“And when she went to the drugstore to get more aspirin,” Frank said, “they told her she’d already bought the government-set limit for the month. Of course, her husband couldn’t buy it either.”
“What’s wrong, Janie?”
Outside, a soft drone quickly grew, and the children burst through the back door, screaming.
“I hear them now,” Frank said.
“Make sure the windows are closed,” Janie said. “I’ll check upstairs.”
“I’ll help down here,” Craig said, as the adults scrambled from their comfortable spots in the living room. Ruth went to corral the children and get them calmed down again.
Frank pulled down a window just as a hummingturtle hove into view. It was about four inches long and a couple of inches tall at its shell’s apex. Its wings flapped so swiftly as to be all but invisible as it stopped less than an inch from the window and hovered briefly, its reflection telling it to go no farther. Then it zipped off.
Frank sighed in relief. “At least that was a smart one,” he muttered.
Janie came back downstairs. “All secure down here?”
Frank and Craig reported all the windows closed.
“We got one of those darn things in here last week,” Janie said. “It broke a lamp and ate the cat’s food.”
“Some people say they’ll bite humans if they get in the way,” Ruth said.
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Frank said. “Leave ’em alone and they’ll leave you alone, though. I’d sure like to get my hands on the bright boys who thought it would be fun to cross hummingbird and turtle DNA.”
“And then released a bunch of them into the wild,” Craig said. “They’ve become quite the ecological pest. I suppose you saw in the news that a couple dozen stripped a soybean field in less than an hour.”
Frank nodded. “It’s bad enough what the dumb ones do to windows and windshields and people and themselves.”
“Yeah,” Craig agreed, “it’s funny how they haven’t all gotten the hang of flying. Some are as nimble and acrobatic as you can get. Others, though, seem to remember they’re supposed to be slowly crawling on the ground. It’s no more safe to be around them than if someone threw a rock.”
“Well,” Ruth said, “there was the one that destroyed my flower garden and then pulped itself against the oak tree at 30 miles an hour. No point in replanting; another one will just come along and eat anything I put out.”
“The smart ones, though, really seem to enjoy flying,” Frank said. “Happiest turtle I’ve ever seen was doing barrel rolls, back and forth, across three back yards.”
“Yeah,” Janie said, “but have you ever seen them come in for a landing? Even the good fliers aren’t real graceful with that yet. The best ones hover near the ground, pull everything back in the shell and drop.”
“They’ve only been around for … what, six, seven years, now?” Frank said. “Give ’em time; they’ll get better at it.”
“There aren’t any good predators for them, is part of the problem,” Craig said. “They’re not natural, so they can’t have natural predators.”
“Down South, some people are catching them in nets. They’ve become quite the popular appetizer at restaurants,” Janie said. “Hummingturtle on the half shell.”
Ruth wrinkled her nose at the thought.
“At least they don’t carry diseases,” Frank said. “Their idiot creators saw to it they’re healthy. That’s part of why they’re such a nuisance.”
“On the bright side,” Janie said, “when was the last time you got bit by a mosquito?”
“Good point,” Craig said. “The hummingturtle might just wipe out malaria.”
“I’d rather take quinine pills,” Frank said.
Elizabeth, the eldest of the children, came into the living room and addressed Janie.
“Mommy, can we go outside again? I don’t hear any turtles.”
“Yes. Just watch to make sure there aren’t any turtles still around. If there are, don’t spook them.”
“I know.” She ran off to collect her brother and their friends to go back to the swing set.
“Y’know, it’s weird to think about,” Craig said. “Our folks grew up with computers, which the previous generation hadn’t known. That generation had grown up with global air travel and spaceflight and nuclear weapons, which their parents hadn’t known. We grew up with cyber implants, which my old man still swears is a government plot.”
“Or a satanic one,” Janie added.
“Yeah. And our kids are growing up with an entirely new species of living creature that we had never dreamed would exist.”
“And we call it all progress,” Frank said. “Makes you wonder about what our grandkids will grow up with.”
“Even more food being grown indoors and hydroponically,” Craig suggested, “if someone doesn’t get control of these flying turtles.”
“The climate change has been bad enough,” Ruth said, “but the turtles are going to drive still more of our food supply under roofs.”
“You hear occasionally that someone is trying to engineer something to catch the hummingturtles,” Janie said.
“Maybe so,” Frank agreed. “Something fast enough to catch them and strong enough to crunch through their shells. Great idea.” He paused and then smiled wryly. “What could possibly go wrong?”
The others groaned.
“C’mon,” Janie said. “Let’s put that outdoor barbecue permit we bought to good use. I’ve got the vegetarian shish kabobs ready.”
“Once you buy the permit to use the grill, there’s no money left for meat,” Ruth said.
“Ah, it’s no problem,” Frank said. “We’ll just get a net and catch some turtles and grill them.”
“Thanks, but I’ll stick with the zucchini.”
The others laughed, and they headed toward the patio.