Most of the Internet's friendship advice is stuff like "be persistent" and "be yourself" and "be open about your feelings." None of that stuff helps when you haven't made it past the first hurdle, which is "manage to start a conversation with a stranger." My impulse when interacting with a new human being is to hiss like a feral cat and menacingly snap at them with my flip phone. Is persistence really my friend in that situation? Can I honestly "be myself" when that self is a snippish goblin-man whose favorite conversation topics are David Fincher, StarCraft mythology, and the precise dimensions of his personal space?
That's why I retreated into my basement to seek the comforts of my books and my laboratory. It is ironic, perhaps, that the solution to my woes came from darkness and solitude. For days I tinkered in that musty darkness, mixing different chemicals in my various vials and beakers, filling fish tanks full of strange fluids -- artificial, organic, and otherwise. In the third month, I had to seal the windows with duct tape to keep the strange odors from alerting my neighbors to my experiments. They are small-minded fools.
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images
They could never understand my work.
On the ninth month, my solution was perfected, and I began testing it on animals. The cockroaches and cats I trapped in the street. The betta fish I purchased at the pet store. Children, from the preschool down the street.
On the morning of the first day of the 13th month, I approached my terrarium, coffee in hand, preparing to take the day's notes. The glass case was half full with a thick, greenish-black fluid.
When those first ripples spread across the water, the only betrayal of subtle movement beneath that dark liquid mirror, I convinced myself it was a trick of the dim morning light, the hallucinations of my own overworked and sleep-deprived mind. After months of straight failure, I swallowed my optimism not out of a sense of defeat but out of self-preservation. I feared that if I continued to thrill myself with hope only to euthanize those hopes along with yet another one of my experiment's grotesque stillbirths, my enthusiasm for my work would wane, and my progress would stall. In those first pregnant moments, I convinced myself the water was still.
But then a small black claw, less than an inch and a half wide and just four inches long, slid from the murky brine and pressed against the glass. Behind it emerged a head -- flat, black, and featureless except for small reptilian slits of eyes and twisted, scaly lips stretched thinly over a row of jagged yellow teeth. The lips parted, and in a wet voice it spoke to me.