the front and had turned into serrated half-claws. They were sawing through the plastic arms of the crate’s grid.
Kiki rolled down her window and popped open the passenger side door.
“When did it get those?” I asked.
“Just now, I think.”
“Wonderful. Just give me a sec and I’ll scoop it up.”
Kiki nodded and gripped the steering wheel tight.
She was nervous.
So was I.
“This is loco. Why am I doing this?” I asked myself as I slowly walked up to the crate.
I slowly tilted one end of the milk crate up and slid the tub lid under it. The crab legs lifted to allow the lid to slide under its body.
I did this once with a spider I caught in a glass cup on the table. I had slipped a piece of paper under the rim of the glass and kept pushing it across. The spider calmly walked onto the paper, just as the crab was doing now with the plastic lid.
Once the lid was completely under the crab, I flipped the tub upside-down and set it over the milk crate. I pushed down and snapped it into the lid, securely shutting the crate and the strange crab inside.
I carefully lifted up the tub, still holding it upside down, and walked it over to the car.
“This thing is heavier than it looks. Be careful,” I said as I handed her the tub.
“Whoa. You weren’t kidding. How much do you think it weighs?”
“Off the top of my head? Probably 25 pounds or so.”
I got into the passenger seat, buckled the seat belt, and took the tub from her.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Let’s do this.”
Kiki backed up fast, kicking up gravel as she turned her Mini Cooper around and drove out onto the main road.
I could almost hear the gears turning in her head. It was like she couldn’t decide if she should be excited or scared about all of this.
“This is just, incredible. I mean, this is really, really exciting stuff here.”
“I don’t know, something isn’t right about all of this.”
“Why? Because it’s exhibiting behavior never before observed in animal life on Earth?”
“Yes. That’s exactly why I think that. It’s unnatural. It is of el Diablo.”
“Oh, no. Don’t go getting all superstitious on me now.”
“I can’t help it. I’m Latina. Catholicism is in my blood.”
“Right. How silly of me to forget,” she said and pulled onto the street that led to the community
Bowser whined from inside of his carrier on the backseat.
“See? Even your dog doesn’t trust that thing.”
“Oh, Bow-Bow whines like that every time I take him in the car. That’s normal.”
“If you say so.”
Plastic snapped inside the tub, making me jump.
“What was that?” she asked.
“It’s breaking the crate apart.”
Kiki whistled. “Aggressive little bugger, huh? Here, text Professor Glassner and tell him we’ll be
there in a few minutes.”
She handed me her phone and I looked at her funny.
“I hate your phone, it’s retarded.”
“Is not. You’re just an iThingie hater.”
I figured out what app to hit and selected Professor Glassner from the list and sent him a text.
He replied right away with,“Meet me at the back door.”
“He said to meet him at the back door, and to leave your panties in the car.”
“He did not. Shut up.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I think someone’s prof is a pervert.”
“Idiot. Give me the phone.”
I handed it to her and she glanced at the text and gave me a look.
“You are so stupid.”
“You should know better than to believe me when I say things like that.”
“I guess so.”
Kiki parked the car next to the side door of the marine sciences building.
“Hold on, I’ll get the door for you,” she said, and came around the side and popped open the car door. I gave her the tub so that I could climb out of her little clown car, and then took it from her.
Kiki grabbed Bowser’s carrier from the backseat.
“I can’t. It’s too hot to leave him in the car.”
“Fine. Whatever. Let’s go, this is getting heavy. I probably shouldn’t even be carrying it.”
She gave me an apologetic look and we walked towards the faculty entrance, where Professor
Glassner opened the door and let us in.
“This way ladies, we’ll take it to the lab.”
He ushered us to his classroom.
Kiki held the door for me and I walked inside.
“Set it down over here please,” he said and I gently placed the tub on the lab table.
The professor locked his door and then lowered all the window blinds.
“It’s not a gremlin, prof. It’s not going to burn up in sunlight or anything,” I said.
“Can’t have prying eyes looking at this before we get to study it in detail. There’s no way I’m letting
Doctor Collins get the credit for this.”
He brushed back his thinning brown hair with a hand and straightened his rumpled lab coat.
That coat seriously needed bleaching, and his old worn Oxford shoes slid over the tiled floor as he walked. Not exactly the safety oriented type. In fact, he looked like the type to forget about important, dangerous things.
I gave Kiki a look. She grinned sheepishly and shrugged. She liked Professor Glassner.
She trusted him.
“Kiki, you didn’t introduce us,” he said.
“This is my friend, Rebecca Espinoza. Everyone calls her Becca. Becca, this is Professor Glassner.”
“I kind of figured,” I said.
“Oh, you must be the one that was in the hospital that she was telling me about the other day. How has the medication been working for you?”
“You have a brain hemorrhage condition. What’s it called?” He snapped his fingers. “Cerebral cavernous malformation. That’s the name of it right?”
“I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”
“Ah. Kiki didn’t say that it was a sensitive subject for you. Forgive me for bringing it up.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. It just killed my mom and aunt. It’s not a big deal at all.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that. You know, you could sign up for a new trial drug they’re testing for it. It could help with some of the symptoms.”
“I’m fine. Thanks.”
My heart was pounding.
I was pissed.
Son of a bitch.
Kiki told him I was sick.
She promised me she wouldn’t tell anyone.
Not only that, but she said that she wasn’t going to lie about us anymore. And she introduced me as a friend?
The room tilted a foot to the right and I grabbed onto the edge of the lab table to steady myself. If I got too mad, and my blood pressure spiked, I could be in serious trouble.
I took a deep breath and tried to calm down.
“What’s wrong?” Kiki asked.
“Nothing. Just dizzy. I’m going to sit over here until we go if you don’t mind.”
I hopped up on a stool, leaned my back against the lab table and waited for the room to stop spinning.
She told him about my illness, but not that we were dating?
I thought that I was used to it, but I wasn’t.
Kiki still hasn’t told anyone that she’s gay. No one she went to school with or worked with knew about us.
Besides, wasn’t she going to “turn over a new leaf” and let people know the truth about her? About us?
She isn’t ever going to change, is she?
“Well then, let’s open this up and take a look at what we’ve got here,” Glassner said and popped off the tub lid.
“Be careful,” Kiki warned. “It reacts fast. It’s surprisingly agile. And it keeps physically adapting its body to new stimuli.”
“Adapting. In what way?”
“Growing legs and quills out of nowhere,” I said.
“Really? I find that highly implausible.”
“Whether you believe it or not Professor, that thing is hyper adaptive. I’ve never seen a marine animal change its body so drastically in such a short amount of time. It’s almost as though it came into contact with something that’s forcing its body to change.”
They exchanged a look that made me uneasy.
They knew something and they weren’t telling me about it.
He stood close to her as he removed the tub.
Bowser whined and I took the carrier from Kiki.
“Oh, thanks, Becca.”
“Sure,” I said and put it on the lab table next to me.
Bowser looked around, sniffed the air, his pointed ears moving this way and that as he tried to figure out where he was now.
I looked at him and whispered, “I hope that thing bites him. You?”
He sneezed in reply.
I was pretty sure that meant yes.
Glassner put the tub on the side of the lab table and whistled.
The serrated half-claw legs were busy sawing apart the thick plastic rungs on the milk crate.
Bits of the black plastic was covering the top of the crab in places like spikes of armor. It looked like it removed the rungs and shoved them into its shell.
“What in the world are you?” he asked and squatted down so that he was eye-level with the table and looked at the mouths on its underside. “Mandibles and chelipeds on the abdomen? I wonder if they all lead to its stomach or if they’re vestigial?”
“Who knows?” I said. “You got a cage or a tank that thing can fit in? You don’t want it roaming around here. It’ll tear this place apart.”
“Good point. There’s a spare tank next door. I’ll go grab it,” he said and stepped out of the room.
Kiki stood there, watching the crab as it cut the milk crate apart.
“That plastic crate is thick. It’s hard to bend or cut through,” she said.
“Yup. That’s why I grabbed it.”
“So, how is it ripping it apart so quickly?”
I eased off the stool and stood by her. “Those claws, they look crazy sharp.”
“They do. There’s metal lining them now. They’re like serrated knives or a saw. Holy crap dude, this is insane.”
“Check it, there’s a mouth on the front now.”
It looked like the main mouth of the crab, except the mandibles were longer with hooked ends. It looked more like a squid’s beak than a crab’s mandibles.
“Whoa. That looks super dangerous.”
“It didn’t before? What are you, stupid?”
“No. What’s your problem?”
“I have a killer headache and I’m hungry,” I said as Glassner came back in carrying a large fish tank with a metal lid.
He set it down on the table.
“This is reinforced fiberglass,” he said, rapping his knuckles against the side of the tank. “I got it last year when a student was studying mantis shrimp. Those things can hit the bottoms of tanks so hard, they crack the glass.”
“Damn. That’s impressive.”
“They’re very interesting creatures. The lid clamps down on it, so the crab will have a difficult time pushing it up and off it.”
“What do you think it eats?” Kiki asked.
“Miniature Pinschers,” I said and she hit my arm.
“I would hazard to guess that it would consume what other crabs in the area eat. What beach did you find this on?” he asked.
“Um. We didn’t find it at the beach. It was outside Becca’s apartment building, hiding by the dumpster.”
“Eating the concrete,” I added.
“Eating…the concrete?” he said and raised an eyebrow.
“Seriously?” Kiki asked.
“Yup. There’s a hole in it now. I noticed it as we were driving away. It cut a disk clean out of the parking lot.”
“That’s bizarre. I’d love to see it. Got a picture of it?”
“No,” Kiki said. “We thought it best to come straight here. I’ll take a picture and send it to you when
we get back.”
“Good idea. I’m going to go grab some Kevlar gloves and then we’ll gently slide the specimen into the tank. Becca, would you mind helping Kiki move the tank onto a pair of stools and holding it steady while we transfer it?”
“Only if I get gloves too,” I said and he shot me a look. “What? You want me to catch something nasty from it? I’m not getting that close without some sort of protection on my hands.”
“Becca has a point,” Kiki said. “Its legs are quite long. For all we know, it can hyper-extend them and hit us as we try to move it.”
Glassner stood there, watching the crab for a moment.
“You’re right. I’ll get three pairs.”
He walked over to the closet in the lab and pulled out three metal meshed gloves and gave us both a pair to put on.
“I thought you said these were Kevlar,” I said while sliding them on.
“They’re Kevlar-lined steel mesh gloves. We use them to handle sharks.” Kiki flexed her fingers in her gloves. “Bring that stool over here, will you?”
I picked up the stool and placed it next to the one she grabbed from another lab table. We picked up the fish tank and set it on them.
Kiki took off the lid and tipped it on its side.
“You hold that, and as soon as that thing gets in here, put it on,” I said and Kiki nodded.
“We’ll tip the tank upright after we’ve secured it,” Glassner said.
“Yup. Let’s do this,” I said and held the tank steady.
Glassner took a deep breath. “Right,” he said and held his hands awkwardly over the crab. It stopped ripping off a piece of the bottom of the tub and all of the clawed legs raised upward towards his hand and started snapping at him.
“Oh my,” he said. “Uh…”
“Put your hands down. It follows motion. Just grab the end of the tub lid and slide it over, like you said you were going to do in the first place.”
“Yes. I did say that, didn’t I?”
Kiki watched, her eyes wide. “Be careful Prof.”
“Always,” he said. “All right. On three. One. Two. Three.”
He shoved the lid off the lab table and into the huge tank. The large crab skittered up the lid and onto Glassner’s arm. He cried out, startled as it pinched his lab coat and tried to rip it off of him. Without thinking I grabbed the back of the crab and yanked it off and shoved it into the tank.
Kiki slammed the lid down and locked the clasps in place.
“Bam Bam, your gloves.”
My hands were bare.
The gloves were gone.
I looked at the tank.
My gloves were stuck to the sides of the crab.
“I did not mean to do that.”
“No harm in it,” Glassner said.
There were a few rips in his lab coat sleeves, but no blood. It didn’t look like it hurt him.
“Are you two uninjured?”
“I’m fine,” Kiki said.
“It didn’t get me. It just stole my gloves.”
“But your hands,” Glassner said. “They’re scraped up.”
I looked at them. Scrapes ran over the tops of my hands.
They started to ooze little droplets of blood.
“Huh. That’s weird.”
“We should clean those out, just in case,” Kiki said and she grabbed my arm and walked me over to the sink.
Glassner brought the first aid kit and she washed out the scrapes on my hands.
“Does it hurt?” she asked.
“No. Should it?”
“I dunno. Just asking.”
“It’s fine,” I said and pulled my hands away. “I think I can handle washing my hands. Go help lover boy finish whatever it is you need to do to study it and let’s go home. I’m starving.”
“Um, sure,” she said, looking a little upset.
Whatever. She’s the one that’s lying to everyone about us. She has no right to be mad at me.
I finished washing my hands and dried them. I put a couple of bandages on the biggest scrapes.
It should’ve stung like a bitch, but it didn’t hurt at all.
Was this a new symptom of my illness? Or was there something else wrong with me?
I sat and watched them move the tank with the crab onto a wheeled cart.
“I’m taking the next few days off, so I’m not going to leave this here. I’ll take it home to study it,” Glassner said.
“Are you sure? I mean, what if it’s dangerous?” Kiki asked.
“I’ve worked with dangerous marine animals in the past. I’ll be fine,” he said. Sweat was beading up on his forehead.
“You okay there Prof?” I asked. “You’re looking a bit pale.”
“I’m fine. It was just nerve wracking there for a moment.”
“Do you think it could be poisonous?” she asked.
“A poisonous crab? Highly doubtful,” he said and poured a little bit of water into the tank. The crab grunted and squeaked and pulled some of its legs of the sides of the tank and put them in the water.
“There you go, little guy. I’ll get you some food in a moment.”
He talked to it.
And I thought that my girlfriend was weird.
This dude was a fruitcake.
Kiki walked up to me and took my hands gently.
“Thanks for helping. We’ll be done soon.”
I pulled away from her. “Take your time. Don’t mind me.”
“What’s with the attitude?”
“Nothing. Just hurry up so we can leave. I’m starving.”
I ended up waiting half an hour as Kiki helped Professor Glassner load up some science tools and junk into his Jeep. I just sat there at the lab table, with my head resting on my arm.
I must’ve fallen asleep because Kiki startled me when she touched me.
“Hey. You okay?”
“Fine. You done yet?”
“We just need your help putting the tank into the back of the Jeep.”
I sighed. “All right.”
I followed her out the side door and into the faculty parking lot.
Glassner stood next to the tank, watching the crab.
It had ripped off one of its arms, which was now coated in a layer of metal, and was scraping the bottom of the tank with its coarse-toothed edge.
The only thing that remained of my gloves were the rubber cuff threads. They were in a discarded pile in a corner of the tank.
“This is just absolutely fascinating,” he said.
“Yeah. Sure is,” I said and walked over. “What do you want me to do?”