He cursed them for being lightening fast. Faster than lightening, even. He was practically a superhero. And now, that power would be ultimately be his downfall. A fitting, if tragic, end for a handsome hero.
He could also blame conditioning. Who wouldn’t?, was the expected reply. The answer (don’t forget to state it in the form of a question, Alex) Who wouldn’t reach out to catch something when it is thrown at your face accompanied by the words “Hey Catch!”
He knew the answer to that one, but he didn’t want to go there…not yet. If he made it out of this he would have to face the old man eventually. But right now, he had priorities.
Priority number one: the throbbing pain in the epicenter of the palm of his hand. That’s what he got for catching mysterious objects thrown at him without a catching mitt.
It was starting to spread, and it felt…weird. Yes - it throbbed mercilessly. As each wave of pain ebbed out, it left numbness in its wake. So even though the bite site…I rhymed, he paused for a giggle…still hurt, the pain had lessened and he was left with tingling flesh. It never stopped hurting completely. More so, it was as if the very center of his hand had gone to sleep and tingled with an odd combination of pain – and not pain. It made sense to him, anyway.
With nowhere else to go, and knees that started to feel jello-ey, Shawn backed himself into the corner and found himself sliding down the wall. He landed rather unelegantly on his butt. While, he knew it was a bad idea, putting himself into a vulnerable position, it wasn’t like he had many options. The unnatural pain in his hand blocked out all other options. This was so, so, so wrong!
“It’s starting to hurt, isn’t it?”
He had a snappy comeback to that one. He just didn’t…feel like it yet. Let the bad guy talk while he thought of the next step, or if he were really forced to be honest, the first step of his escape plan.
“It’s going to get much worse, but don’t worry. The bite of Conus Californicus isn’t usually fatal.”
He tried, oh how he tried, but he couldn’t help it.
“Califfffornic…,” the giggle turned into a full blown laugh that for a moment took his attention from the venom spreading through the tissues of his palm, though the attempt at talking did lead to the discovery that his face felt kind of funny too. All of these distractions combined also took his attention from the baddie. The baddie who took his snails very seriously.
“It’s not funny,” the man hissed. Little drops of spittle punctuated the air. “You think they don’t deserve respect?! You have no idea what I was going to accomplish here. NONE!” He was now fully worked up, roaring with a volume Shawn wouldn’t have thought possible. He seemed so…mousy, when they first started the investigation.
And it was true, all of it. He had underestimated the little, quiet man. Now he had just made him really mad. It would be smart to try and tone down the mirth just a bit. He desperately tried to hold the giggle fit inside. His shoulders shook with the effort. Gradually, he forced himself to absorb the gravity of his predicament. With time, he was able to will his muscles to relax; actually, finding it surprisingly easy. Oh yeah, too easy.
He was screwed.
It wasn’t that he actually relaxed his muscles, it was more like he couldn’t move his muscles.
“You may have laughed like all the others, but Conus Californicus will have the last laugh. You’re only beginning to realize it now, Mr. Spencer, but this little beautiful snail’s bite can cause a great deal of pain.” The gloved hand held up one of the tiny, elegant shells. Its inhabitant slowly moved around, taking in its surroundings…its slimy, shiny, disgusting surroundings.
“But I bet you don’t know that this little snail has the potential to relieve pain. Oh yes, the venom of these remarkable creatures has tremendous benefit for human kind. You, sir, are only one person. You are expendable. I can’t allow one man to halt my research. Not when I’m so close…”
The beady eyes that zoomed on his didn’t bode well at all. He did have a retort handy. Shame his lips weren’t quite up to the challenge. Time for the old Junior-High try.
“Fffff kmmmmm…,” and it sounded so good in his head.
“If I kill you, they’ll catch up with me?”
Hey, that was pretty good actually.
“Mr. Spencer, I’m not going to kill you. Like I said, the venom of Conus Californicus is rarely fatal…”
He waited for the catch. There was always a catch, a hook, a loophole in the contract. He made a career on working the system. Semantics were your friends, use them well.
“…unless you don’t have the benefit of hospitalization and respiratory support when your lungs and heart…let’s just say they might get tired. Otherwise, well, there’s just no guarantee.”
Shawn had to give him credit. If this really was his first time out as a bad guy, he had all the nuances down pat. His sense of dramatic timing was impeccable. The beady, narrow eyes were particularly effective – remarkably creepy. Best of all, the neglected crop of graying hair was artistically mussed in evil genius fashion. He supposed it would be the sporty thing to do to acknowledge the skill of his opponent and a game well played.
“No, no, no,” the mad doctor said with a cluck of his tongue. “I’m afraid you went for a walk on the beach and had the misfortune of picking up one of these little creatures in your ignorance,” he sighed as if he were truly sad. The forced sympathy didn’t last long as his tone brightened immediately. “Interesting that the same venom that we have harnessed to extract the power to relax muscles and relieve nerve pain also causes overwhelming numbness and paralysis in its natural state. You’ve probably already noticed the difficulty breathing.”
He hadn’t actually. But now that the little guy had to go mentioning it, his chest did feel alarmingly tight. Bastard.
“No, Mr. Spencer,” he continued with a conversational air. I’m not going to kill you. I never touched you. You picked up the wrong snail and you fell into the ocean. Unable to control your own muscles combined with your respiratory problems – I’m afraid you drowned.”
Oh yeah…screwed…big time.
There was nothing nearby he could use as a weapon. At least there wasn’t five minutes ago when he could still see clearly. His mind’s eye thought back to the layout of the room when he first arrived. Based on his current location, there was nothing nearby to use to his advantage. Plus, his vision had grown remarkably blurry in the last few minutes. So even if there were, he couldn’t see well enough to get to it. The mad doctor now just a lightish blur against a blue-fog background. All of his systems were sluggish, leaving him completely helpless.
He tried not to panic. His mind was scared, though his body couldn’t form the flight to his fright. He knew his heart should be beating wildly in his chest. He knew it wanted to, deep down. The fact that instead it felt kinda…squishy…alarmed him. Lots. Weakly his head fell back, no longer under his control, to thud against the wall.
All his senses were useless: his fate was sealed. Unable to so much as make a fist, Shawn could only concentrate on drawing each breath, in and out…
He wasn’t aware of the office door as it was kicked open and flooded by police. He wasn’t aware of his best friend at his side or the panicked call for an ambulance. He wasn’t aware of fading out as his increasingly shallow breaths supplied his brain with barely enough oxygen to keep the emergency backup systems running.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Gary the Snail haunted his dreams. As he traveled from room to room in his apartment, the snail was right there behind him, coating his floor with a slime trail. Did he mention he was barefoot?
He hated snails.
Shawn decided that at the first opportunity, he was going to treat himself to a big plate of escargot…simply on principle.
He gradually warmed up to idea that maybe someone was trying to get his attention. As he gradually considered replying, he came to the realization that he was lying down…and he couldn’t swallow.
He couldn’t even talk. The most he could do was whine; and so whine he did!
He felt hands on his chest pressing him down to whatever he was lying on.
“Shawn, open your eyes kid!”
The voice was much harder to ignore now, in favor of his own panic. Large hands on either side of his cheeks turned his face slightly. With a great deal of effort, Shawn blearily opened his eyes.
Through much blinking and tear ducts that went into overdrive upon waking up to bright lights, he gradually made out the silhouettes of Gus and his father.
Please turn off the light!
He could have kissed Gus as his friend took pity on his squinty expression and moved the overhead light.
It was funny. Even with rapid blinking, the image of the bright bulb was burned into his retinas. He giggled again as the blank spot appeared on the shoulders of whoever’s head he was looking at. He alternated removing his dad’s head, then Gus’, then back to his dad’s.
“Shawn, are you awake yet?” The concerned voice of Gus’ absent head spoke into the room.
He opened his lips to make a comment and then remembered there was something wrong about that motion earlier. And then the happy memory of headless dad and Gus was a mere blur as he fully felt something in his throat. He could feel it choking him. He quickly looked up to his dad, whose face was just starting to come into focus.
“You’re on a respirator, pal, and that’s not going to change. You’re going to have to get used to it for a little while longer.”
“You don’t remember, Shawn. ‘The case’…?” Shawn rolled his eyes at Gus’ attempt to be subtle, air quotes and all.
“What Gus is trying to not say is that you snuck into the lab and got caught by the bad guy. You got bit by a cone snail - you’re going to have to fill us in on that one - and the cops broke down the door just in time to save your tail. Now, do you remember any of that?”
Gus’ eyes darted back and forth as if that really was what he wanted to say, but didn’t think Henry would piece it together for himself. Shawn thought Gus should have known better by now.
“You got lucky this time, pal. Really lucky. You have at least another two days before the doctors take you off the respirator to think about how lucky you were.” Steel eyes bored into his. What could he do but nod in agreement? He was lucky. He knew it.
He watched as his father ran a hand down his face. “I’m going down to the cafeteria for some coffee. Gus…”
“I’ll stay here Mr. Spencer.”
“Shawn?” He raised his head to acknowledge the man at the door. “Don’t fiddle with that!”
He quickly lowered his hand from the corrugated tube stretched across his chest. How did the man develop eyes in the back of his head? It defied logic.
Awkward silence drifted between the two of them remaining in the room. Normally, he would feel obligated to fill the silence. That wasn’t an option at the moment, forcing Shawn to acknowledge it was going to be a long two days.
“You scared me, Shawn.” No Gus! Please don’t do this now! “I thought you were going to die. You couldn’t breathe and…”
Shawn couldn’t reassure his friend – couldn’t tell him that he found him in time. He would be okay. The bad guy was in jail. Instead he lifted a shaky arm and a closed fist. Gus gave him a half smile and returned the fist bump quickly. It was good because Shawn couldn’t keep his arm lifted that long, letting it flop back on the bed.
“So, uh, the SBPD is having their annual charity softball tournament against the firemen next month. The chief invited us to join the team.” Shawn’s eyes lit up with interest as Gus continued. “I get to be the team manager, you know organization and stuff. The chief wanted to know if you wanted to play catcher?”
“Shawn – you okay?”