"Lizards" by Von Kraemer

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Lachesis and Lizards
by Von Kraemer

 

Morning

Tears had fallen in rivers, when she had raised her hand to his.

All that Mrs. Ulma Tremmalow could say was, "I'm so...so sorry."

She reached out to shake Jesse's welcoming palm.

That's when Ulma's hand fell off onto the floor. To all their horror, it flopped around on the floor like a fish...

Earlier, Mrs. Ulma Tremmalow had sweated a silver punch bowl full. Her daughter's wedding was just a few minutes away. She couldn't understand why her joints ached so much. Rheumatoid arthritis didn't run in her family, but she had been gardening a lot. Her wrists were swollen.

Her son in-law to be was arriving at any moment. She hadn't seen her daughter in five years. Not since the terrible fight. Narsal, her only child, had moved out on that fateful day.

Ulma had cried for months. It was ultimately her fault. She hadn't wanted her daughter to marry that, black leather jacketed, rough neck. The boy had no manners. He was uncouth and unsightly, bordering on repulsive. Tattooed. Punk hair. Unrespectable.

Narsal was throwing her life a way. Her daughter of seventeen had chosen Jesse. The low-life scum. Today they would be married.

Mrs. Tremmalow glanced over at her reception room mantel. Where once rested a pair of fine 18th Century Chinese porcelain book ends, now there was only one. Ulma had viciously thrown the irreplaceable heirloom at Jesse, smashing it to pieces. The rouge had stolen her daughter.

That horrible, heartbreaking day. Five years ago.

She had wrung her wrists in distress. Oh, how sore they were. Especially the right. The Doctors said stress could bring on an arthritis attack. From the pain, she must have had one.

It had taken five years and hundreds of phone calls before her daughter would consent to speak with her again. This morning Narsal would reenter the main door. The request: to drive Mrs. Ulma Tremmalow down to the Grand Old Protestant Church where she and Jesse were to be wed.

Wed to Jesse the biker scum. The Idea.

But now, Scum he wasn't.

Jesse had a talent for motorcycle repair, tube welding, and apparently business. He altered Harleys, said her daughter. Narsal informed her mother that her son in-law to be was an artist in metal, machinery...and money.

Jesse now owned the multi-million dollar business Kustom Chops. He was planning on diversifying and expanding overseas. Custom Harleys were the nou nouveau riche rage. The money had poured in. Orders backlogged months and years.

She had been...oh so wrong. Discounting her daughter's faith and intuition, adding to her aging fears, soon she would be a grandmother. Her daughter was expecting in seven months. At least Narsal had listened to her Mother on the subject of marriage; at least for her daughter's future; at least for the baby.

Her distress had grown, her hands were throbbing, not even the aspirin had helped. There was an ugly purple line running the entire circumference, just below where her watch band rested. She had pulled down her dress sleeves. She didn't want Narsal to see the skin discoloration.

Narsal had returned to the rich little community to be wed. The entire town was invited. Her close associates would all see how prosperous the biker scum had become. They would all see that Mrs. Tremmalow had been wrong. The entire clique would hear about how she had thrown them both out of her house. Her friends would now understand why one side of the book collection, on the reception room mantel, was held up inappropriately by the silver snuff box.

She didn't want to go to the wedding. She had to. The embarrassment of not attending her own daughter's wedding would be greater than the shame of showing up. She was crushed. Her status would never be the same again amongst her peers. She would have massaged her own neck, if her hands would have cooperated. Sweat poured from her forehead.

Her daughter had won. And now she would have to face that mustache touting, leather jacket wearing, multi-color haired, freak. Tears welled in her eyes. Her whole body shook in reservation, and revulsion. She was not allowed to be publicly horrid; she could not publicly snipe the father of her grandchild, a multi-millionaire himself. The vile man had stuck by her daughter through cancer, and illness.

A devoted man who had provided everything for Narsal and treated her like the princess she was.

Her joints had become red with worry and anticipation. She would have called the doctor but her hands wouldn't cooperate, they had become lumps of mud at the end of her arms. All she could do was dwell upon the upcoming moment of torment. She now couldn't even open the bottle of emergency valium to calm her aching nerves.

Would he forgive her? Ulma had sought forgiveness. She had deigned to speak with him. He had never returned her messages, and Jesse had hung up on her repeatedly when she had connected. Now he was here, on the estate grounds.

Outside Tremmalow Manor idled the longest black limo one could rent in the area. Ulma knew. She had rented it herself.

The Limo doors opened. And out strode her daughter, dressed in a lavish white gown. Next to her, arm in arm, was Jesse.

There was something wrong with him. He was Handsome.

Jesse was clean shaven. His hair was short and conservative. Stylish. His tux was the finest Italian cut she had ever laid eyes on. She might have mistaken him for a movie star.

They strolled up the walk together as Ulma peeped out the side light. The strident gait reminded her of five years of sorrow. Five years dreading this moment. Five years of shame.

The doorbell rang. Morton the butler answered. The door opened and there before Mrs. Tremmalow stood her beautiful daughter and the scum who had stolen her baby.

The stunning couple advanced without a word. Mrs. Tremmalow was so nervous she thought she might faint. Her whole body shook in terror.

Jesse moved forward; he had put out his hand. There was kindness and sorrow in his eyes. Mrs. Ulma Virgina Tremmalow had reached for his palm, laden with regret.

Regret had turned to horror. Blood leaked from her stump. Her thrashing right arm had spattered the couple in red spray. Her disembodied digits moved of their own accord, as if haunted by spirits. Not knowing what to do, like a soldier hit on the beach, she had instinctually reached down to reclaim her dismembered right hand. That's when her left hand fell off. Even Jesse the biker fainted.


Midday

James McCanahanahan was attempting to save himself. The crowd had turned ugly.

Loud voices chanted slogans that blasted his ears. His underarms were sweating like he'd been caught by a cop in the back seat of a car, with his pants down.

He never thought that his principals would be swayed by money. But the money was cash, and in amounts he thought were impossible to wash, especially by a respectable corporation. Or what he once thought...was a respectable corporation.

He ducked. A shoe missed his head by inches. The police were arriving in greater numbers now. The police had to protect him from this mob. It was their sworn duty.

The TV cameras pushed in closer. The reporters fired questions at him. One learned political skill was not to sweat in public. Always keep your cool. Today this mandate was impossible.

Old knots grew in his back. His shoulders felt like they were on fire. Lumps of molten lead. His whole back ached. His skull throbbed; a four aspirin headache.

McCanahanahan tried to speak over the mutinous mass before him. He was drowned out by the angry crowd. Two of his private security men were doing their best; keeping the mob off the risers.

A sharp jolt; he staggered. He'd been hit in the head with something hard. It felt like a rock. Anger and fear raged through his body. After ricocheting of his skull, the noggin knocker had come to rest on the podium in front of him.

The hard object was wrapped in paper. Actually a picture. James unwrapped the photo encasing the stone, and nearly lost his bowels.

The picture captured James McCanahanahan accepting the dirty sack full of cash from the two oil executives.

He looked back at the crowd; he noticed that almost all the people in the crowd were waving the very same photo. That's what the green protesters had passed out to the audience.

He read the caption: McCanahanahan accepts 750,000 reasons to suppress the Mount Rainier Geothermal Powerplant.

Oh good lord. He'd been set up, or found out. This might mean the end of his carrier. But McCanahanahan was shrewd even when taken aghast. Maybe he could talk his way out of this.

The knots in his back were incredible. Fear welled in his throat. Two young green activists broke through the police line now linked before the podium. One protester palmed a jiggling balloon filled with what had to be green dye; the other activist wielded a knife. The youths threw their weapons at McCanahanahan. His bodyguards sprung for him. Each grabbed James by the upper arm and pulled him to the floor.

The green dye splatted against the back drop that read-McCanahanahan means new jobs for American offshore oil workers. The knife stuck in his portrait's cardboard throat.

This violence had to be nipped in the bud. Before it got out of hand. He might be seriously injured if the mob swung out of control.

It felt like the security men had dislocated his shoulders. The security men hadn't grabbed him all that hard; they had simply taken him to the floor.

An eblisent James McCanahanahan rose as smoke from the fire, and faced the crowd. His red facial contours, awash with rage and fear. He screamed into the microphones below his chin.

"People! People! Remain calm! This is all activist propaganda! Calm yourselves! I swear that this Picture is a lie!"

James McCanahanahan raised his arms up and stretched them above his head in a giant 'V'. His world renowned gesture; he reached for the victorious sky.

That's when his arms fell off.

They slipped out of his sleeves and flopped around on the stage like worms exposed to the sunlight.

One of the camera women lost her breakfast.


Afternoon

Little Leroy Washington pivoted back and forth on the balls of his feet. There was nowhere to turn. Four of the Eighth graders had cornered and surrounded him against the back of the school gym.

Leroy was a seventh grader, and witty. A tall skinny nerd, with serious moxie. The Eighth graders before him had matured early and were big, and mean. Though not bright boys, they knew what to do after they figured out they had been duped.

Leroy was a whiz at math. Numbers and formulas just came easy. He knew how lazy and stupid the jocks were. He had banked that the gang would never have the cortex to reason out that the football pool he had concocted was a fraud. Football pools were hip. Jocks were stupid. Leroy ran pools, and everyone knew that Leroy paid off regularly. The set up.

Now that the marks were comfortable and trusting, Leroy Washington had put together the biggest pool yet. He had bet that he would be able to get away with it.

But this time he'd been wrong. Apparently some of the jocks had mastered probability statistics, or someone had finked. Probably a Fink.

The five hundred dollars Leroy had collected had already been spent on his new tricked-out bike, locked up at the rack, just a few yards away. He hadn't planned on paying out any of this pool.

Then the big boys had met him after school. Waiting for him to unlock his new shiny cruiser. The jocks wanted their money back. Now!

The take Leroy had pocketed had already been spent to the last cent. Leroy had stalled and hemmed and hawed. No amount of double talk had swayed their objective. The forced meeting was now at the end of its verbal session, and would be moving on to the painful physical retribution aspect. Talking had turned to yelling.

There was only one chance to avoid the vicious beating. Leroy nervously rocked back and forth on his ankles, rolling his feet out to the sides then returning them straight up again.

"Gim'me my money Leroy, or you gonna loose yo face nigga," said the biggest jock.

Leroy flinched, "OK blood. Hey man, I made a mistake. For real bro. Come on, be cool. I gots your money man!"

Leroy turned his cap backwards, and tossed the dice in his mind.

He whipped-out the rolled bills in his back pocket, and threw it outside the ring of thugs, across the black top and onto the basketball court.

Off in the distance the money green object appeared to be a hefty wad of cash. But Leroy knew the dollar bills were only rolled around ordinary paper. Con man's trick. The roll in reality contained maybe...six bucks.

The prospect of free cash distracted their attention. Half the gang ran after the wad right away. The angrier, less greedy boys, ran after the other two about three seconds behind. Vocative arguing engaged immediately.

Now. Break for it. Leroy ran as fast as he had ever run before.

His feet slapped the asphalt in pounding rhythm. His adrenaline was pumping. His body suddenly became a ball of pain.

When he reached his bike, disregarding the aching in his extremities, he dove for the combo lock. But his fingers became fumbling rubber-jelly. He missed the first number and had to dial it again. On his next attempt, he missed the second number, and had to start again. He looked over his shoulder. The Big Boys were fighting over the roll. Punching and hitting each other. Yelling and slapping.

The lock clicked open. Leroy Washington backed his bike out of the tire parking slot.

Another look back over his shoulders revealed that his money roll had been peeled open by the largest boy. The disappointing fact that the tubular wad contained only six dollars appeared on all of their faces. The feuding bullies became of one mind instantly. They flew after him.

The gang quickly pinched the distance. Seconds away. Leroy spasmodically struggled to disentangle the chain from his tires. If they caught him now he'd lose the badass bike and probably a couple of necessary teeth. He jumped on the seat and slapped his toes against the strong titanium pedals with all his might.

That's when Leroy's feet fell off.

The bike fell over. The Eighth graders stopped dead.

Leroy's shoes and socks wriggled around on the ground like snakes in a bag.

Actually, it was the bullies that called 911.


Evening

Mark Lipinski had a terrible headache.

The board was going to come down on him for this. This was the third compromise of the facility. At least this time he was sober.

He got up off his knees, and brushed off the dirt. Darn. Where in the heck cold it be? There were so many tiny hiding places. Who the heck had left the terrarium lid open? Probably he. Mark couldn't remember yesterday, his head swam in party hurt. The critter could be anywhere in the room.

Mark slammed his fist down on the table, slumped into his chair. It was exactly then that Mortimer Snurd walked through the door.

"Whoa! Looks like I've come at a bad time."

"Yes. You have impeccable bad timing. Quick, come in and close the door. Marty got out, man."

"Which one's Marty?"

"He's one of the study groups."

"So."

"So? I can't complete my thesis without him. The term's near over. You know that Marty is the only specimen so far where the transfer has produced results worthy of publishing."

"Not good dude. Think he's in the room?"

"Yeah. He's got to be. This room's secure; he's probably under some of the equipment. Give me a hand looking will you?"

"Sure."

They got down on their knees and started to crawl around the lab floor, peering and poking into comers and under rolling racks and cabinets.

"What is all this stuff you've been doing lately anyway? You never have time to grab a beer anymore," slighted Mortimer.

"Sorry man. Busy. Thanks for bringing down my notes, dude. Well....TV guide version. Our 'renowned' Professor Kinney is working on digital regeneration. Primarily limb regeneration. We've got two lizards in the study. One of them is the Palos Verdes Alligator lizard, and the other is the Brazilian Green Tree Lizard. We're swapping genes."

"What for? Why lizards?"

"Couple of reasons. They're easy to work with, and they're genetically the closest species to mammals that regenerate. Naturally that is."

"Huh?"

"Here. Com'mere. Look. I was about to get a sample when I noticed Marty had disappeared out of his terrarium next to my desk."

"Which terrarium?"

"The empty one moron, on the right side. I think I left it open last night, after I fed him."

Mark stood up and opened the top of a glass enclosure to the left of his desk. The larger, all glass, terrarium held about twenty medium sized, dark green, scaly lizards.

"These are the Palos Verdes species. Check this out."

Mark reached into the enclosure. Lizards scattered away from his hand. The Lizards tried to climb up the high glass walls to no avail. Finally mark cornered one. He grabbed the frightened lizard by the tail. The lizard turned on him and tried to bite Mark's fingers. Mark lifted the hissing reptile off the floor before he could bite.

Suddenly the lizard was back on the floor and scrambling with the rest of the lizards trying to escape Mark's hand.

"Whoa you pulled his tail off dude."

"No, not exactly Mort. His autonomic defense mechanism separated the back half of his tail from the front half. Their tail shedding response is part of the lizard's survival strategy. This species sheds its tail when threatened, or seized. Look at this."

Mark placed the severed tail end on top of the cage. The dismembered tail flipped back and forth on its own, a little blood leaked onto the lid.

"Whoa dude. Check it out, its alive...alive...alive," blasted Mortimer, strutting stiffly about the Lab like Frankenstein's Monster.

"Yep. See. Nature figures it's better to leave a bit of yourself behind for a predator to eat, that to be eaten yourself. Nervous impulses allow the severed tail to continue thrashing about after detachment, thereby distracting the predator, while the lizard, now at a loss but alive, flees. Shortly thereafter, the lizard's tail grows back. As good as new. This is the part of the whole regenerative scenario we are interested in. Many species grow back body parts. Unfortunately most of the higher species, including Man, don't. The only tissues we grow back are skin, and a few surface tissues. Mostly scar tissues."

"Freaky man."

"Yea. The word dude. Professor Kinney has isolated the genes responsible for the lizard's regenerative abilities. So we've viralized it, and have introduced the genes into the Brazilian Green Tree Lizard. Our goal is the transferring the new gene sequence cross species. We hope it will take hold in them. Finally last week, we had a success. Marty."

"You're telling me that Marty the Brazilian tree lizard shed his tail?"

"Yeah he shed his tail. Unfortunately it didn't grow back. So we failed. But we have to find out why we failed. That's why I need to find Marty."

"Geez Mark...that's nuts. What if he gets out? He could spread the genes to other lizards."

"Not likely. We tailored the virus so that it will only affect Brazilian green tree lizards. If he's gotten out, no harm done. Except that we've lost months worth of research, I get kicked off the team, and flunk out of school. We'll just have to look again."

"We'll he's got to be around somewhere. I'll help you find him."

"We'd better."

Mark had survived better days. His neck was killing him; the late nights were catching up with him. The stress of finishing his papers. Supervising the other graduate students. Grading their work. He hadn't been laid in months. He felt like his head was going to explode. Damn this mess. It would destroy his grade point average. Kill his professor's trust. Maim his thesis.

Mark sat at his desk and pounded his head on the table.

"Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid..."

Mortimer screamed and jumped back as Mark's head popped off and rolled bloodlessly into the full terrarium.

Frightened Lizards climbed the detached head, scattered over the floor, and fled out the door left open by Mortimer Snurd.




Story and illustration © 2003 by Von Kraemer killerscifi@aol.com




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