My brother James was one of those boys with a fascination for the rough edges of nature. We lived in Washington state for a time when I was 15 and he was 12. The soggy town we lived in, Issaquah, was perpetually overcast and drizzly. As a result, it grew enormous slugs. The most common were the black slugs, which were larger than a grown man’s thumb in both width and girth. There were also yellow slugs that could be double the length (though not the girth), and the rarest were tiger slugs, which were yellow with black spots. Sometimes you’d see tiger slugs half curled on a log with their feelers waving in the air, roaring their dominance into the jungle. (Okay, that last was hyperbole).
Our father, who had grown up in the region, showed us a neat trick.
Slugs are moist creatures and, unlike their cousins, the snails, they are completely exposed. Dad showed us that slugs have a horrible reaction to common table salt. Salt binds to water easily, and if you pour it onto a slug, the salt begins to remove the water from its body. The slug reacts violently, first by retreating into a tight ball and then by excreting copious slug-slime. The slime binds with the salt, slows down the absorption of water, and creates a gooey skin, which the slug tries desperately to crawl out of.
James found the slug reactions fascinating, and he would regularly spend afternoons in the soggy forests around our house collecting slugs and bathing them with the white. He also took it a step further. He began vivisecting the slugs, and we’d find empty slug skins in old pickle jars scattered through the garage and yard.
James took a fiendish, macabre final step. He obtained a medical syringe (not sure how) and used it to perform a series of experiments on his slimy victims. He injected some slugs with Windex and some with general-purpose cleaning solution. He noted the intensity of the reactions from the Arthropoda. Then he mixed and matched different chemicals together to create the ultimate caustic solution.
“Watch this, Dobby,” he said one day, and he brandished his horrible implement. It was filled with a streaky, bluish-black fluid, which he later told me was one part Ajax, one part salt, and three parts Drano. The needle of the syringe was crusted with the dried mucus of hundreds of slug victims.
In his other hand, pinched between his thumb and forefinger, was a slowly wriggling tiger slug.
He inserted the needle into the slug’s belly and slowly depressed the plunger. The slug’s wriggling increased dramatically as James emptied the evil concoction into it.
When the syringe was empty, he withdrew the needle from the beast. The violence of the slug’s reaction startled me: all of its internal organs came vomiting out of the tiny puncture hole in an instant. The empty skin of the giant tiger slug slowly deflated, leaking bluish-black fluid from the puncture hole. Its rigid eyestalks relaxed and sagged away from each other in death.
It was the most disgusting thing I had seen in my entire life.
That moment, though, marked a change for James. After achieving the development of the perfect slug-annihilation solution, he lost interest in his arthropod genocide project and moved on to other endeavors.
© 2017 David Holmes
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