Manny's Best Friend

By Dianna Zaragoza

sfgenreOut of the south the biplane came on the wing back toward the camp, a black speck against the dazzling white of the vast ice-fields that extended unbroken to the endless horizon.

Nadine ran to greet the plane, buck naked, along the tundra. It was one thing for her partner to talk her into a working honeymoon in the North Pole, and quite another to do it. His invention had made him famous the world over. Spray-On Skin, made of condensed seal blubber. It surely did its job — she couldn’t feel the intense cold at all. But there was a downside.

A latent consequence of the spray made it impossible for Nadine to fit into her clothes, but she didn’t dare try to live up here without its protection. She bounced and swung one arm over her head as she leaned to one side to hoist the Skin, since it was too heavy to lift in its entirety. It swung back down in front of her, narrowly missing her head.

As the plane coasted down to a landing — or rather, nearly fell from the sky — she saw the plane list to one side. Nadine ran up to that side to greet her fiancé.

The relieved pilot, ever the gentleman, covered his eyes.

Through the windows of the cabin she saw Jim Dodd, her handsome sweetheart, apparently wrestling with something that looked like a suit of armour.

As the the pilot applied the brakes and rolled the plane to a stop, Jim pushed the door open and flung himself out backward onto the runway, still hugging the armour, manoeuvering so that he managed to fall on his back — fortunately cushioned from the full impact by his own blubber suit.

The pilot debarked on the opposite side of the plane and ducked into his own tent for the night, looking a little shaken.

Nadine gave Jim a quizzical look.

"I found it at the pole, honey," Jim said. "At least, pretty near where the pole ought to be. We ran into a current of warm air or something. The melted snow exposed bare patches of rock. This thing was lying in a hollow. Can I keep him?"

“What ... what is it, Jim? Looks like … a crab … ?” She sighed to herself. This would not be her first attempt at romance derailed by a stray. Jim had such a soft spot for animals.

An incredulous smile spread across Jim’s face. “Can’t you tell the difference between an insect and a crustacean? This is a fossil beetle. See the distinguishing mark of the coleoptera, those two elytra, or wing-covers, which meet in the median dorsal line? A beetle, but with the shell of a crustacean. That's where you might get confused. What a story we'll have when we get back to New York! We'll drop everything else, and spend the last five years of my grant looking for other specimens. Look, he likes you."

Nadine flopped away from the enthusiastic man-bug as it hard-charged her, its antennae patting her fake fat. “Five ... years? Jim, that’s crazy. Five more years in naked blubber suits, with a pet crustacean as big as I am? I didn’t have this picture in mind when you proposed. What’s wrong with a quiet apartment off-campus, drinking warm cappuccino ... and wearing clothes?”

“Baby, just give him a chance. I know you’ll learn to love him once you get to know him.”

“Let’s talk more about it over dinner, why don’t we? I’m starving.” Nadine watched as Jim attached a sled dog harness around the bug’s thorax, which shifted as if it would slip right off.

“So cute ... such a good boy,” cooed Jim, “You stay here tonight.”

“No, not a good boy,” said Nadine. “A disgusting ginormous bug. Let’s eat. If we can.” Her body rippled as she pushed aside the tent door and waddled inside.

The evening the sun, which only appeared for a brief interval every day, touched the horizon as it descended to the end of its tiny arc in the sky. A star shone through a rift in the clouds overhead, and the pale daylight dropped into twilight.

The pilot screamed.

Jim looked up from where he was spraying the large bug with blubber spray. A distant rumbling revealed a black creeping field of bugs coming down over the ice, apparently looking for their missing friend.

Nadine grabbed Jim and a heavy blanket without a word, and lolloped for the plane. She fell a couple of times, and Jim struggled to lift her as the chattering mass grew closer and louder.

Once inside the plane, the honeymooners peeled off layer after layer of blubber, shucking it through the hatchway, leaving it in pink strips of fat on the snow. Once they’d wrapped themselves in the blanket, the obliging bush pilot — again averting his eyes — turned over the engine and taxied out and up.

Below them, the man-sized black bugs reached out for them with antennae like whips, and pushed forward, only to fall into icy water at the end of the floe. One by one, the enthusiastic beetles slipped and tripped over themselves into the water.

“There you go, Manny. Swim for it!” Jim yelled as the plane banked to one side.

“Manny?” Nadine looked over Jim’s shoulder.

While the other beetles floated frozen in the water, Jim’s blubber-covered beetle swam headlong through them, his feet and antennae flopping in the waves.

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About The Author

Dianna Zaragoza

Dianna Zaragoza lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and four children, and works full-time at Southern Methodist University as a records specialist, meaning that she changes addresses in the computer and people pay her for it — best day job in the world. In her spare time (there is some, occasionally), she haunts her local library and writes journals, poetry, blogs and fiction. She has a self-published science fiction novel entitled, “Sanctuary”, and a memoir called “Dragon Warrior Rising”, in which she recounts her somewhat flabby adventures along the path to getting her black belt in Tae Kwon Do at age 43. Both books are available at Amazon for Kindle readers.Her blog, which documents her current attempt to rise to Ray Bradbury’s challenge to write 52 bad short stories, is at <zaragozastories.blogspot.com>. This story is number eighteen.

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