Before They Hatch
With tongue pressed to the inner wall of his cheek, Bob carefully painted a thick blue stripe down the center of a milky shell. Woodruff proudly held his egg up to eye level and admired the precision of two parallel red lines, which circled the delicate sphere.
“That looks real good, Woodruff.”
“It does, doesn’t it.”
Woodruff gently placed the egg in a giant nest full of eggs. The other eggs, that lay amongst the hay, sticks, and stuffing, were each adorned with numbers, lightning bolts, racing stripes, or stars. Bob placed his decorative oval in the nest and stepped back with his hands resting on his hips.
“For how long?”
“Well that depends,” Woodruff said. “Chickens take about twenty-one days to hatch. A duck can take up to twenty-eight, while a duck billed platypus only takes ten. The turtles will take around seventy days and the crocodile is going to take eighty days. And the python is longer than the duck but less than the turtle.”
Bob flipped a switch on the wall and four red lamps, hanging over the nest, blinked on. With his index finger, Woodruff began to identify each egg one by one and whispered numbers as he went. “Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen…”
“Whatcha two doing?”
Woodruff and Bob spun around toward the voice. A scrawny young man, with a greasy tank-top, stood in the doorway. He cocked his head to one side and scratched at the scruff on his chin.
“We’re building an empire?” Woodruff replied.
“We’ve invented a new sport,” Bob said.
“Crack and Dash!”
“It’s a race to find the fastest egg layers.”
“Oviparous Prime, if you will.”
“Bird, reptiles, mammals, fight it out on land and sea for speciest superiority.”
“It’s the sensation about to sweep the nation.”
They slid to either side of the nest and, with a grand sweeping motion, gesture to the eggs. The scrawny young man furrowed his brow and looked from Woodruff to Bob to the nest and back to Woodruff.
“Uh, I meant whatcha doing here,” the young man said. “In a storage closet. Beneath the bleachers. On a Tuesday.”
Woodruff and Bob lowered their arms in disappointment.
“Oh, um, well, we wanted our little oviparians to be born to run.”
“So we figured we’d raise them here at the race track so it’d get in their blood.”
“And we painted their shells for racing too,” Woodruff picked up an egg with a blue number four painted on the side.
“You know, crack and dash,” Bob said.
“Crack and Dash!” Woodruff and Bob repeated in unison.
The young man stood as still as a statue and stared blankly at the excited entrepreneurs. After several silent moments he sniffed and mindlessly wiped at his nose. Bob looked over at Woodruff and nodded with a wink. Woodruff watched apprehensively as Bob approached the beanpole blocking the doorway.
“Biff, may I call you Biff?”
“My name is Trevor.”
“Biff, you look like a man of ambition,” Bob continued, and put his arm around the young man’s bony shoulder. “How would you like to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing?”
“I’m gonna have to report ya’ll,” Trevor replied.
“Classic Biff. Listen, here’s the deal,” Bob went on. “We need a place to hatch our little speed demons. How about you forget you saw us and we’ll cut in it at four percent.”
“Are ya’ll really hatching demons?”
“I got this, Bob.”
Woodruff stepped forward and pried Trevor out from under Bob’s arm.
“Sorry about him,” Woodruff said. “We know you’re just trying to do your job. Would it be possible to rent this space from you for the next ten to eighty days?”
“Well, I dunno,” Trevor said and rubbed at the back of his neck. “You can’t keep critters at the racetrack.”
“Critters? I don’t see any critters.”
“Look at them things there,” Trevor pointed to the oversized nest at the far end of the room.
“Those aren’t critters,” Bob said. “Those are eggs.”
“Eggs that are gonna become critters,” Trevor argued.
“Biff, I mean, Trevor,” Woodruff said. “Have you ever heard the expression don’t count your chickens before they hatch?”
“Well I don’t see any chickens. Only eggs.”
“So them are chicken eggs?”
“And duck, and turtle, and platypus, and crocodile…”
“Crocodile?” Trevor exclaimed.
“Yeah, but we’re not sure which one anymore,” Bob said. “It’s either the big one with the red racing stripe or the tan one with the yellow lightning bolt.”
“Or we’ll all just be surprised if a croc pops out from somewhere else,” Woodruff added.
“How you gonna keep a croc from eating the rest of them critters?”
“Biff, if they’re not fast enough to avoid getting eaten, they’re not fast enough for Crack and Dash.”
“Once again, ignore him,” Woodruff said to Trevor. “We are going to keep them in separate pens. Every species will enjoy their own habitat. They’ll be treated quite well, I assure you.”
“Scout’s honor,” Woodruff crossed his heart and raised three figures to the sky.
“Well, I reckon it couldn’t hurt none if ya keep your eggs in here,” Trevor said. “Providing ya clear out once they’re all hatched.”
Trevor and Woodruff shook hands. Woodruff wiped the grease from their handshake on the back of his pants and Bob stepped up to seal the deal. He spat in his palm and extended his hand. Trevor looked down on the offering in horror.
“What?” Bob said. “Is that not cool?”
Woodruff covered his face in shame. Trevor pouted and shook his head with his scrawny neck. Bob wiped his spit-hand on his shorts and stuck out a closed fist to their new accomplice. They bumped fists and Bob smiled.
“So what now?” Trevor asked.
“Well the platypus is going to hatch any day now,” Woodruff said. “That means we’re going to have eleven days to convince him these are his brothers and sisters.”
“How’s your momma platypus impersonation?” Bob asked.
Trevor made a rapid clicking noise with his tongue.
Woodruff and Bob exchanged nodding smiles.