There was no denying that Mr. Gandy was smart – there probably wasn’t a chemical compound in the world he couldn’t whip up like a diner cook – but golly, he was slow with the talking, especially in an emergency.
“A lot depends on what you’re trying to kill,” he was saying while Mason examined the label of Mr. Gandy’s latest guess at what he needed, something called Ratinol. “Is it big, is it little, does it have thin skin or thick fur, scales or a shell…are you sure you have no idea what you’re dealing with?”
The truth was that Mason had a very good idea of what he was dealing with, though not really how it came to be. What he did know for sure was that his folks were coming home from the tractor show in Duluth in the next two hours and the thing under the house had to be gone.
“No, sir,” Mason said, rubbing his hand through his hair. “I mean, just from what it leaves.”
“What does it leave? Nesting materials? Some kind of spoor?”
“Nothing like that,” Mason replied. “Just these wavy lines in the dirt coming out from under the house when it kind of flops or slithers out at night. Also, it seems to like to gnaw on the clapboards.”
“Who wouldn’t?” Mr. Gandy asked. “The houses in this town are built from some of the finest lumber in these United States. Can you get any sense of the size from those, uh, lines? Or the teeth marks?”
The thing under the house was exactly six feet two inches long and weighed the same amount as a middle linebacker on the Artonville Armadillos football team because that’s what it used to be, Otis Doransky. Whose parents were going to be so mad.
“I think it’s pretty big,” Mason settled on saying. “Like, person-big.”
“Oh, dear. That’s going to require a few pounds of something, then. Otherwise you’ll just make it sick and angry.”
Otis, when he was human, was not someone to be made angry. Which is why they chose him for the experiment to begin with. If anybody would psych out the Wrighton Wildcats, it would be Otis looming in his uniform and pads, his skin gone gray and scaly and his already-porcine face now turned blunted and pink. The trouble was that he psyched all of the guys out first and they jumped in their jalopies for home.
Leaving Mason with a backyard full of beer cans and a human-armadillo hybrid snuffling under the house for whatever armadillos snuffled for.
Mason checked his watch. His dad was probably turning the old Ford onto Highway 58 by then, less than an hour from home.
“I think this’ll do the trick,” Mr. Gandy said, taking a yellow can out from under the counter with a faded skull and crossbones on the side. “You’ll want to wear gloves when you’re handling this. I mean thick rubber ones. And you’ll want to bury them deep into the ground when you’re done along with the empty can.”
“Do I need to just spray it on him or what?”
If Mr. Gandy noticed that Mason seemed to know the gender of the thing under the house, he didn’t show it.
“Ingestion’ll be faster. You’ll need to prepare some kind of bait that it will really enjoy.”
As far as Mason knew, Otis’s favorite foods were T-bone steaks and milkshakes from McCrory’s. He’d have to stop there next.
“It’s not going to be pretty, just so you know,” Mr. Gandy said. “This basically jellies them from the inside out and it leaves the nerves for last. Nasty stuff. Invented by the Germans, of course. A couple of days after it feeds, whatever’s under your house will be a glob of reddish-yellow lymph that you’ll probably want to scoop out with a shovel.”
That was fine. Mason’s folks went to church on Wednesday nights, and there’d be plenty of time to—
“Or you can wait for it to just dry up and blow away. It looks a little like mushroom spores.”
That was an option, too.
“Anyway, I’m not really supposed to sell this to a minor, but you seem like you’re in a jam so…let’s call it five dollars.”
Mason pulled the bill from his jacket pocket. He couldn’t believe his luck. An adult who wasn’t going to rat him out. It was amazing.
Mr. Gandy snapped the bill taut between his fingers and slid it into the register. He didn’t press any buttons.
“We’ll keep this off the books if it’s all the same to you,” he said.
“Now good luck, young man. Don’t get any of it on you.”
“Thank you, sir!” he said, taking the can from Mr. Gandy. He tucked it under his arm like a ball on a short running play and headed out for his Nash.
After the bells on the pharmacy door stopped jangling, Mr. Gandy shook his head.
Boys would always be boys.