You’re out on your deck enjoying a look at the stars and you toss your cheese rind and pear cores over the edge of the deck into the dark abyss. It’s late winter, pretty dry and there are not many night sounds. Occasionally there is the stray whistle of a thrushie bird or a distant chirp of grasshopper. You’re really deep into the silence of the night, and the awareness that there are at least a zillion more stars in Oiron here than anywhere else you’ve ever been. You think, “It’s just me out here alone with the universe.”
Just as you rest your wine glass on the railing, lean back into the mesh of your chair and put your feet up you think you hear a new sound. At first, it’s a gentle shush, a leaf turning over somewhere, and you go back to gazing at the cosmos. Then you hear it again. Leaning forward, straining to see over the railing of the deck into the smothering blackness you get a creepy sensation and the hair on your neck starts to prickle. You hear a rustle of leaves over there and here and up there and down there and right underneath the deck you’re now standing on.
It’s beginning to sound like something really big, spread all over the place, is slowly creeping up on you, like the Blob, like Seymour in the Little Shop of Horrors, but you see nothing. The fruit and cheese and wine start an argument in your stomach resulting in a sour sensation that momentarily distracts you. You reach up and smooth the hair standing on end on the back of your neck, rub your stomach, push the slider open and hit the outside light switch.
The sound seems to be converging on one spot so you timidly go back out on the deck and very slowly, knees just a wee bit jittery, peer over the edge. And there they are.
Hundreds of hermit crabs on maneuvers, soldier crabs. Scrabbling along the ground and over everything in sight, their top shaped black and white shells point upward and slightly askew. They’re piling up on the remnants of your midnight snack.
A really big one the size of a softball has a core and it’s turning it over in its red blue claw the size of your thumb. Black thready feelers, red legs and swaying conical shells are everywhere. Crabs are scrambling over dead logs and rocks heading for the melee. Looking up hill and down hill you discover there are more of them than you can count, in all sizes, moving much faster than seems possible.
Sitting back down you contemplate your half full wine bottle. It would not be a good thing to drink too much and fall off the deck, you tell yourself, trying to regain your former sense of cosmic order. It’s no use. You know now they’re out there, waiting.
Tomorrow: Hermie Houdini
The island of St. John is loaded with what we northerners would call hermit crabs. Locally they are referred to as soldier crabs (Coenobita clypeatus) because of their propensity to move through the bush in huge numbers like an advancing army. The first time you become acquainted with this phenomenon it can really unnerve you.
© 2010 Jennifer M. Pierce, All Rights Reserved