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The nose will know when a family pet expires

Monday morning, my youngest son freaked. One of his hermit crabs "went missing" (an accurate phrase, as I believe the pet intentionally left the confines of its cage). The last thing any mom needs on a Monday morning, already running late to the hamster wheel, is a live creepy-crawly at large in her house.

I exasperatedly threw up my hands, anticipating that, without time to form a search and rescue team, draw grids of hot spots, call in blood hounds, and pull out heat seeking radar, in a few days my reliable sense of smell would lead me to the fugitive, anyway. Until then, I would watch my step.

Dragging the vehemently protesting lad to the car by his collar, I promised we would pursue the arachnid relative after school.

Hooray for optimism. Even after searching in every dark corner and smelly sneaker, my son would not say die. He prepared a meal of lettuce and apple on a saucer placed in the middle of his bedroom floor. Fat chance, I thought, but I'm no stranger to performing intricate acrobatics in efforts to delay inevitable cries of agony.

That night, after lights out, a sustained clicking noise woke me. If I wasn't such a sissy, I probably would have resolved the situation then and there and forever been idolized by my kid.

But childhood fears are difficult to combat in a dark, silent house, so I pressed a pillow over my head and hummed.

In the 70's, early 80's, my older brother and I savored the emotional thrill of B horror movies, mostly in black and white, on the occasional Saturday nights when our parents let us stay up to watch Shock Theater.

A particular movie stands out - Attack of the Crab Monsters. In the film, treacherous, highly intelligent, giant crabs ominously click their claws, luring heroes and heroines into the night to investigate . . . and never return.

For years after this self-inflicted terror, the rattle of my mother's bamboo wind chimes struck dread in my heart.

Tuesday morning validated my worst fear. The fruit bait had vanished. My skeptical husband whispered to me over breakfast, "How could one little hermit crab eat 10 pieces of apple?"

The last thing a mom needs before stepping onto the hamster wheel on a busy Tuesday morning is to worry she might be feeding an entity larger and hungrier than a hermit crab (maybe even something of the giant genre).

Tuesday night, we prepared a feast of lettuce and crabchow. Wednesday morning, wilted lettuce dotted the rim of the plate, but something had devoured the mound of gruel. Thursday morning, the lettuce was gone.

Click. Click. Click.

Friday morning, a wail sounded that convinced me my son had come face to face with colossal crabs. "Oh no," my youngster howled.

"What?" I breathed, panicked.

"The other one is gone!"

Saturday, I yelled, "Bring in the cats!" Surely cats could sniff out the pungent creatures. Yet, after nosing around under beds, behind shelves, in the laundry hamper, the cats climbed on the nearest bunk and curled into a ball.

The last thing a mom needs on a Saturday morning is to realize that she will have to find her child's pets the old fashioned, olfactory way ... that is, if they didn't find us first.

Click. Click. Click.

On Sunday, my son, recovered from grief, wanted to know, since we couldn't find the crabs, if the Easter Bunny would bring him a gerbil.

Still haunted by images from The Killer Shrews, however, I'm having a bit more difficulty moving on.

Web posted on Thursday, April 05, 2007

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