Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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SCORPIONS ON THE COFFEE TABLE



By Roy Dorman




  They’re going to come by a special commercial delivery and will be in a vented cardboard box.  You won’t have to do anything except keep them warm and dry until I can pick them up.  I should be there Saturday night or Sunday morning at the latest.  Thanks, Allan, I appreciate it.

Those words were the final paragraph of an incredibly long e-mail from Max Sherwood, an old college friend of Allan Robertson’s from way back.  The e-mail had been practically a doctorate thesis on scorpions.  Allan hadn’t seen Max for at least three years and was totally caught off guard by his odd request.

Early scorpions, Pulmonoscorpius, for example, first made the scene during the Carboniferous period, about 330 to 340 million years ago,” Max had written.  “Sometime during that span, they had gone from aquatic water breathers with gills, to air breathers with lungs, as they evolved into land dwellers.  Some of the fossils found in Scotland have them being up to 28 inches long.  That’s compared to the ones I’m sending to you to hold for me, Emperor Scorpions from West Africa, some of the largest in the world, that are about 7-8 inches long….

Max was definitely into scorpions.  He and Allan had been roommates at Iowa State back in the sixties, first in the dorms, then in off-campus apartments.  They had shared clothes, food, beer, wine, women; they’d shared everything.  Since Max was a Biology major and Allan was in English and Social Studies, they had gone their separate ways after graduating.  Every five years or so, when one of them was on the other’s turf for some reason, they’d meet up for dinner and drinks.

Max and Allan had had a falling out the last time Max had been in town due to Allan being a little over amorous with a woman Max was seeing.  Max had brought her with him on this visit and the three of them had had too much to drink at dinner.  There had been some yelling, and then some shoving, and Max’s friend had left furious with the both of them.  Max was gone in the morning without calling Allan to say good-bye.  Thinking about it now and feeling a little guilty, Allan realized that the same scenario had played itself out a number of times when they had been in college.  He tried to remember if he had always been the one at fault.  He kind of thought that he had been.    

The box arrived on the following Saturday morning about 10:00.  The sturdy brown cardboard box was about two feet by two feet and about six inches deep.  Air-holes were on all four sides and also on the top. On each end was a metal clasp that attached to a metal counterpart to keep the lid in place.  Additional security was some plain barn twine tied around the box a couple of times and knotted tightly.

Allan knew little about scorpions except that they were highly poisonous.  He set the box on a coffee table in the living room where it would remain undisturbed.

At about 11:00 that night, Allan decided to go to bed.  He figured Max wasn’t going to be here to pick up his monsters until the following morning.  Checking his e-mail one more time before he went to bed, he saw that there was a message from Max.

Allan, I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but DO NOT OPEN THE BOX before I get there.  Scorpions are VERY DANGEROUS and their venomous stings can be FATAL. Obviously, I won’t be making it in tonight, but will see you in the morning.  Max

After being in bed for only a few minutes, Allan heard a scratching noise coming from the living room.  “What can that be?’ he wondered to himself.  He got up and turned on the light in the living room.  The scratching stopped immediately.  It was coming from the box.

Turning off the light, he went back and got into bed.  “Could they get out?  Is that what that scratching noise is?  Are they trying to escape?”

The scratching noise started again and Max felt himself feeling imaginary itches.  He looked into the dark corners of his room and convinced himself there was movement on the floor.

“What if they’re not the African scorpions Max described in the e-mail.  What if he somehow got a hold of one of those Pulmono-whatever scorpions; the really big ones, and he plans to kill me with it.”  Snapping the bedroom light back on, he told himself to get a grip.  Scary things are always out of proportion at night.  Sometimes guilt, too.

Allan really, really wanted to take a peek at what was in the box.  He decided to set the box outside on the porch for the rest of the night so that he wouldn’t be tempted.  He went to pick up the box and noticed that the twine that had been wrapped around the box had been cut.  It hung loosely on the box.  It had been cut, or chewed, or whatever, where it had been tied across one of the air vents.

“Don’t open the box, don’t open the box,” Allan mumbled to himself as he started to loosen the clasps on the ends of the box.

Max had known that Allan would probably open the box; that’s the kind of person he was.  When the police called him two days after he had reported finding Allan dead in his living room, they told him that Allan’s e-mail history confirmed what he had told them.

Max hadn’t handled his girlfriend’s leaving him very well at all.  He had brooded on it and obsessed over the way Allan had treated him over the years until something inside him had snapped.  Studying insects in Africa while on sabbatical this summer, he had developed a plan for revenge that only a really disturbed person could come with.

THE END





2015 Roy Dorman

Bio: Roy Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a voracious reader for over 60 years. In retirement, he is now also a voracious writer and he has had poetry and flash fiction published recently in a number of online literary sites.

E-mail: Roy Dorman

 

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