True story. I think I was six, maybe? Definitely at an age when you do stupid stuff, dangerous stuff, all in the name of exploration. I pulled off a lot of asinine stunts as a kid. More than most, I bet. So much so, looking back now, it feels like a miracle that I survived childhood.
But yeah—the hermit crab. My hermit crab. Perry.
Perry the Pet Hermit Crab.
Perry had only been mine for a few days. His home was now a ten gallon aquarium set up in my bedroom, complete with sand and a ceramic log to crawl through.
His shell. My god, his shell was amazing. I lost myself in its sacred geometry, spiraling outward in the palm of my hand.
One night, my parents were hosting a dinner party downstairs. Friends of theirs had all congregated around the dining room table, drinking wine, nattering on about adult stuff. Things of little consequence to my six year old self. I was excused from the table by then, quickly retreating to my bedroom to be alone with Perry. Poor Perry. Always hiding within his beautiful shell, its soft, vulnerable abdomen curled up within the spiraling columella of its home.
But I wanted to hear the sea.
Simple as that.
I found myself following that age-old impulse to bring a seashell up to my ear and hear the sound of waves roiling over the beach. There was no second-guessing, no common sense stop-gap that kept me from placing Perry directly next to the lobe and listening in.
What I heard wasn’t the ocean.
I heard scratching. The tiniest, most minuscule sound of claws scraping along the shell’s inner walls. Skrch-skrch-skrch. Even now, even at my most aggrandized self, you have to believe me when I tell you I’m not making any of this up… I swear I could hear that hermit crab’s slender abdomen skittering within its chitinous chambers, maintaining its grip.
I was completely transfixed. I listened in, listened deeper.
Then I felt a pinch along my earlobe.
The tragus, to be exact. Perry had slithered out from the safety of his shell and clamped his claw down on the cartilage. The pain was sharp and succinct. The sting radiated out from my ear into the rest of my head.
I immediately let go of Perry, but Perry didn’t let go of me. He kept his grip. Running downstairs, screaming—no, shrieking—I crashed my parents’ dinner party. I can remember the look on my mother’s fast as I slammed into her chair. Her concern quickly morphed into confusion and then downright shock when she realized there was a hermit crab dangling from my ear, like some gaudy piece of jewelry bought from a Nantucket tschotki shop.
Mom tried to pry Perry’s pincers free, but no luck.
Then another adult did. A party guest attempted to pinch both ends of Perry’s claws and pull us apart. But nothing seemed to work. Now I was getting passed along, one adult to the next, in this fleeting attempt to separate us without ripping the flesh. My flesh. I was beside myself at this point, terrified of this little creature releasing its shell and crawling into my ear canal, ready to call my skull home. I was to be Perry’s new shell. I’d convinced myself that my cranium was the next step in this hermit crab’s domestic bliss. Because through all this, just beneath my own bawling, there was one distinct sound that persisted within my ear:
Never give a drunken dinner party guest a pair of pliers. Perry’s claw got crushed. The skin broke along my ear, but there was very little blood.
That was my last hermit crab.
Look, I don’t really have any writing advice. All I’ve got are some stupid stories. But I will say this… Before that guy pried me free from Perry’s grip with those pliers, I had convinced myself that it was already too late. The hermit crab’s lower abdomen, so soft, so vulnerable, had released its shell and found its way into my ear, creeping down the canal and nestling against the Tympan. The scratching never went away. It was still with me, hours later. Days. Months. How hold am I now? How long has it been since this all happened? How many years?
It never goes away. The sounds.
Thanks for listening.
Clay McLeod Chapman writes books, children’s books, comic books and film.
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