When mom trapped a hexacrinoid in the closet, it created two immediate problems. One, the cat’s litter box was in that closet. Two, the Terrestrial Interloper Control Unit (TICU) could not reach the house due to the snowstorm raging outside. The entire family — mom, dad, two children, and a tabby named Noodle — gathered around the closet to watch feathery tentacles swipe left and right under the door.
“It’s little,” mom said. “The smallest one I’ve ever seen.”
“Maybe it’s newly spawned,” dad said.
“Do you think it can squeeze under the door?”
Kit, a boy proud to be eleven, piped up. “I read all about hexacrinoids in 2002: The Terrestrial Invasion. They have great dexterity with their six tentacles, but otherwise move slowly. Their diet primarily consists of mammals and birds, which they trap and constrict.”
“Kit,” mom said, “I’m asking whether they can squeeze under doors, not for their dietary regime.”
And besides, everyone knew hexacrinoids were unpredictable, opportunistic predators. The biggest one on record had taken a water buffalo in Vietnam.
“It’s green!” Penny squealed with four-year-old enthusiasm.
“It’s a monster,” Kit corrected.
“A green monster. A greeny-green hexa-what-a-ma-thing.”
Dad sighed. “A hexacrinoid, Penny. We told you about them. Remember Timmy? He found one behind the playground and never came home. It’s green like a plant to camouflage itself.”
Penny stared at the writhing appendages with a concentration notable for her age. No one would forget Timmy or how TICU had torched the entire meadow behind Tinburg Elementary.
The family lapsed into silence. Noodle mourned his litter box. The storm raged as a storm does.
Three days later, the snow emergency continued and mom called TICU three times. No, TICU insisted, the local unit did not possess a helicopter, and where would they land one in a residential neighborhood, especially in these conditions? Besides, it was a small hexacrinoid, wasn’t it? If anything, it might kill some mice.
“House mice!” mom shrieked. “We have an alien invader in our house, and they’re saying it’s pest control.”
“It is small,” dad reasoned.
“What about Noodle? I don’t like him crapping in my potted plants and kicking dirt all over the walls and floor.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Let’s trap it under a laundry hamper and move it.”
“Are you mad?”
“We can do it. Get the hamper.”
“Jesus. Absolutely not.”
Mom growled as she mixed macaroni and canned tuna. It was all Noodle would eat. He’d spent his kittenhood outdoors, near a woman who’d given him leftover pasta and tuna. Even steak held no interest for the cat.
Mom all but slammed the cat dish onto the floor.
“My fishtail palm! Soaked in cat piss.”
“The weather will improve soon. If not, maybe it will starve. There’s nothing to eat in the closet.”
They did not try trapping the hexacrinoid under the laundry hamper, and, as they neared the one-week marker, green tentacles lost their novelty.
A loud thump drew Kit to the closet door, and his shout brought the entire family. Something inside the closet had fallen, although no one knew what. A rattling of metal led dad to believe it was his tool bag.
“But that’s on the second shelf,” mom said.
“It is,” dad agreed.
“Does that mean…?”
Kit burst with alarm. “It’s gotten bigger! How? There’s nothing to eat.”
Tools clinked. Litter shifted. Penny bobbed up and down and pulled a fruity roll from her back pocket.
“Noid is hungry,” she said. “He is naughty when he is hungry.”
With great authority, she peeled the fruity roll and waved the flat, colorful snack for her family to see.
“Noid, noid,” she called. “Lunchtime.”
Everyone, even Noodle, gasped as Penny slid the fruity roll under the closet door. Dad stopped her from proceeding with a second roll, and Kit released all of the vulgar words he’d been learning from television. Mom followed suit, deciding that, what the hell, some cussing was in order.
“How big has it gotten?” she demanded. “Fruity rolls? Ridiculous!”
“They don’t eat fruity rolls,” Kit said. “My book — ”
“Noid eats fruity rolls,” Penny said with a stomp. “And he likes them. He isn’t a monster. He’s itty-bitty like me.”
“Enough!” mom said. “Honey, fetch the hamper. We’re putting it outside.”
“We’re not opening that closet.”
“Noodle needs his litter. I need peace of mind. Let the monster freeze outside!”
To which Penny wailed. “He’s not a monster. Noid is cute. Look.”
A collective objection rang through the house as the closet door flew open. Out shuffled a little green hexacrinoid with appendages high in the air as though waving in surrender, except it wasn’t surrender. It was reaching for Penny’s back pockets, its tentacles hooking through her belt loops and tugging her toward the floor.
Denim and fruity roll wrappers tore and flew in every direction.
Mom smiled at the TICU officer.
“So you see,” she said, “Noid is perfectly harmless. He’s been conditioned to eat fruity rolls, although we’re very careful about hiding them so he doesn’t overeat. It’s difficult since he can open cabinets.”
The officer looked doubtful. There, in the living room, sat two heated cat beds side-by-side. One held a cat, the other a hexacrinoid that did look a little pudgy around the middle.
“Ma’am, are you sure? My orders are to remove and burn all creatures.”
“You’ll do no such thing.”
“I admit there are challenges. We can’t keep colored paper in the house. He destroyed the craft room before we learned that lesson. Flat, colorful objects are a no-go. But really, he’s better behaved than Noodle, and he helps with dishes. Isn’t that right, love?”
Dad looked up from his paper.
“Quite,” he agreed. “We’d recommend a hexacrinoid to anyone.”
Janessa Mulepati works and writes in the northeast US. Right now, she is probably drinking too much coffee and thinking about the next story. The cat is probably watching. She is forever grateful to the amazing folks who encourage her writing, and thinks of them often.