Rick had been on the phone for half an hour. Different voices, different calls, but a solid chunk of time talking through issues with clients and suppliers. At the same time, he was sending off short, sharp emails. He prided himself on his multitasking prowess. Women, he half-muttered half-thought between dialling, were meant to be owners of this skill-set, but like all things, Rick had conquered multitasking too, and made it his own. He saw the world as a series of challenges to overcome and make them his. The only reason that he hadn’t mastered something was that it hadn’t yet been brought to his attention. And his attention was valuable.
Tonight, he’d spent too much of his time answering an email from a graphic designer. Rather, he’d looked over the first sentence, glanced at the attachments, dismissed the digital images and flicked an angry email to his marketing manager. The work wasn’t good enough, and he didn’t have time to explain why. There was better stuff out there in the marketplace. He pointed out the original examples that he’d shown his marketing manager, the ones from the big firm in town, and demanded those instead.
Why was it so hard for this law firm? He knew the business was as good as any of the CBD tower dwellers’, those huge multinationals with skyscrapers in every major city — Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore, New York, London — all those buildings, all those weasel like young men, and yet none of them had the relationships and contacts that they did. The others were huge, but he and his firm were different. It was not their “smallness”, that word was too weak, it was their boutique size that allowed them to forge real connections with their clients. He prided himself on staying awake until 1am so he could call his clients on the other side of the globe. They’d marvel, then joke about the hour he must be facing, and it made him glow every time they acknowledged his dedication. So why couldn’t the graphic designer and his marketing manager see that value? He was the third manager he’d had in two years. None of them understood his drive or exacting standards. Thus they either cracked under the pressure or just left.
It was simple: make me what the big boys have. The creatives rabbited on about standing out, being different, and he said, “Just make us look big!” We compete with the big boys — no, we’re better than the big boys! And the creatives just gave him shit. So he sent the big boys’ material across to remind them, again and again, how his firm should be represented. Infuriating, he thought.
He sent his last email and hung up on the last call for the morning. 2:30am. It’d been a long stint. Proud of himself, he shut down his office and pulled on his coat. He opened his phone and, ignoring the weather app, blank because he’d never managed to set up, navigated to the weather website. Cold and wet. He’d have to find an umbrella. He switched off his desk lamp and headed to his office door. A small thump in the wall above his head stopped him. The silence of the early hours intensified all sound. He paused, waited, heard nothing further then shrugged.
Rick checked the umbrella stand beside the reception desk and grumbled when he found no umbrella. Where did the girl keep them? Blast it, what’s so hard? He knelt behind the desk to peer underneath. Another thump in his office, coupled with three more in the ceiling, made him lift his head and slam it into the desk. He swore and clutched the stinging part of his skull.
His exclamation seemed to trigger something. The thumps changed into a skittering noise, like a woman’s nails lightly tickling wood. The skitching sound moved around above him. He shuddered at the thought of rats in his building. The property manager would get a nasty phone call. He looked down to push himself to his feet, and in doing so, spotted an umbrella lodged under a drawer. It was pink with spots, which made him embarrassed, but it was big so would keep his sizeable frame dry. He stood, jabbed the umbrella at the ceiling panels, hoping to frighten the little blighters off. The skittering moved away from him and Rick nodded in satisfaction.
A large thump in his office, followed by the clattering of plastic falling from a height made him jump. He peered at his office unable to see through the crack in the door that hid the venting. Was it the vent? It sounded like it might be. It was the only thing sitting up that high. He didn’t have photos or posters on his walls. They were unnecessary clutter. Desks should only have a single framed item and otherwise be clear. Like the Spartan warriors of old. Remembering his occasional inspiration, he stood upright and, brandishing the pink spotted umbrella, made his way to the door. The skittering was still evident, but there was an odd, soft plopping noise, too.
Creeping towards the door, he put a hand on the knob and with umbrella aloft he pushed. He jumped back as the door swung open to reveal the source of the skittering: crabs! Scores of crabs, no bigger than his palm and some as small as pebbles, scurried around on the carpet, leaving droplets of water that pooled together in patches. As he followed the writhing mass of crustaceans, he saw that the carpet was most sodden at the wall, where they came cascading from a burst air conditioning vent. Tumbling out the hole, they bounced or fell flat on the carpet. They righted themselves before spreading out into the office.
The absently flung open door had crushed a collection of crabs against the wall. This seemed to cause a ripple of stillness through the congregation. Their eyes, little black bulbs, spun on their stalks as if they were looking to him, Rick, standing in the doorway, mouth agape. The stillness hung, his body frozen by the impossible sight before him. Then, responding to some unknown signal, the crabs all shifted fast, running sideways directly at him. Their pincers, some red, some pink, some orange, some blue, all raised as they rushed at him. Rick squealed, looked to his left and right, struck dumb like a confused old dog trying to get outside. His brain panicked on some deep level, told him to run, but his body was groggy, slow to move, shocked by the incongruity of the scene.
Suddenly a small crab rounded on him leading the charge, its top carapace faint orange, its underside white. It wasn’t until it reached Rick’s shining shoes that revulsion shuddered through his body causing him to finally turn and run towards the desk and the front door. He didn’t hear the thuds or the increased skittering overhead, but saw the reception area air conditioner vent fall in front of him. Another huge catch of crabs tumbled out. This thick knot immediately unfurled itself and the largest crab scuttled towards Rick, blocking his path. Rick stopped again, horrified by the ridiculous fact he was caught in a pincer movement by a cult of crabs. He remembered the umbrella in his hand and swung it around like a golf club. He ran at the largest crab in the new charge against him, a deep red and bulky creature with a considerably large main claw. With a swiftness and skill from years of strolling the greens with his other fat colleagues, Rick caught the scarlet little beast square in its centre, the crab flew up and crunched into the wall with a heavy crackle.
This move, though courageous, left Rick in the midst of the crab’s angry comrades. They gripped at his pant legs, taking hold without letting go even as he shook or hopped up and down. He swung the umbrella again, this time wildly, and another large crustacean clasped an outstretched claw onto the soft fabric of his weapon. The sudden weight caught Rick by surprise and threw him off balance. Determined to stay upright, he brought his left leg out to widen his stance, stomping down on smaller crabs, which cracked and squelched underfoot. This he felt through his rubberised sole, and he was revolted. The initial office wave, led by the small orange charger, now joined ranks with the force from reception. The swarm quicly surrounded the shocked lawyer. More and more gripped at his pant legs. Even as he brushed them off or hit at them, larger crabs used their comrades as foot holds to move further up his legs, making him heavy. Another deep red crab gained height, slowly and precisely raising its dominant claw. Rick was preoccupied with maintaining his balance whilst trying to shuffle towards the door. He was finding each step more difficult than the last , when a pinch at his inner thigh caught his attention. Before he could fully comprehend it, the sensation changed to a searing pain as his flesh was cut into.
The inner thigh, a natural weak point, sparked off a primitive fire in the lawyer’s mind. He dropped the overladen umbrella and swatted furiously at his leg, but the assortment of crabs now draping his pants took advantage, more claws snapping in the air until some caught his cuffs, and the soft meat between thumb and fore finger. When each claw found its mark, through applied pressure it sliced into his flesh. The pain at first came from clearly identified points around his extremities. As more clambered up and found untapped points, the pain began blurring into one great brilliance, burning through him until he screamed.
Those that missed his hands took hold of his sleeves and jacket instead, allowing more to hoist themselves up. The weight was too much now and Rick slumped to the floor. He didn’t even think of the earlier urge to stand upright. But now, he could only feel pain and pinching which exposed pain that no upper-middle class white man living in the city ever thought would befall him. They now covered him, large and small claws hovering up from the mass and pulling at his collar, then taking hold of his neck, his cheeks, slicing, squeezing, tearing. His vision became the shifting, insect like movement of hard chitin, and then in horror as they covered his face, their furry mouthparts twitching.
Rick’s drive, that intensity which kept him barking down the hall at his receptionist, emailing his marketing managers late at night with new instructions that he’d just thought of. The drive that kept his office chair warm and his wife’s bed cold, had bled out of him. His arms couldn’t lift off the arthropods that were clinging to him, let alone fight them off. He was pulled down even further, kneeling and bowing to the carpet of crustaceans. One eye could still peek out. He became aware, in a detached way, that death was approaching, and he marvelled at how such a thing could be happening, to him?
Just as the lawyer became accustomed to the pain, something changed. He felt a shifting and rippling amongst the crabs around him. Their claws tightened even further, snipping nerves and tendons so that a blaze of renewed suffering tore through his body forcing him to jerk suddenly and horribly into being alert.
The crab flow at his office door swelled, something was pushing them forward. What emerged from the doorway caused his mind to reel. An enormous crab, engorged by prolonged feasting, its chrome-black shell covered in sharp thorny spikes. Its swivelling eyes prominent on their stalks, the black fistfuls of coal at the end contained a milky white awareness. A second pair of more primitive eyes jutted out in front, casting its attention on the throng of sea beasts before it. Its legs were long, thick, but insufficient for its size. Their length was grotesque, like a spider’s, with each leg folded neatly under its body, creating an undulation of jagged protection. Rick realised the crabs were pushing the monstrous thing forward, scores of the larger ones hoisting from the sides and behind, squirming beneath its bulk. They brought the thing out of the office and into reception. The dim downlights revealed where the shining blackness of its shell was broken with red striking. The colours were dangerous. Rick’s body finally voided itself as he felt something deep inside him let go. He was animal now, panicked to the point that only his brain stem and nervous system were still functioning. Everything else apart from his automated systems shut down.
The ghastly crab finally came within range of its prey. Slowly, the long legs pulled out from beneath it, stretching out to clack down on the flooring. At the same time, it unfolded its claws, the dominant one nearly the size of its own corpulent carapace, the jagged edges of the charcoal pincer sharing the crimson slashes of its body. Rising up over the mound of human and crabs, it reached out its lesser claw. The smaller crabs dropped off Rick, instinctively making way at his hip. There, the claw took hold, cutting the already tenderised meat. In the body formerly known as Rick’s the eyes rolled backwards, and the tongue hung slack. Then the body slumped forward over the claw. The monster brought its main weapon to bear, immense and powerful, it hovered in an odd almost mechanical movement, before opening out around the chest.
Rick came back to himself for a moment. His eyes flicked up to the ceiling, his ears heard the chittering, his mouth tasted of iron. He could smell rotten seaweed and earthy faeces – all his senses were keen except feeling, which had vacated in emergency. He chortled, blood obstructing the vocal reaction to his predicament. His email had better do the job, or that little prick was fired! The claw snapped shut, shattering ribs and carving through organs. Slicing the heart clean in half, blood burst out over the pincer drowning the smaller crabs beneath. The body’s upper torso popped up in a heavy narrow arc and fell to the floor. The crabs moved in to receive their prize, their various sizes creating a perfect shroud. Small mouthparts slurped up the adrenalin saturated goo that seeped out. Larger ones sliced up the testosterone infused organs and fat, gathering the pieces to their openings. The gigantic beast dragged the lower half of the body to its fluttering mandibles and sucked out the liver, a much sought after delicacy which had been made sweet by decades of hard living, poor diet and steely determination.
No more than half an hour later, the larger crabs led their leader out, awkwardly hoisting it up into the ceiling to escape through whatever means had allowed them in. The tiniest crabs left behind picked and fought over drops of blood in the carpet. Then they too shimmied upwards or found alternate escape paths. In the morning, all that the receptionist would find when she came in, wet from the morning rain, would be two halves of a reddened skeleton, cartilage, strips of clothing and a ragged pink umbrella.
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