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
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
“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.
© 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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