#18: How A Single Little Flathead Screw Destroyed A Research Lab
Length: Super long
My presence is always overlooked. Ignored. Forgotten. I’m cast aside as being nothing but a lowly janitor. But I’m not just around to pick up trash. I’m a custodial worker, sure, but I’m also educated. I have to be, because I’m trained to deal with medical waste at a private research lab. I handle biohazardous materials of all kinds on a daily basis. The researchers forget I’m here and walk right by me without a word, but just because they don’t see me doesn’t mean I’m left in the dark.
I know more than I let on: I have unrestricted access and see all the fucked up shit they do here. I might not understand the science behind it all, I might not be able to explain what all the tests are for or what all the machines do, but I see everything. I’ve seen four-winged butterflies, I’ve spotted weirdly misshapen pigeons, I’ve cleaned up blobs of molten animal skins, I’ve watched a monkey learn to control a bio-mechanical arm, and yesterday, I saw the end of this entire research facility and its team of researchers, when one of their experiments went awry.
Skinny Rogue. That’s what they called him. His official name was ‘Specimen E5-2187’, but no one called him that. See, scientists get a bad rap: they’re not nearly as cold and disconnected as you see on TV or in the movies. They tend to get more attached to their creations than you might think. Case and point: there was a piece of tape on the corner of Skinny’s tank with his pet name and a smiley face next to it.
As far as I could tell, Skinny Rogue was some sort of snake. He was about two feet long, thin, and flat like a tapeworm. He had a rounded face with two tiny glassy blue eyes that never moved. The rest of Skinny was entirely white, but for his little forked red tongue that sometimes slipped out of his little mouth and flapped around like a flag in the breeze.
He was kept in a bland terrarium on sub level 6. Just a layer of gravel and wide open space, nothing more to keep him company. I’d see him slithering along the glass walls at night as I cleaned up. He reminded me of that old game with the snake eating pixels and trying not to bump into itself as it grew bigger. You know, the one everyone had on those big fancy calculators in algebra class? I’m not sure if Skinny could see me, but sometimes, it looked like he was following me around. Skinny Rogue was definitely one of the most unique specimens I’d seen.
Last week, as I was sweeping the floor, I saw the research team standing around Skinny’s tank. Catherine, John, and David. Yeah, I knew their names, but damned if a single one of them knew mine. The trio had set up a camera aimed at the tank. Catherine was holding a wriggling millipede with a pair of tweezers. David unscrewed the single flathead screw keeping the lid at the top of Skinny’s tank shut. John opened it. Catherine dropped the millipede inside, and the other two were quick to shut the lid and put the screw back in.
It took Skinny Rogue all of two seconds to notice the intruder. Before the millipede even had time to get its bearings, Skinny was on it.
One chomp was all it took for the millipede to disappear.
There was no way they’d set up a camera just to record a feeding. There had to be more to it. The three started writing notes, letting out a few excited gasps. They were so distracted that I managed to get a little closer without drawing any attention to myself.
You know how, when a snake eats something big, you can see its shape bulging out of its form? Well, I could see the millipede inside of Skinny. Not just a rounded shape where it had settled in Skinny’s stomach, but each and every little leg branching out under the pale white flesh. That’s not what bothered me, though. What bothered me was how the legs were spreading out all along Skinny’s length, spacing themselves evenly to accommodate the creature a good ten times longer than the millipede. Then, when the legs finally settled in place, they moved.
Skinny Rogue ceased slithering, and started skittering instead.
The trio of scientists exchanged high fives, congratulations, whoops, and cheers. I let them be and went on with my work so I wouldn’t look suspicious.
When I made my rounds later that night, Skinny was still running around on his new limbs.
In the days following Skinny’s transformation, I noticed the little guy filling out a bit. It was like he’d been a balloon, and someone had finally inflated him. I wasn’t around for any of the other feedings, but I assumed they kept up their steady supply of millipedes, because the millipede storage tank – yeah, we actually had one of those – was emptying out, and fast.
Catherine and David came in just as I was emptying the trash bin.
“He’s ready,” said Catherine, “Let’s give him a scorpion tonight.”
David looked hesitant. “You sure you don’t want to wait a few days?”
Catherine shook her head. “He plateaued as of 07:00 this morning. It’s time.”
“All right, all right. You know what you’re doing,” replied David.
Catherine smiled brightly and gave him a playful jab on the arm. How I wished she’d interact with me like that. Out of everyone at the facility, Catherine was the only to acknowledge me, but even then, it was hardly more than a courteous smile when we were alone in the lab. More of a pitying look, really. One that meant “Sorry you had to pick up monkey viscera again”.
In the evening, I made it a point to stay close to the lab, hoping to watch the show. I wanted to see what would happen with Skinny. Morbid fascination, really.
Around 6:00 pm, David disappeared into the insect storage room. John and Catherine entered the lab and set up the camera. This is when I “coincidentally” wandered to clean up the medical waste. It wasn’t long before David returned with a scorpion in small plastic box. John unscrewed the lid to Skinny’s tank, and looked to David, as though waiting for approval. David nodded, and John opened the tank.
The scorpion was none too happy with its tumble into the tank. As soon as it landed, its tail reared up and readied for attack. It stepped side to side, snapping its pincers aggressively. John screwed the lid quickly, as Skinny made his approach. Skinny snapped his mouth towards the Scorpion, but the bug was ready for a fight. It clipped Skinny.
A bead of sweat rolled down the side of David’s face. “He’s not ready for this,” he whispered, hands reaching for the lid.
Catherine stopped him. “Just wait.”