A many headed thing – that’s what Dad had called it. He had to call it a ‘thing’. That’s what you do when there’s no known phyla, even in cryptozoology. People get that a unicorn, if they existed, would be a kind of horse. Bigfoot – that’d be a primate. But what the Hell do you call a 24-headed thing with albino fur and no eyes, with canine teeth, that lives under water? A nightmare, that’s what you’d call it, and that’s what I thought it was. Dad sleeping in the boat again.
Let’s just be honest – sleeping off another fifth of Smirnoff while dangling an unbaited line in the water. Sure, fishing was his pastime, his time to be alone and feel more like a man than Mom ever let him. At least that’s what he said. But it was really about being on the lake and letting the world go, letting even himself go. Sometimes you get so used to yourself, that you want to quiet even *that* voice in your head. Some people know that even at 16.
But it was worse than a nightmare, because you get to wake up from those, not wake up *to* them. Dad’s dream was different. He never woke up. And he carried the dream home to the rest of us. He put it in the fish tank in the living room. All the tropicals had died anyway. He just had to fill it with fresh and change the temperature settings. Mom threw a fit. She wanted to call the police. She wanted to call the news. She wanted to go sleep at her sister’s when the thing started bumping the glass in the night.
“What are we going to feed it?” she asked. “What is it?” She asked *that* question every half hour or so. That was for the first two days, but then she gradually started getting used to it. It hadn’t crawled out and bitten anyone. It didn’t seem to want much more than table scraps. Dad said just because it had more than one head doesn’t mean it has more than one belly. That’s probably right. But a cow has one head and two stomachs, so he probably said that more to comfort Mom.
Dad wanted to show his friends, and Mom wanted to show her family, and there was a big fight over whether to tell anyone just yet. They definitely had to talk over how to break it to the Media. There would have to Media, but they couldn’t just let some government agency come and seize the thing, or let everyone know they had the only one of a rare species. They needed to think it through, and meanwhile we had plenty of scraps at dinner, with Mom still cooking for four, even with one of us off at college.
The shock was, of course, finding it gone. Do you call the police? What do you report? That you’re missing your monster? That you had an illegal and potentially dangerous wild animal in your house that is now on the loose? That someone stole an untraceable item that’s easy to identify but impossible to believe? It’s just not practical. You do search the house, though. You search every crevice, every cubby, you pull out all the furniture and go through the place one item at a time. And you do it scared that, at any moment, someone will scream and it might even be you.
We pulled up the carpet. It was silly, but Mom insisted. It more than made up for Dad deciding we had to go down in the crawlspace with flashlights. Nothing down there. The vents seemed like the most likely hiding place – when you’ve checked everywhere else – but we got one of those inspectors with the camera he unwinds on a cable to check for leaks. He snaked it all the way through every possible passage way, as we watched on camera, and he didn’t find any rust or breakage or anything else. Dad said it was worth the $150 to get the guy out there.
The one thing we never asked, and we should have, was how smart the thing was. We still didn’t know what to call it. Dad searched the internet for days after he brought it home, trying to find some photo or reference from anyone else on earth who had seen one. There was nothing except a lot of hydra photos on DeviantArt – and those things only had seven heads – sometimes nine. He looked at those for a long time, anyway. He read Greek mythology. He searched wikipedia. He found nothing.
We found nothing hiding anywhere in the house, either. The first night, we all jumped at every little noise. Dad was up at least three times. Mom was up at 5am, and she never gets up earlier than 8 if she can help it. No one got any rest. But then, after a few days, they were back to sleeping soundly. There were no monsters in our house, and Mom and Dad had resigned themselves to having lost their prize. Mom started saying “good riddance” – that they were better off. Dad said he was going back out to the lake, but he didn’t seem to be getting around to it.
Things settled down, more or less. I think they both tried to block it out, like it didn’t happen, like that time they separated for a week or so, and then realized they missed each other more than either wanted to admit. They just decided never to talk about it again, and that was that. Except that it did happen.
So now it’s time for truth. See, I took it. I let it out. Whatever it was, it didn’t belong stuck behind glass, and then later diced up in some lab to find out what it was. I’ve always believed strongly in animal rights, and even a new animal, or a very old one, has them. We’re finding new species’ every day – I learned that in Mr. Glickman’s biology class – and we’re losing species’ every day, faster than we can catalog them. I learned that, too. So I let it go.
We should have asked how smart it was. I was going to put it in a box, you see. I know that was stupid, but I figured 90% of it was just getting the thing *into* the box. Once I had, it was going back to the lake. I’ve got my own car, and it wasn’t going to be too tough. Mom was at choir practice, and Dad was at the bike shop where he works. I wasn’t supposed to be home – I had a cello recital. But I skipped it. I had a great idea for getting the thing where I wanted it. I’d do just what Dad had done – I’d use the fishing net. Scoop it right up, and just drop it right in the box.
I guess I didn’t realize the thing had learned from the last time. Once was all it took. Thing must be way smarter with twenty four heads, one stomach or not. It let me get the net right up to it, and then it wrapped around the handle and pulled itself up and slid right toward my hands so I had to drop it with the handle sticking out of the water. I could swear it had things planned, because it swung right up and over the side. I ran to the kitchen thinking it was going to eat me.
I know, it’s such a wimpy thing to do, but I was scared. You would be. Twenty four mouths full of sharp teeth. It was a like a ball of angry snakes. I ran to the kitchen, and I dug in the drawer for a knife, and got one, and then I waited, but it didn’t come. It was the scariest thing ever to take one step after another back toward the living room, but I did it. There was nothing else I could do. My cell phone was in the car, anyway.
It wasn’t in the living room, and it wasn’t anywhere that I could find. I started to get more desperate than scared, and I went over the whole place as best I could – not pulling up the carpet, of course. There was nothing I could do but go back to school until my parents came home. I couldn’t tell them what I’d done. I just couldn’t. And I still haven’t.
That’s why I also haven’t been getting any sleep, and my grades are falling. I’ve messed up one practice after another, and I know that some of those noises in the night aren’t just the house settling, which is what Dad used to say when I was little. It’s out there, when I’m in here, in my bed. It’s probably looking for something to eat. I’ve been leaving scraps under the stairs, but it doesn’t seem to want them. It seems to want something else, because it hasn’t left – that much I know. I hear it scraping along the baseboards when Mom and Dad are sleeping. Is it revenge? Does it want to get us back for taking it from its home and putting it on display?
It had just watched us there, through the glass, while we watched it. And it was thinking. And all the while it could live out of water. It seems to be doing just fine. If I tell Mom, she’ll panic, but she won’t find it. It’s too smart for that. Dad won’t do any better, and he’ll probably take the car away as punishment. I’m going to wait it out, even if I fail this semester. If the thing comes back, and I catch it, I bet I’ll get an A in biology, then!
PS: But if I don’t – if it gets me – at least someone will finally know about it.