December 20

The Exterminator’s Visit (Part 7, conclusion)


Ethel thought she was losing her mind.  She wished she could rewind a tape, to clarify if she really heard what she thought she’d heard.

Had the animal actually spoken her name?

A paw pushed through beside the round, hairless head.   The paw had long curving claws that extended with small sharp points.  The arm was flat like a wrinkled flipper, but with a sharp bend at its mushy elbow.

Another arm followed, with the same flipper shape and claws at the rounded end.  The elbows hooked above the torn opening, and the animal started to emerge from the toppled box.

Ethel didn’t know what the thing was.  Not a cat, certainly, and she prayed it wasn’t a human baby.  As it pulled more of itself out, its torso was round like a baby’s, but the skin was wet and worm-pink with that horrible loose sag.  Short hairs, bristled like porcupine quills, dotted its back.  The thing probably weighed about thirty pounds.

And it was wounded.  The snapped end of a pencil protruded from its left side, and blood guided through the wrinkles and folds.  The animal shifted to one side and then the other as it struggled to emerge from the opening, and strange plastic bumps appeared along its stomach:  bright blue and green and red and yellow.  It had rolled through a dish of plastic push-pins.

Ethel realized she’d stored stationary supplies in the large box:  pencils and pens, scissors and letter openers, clips and pins, all tumbling loose when the box fell over.  Like a burst of shrapnel, puncturing and tearing into this awful creature.

Making him angry.

The rest of the animal wriggled out.  Instead of legs, two thick tendrils braided together to form a fleshy tail.

Horrid, unnatural thing.  An over-large tadpole, with flipper-like arms and a grotesque mockery of a human head.

“Devil!” she cried out — for who else could have sculpted such a hideous monster into dark life?

The creature examined her with wide, angry eyes — eyes clouded with age and unnatural wisdom.   Blood poured from the wound in the creature’s side.  A blue push-pin dropped from the creature’s stomach with an absurd plink.

“Ethel Finley,” the creature said.  Then it hissed.  Its tadpole tail coiled against a pile of fallen papers, its flipper-arms raised as if preparing to leap.

She recalled the man who visited earlier, and wondered if she’d actually heard him running from her home, slamming the door behind him…or if she’d heard his scream, and the crash of her books and bins and papers falling to bury him.

Ethel gripped the tiny flashlight and looked frantically for something, anything she might use as a weapon.

She wished she hadn’t convinced herself the gentleman caller had been a spy from the nursing home.  She could really use a good exterminator right now.