Her eyes squeezed tightly shut, she pressed her nose against the tank and let her hot breath exhale, misting the glass. The breath was ragged with tears and caught on the painful lump in her throat. It broke her heart to even think it this time, but she couldn’t ignore the situation any longer. It had definitely begun.
She’d first noticed the changes on Monday last week, but had chosen not to believe them. She’d already had him four years…and that was much longer than it usually took for the change to occur. She’d thought perhaps he was sterile; that he wouldn’t change at all. Of course, that would also have meant losing him, but in a way she deemed far more acceptable than his now unavoidable fate.
The sterile ones, once their condition was realised by their possessors, became the exclusive property of the government. Known as ‘The Infertiles’ and unable to breed, their pure and innocent truth-telling would forever perpetuate, becoming more proficient with time. Advice disseminated by mature Infertiles was fit only for interpretation by qualified peers, and as such, the creatures took pride of place, under lock and key in an ancient, gilded tank in the House of Lords.
Each week, the peers gathered for the Forum, and the Guardian was summoned to unlock the tank. Before the entire nation, on live television and radio, the Infertiles’ opinions were asked on current and pressing political issues. Their subsequent predictions were considered and acted upon accordingly. The creatures’ foresight determined the passing of laws, the deployment of troops, direction of wars, and economic and domestic policies on everything from pensions to education. It was a criminal offence to fail to carry out one’s patriotic duty by letting the discovery of an Infertile go unreported. Had she been sure she possessed one, she would certainly have turned him over.
But Armundo wasn’t an Infertile. She forced herself to open her wet eyes and stared through the glass at him. He waved a bright yellow tentacle slowly in her direction, as though he were stroking the tears from her cheeks, and another sob caught in her chest, burning there until she found the strength to control it. The end of the tentacle had blackened only this morning. Armundo cocked his elongated head to one side, confused at her constant staring, and blinked his three, ocean-blue eyes at her in unison. He’d already given his advice for today, and this was his signal to assure her there would be no more until tomorrow. So far, she considered, he was behaving perfectly normally, but he must surely know what was happening.
Of course, there had been others before Armundo. Six in total. The creatures received thoughts as well as transmitted them, and his predecessors had used her dreams to guide her through school and university. They’d given her advise on which courses to take in order to build the foundations of a successful future, which job applications to fill in and employment to accept. It had worked too. Before they changed she’d had a good few months of constructive advice from each of them. Almost a year from one. They’d given her a better salary, bought her a bigger house, better cars; but when they went from yellow to black, you were supposed to pay attention.
Mind reading and constructive advice quickly became mind control when the creatures blackened. In reaching reproductive maturity, they lost their innocence, and began to take pleasure in inflicting pain and destruction; disseminating advice that seemed still to make perfect sense to its recipient, but was in fact, pure evil.
She looked at Armundo and the black spots that were slowly appearing on his back and belly. Eventually, the spots would merge, and his yellow skin would be consumed entirely. She glanced at the box she’d collected from the exterminator yesterday afternoon. All she had to do was gently lift Armundo out of the tank, as she’d done thousands of times to change his sawdust, place him in the box, and painlessly close the lid. It would be over in an instant.
She sighed, her breath still shaky and a weight on her chest. She’d done it six times before, but it had never been this hard. Granted, she’d had Armundo much longer than the others – long enough to name him – but it wasn’t only the time they’d spent together that made her hesitate. Armundo’s advice to her had been the most precious counsel she’d ever received.
The exterminator’s box sat on the bedside table - at her side of the bed. Armundo’s gift to her was still sleeping - at his side of the bed - and he was everything she’d asked for. That was what made Armundo so different. He had never given her money or success. Armundo listened to her dreams more carefully than that. He had brought her love, and was the only one of her creatures who had made her truly happy.
She wiped the tears from her cheeks and stood back from the tank. Armundo chirruped his approval at the cease in her staring. He’d already spoken this morning and wanted his reward. She lifted the lid of the tank and dropped in a shiny blue beetle the size of a beer bottle top. It wriggled on its back for a moment before Armundo tore off its head with his right claw and stuffed it gratefully into his beak. She smiled, ruefully affectionate. So far, he was behaving perfectly normally.
She looked again at the box on the bedside table, and at the occupied bed. Another day couldn’t hurt. She owed it to Armundo to follow his last piece of advice. It was good advice, as usual, and made perfect sense in the circumstances. They had been struggling financially after the wedding. She smiled sadly…Armundo would have made a good Infertile. What better way to bolster your bank account than by collecting your inheritance early?
She took a last look at her sleeping husband before she stuffed the little silver revolver into her backpack. She glanced at Armundo’s tank as she slipped round the bedroom door.
“Thanks, Armundo.” She smiled and he waved a tentacle as he crunched his breakfast. Another day wouldn’t hurt…