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A Snail's Pace

by
Pat Coates

 As the sun began to set and evening drew in, Andrew, sitting in the garden with friends, was startled by something touching his left arm. Turning in his seat to see what it could be, he was surprised to see a large snail; drawing back, he studied it with some revulsion.

 

            “It touched my arm!” he exclaimed, rubbing the offended limb.

  

            Everyone looked with a mixture of curiosity at the creature slithering along the small table-top.

 

            “Ugh!” said one.

            “You can eat them if cooked properly,” another said.

            “They were my friends when I was small; I used to race them,” exclaimed a third.

 

            Interest over, except for Andrew, who kept an eye on the departing figure, attention was turned to other things. Snail alert returned at the end of the evening as two more were found, one on the top of the bench where Annabel was sitting and another making its way down to the cushioned seat. It was Annabel who, this time, was somewhat discomforted. Moving forward to teeter on the edge of the bench so she could keep an eye on the two creatures, she was relieved when, a few minutes later, the evening’s get-together came to an end. Disconcerted by the appearance of even more snails, Andrew was also glad to call it a night.

          Later, walking down the lane to their respective homes, Andrew remarked on the appearance of the snails to Annabel. “I know they come out at dusk, but it was a bit of a shock when I looked around and saw what had touched me. It’s hard to describe, but I had a weird feeling.”

              “Like what? What did you feel?” Annabel turned towards him, concern showing on her face.

           Andrew gave a shaky laugh. “Afraid. I felt afraid. It’s absurd that a grown man is alarmed by a simple snail, or snails as it turned out.”

            “They seemed larger than ones I’ve seen before.” Annabel put her hand on Andrew’s arm in sympathy. “I couldn’t believe the size of the two that came close to me. No one offered to remove them either, so maybe we aren’t the only ones that felt discomforted by them.”

             

            They walked along silently, both lost in their own thoughts until suddenly they found something neither had expected. They didn’t know what to do next. Andrew, grasping Annabel’s arm, steered her away from the spot. “I’ll report it to the council first thing in the morning,” he remarked grimly.

* * *

Lying in bed, Andrew absently mindedly massaged the part of his arm where the snail had made contact. Where did this feeling that it didn’t bode well for him come from? Generally, he wasn’t bothered by slugs and such unless he found them on his plants in the garden. But then, they never actually approached him; normally, it was the other way around. He frowned; it was just this gut feeling that something was wrong. He tried to laugh at himself; he was being fanciful, why he didn’t even have a scratch from his encounter with the snail to be worried about. Still – something was wrong. Andrew paused in his thoughts, wondering what he should or even could do about it. His insides suddenly twisted excruciatingly. His breathing became difficult; he abruptly tried to sit up to ease his airway. Was he having a panic attack? At the same time, the irritation on his arm began to intensify. Applying more pressure to relieve it, to his horror, he found his arm jellifying, his fingers slipping through flesh until they encountered bone. Screaming, he tried to move, but his muscles and ligaments failed. His whole body was liquidising by the second. He was conscious of his ragged breath until, finally, no air was needed as he sank under a viscous surface.    

* * *

Only with DNA from his skeleton was it possible to identify poor old Andrew. On hearing about the bizarre circumstances of his death, Annabel tearfully told the police about the last night she had seen him. How, after leaving their friend’s house, they discussed the appearance of some snails and the worrisome feelings they had evoked in Andrew. Also, that they had come across a dead animal, though it had been hard to tell exactly what it was; it might have been a fox, as it was covered from the tip of its head to the end of its tail in a thick slime. The flesh on the animal’s body had gone entirely, leaving behind only its carcass. Annabel drew a sobbing breath, adding that Andrew had told her that he would be informing the authorities about it the next day and how dreadful it was that he had died that very night on his own in such a terrible way.

* * *

Epilogue

It has been discovered that a new species of snail has evolved. Whenever animals, birds or humans come in bodily contact with them, a deadly substance is transferred, but unlike a snail’s pace, the reaction to the toxin is rapid. The victim will perish within hours. Until an antidote is discovered, people are warned to avoid snails and possibly slugs at all costs.

   

               A multitude of reports have been passed to the authorities of people finding skeleton, slime-covered remains of dead animals and birds all over the country. The authorities are playing down the human count to avoid panic, but it is believed to be growing daily.

Pat Coates lives in Sully, near Cardiff, South Wales. She is married, with two children and two grandchildren. She has had seven stories published by ASP. The Harr. The Ultimate Creation. Island of Speculation. The House That Wept Tears of Blood. The Lost Soul. Imagination, Intuition and Fact, and A Shaft of Light.

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