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The sound of the dripping was starting to make the captives twitchy.
The tap, tap, tap on the roof of the container had been going for at least twenty minutes and as I shone my torch around I could see that Jeremy was close to losing it. With each ting on the roof, his left amphibious eye blinked while his right human eye scrunched tight. His muscular frog-like legs writhed and strained against the net I’d put him in, and his snake tongue flicked in and out of his mouth, a slow hissing sound accompanying the dripping like the percussion of a cymbal.
At least Megan, strange half-feline half-person that she was, had curled up and gone to sleep. I’d provided a cardboard box and in she had climbed. Though, I ventured a guess, there was a chance that if she was startled or aggravated all that purring could turn straight into claws-out violence.
Then there was Lena, a creature I couldn’t quite categorise. Each slice of the torch light illuminated something different. She must have been an early experiment, ‘a blend’ as I’d heard them referred to on the news. Parts of her were human, but only a few. I could recognize bear in the shape of her snout, orangutan in the orange of the fur on her arms, lemur in the stripy tail, and perhaps a Komodo dragon in the draping bits of skin that hung like stalactites from her legs. She looked the least like a person of the three, and yet was the only one who could talk.
Lena watched as I moved slowly towards the door. I considered going to find out the source of the dripping, turning my torch away from them.
‘I wouldn’t if I were you’ she growled at whisper pitch, her voice like gravel in a blender.
I hesitated. ‘What do you mean?’
She didn’t answer and I turned the torch back in their direction again. Though her eyes were still closed, Megan’s tail was flicking side to side. Jeremy’s tongue darted in and out to the rhythm of my racing heartbeat. Lena’s bear mouth broke into a slobbery grin.
‘If the dripping stops it means all the blood has run out of whatever Simon has up there.’
In this moment I considered that my plan to ‘rescue’ the subjects of the climate change adaptiveness laboratory had not been well thought through.
It might, I supposed, have been useful to find out just how many subjects they had been holding there. There seemed to be a chance that it had been a mistake to ignore the empty cages in the lab as I dragged the creatures I had drugged and rescued out of their own.
In addition, as Lena looked at me and Megan’s tail flicked and Jeremy’s tongue darted, I realised that, specifically, I should have thought about what would happen if I didn’t get them ‘out’ of the dimly lit facility the scientists had been keeping them in. Like, for example, what I might do if I ended up trapped with them in the warehouse of the facility, hiding away in a shipping container at the edge of the dark space to avoid the guards. Or, the potential that we wouldn’t be the only ones in here. I’d always wished myself to be better at planning, but never more than at this moment.
The dripping continued, though I couldn’t ignore that it was slowing down. Now that it could be blood I wanted it to carry on forever like a gentle rain. I turned back away from the door towards my captives waving the torch over each of them. I put my free hand in my pockets so they wouldn’t see it shaking.
‘Lena, just out of interest, what would you say Simon is, exactly?’
The dripping had officially stopped. None of us could deny it. In its place there was a scuttling sound and then a thump as something landed on the roof of the container. I dropped the torch in fright, kneeling down and crawling towards it. Once I was down there, standing felt difficult on jelly legs, so I stayed put.
Jeremy had become deadly still, his tongue firmly inside his mouth, no longer making any effort to escape the net. Megan’s back arched and a low meowl began to echo out from her, her fur standing straight up on ends. Even Lena, whose aggression towards me had been palpable in her beady bear eyes to this point, was looking up at the roof, shrinking into herself.
‘It depends,’ she said, retreating to the point of the container furthest away from the door, ‘on how hungry he is. Sometimes he changes form to fit more in.’
There was more scuttling moving across the roof, quick and persistent, then another thud as Simon, or whatever he’d been eating, landed outside. A short silence followed, where I imagined that Simon was full and would appear to us all now as an ant or something equally tiny. This was a short-lived hope.
The handle of the container began to rattle. I had tried to close it as best I could from the inside with my leftover wire, but it wouldn’t hold for long.
I crawled back along the floor to cower among the three I’d hoped to save. The door creaked opened and a gigantic, furry arachnid leg hooked around it. I turned off the torch.
Next time, I committed to myself, I’d plan better.
About Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe is a South African writer based in Cape Town. Her first novel, The Peculiars, was long listed for the Etisalat Prize for Fiction (2016) and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize (2017). Her second novel, The Fall, is out July 2020. She has edited three collections of feminist essays - My First Time: Stories of Sex and Sexuality from Women Like You (2012), Feminism Is (2018) and Living While Feminist (2020).