Author: Phil Temples
I was an English Lit postdoc, down on my luck—and money—when I saw an advertisement seeking test subjects for a sleep study at a local university. It paid well; well enough that I glossed over the cautionary warnings describing the potential risks and side-effects. Along with dizziness and constipation, the fine print also stated that test subjects could find themselves unconscious for prolonged periods of time. I was prepared to take those risks. I never dreamed, however, that I might sleep for a million years. That’s how long it had been, according to the creatures who were hovering over me when I woke up.
They resembled enormous hermit crabs with large pincers, complemented by rows of smaller appendages down their chests. They initially regarded me as having the mental capacity of a rock. Imagine their surprise then, when they learned that I could communicate with them telepathically. To them, long-gone H. sapiens occupied a “dead-end” rung on the evolutionary ladder while their species was currently at the top of the food chain.
“This is Earth, right?” I asked.
“If you mean the third planet orbiting the star known by the ancients as ‘Sol’—yes, it is. We call it KGGG-GRRGG-ZSSHH!” The creature created a series of short, rasping noises produced by rubbing its antennae against the ribs on one claw.
I communicated to them that their verbal communication hurt my ears.
“We’re sorry. To us, our voice is very shrill. Let us continue to communicate by thoughts only.”
“Fine by me.”
One “crabby” came up to the table and jabbed me in the arm with some sort of probe.
“Ouch!” I said loudly, pulling back. I thought it, too, along with many other impolite words that perhaps didn’t translate. Their spokesman, a crab I called Rufus, because he reminded me very much of my pet fish from high school, pulled the offending crab aside. He explained to the offender that I was a sentient being and deserved to be treated with respect.
“A thousand pardons. [Unintelligible] will not hurt you again. He didn’t realize that your shell was so thin. Nor did I. In fact, we hypothesized that your species’ structure consisted of an internal skeleton surrounded by a calcium carbonate shell. Clearly, this is not the case. May I touch your … skin?”
“Sure, as long as you don’t poke me with anything sharp.”
Rufus stroked my arm gently. I could tell he was experiencing something akin to a mixture of awe and delight.
“And all of your species—”
“We’re called humans.”
“All humans had this same composition of outer shell?”
I realized that Ruffus’ use of the past tense was apt; I was quite probably the only human being in existence.
“Yes, different colors but the same chemical makeup.”
“Extraordinary!” To emphasize the point, a crab in the back hit one of his claws against another as if beating a drum.
In the days and weeks that followed, I was treated civilly. They trotted me out to meetings and seminars, where I was asked hundreds of questions about humans and life on earth one million years ago. Their species could hardly fathom the idea that we had mastered space travel, walked on the moon, and explored every planet in the solar system with space probes and robots. Their claws beat and their antennae bobbed up and down in amazement when I went into detail about humankind’s accomplishments. They were anxious to know what caused our extinction and disappointed when I told them that I hadn’t a clue.
It’s been well over a year since I woke up in the future. I’ve been unable to make peace with the fact that I’m the only living person in existence. I am totally alone. If there was just one other person in this world—male or female, of any age, race or ethnic origin—I might reconsider. But there isn’t. There never will be.
Last month, I started the injections that they think will turn me permanently into a crustacean. I’m already developing ‘stubs’ in my head that will grow into antennae. My hands are forming into claws. My skin’s texture is hardening markedly.
To them, I’ll always look like a freak, but soon I’ll belong to a their species. I won’t be alone in the universe. Plus, I’ll never have to hunt for a knife or fork. But I will miss the days of consuming steaming plates of Chesapeake blue crabs.
Very good story. Simple and effective. Rising and falling action all there. Comedic slant works subtly. Great ending. Title is perfect.