“That makes sense,” said Decker, glancing around at the paraphernalia all over the room.
At the same moment, Axon spoke in my brain. It makes sense. The town is dreaming it’s a garden, and Sigmurethra is dreaming that it is eating the garden.
“And he’s going to eat Ducksburg’s dreams,” I said. “What will that do to the town?”
Nothing if you act, said Axon. You have fifteen seconds.
“Nothing,” said Decker. She poured out a handful of salt onto her hand and walked towards the snail, “because we’re going to salt the little bastard right now.”
A clear plastic dome covered the snail. Decker stuck her fingernails under the edge and tipped it over. It clattered to the floor.
Five seconds, I thought. The exact amount of time it would take for Decker to pour on the salt, as far as I could estimate. It’s funny how these things worked out. The timing was perfect, just long enough to get here at the precise moment we needed to. Although if the package in my arms was a bomb, it was about to go off and kill us all. That probably should have worried me more.
The package. I had forgotten about the package.
“Wait!” I cried out.
Decker looked at me as if I was nuts, but she stilled her hand.
Thirty seconds, said Axon.
“The timer just went up,” I said. Decker’s expression softened. “We need to open the package. It can’t just be irrelevant.”
“Well hurry up,” said Decker. “I’m pretty sure if this thing eats my apartment I’ll never get my security deposit back.”
“You knocked out a wall,” I said to her as I tore off the outer paper. “I don’t think you’re going to get your security deposit back.”
Inside the paper was a blank box. I wondered why it was wrapped in paper. I unflapped the flaps on the flapped edge and slid a rectangle of plastic about the size of a tissue box. The bottom was lined with some kind of dirt, and there were a few leaves and twigs scattered about.
“It’s a terrarium,” I said.
“Okay, great,” said Decker. “We’ve now solved the enigma of the mysterious package. Can I salt this thing now before it eats Judy’s? I have a hair appointment on Thursday and if he doesn’t have her dreams she’s sure to fuck it up.”
“It wasn’t a solution,” I said.
“The Client wasn’t giving us a solution. That’s not what this was about. This was never going to be difficult to handle if we actually got in. It’s a damn snail. We salt it. Or step on it.”
“Or eat it with butter,” said Decker.
“Right. So this isn’t a solution. It’s a choice. We don’t have to kill it.”
It’s dangerous, what you’re thinking, said Axon. We should kill it.
“We don’t have to,” said Decker. “But what the hell else are we supposed to do?”
“Listen,” I said. “This is the only dreaming snail in the history of snaildom. Doesn’t that make it worth saving?”
“Unless it isn’t,” said Decker. “There could be a million of these out there.”
“Okay, fine. This is the only dreaming snail that I’ve never heard of. Doesn’t that make it special? Plus it’s kind of, I mean, it’s kind of a person now, isn’t it?”
Not really, said Axon. It’s a mission. And the slug army is going to be here soon. Choice or solution, you don’t have much time.
“Keeping a dreaming snail is a serious responsibility,” said Decker. “Remember what happened to that rare Japanese koi you had?”
“You fed it to your cat because she made cute noises at you.”
“Exactly,” she said. “I still have that cat. She’s still cute.”
“Then you don’t get snail visitation rights,” I said.
“If you really want to do this, I’ll back your play,” said Decker. “Just don’t let the damn thing near my heirloom tomato plants.”
“Okay,” I said. “I won’t.” Decker didn’t have any tomato plants, but there was a very good chance she would get some now, just because of this.
This is a bad idea, said Axon.
Why would the Client give me this box, if it wasn’t a viable option?
She seemed to consider it. That was a good sign. Fine, but this is a temporary solution.
You are eventually going to need a bigger terrarium.
I took that to mean I had won the argument. Or at least she wasn’t going to fill my vision with images of primate anatomy. I pried the top off of the terrarium and sidled up next to the snail.
“What do you think, Siggy?” I said. “Do you want to come live with me? I promise I’ll give you actual grass. You won’t have to eat my town or anything. I can’t promise I’ll be very good landlord, but I’ll do my best. It’s better than being salted, anyway.”
The snail looked over at me, for all the world like it understood what I was saying. I thought I saw a glint of tiny acquiescence in its tiny eye, but I probably made that up.
I would love to say that the snail-army was battering down the door as I picked up the little bug and dropped him into the terrarium with a plop. I would love to say that the instant I did so the walls started to shake, that Decker shouted “Run!” and that we went on a mad dash through the intestinal labyrinth before we dove through a window and landed on an enormous honeybee that ferried us down to the safety of the ground. All of that would be a lot more dramatic.
Instead, with no transition or sensation at all I found myself standing on the large lot of grass that previously didn’t really contain an office building, the terrarium still in my arms. Decker stood beside me, and slime very obligingly did not cover either one of us. A middle aged woman with a pomeranian stood about twenty feet away and stared at us. I knew what she had seen, because even now I could remember it. Decker and I had walked into the middle of the field, ran around for a few minutes with a moderate amount of arm flailing, picked up a snail, and dropped it into a terrarium. In a few minutes this memory would be stronger than my adventures inside Siggy.
“You know what we need?” said Decker.
“What?” I turned to her with what I’m sure was a dazed expression.
“Tacos. Many, many tacos.”
I stared at her for far too long. “You are the smartest person I’ve ever met. Have I ever told you that?”
“No, but I already knew that. Let’s go. I’m sure Unicos would let you can bring Siggy, if you want. Hell, they’ll probably cook him for you if you ask them to.”
“Please, not in front of the snail.”
“Does he understand our tongue? Ooh, do you think they have lengua today?”
“You’d like it if you tried it. Assuming you like being hilarious.”
As we walked, I glanced back at where the office building and/or giant snail had been. Already I couldn’t remember exactly what the receptionist looked like, or what color the ceiling was. It was like I had heard the whole thing second hand. Somebody else telling me about their dream. Of course it was. None of that had actually happened. Things like that aren’t real.
I scanned the field one last time, but I knew it would be in vain. It always was. Another trip to Payless, I supposed. Because nowhere, anywhere in the grass, was there any sign of my missing shoe. The left shoe that currently adorned my left foot would go into the pile in front of my apartment door with all of the others, where they could discuss war stories and mourn the loss of their right-oriented brethren.
One more fallen soldier.