Todd almost choked on his lunch when she said it.
“I’m sorry, say that again?”
“I said, they’re everywhere. It’s absolutely unbearable.”
“Excuse me, Mrs. Benton, did you say you had purple snails?”
There was a pause. “Yes…yes, purple. At least, that’s how they look to me. Jeb, my husband, thinks they’re more a lavender color though.”
Todd put his sandwich down and tried to make some sense out of what he’d just been told. She couldn’t have seen purple snails. It was impossible. Nice as she was, the little old lady on the line must need new glasses.
“Okay, so how many of these…snails are there?”
“Like I said, they’re everywhere – the living room, the kitchen, the basement…it’s terrible.”
“That sounds like some infestation you’ve got there.”
“Can you help?”
“Um…yeah, I’ll come take a look. Give me your address.”
She complied and he wrote it down. After he hung up with her, he traced the numbers on the paper with his finger thoughtfully. Was this some kind of prank?
No, he decided. Why would a little old lady prank call an extermination company?
Then they must be seeing them wrong. There’s no such thing as purple snails. But if there were, it would certainly be one helluva find.
Todd looked up at the clock. It was lunchtime and he was the only one holding down the fort at the moment. He had six employees in his little business and it was normally their jobs to go out and investigate calls. It was the middle of the day and everyone was out on lunch, even the secretary.
He studied the address again – 1453 Seabay Road. That was roughly five or ten minutes away. That was more than enough time for him to go out, have a look, then set them up for an appointment and be back before the rest of his staff came back.
Todd grabbed the keys to the van and set out for The Benton’s vacation house. The way Mrs. Benton told it, she and her husband had come up from Charlevoix to vacation up in their summer home. When her husband opened the house, they discovered the infestation. Todd imagined that it probably was just a few darkly colored snails under the floorboards or around the foundation of the building, no big deal. He could probably have someone out there the same day for something like this.
Seabay Road was one of the few roads on the island that was off the beaten path. It twisted and turned through the hillsides and wooded areas that overlooked Lake Huron. The cabin itself was in an area that was known for its vacation spots. This time of year, plenty of people started coming up from the Lower Peninsula to stay up in these hills to enjoy the countryside in earnest.
It was also the most isolated and rural place on the island. Every summer, there was an article in the paper about some family losing a child or a dog somewhere up in the surrounding woods. Todd had always joked that if he was going to try to hide a body, it would be up in the hills where not a single soul dared to venture.
Reputation not withstanding, people still camped and stayed in that area every summer. For some, it was the perfect getaway.
He navigated the van up through the hillside and onto Seabay Road until he reached The Benton’s place. The house was a beautiful two story building that sat only a mile or two away from a bluff that overlooked the lake. As he pulled into the driveway, he imagined that a person could see eternity from the view of the back porch.
An RV sat in the yard next to the driveway. The panels on the side were bleached from the sun and the windshield was caked in dust and dirt from the road. The vehicle had probably seen more parts of the country than Todd ever had. As Todd pulled up, the screen door swung opened with a creaking noise and out toddled an elderly woman.
“Hello there!” she waved.
As Todd got out of the car, she started navigating her way down the metal stairs leading out from the screen door. She seemed to be laboring under a large hump on her back that bent her over so much she appeared to be carrying a heavy load instead of trying to walk. She moved carefully down each step, using a cane to assist her.
“Hello,” Todd responded. He saved her a few steps and walked up to her as she stepped onto the driveway. “You must be Mrs. Benton. My name is Todd. I’m from Extermicide?”
“Yes, yes. Of course. We spoke on the phone. Won’t you meet my husband, Jeb?” She turned partway until her face was aimed towards the RV. “Jeb? The exterminator’s here.”
A muffled; “I’m comin’,” came out of the RV and Mrs. Benton turned back to Todd.
“I can’t thank you enough for coming out so quickly,” she said. “This whole thing has got us so distressed. You know, we had such a long drive up here. All we wanted to do is go into our house and relax for a little while. It’s such a hassle to have to deal with this sort of trouble.”
"Well, hopefully, we’ll have this problem solved in no time.”
The door opened and an equally elderly man came walking out. He looked to be in better health than his wife, however. His face was less lined and his hair, though completely white, was shining healthily in the sunlight. Jeb walked upright down the steps with no trouble and he greeted Todd with a clear, uncomplicated smile.
“Nice to meet you,” he said shaking his hand firmly. “Let me show you the house. Betty, why don’t you go back inside and rest? I’ll show him around.”
“All right.” She turned back towards the stairs.
“Where’s your equipment?” Jeb asked as they made their way up the walk.
“Oh, I’m just the manager. All my guys are out to lunch, but your wife sounded so upset, I thought I’d at least come out and take a look.”
Jeb snorted. “Well, you're going to want to strap on some equipment if you have it with you and take care of this. I’m not about to wait around another day for this to be resolved.”
Todd chuckled. “With all due respect, these are snails we’re talking about, right? How bad could it be?”
Jeb just glanced at him as he fished his keys out of his pocket. “You tell me.”
When they reached the porch, Jeb unlocked the front door and walked inside. Despite the fact that it was noon, the living room was almost totally dark. Todd couldn’t see very much from the doorway.
“You might want to wait a second ‘til I find the light switch,” Jeb said from inside. Todd waited and stood on his side of the threshold. A second or two later the light came on…and Todd nearly fell over from shock.
The floor was covered with a sea of tiny purple shells. They moved slowly among each other making the floor appear to pulsate like a large purple rug.
“Oh…my…God…” Todd fell to his knees and peered down at the creatures. The shells were nearly transparent…but the color was definitely a light purple.
“I don’t believe this,” he said to no one in particular. “They’re actually purple!”
“I’d say they were more a lavender color,” Jeb said, “but that’s not neither here nor there, is it? Can you get rid of them?”
Todd reached out and picked one up by the shell. The structure bent inward under the pressure of his fingertips.
“Yeah,” he said. “But…well, are you sure you want an exterminator? I mean, this is, like, a scientific find or something. We’re probably looking at a whole new species here.”
Jeb frowned at him. “Well, who do you suppose I call, then? The zoo?”
“Maybe. I dunno. I just…you can’t just kill them off--”
“Listen, son. I don’t really care if these are the only purple snails on the face of planet earth. All I know is that the little bastards are in my rug and all over my kitchen. I need them gone and I need them gone now. Now, if you can’t do it…well, I’m sorry. I’m gonna have to go with another company.”
“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Benton,” Todd conceded reluctantly. “I’ll take care of them. All I ask is permission to take one or two of them with me…if that’s okay with you.”
“Don’t care what you do with ‘em. Just clear ‘em out of my house.”
Todd walked back to his truck and prayed he had a jar or something to carry a few of them with him. His mind raced with the possibilities. He’d be on every news show in the country for this. Maybe they would even name the little guys after him. Fortunately, there was an old fast food box buried in the back of the car. He grabbed a rag and cleaned it out as best as he could, then put on his gear and set to work on the house.
He stopped as he stood at the threshold of the front living room, looking down at them all. He’d be famous for this. As soon as he got back, he would call the local news, maybe even the national news. When word got out about this, his name would be in the history books.
He picked up as many as would fit in the fast food box, then set it outside on the window ledge for later. Then he put on his mask and lifted the nozzle of his poison tank.
“Sorry, little guys,” he said with a sigh. Then he started spraying.
To his surprise, the snails melted under the liquid almost instantly. He moved through the living room, spraying away the delicate creatures by the horde. They all melted away as if they had been made from sugar or some other water soluble substance. By the time he was finished with the living room, there was nothing left, but purple puddles all over the room.
He moved on to the kitchen. The snails here were a little darker and took a little longer to melt, but, just as they had in the living room, they all disintegrated under the strength of his poison.
When he was finished, he moved to the basement door. The husband hadn’t mentioned it, but the wife had, and if it made sense that if they got into a sealed house at all, it was probably through a crack in the basement wall or something. He opened the door and was taken aback by what he saw.
Hundreds of them – on the ceiling, on the walls, on the stairs. They pulsed in the dark making the stairwell to the basement look more like an open mouth, breathing in and out slowly.
“Jesus H. Christ,” he muttered as he looked at them all. He reached in to find a light switch, but his hand only touched cool hard shells.
“Okay,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his flashlight. As he shone his light over the wall of snails, he saw that these were twice as large as the ones in the kitchen and the living room…and their shells were darker.
“Wow.” He debated taking some of them out to the box on the window ledge with the others, but decided against it. The faster he got this job done, after all, the sooner he would be able to get his article in ‘People’.
He started spraying and as expected, these took a little longer to melt than the ones in the kitchen and a lot longer than the ones in the living room, but like the rest, they all still disintegrated.
He started spraying the steps, stepping down once a step was clear. He continued to do this until he was about halfway down and he happened to look over his shoulder...and his stomach started to turn. Snails were sliding in waves, back over the walls he’d just sprayed.
Todd stared in disbelief for a moment. The snails slid across the wall like water, sliding at a speed that he’d never seen any snail move.
“Wow,” he whispered, though something in his gut was beginning to scream warning. He sprayed the ones that had slid back on the wall again, then started back to spraying the stairs. He sprayed the next step, only to find that the snails weren’t disintegrating. He tried again, but the poison just glistened on the dark purple shells without any effect.
"Shit.” These must be the adults, he thought. Now he would have to call for backup. He turned around to go back up the stairs…
The staircase was covered again. As quickly as it took for him to turn his head, the walls, the ceiling and the stairs he’d just left were covered with the dark purple snails. He stood in the large pulsating mouth of the stairwell for a moment, evaluating the situation. Then he looked down at the step he was standing on to see the snails moving over his shoes at a supernatural speed. He grabbed hold to the railing so that he could shake them off his foot. His hand crushed scores of snails leaving behind a slippery mess that made it impossible to hold on. Todd struggled to keep his grip, stomping on as many of them as he could. Soon the stairs were slippery with dead snail carcasses and slime and he couldn’t keep his balance.
Todd went tumbling down the staircase, crushing snails as he went along until he hit the basement floor with a thud.
“Fuck,” he said, the pain of his back smacking against the hard floor vibrating through him. He sat up and looked down at the purple slime that covered his overalls and his hands. How would he explain this to the dry cleaners? He struggled to get up, but quickly realized that his legs weren’t responding…and his hands were starting to tingle.
What the…hell? He hadn’t fallen that hard. At least…he didn’t think so.
He tried crawling back towards the stairs, but the snails were starting to cover the floor around him. They surrounded him, crawling up his arms and legs like a creeping virus. Slowly, as he pulled himself through the swarm, his arms stopped tingling…and started to numb.
“No!” he yelled, as the ones on his legs moved up to his torso. He looked up into the pulsing mouth of the stairwell with desperation.
“Help!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “Somebody help me!”
By the time the snails were up to his shoulders, he’d lost all feeling in his arms. He screamed as he fell into the sea of purple beneath him.
“Help me! SOMEBODY HELP MEEEE!!!” He was screaming hysterically now as they moved up his neck and over his face. He was still screaming as they found their way into his mouth. He spat them out and continued to scream until he couldn’t feel his tongue…or the inside of his mouth. He screamed, his mouth growing loose from the surge of warm numbing that took over. He kept screaming as they filled his mouth and moved down his throat.
The last thing he heard as he tried to force air out of his lungs was the sound of sizzling. It wasn’t until he couldn’t scream anymore that he came to the realization that he was being dissolved from the inside out…
Jeb hung up the phone and sighed heavily. The deed was done and they’d skated through another year. There was only one thing left to do.
"Is it done?” Betty Benton said from the back.
“Yes. It’s all set.”
“Good.” She came hobbling out, the hump on her back making her move slowly through the trailer. She was dressed in her nightgown and a robe, ready for a long well-deserved sleep.
“Did you call his work?” she asked Jeb.
“Yup. Told him he never showed up and that we were very disappointed with their service. They won’t bother us.”
“Good.” She took a deep breath. “Let’s get this over with, then. I’m exhausted.”
Jeb helped his wife out of the RV and into the night. As the made their way up the walk, she shivered a little bit under the night air.
“We’d better hurry. I don’t want them to freeze.”
“They’ll be fine,” Jeb reassured.
In the house, Betty stopped as she entered the living room, the remnants of the snails splattered all over the floor in dried purple puddles. “Oh…my…”
“Don’t fret,” her husband said patting her hand softly. “It was a necessary sacrifice. We never would have gotten him in here if the babies weren’t first.”
She nodded in understanding and they kept moving towards the basement. As they walked down the basement steps, the snails moved out of the way to allow them passage. Jeb held her hand as they descended down into the cellar. “Watch your step. It’s still a little slippery.”
When they got to the foot of the stairs, the husk that was once Todd’s body was lying face up. His skin was waxy and hard, empty holes where his eyes had once been stared blindly into oblivion. His mouth was stuck open in a silent scream.
Jeb took out his hunting knife and cut open the overalls still covering his husk, then cut into his chest. Todd’s skin crunched under the blade as a slow hiss of air escaped his insides.
“Okay, Betty,” he said, waving his wife over. “Come on.”
She hobbled over and knelt down next to Todd with her back to him. She unbuttoned her nightgown revealing her hump. It pulsed slowly, purple tinged life moving under her skin.
She took a deep breath. “Okay. I’m ready.”
Jeb sliced open her hump and instantly hundreds of eggs slid out and into the hole Jeb had cut into Todd’s body husk. When her hump was empty, Betty Benton slid her nightgown back up over her shoulders and stood up straight, her mobility restored.
“Oh,” she said, stretching out. “That’s so much better.”
Jeb wiped his knife off on his jeans. “Thank goodness it’s over…at least for another year.”
“Yes. I’m going to bandage up my back and get some sleep,” she moved towards the stairs. “Make sure to turn the heat up tonight. I don’t want our babies to freeze.”
“Of course, dear.” Without another word, they left the basement and went to bed.
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