Author : Rachel Verkade

The killer told me he’d had a turtle in his head.

He seemed perfectly calm and reasonable about it. A turtle, living nestled in his brain. I asked him if the turtle was what had made him kill. He didn’t know. If it did, he didn’t hold any ill will towards it. He seemed to feel a good deal of affection for it, in fact, or at least as much affection as a man like him could feel.

I asked what had happened to it. Shrugging, he told me that when they’d caught him, they’d cut into his head. To see what had made him the way he is. He told them not to, he said, but they didn’t listen. He was mentally incompetent, after all, committed to a state hospital for treatment, and that gave them all the power over him that they needed. So the surgeons came, and they strapped him down, drugged him, cut him. They’d found the turtle, and they’d removed it.

I asked if that upset him. Not really, he replied. He’d been sorry when it died, of course, but he’d thought that might happen. How could an animal so used to the warmth and wetness of a man’s brain survive in the cold and the dryness of the air, after all? Anyway, they’d let him keep the body.

It was hanging outside his cell, just close enough for him to touch through the bars. A red-eared slider, male, a good size. The killer brushed it with his fingers, making the limp little head sway. I asked him how it could possibly have fit in his head and left room for his brain. He didn’t know. Not how it had gotten in there, nor how it had survived, nor how it kept getting out.

Getting out?

Oh, yes, he said with a smile. At least once a week it would go out, never for more than a couple of hours at a time. It always came back, so he didn’t mind. And anyway, he confided with a wink, it was because of the turtle’s little sojourns that he now had his secret. He gestured me closer, and I approached despite my better judgement.

Crawling around his feet, paddling through a little bowl of water on the stone floor…a clutch of tiny hatchlings. He didn’t know how big they’d have to get before they could enter his head, but he was willing to wait.


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