I'm positive it started with the Squid yelling. "Rob! Come! I have need of you!" Always yelling. It's funny, but for the first week, a live giant squid— a live talking giant squid is just . . . is just the most amazing thing you can imagine. But, after the fiftieth tantrum or dick joke . . . well, you get to be pretty glad that the vaster part of nature cannot talk.
So, I'm certain that what might well be the last day of my life began with the Squid yelling for his half-wit hempseed lab assistant.
"Rob! I have need of you!"
"Heya, Lord A.," and how is it that the kid still thinks the Squid is from outer space? It's been years!, "Did you see this shit in the paper about the Mako sharks? Christ, you look like hell today."
"And feel like and unto the Hell I do, too, poor shuffling Rob. So overworked and paid-under that the mere act of lifting one's feet from the gray industrial carpet has become a Sisyphean task."
"Dude, you look, uh, like . . . a giant foreskin right now." Rob would have said this in hushed tones, rightfully scared of the reaction his comments might inspire. I remember once, the day after Rob said something impolitic about the Squids performance in a video game match-up, he came in covered with these terrible welts. He'd been attacked, in his sleep, by land crabs bearing leeches.
"My mantle is sloughing, Rob, and as you uncharacteristically wisely perceive, my skin is indeed a-fore. My aft is exposed to the briny deep of my glass and concrete paradise, and my soul weeps though I know not the cause. Listen close, young Rob, for time is short and I am very ill."
"Yeah, man, you got some Martian Pox or some shit? You're all greeny-gray and slimy looking. It's fucking gross, dude."
"Illness does not plague my kind very often, Rob: Disease is all but unknown to us. We grew aware of it from other benthic species that had their viruses, flukes and parasites. But we, the chosen of the planet, were unbeset by such calamity except on rare occasion. The nightmare plague of the Second Age of Hror was a great legend told to me when I was but a few metres in length. My people's head-sacs grew swollen and pained. None knew what to do. Color left their mantles and no amount of Will or Science could return it. After a brief interval of days, loud popping noises filled the chasm where the Squid-kin dwelt, and those who had been affected by the swelling were seen and known to have bursted forth from their brain-parts hordes of nightmares, shaped like toothéd worms. That plague did decimate my people.
"Rob, tell me, for as of now I lack the courage to gaze upon myself: Is there a swelling in my head sac? Have I the nightmare plague? Will ravenous worms rupture my tender skin and feast upon my delicious entrails for all my live-long days?"
Rob would have squinted into the glass— he always looks like a stoned chimpanzee— murky with the Squid's sloughed skin, and shook his flabby head. "No, Lord A. No swelling and no Romulan brain worms or whatever." Pause for his mental process to slowly crawl forward, "You ever see, like, Star Trek Two?"
"Forget about it; shit'd just worry you."
"I shall err on the side of caution, and pursue the matter no further. As for the markéd lack of apparent burstfull pressure building in my mantle, this is indeed good news. But still, I suffer. What mystery illness grips me so? I have lost all appetite; my skin is unfurling and truculent. My sleep— which so rarely comes , has come upon me these last few days and is troubled and difficult. I frequently wake turned upsided-now-downed."
Meanwhile, Sang, the Squid's creepy, toadying little Vietnamese lab director, probably scurried around taking readings from the host of gauges that encrust the far wall of the lab. Hushed calls placed on cell phones. Assurances made of the impending presence of various experts. Someone points out I'm not there.
A ten minute hold-up on the Lodge Freeway because some idiot insists on watching a DVD while driving a Hummer, and it's the difference between any other office day and having a death warrant put on your head. Unbelievable.
Sang would have solved the problem quickly— despite all his creepiness, he's quick, sure and qualified. That is what Sang is for: Problem-solving. Clean and rotate the filters. Adjust the oxygen mix. Denature and swirl the tank. But the Squid would have wanted more than solving. Some paranoid fantasy would have spun out in his gigantic, unfathomable head and he would set his hearts on pre-emption . . . what was that phrase from the Cold War? Mutually assured destruction.
He'd beckon Rob forward, who would slouch and scuffle up to the tank's glass like some R. Crumb character.
"Rob, there is more to be done. This illness. It may not be accidental. Like the cyst plagued Yuschenko of Ukraine Island I may have been poisoned by political enemies. As I have said afore, disease does not grip my sac lightly or easily. I suspect play of the foulest and most treacherous sort. Call forth my monkeywrench gang. Put the entire lab facility on Level Red alert. And please kill Molly, for she is certainly to blame."
Yup. Kill Molly. Rob is an incompetent half-wit, Sang a funny creeper full of ill-intent, the Ramirezes petty criminals, Devo . . . well, Devo is OK. Then there's chimps and dogs and chickens and a world full of pedophiles and cheats and liers, and it's Kill Molly. I'm an unpaid intern, for Christ's sake! It's Christmas! It's . . . it's like the Devil complaining to the movie theater management that the kids behind him are talking too loud. What the Hell?!?
"Rob, has my disease somehow made passage through the very glass of my tank and struck you down as well? The Anglo-Saxonese word for the act your mandibular bits perform escapes me— as do all words for chimpian facial movements; they are so imprecise and lack the expressive nature of mantle hues . . . gauging them is like wondering if ants know true love. A worthwhile pastime, but impossible to ever achieve a sense of completion. Are you making to gape? Or gawp? Gup? Rob, you gape. Or gawp. Well, you are like unto the guppie fish. (Gawpie fish?)"
"Uhh . . ."
"Rob! Answer me! Are there NightMare Worms in your stony brainsac, Rob? Call the Johnsons, Alert the Ramirezes, and kill Molly! She is the President of Vice is she not? Will she not be the one who most clearly benefits from my death?"
And this, this is the only part I know for sure: Rob— poor, stupid Rob, with his stupid crush on me— did the only thing he could in complying with both the edicts of his loyalty and his heart: He went out into the hall, got his cell phone out of his coat, called me, and explained what had transpired in this past ten minutes as best as his limited vocabulary would allow.
And then he went back into the lab, and told that fucking Squid I was stuck in traffic on the Lodge.
And that is why I, Molly Reynolds, am pounding out these notes while riding a midnight Amtrack out of town the week before Christmas, on the run from a crazed pack of Belgian chimps even as I am about to become the first woman Vice-President of the United States.
Last year, at the office Christmas party, Sang gave me a little cross-stitch sampler he had made that read "May you live in interesting times."
Thanks, buddy. Thanks a whole goddam lot.
(to be continued . . . )
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson