I read the other day that the 2013 Christmas Island migration is underway, and I thought I’d finally put this up on the blog to … celebrate? (See the end of the post for a couple of notes.)
This is a story (more a vignette, really) about the Teachout sisters, whose first adventure can be found in this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. I think this can stand alone, but it probably won’t do much for you if you aren’t already acquainted with Corwyn and Gwen–so you should probably go read “The Drowned Man,” just to be safe, if you haven’t already (she says with a very solemn and serious face).
The Island of the Crabs
by: Laura E. Price
They reached the inn after dark, its owner not pleased to see them so late, but he let them into their room; they were too exhausted to care much about there only being one bed in it. Gwen dropped her bag on the floor, kneeled to yank off her boots, and stepped out of her pants before falling face-first on top of the blanket.
“I am going to marry this bed, Wyn,” she declared, voice muffled. Corwyn yanked at the stubborn knot in her boot-lace that kept her from falling into the bed herself.
“I have heard this before,” she said as the knot came free.
“No, no … this bed is different; it is the best bed of all the beds in all the world …”
Corwyn pulled her boots and socks off, removed her trousers, and climbed in next to her sister. The bed was nice, but not nice enough to marry. “You’ll regret it in the morning,” she yawned. “The scandal of it. This bed will be another in your string of brokenhearted, left-behind bunks.”
“Don’t listen to her. You are special,” Gwen drowsily reassured her pillow. Corwyn fell asleep and did not hear if the bed believed her.
Something was crawling across Corwyn’s ankles. Which were uncovered because Gwen had finally made it under the blankets and wasn’t sharing them.
For one disorienting moment, the shadows and her sleep-addled brain conspired to show her a hand making its slow, halting way across her feet.
Then the shadows or the sleep-fog shifted, and she realized it was a crab. It slipped down her left ankle and started to climb over Gwen’s.
Gwen sat up, reached down, snatched the crab by a claw and hurled it into the wall. Then, blinking, asked, “What in nine hells was that?”
“A damnably big crab,” Corwyn said. She glanced around the room and saw another one climbing in through their open window. “And here’s his brother, seeking revenge.”
Gwen sat up and watched it slide, legs scrabbling, down the wall. “It’s too early to vow revenge–it ain’t even seen the body yet. I thought you knew how blood feuds worked by now, Corwyn.” Yawning, Gwen clambered out of the bed and grabbed the new invader around its body, tossing it gently out the window. She paused as she reached up to shut it. “Wyn, you got one of those rocks?”
Corwyn, who had gathered the blankets around herself, groaned. “Why do you need my rocks?”
“Just … grab one and come here.” Gwen fumbled at something outside the window as Corwyn got one of the glowing rocks they’d never found another use for out of her rucksack and carried it to the window.
She could see an undulating shadow out the window, moving across the ground under the trees. Gwen was still dealing with the something outside the window as Corwyn aimed the rock out toward the shadow.
She expected what she saw, but the sheer damn number of crabs moving sideways past the inn was enough to make her swear. They blanketed the ground, made a shirring noise as they went, inexorably … somewhere. Where could that many crabs be headed? Where would that many of anything be headed? Surely nowhere good.
Gwen grabbed the few that climbed up the outside wall and flung them back at the mass, the movement rousing Corwyn from her woolgathering. “All right,” she said, “I’ve seen, close the damned window!”
Gwen slammed it with a bang and turned to face Corwyn, her grin lit up in the gray light of the rock. “Now what kind of crazy bastard raises an army of crabs, d’you think?”
Corwyn matched her grin. “I don’t rightly know, but I guess we’re going to find out.”
Later that afternoon, after a trip to the local bar and some time spent as the source of much amusement to the locals, the Misses Teachout picked their way through the crowd of purplish-green crabs toward the beach. Corwyn carried a bucket of salt water; Gwen carried some kindling. They found a large, flat rock overlooking the water and the moving blanket of crabs that headed toward it. Gwen cleared the rock and sat down, taking off her boots. Corwyn, less complacent in the face of the size of the things, kept her own boots on while she built a fire and rigged their bucket over it.
“I find it difficult to believe this is natural!” Gwen gestured down at the beach around them, raising her voice over the rushing surf.
Corwyn poked at the fire. “Migration, as a concept, is a documented scientific fact, Gwen. Much as you might like a madman to pummel, it ain’t gonna happen today.”
Gwen shifted as a crab ventured over the side of their rock and tried to hitch itself up her cuffed trouser leg; she snatched it and sent it flying toward the ocean. “There’s just so many of them,” she said, deflated.
Corwyn shrugged. The madmen she’d run into mostly tended toward preferring giant automatons, and these crabs, while big, were likely not big enough to suit. The madmen with a love of detail wanted more elegance than an army of crabs was capable of providing. Nature, she decided, was apparently more outlandish than any alchemical engineer with a better-than-average opinion of himself could hope to be.
The water in their bucket was finally boiling. Gwen reached over the edge of the rock and came back with two crabs, dumping them into the water. “At least we won’t starve, this trip,” Corwyn offered.
Gwen glanced out at the undulating mass surrounding their rock as the slow unfortunates in the pot began to cook. “D’you think they can smell?” she asked thoughtfully.
“I don’t know,” Corwyn said, grinning, “but I guess we’ll find out.”
copyright 2013 by Laura E. Price. Feel free to link to this story, but please don’t reproduce it without permission.
note: Actual Christmas Island crabs are red, and are not edible. And I kind of think the nice people who run the Christmas Island National Park (at whose blog you can find all sorts of information about this year’s migration) would frown upon Corwyn and Gwen’s behavior, were the Teachouts not living in an alternate, slightly steampunk 19th century world. So don’t go to our Christmas Island and mess around with the crabs. (What you do if you wake up in Corwyn and Gwen’s world is up to you.) Thank you.