By David Lee
Randi ignored the rumbling of her belly for a moment as she leaned down to kiss Wanda’s forehead. Her next kiss went to the three-week-old baby nursing at Wanda’s breast. The soft warmth of the child’s skin was a sharp contrast to the cold pang of hunger and guilt that stabbed deep within Randi’s gut.
She was supposed to be the provider, but she hadn’t done much providin’ recently. Well, today that was going to change.
“Be careful, honey.” Wanda met Randi’s gaze as they separated. “You ‘member what happened to old Clemet.”
“Clemet was a fool.”
And with that, Randi grabbed the antique Remington pump-action from over the mantle and shoved a handful of shells into her pocket. Closing the screen door gently so as not to startle the baby, she crossed the porch and hiked off into the narrow line of trees that separated their tiny cabin from the shore.
Even under the canopy of leaves, the eerie, undulating color show provided by the alien visitors was visible, and Randi’s thoughts quickly turned to calamari as she walked.
Every year, like clockwork, a huge shoal of bioluminescent, rainbow space squid came down to the planet’s surface to lay their eggs. The beach was their spawning ground. Each squid-critter would dig a long trench, pump out some space eggs, flop a big ole fish in there to feed them babies when they hatched, and then scoot on back up to the heavens.
All this happened on a strip of sand that was a mere twenty-minute trek from Randi and Wanda’s tiny cabin.
Last season, Randi had bagged a big one, and that together with the garden vegetables Wanda had canned was almost enough to last them the year. Almost. And now there was the baby to think about. Randi felt her stomach growling, but trudged on.
She caught a whiff of salty sea air and knew that the lean times were almost at an end.
Theoretically, there was the treaty with the Space Squid Imperium, negotiated somewhere off-world, that guaranteed these majestic creatures protection against what Randi was about to do. But in Randi’s mind, hungry bellies at home easily trumped the ink on some far off piece of paper. ‘Sides, Randi thought, I’m just feedin’ my family. I’m sure them squiddies understand that.
Randi walked right up to the biggest critter on the beach. She wasn’t scared. The spacefaring creatures were weak against the planet’s gravity and too busy concentrating on burying eggs to be much of a threat, so mostly they just flopped around, skin pulsating with rainbow colors.
Randi tightened her grip on the shotgun, pressing the stock tight against her shoulder while the helpless creature’s pulsating color cycle began to quicken. Randi figured it was scared, knowing its spawning days were coming to an end.
“Ain’t nothing personal, squiddie,” Randi muttered as she lined up the barrel with the creature’s massive head. “I’m just feedin’ my family.”
The shotgun roared.
“You missed,” the critter hissed.
But she hadn’t missed, had she? Randi moved closer and could clearly see rainbow-colored blood oozing from where the shotgun had peppered the creature. But when she felt a sharp pain in her calf, Randi quickly realized her mistake. With its taunting, the wily creature had lured her close enough to take hold of her.
Randi pumped the action on the shotgun, preparing to deliver another blast. But the space squid flexed its tentacle, sinking the stinging barbs deeper and sending a burning neurotoxin into Randi’s right leg.
“You can’t hurt me,” the voice taunted. “Because I got your leg.”
Randi felt her right leg lurch once, and then again. The movements were wholly unnatural as the squid tugged at Randi’s leg, jerking her along in spite of herself and causing her to drop the Remington in the sand. She’d been snared, alright.
“You ain’t got me yet,” Randi spat back.
Randi’s surge in confidence had sprung from the fact that she knew only her lower motor neurons would be affected by the toxins seeping into her leg. Randi was no scientist; her knowledge of space squid biology had been gleaned from the tales passed down from generation to generation, from her mother’s lips to her ears. And mama always said, “A squid locked onto your calf only stop you by half.”
“Got you now, squiddie,” Randi muttered.
With her eyes fixed on the shotgun at her feet, Randi hastily constructed a plan for victory in spite of the loss of her legs—distract the critter, grab the Remmy, and blast that sumbitch into bite-sized pieces.
Randi summoned a primal scream from deep within her core to hurl at the foul creature latched onto her leg and watched as the space squid began thrashing its arms, its rainbow-colored skin pulsating wildly.
It’s scared, Randi thought. It’s scared ‘cause it knows I’m gone beat it.
With a wide grin stretched out across her lips, Randi dropped to her knees to pick up the shotgun, the cold weight of the deadly weapon bringing a newfound sense of calm. She couldn’t stand up again, not with the neurotoxin coursing through her legs, so she pressed the barrel against the creature’s head and leaned into the butt of the gun with all of her weight.
“Say goodnight, squiddie,” Randi whispered, and tightened her finger against the trigger.
But instead of the roar of her weapon, Randi heard only a wet, squishy slap. And when she felt the barbs digging into the back of her neck she knew it was over. In her haste, the squid had lured her yet again. Randi’s breath became labored as the stinging barbs delivered the powerful neurotoxin into the base of her brain.
“I’m just feeding my family,” said the creature as Randi’s paralyzed body was dragged into the pit alongside the eggs and covered with sand. “I’m sure you understand that.”