When it started, everyone thought it was just another weird story out of Florida. Gifs of Bugs Bunny sawing the state into the ocean filled the internet, and Florida Man memes proliferated. My favorite: “Wait, it’s all crabs?” said one astronaut. “Always has been,” said the other, pointing a gun.
But the jokes stopped as quickly as they started. Within a week, the enemy had the whole eastern seaboard in its claws. The mountains held it back for a while, but eventually it spilled over, flooded the interior in briny oblivion.
I can smell it behind us. A stench of barnacles and salt.
After driving inland for a few days, we find ourselves a house. It seems adequately far from water, decently defensible, peacefully abandoned. Jordan wants to move on but I insist on stopping, we’ve gone too long without rest, we need our sleep. The enemy will have a harder time with the plains, anyway. It can only move as fast as its little legs allow. Fine, he says, but if we see one crustacean, we’re leaving. Deal, I say.
It has a bed and a roof and good insulation and a generator. For the first time in weeks, I am close to warm. Jordan hides his smile, but I know it’s there.
Night falls quickly. I search the cabinets for useful things and I stumble on a VHS player and a box of tapes. “Plug it in,” Jordan says. We get it set up and crank the generator and suddenly the TV flashes to life, its screen fuzzy to the touch from static. I pick a tape at random.
It stutters, and then: It’s a cold evening at Lambeau Field, and the Packers are coming out of the tunnel…
“I remember this game,” Jordan says. “It was, uh, a few years ago. Wild card weekend.”
We watch the first quarter. The Packers hold a firm lead.
“Try another,” he says.
I do. This one is an episode of 60 Minutes. We quickly get bored, so I try a third tape.
…and the carapace flattens. These species, wholly unrelated, have converged into one efficient form.
We can’t believe it.
“Of all nature docs,” I say, and Jordan laughs.
“You know how to pick ‘em, Maddy.”
I hit his thigh. We listen to David Attenborough talk about crabs, the very last thing we want to hear about. I picture our Boston apartment—myself on the couch, Jordan making tea in the kitchen, snow gathering on the windowsill, Brady wagging his tail on the rug. Oh, Brady. I’m so sorry we couldn’t get you in time.
This process of convergent evolution, whereby many unrelated animals become crablike, is known as “carcinization.”
I imagine looking at the sea without fear. It feels good. It feels warm and dry. It’s quiet. Dark.
Scratching. It comes from below.
I rise. I don’t see Jordan. Maybe he’s trying to make something in the kitchen? What an odd time to go rummaging, though. The TV is still on and still discussing the evolution of sea life, and I make my way downstairs, rubbing my eyes as I go.
The scratching stops. I peek around corners and tiptoe through the house, but I find nothing, see no one, no Jordan. An undisturbed kitchen.
Except for marks on the floor. The marks of a six-legged creature.
I cast off my tiredness and frantically search for Jordan. I comb the whole house for him, but then I look out the window at the backyard, and there I see a dark mass on the ground, a Jordan-sized lump. I run to the back door and onto the grass. I reach the lump, and it’s him, it’s his shirt, I touch his shoulder—
And it collapses. He is not inside these clothes. Before I can react, I feel a sharp pain on my hand. Something had grabbed me. I rip my arm away and watch in horror as a single claw emerges from the pile. It’s not possible, how could they be here so soon? Fire courses through my body. It hurts, it hurts. I sprint to the house. God, this pain. I climb the stairs and make it into the living room and I dig through my bag for a knife, a gun, a bat, a wrench, any weapon…
Then I see the most remarkable thing.
I notice a web of light across the walls, bending and twisting, like waves. Like the inside of an aquarium. David Attenborough continues to speak about nature’s preference for pincers and chitinous shells, and I want him to stop. I cover my ears, and his voice becomes muffled as though submerged. Evolution has discovered a superior anatomy. Sooner or later, we too will harden and flatten and crawl…
“Shut up. Shut up.”
I pull the plug from the wall. Nothing changes. His voice grows louder and floods my ears. Coral grows on the ceiling and spreads, encasing everything.
This is the natural result, Madeline.
I look at my hand. My fingers fuse together, five becoming two, reddening into a claw.
The most efficient body.
I scream, but no voice comes. Only a rattle. My arms bend back and I sink down.