“I’ve got some bad news. Your mother’s being held hostage.”
Hearing something like that, most people might gasp or react in an alarmed manner. But knowing my mother like I did, I wasn’t overly surprised.
I hadn’t talked to my parents in weeks, because of the snails, mostly.
Whenever my life gets too stressful, I cook. I’ve made some pretty challenging dishes in my time, and a few weeks ago (or maybe it was months by now) I decided it would be interesting to try to make escargot.
I started by gathering snails. With all the forests around here, and the perpetually damp weather, it wasn’t difficult. The thing was, though, I hadn’t fully thought out the implications of escargot preparation. After I had the snails, I looked up recipes online and retched, realizing what I’d have to do to them.
During the hours I spent online, the snails slowly slid out of the bucket I’d put them in, and took up residence with me. You might find it hard to believe, but despite their being slow and leaving telltale trails of slime, they’re excellent when it comes to hiding. Soon, I couldn’t have turned them into escargot if I’d wanted to.
Days went by, then weeks. The snails showed up everywhere: on my towels, in my sock drawer. It was terrifying and amusing — and what I deserved.
The snails were also drawn to my cell phone. They slithered on it and slid across it until their slime got into some fissure and broke it.
Being disconnected from the world was actually very nice. Most people I could still keep in touch with by email if I wanted to, but not my parents, who’d never been able to figure out the Internet. And so that was why I wasn’t up to date on the circumstances that had led to my mother being involved in a hostage crisis.
Not long after the call to my forgotten landline, my stepfather’s car rolled down my driveway. I got in and he silently drove us out to the road. It was only once he’d turned the corner that he started to fill me in on the situation. The hostage-taker was my parents’ closest neighbor, a mountain lion named Chris.
“I always told your mother I wanted to live in a city, not out here in the middle of nowhere,” he fumed as he drove us recklessly up the mountain towards where the scenario was playing out.
A bumpy minute later, we arrived at a clearing and he slammed the breaks, a bit showily, I thought. Across from us, there they were, on a small cliff sticking out from a sheer wall of rock. Chris the mountain lion looked just like an ordinary mountain lion, but I noticed a gun barrel sticking out from between two furry toes of his right paw.
That was the first time I felt truly alarmed.
“Did you call the police?” I demanded through clenched teeth.
“He told us not to,” Harold said, shaking his head wryly. “And frankly, I understand why he’s doing it. You know your mother.”
She was pale and shaking, the gun barrel pressed against her right calf.
“Mom!” I called out.
“Shh!” Harold admonished. “She’s not allowed to talk! That’s one of Chris’s demands.”
My eyes darted from my mother, to the gun, to Chris’s menacing face. “What happened?”
“Well, you know, your mother plays that damn metal music all night long. I’m fine with it, thanks to those earplugs you got me. But the animals here — I told her when we moved that this wouldn’t solve the noise complaint problem. Why doesn’t she just wear headphones or something?” He paused, then answered his own question, “Nah, she’d blow her damn eardrums out.
“Well,” he continued, “Chris here is an intelligent mountain lion — I mean, he talks and everything.”
“Yeah.” Harold lowered his voice, “we think he’s either a genius, or the result of a government experiment.
“Anyway,” he took on his habitual tone again, “one night, your mother’s playing that damned music and bashing on those drums of hers, and I happen to turn to the window and see this big cat roaring — scared the life out of me. But we get to talking and he introduces himself and asks me if she can keep it down. She’s scaring away his prey — ‘You wouldn’t think it was fair if I just snatched the dinner off your table’ — I remember him saying — real smart animal — and I told him I’d try to get her to lower the volume.
“Of course that didn’t happen, and the poor guy is probably starved. You know what it’s like when you’re hungry.”
“So what are we going to do about this?” Chris called out. His voice was like a growl — but that might have just been because he was angry.
Harold answered back,“Chris, I gotta tell you, I’m stumped. My wife is just passionate about her music.”
“Could we interest you in some earplugs?” I yelled over to him. I had a friend who worked at the local earplug manufactory, and I bet he could steal some extra foam to adapt them to Chris’s doubtlessly bigger ear openings. I started to say as much, but Chris growled out a refusal.
“I’m a fucking mountain lion,” he told us. “I need to be on my guard all the time. Is this your son, Harold?”
“He’s a real idiot. I’m sorry for saying it, but really.”
“Well, he takes after his mother.”
I could see Harold was about to throw in the towel and leave my mom to be shot and then possibly eaten, so I took a breath and made a final, brilliant strategic move:
“Okay, Chris, what if we let you come down to the house and break every single guitar and speaker and drum set and album in the house?”
“No!” my mother screamed. It was a true scream of terrified sorrow, not her metal voice.
“I think it’s the only way, Tammy”, my stepfather said, back in the negotiations now.
Chris slowly nodded. He slid the gun barrel back under his paw. “Go to your family,” he told my mother.
She made her way to us slowly, not because of the tricky terrain, I knew, but because she was completely defeated.
Then, we all went back to the house.
We left Chris alone inside to wreak havoc. “I’ll only destroy the music-related things,” he told us, and we somehow knew we could take him at his word.
As we waited on the front porch, my mother glared at us. “Why are you both standing there? We should torch the place while he’s inside.”
“I’m not moving again,” my stepfather said staunchly. He stood up for himself so rarely that I knew he was truly angry.
After about twenty minutes, our front door opened, and Chris came out. “That was wonderful,” he sighed. In the light that shone from the living room, I noticed small shards of wood and speaker foam in his fur and whiskers.
“No more loud music,” he said to us in a low, threatening tone. Then he hurried into the woods.
“What am I going to do now?” my mother sobbed.
“Well, I know what you can do — your son needs some help.”
Living cell phone-less with gastropods has its good points, but Harold was right; it had probably gone a little too far. Finding each and every snail in my house was a project my mother threw herself into as passionately as she’d thrown herself into mosh pits before. Within a few days, all of them were rounded up. We took them out to the woods and let them go.
This is a lightly edited of a story I wrote and posted several years ago on my old blog on the now-defunct site Open Salon. Prior to publishing it here, it could no longer be found anywhere.I recently rediscovered it and laughed and found myself transported to life with my mom and stepdad (minus the bobcat and snails).
The story is no great light in the literary world, of course, but it’s so silly that I thought it might make for some light escapist reading for anyone who’s interested. Looking for a way to share it, though, I realized how previous publication — even publication on a free site that no longer exists, where no awards were won and no great acclaim or readership was garnered — instantly makes a short story ineligible for so many things. So, I decided to share it here, even though I don’t usually post fiction on my blog.
This experience has inspired me to create a writing challenge: The Previously Published but Vanished Open Call:
Do you have a short story that was previously published on a personal blog or other site with no legal claim to it (bonus if the story and/or site has completely disappeared from the internet)? If you feel like sharing it in these dark times, post it on your current blog, website, or whichever platform(s) you use. If you do, please let me know on Twitter: @AlysaSalzberg
There are no prizes, judges, winners, or entry fees.This is just a way to revisit some old writing and give people even more ways to escape our current depressing and terrifying reality.