The Red Devil

Randy has always been charming. It’s the reason he has his job. You can’t be Dean of a department at his age unless you have an extraordinary intellect or a family member on the board. Randy has neither. It is his uncanny ability to detect talent in others that has allowed him to rise swiftly through the ranks at Stanford. Eveline isn’t stupid, she has always known she wasn’t the only young scientist he romanced as a means to an end.

She’s standing right behind him now, close enough to smell the acidic notes in his aftershave. He jovially pats the arm of the elderly man beside him, some old boy from the philanthropy board no doubt. He turns to her, casual in the red half-light. ‘Eveline’, his lips stretch over his teeth. In the half light, his forehead is strangely elongated – like a sharks, she wonders how she never realised it before.

‘How wonderful of you to make it.’ He takes his time with the words.

Eveline feels the rage inside her swell, words try to claw out of her throat. Before she can form a sentence, Randy cuts her off. He turns back to the well dressed elderly man beside him. 

‘Jacob, allow me to introduce Dr. Eveline Gilly – our resident Dosidicus Gigas expert.’ 

He bobs his head submissively towards the older man, clearly he must be someone worth grovelling to. 

‘Eveline, meet the honorable Jacob Jenkins, Chair of the Board.’

A strangled sound escapes her lips. She wavers between her rage and the social dance that is University hierarchy. Jacob Jenkins’s smile doesn’t reach his eyes, he does not extend his hand.

 ‘Charmed,’ he says in a flat voice, as he looks her up and down. 

His eyes narrow at her rumpled lab coat and unbrushed hair. Eveline refuses to obey an overwhelming urge to flatten her fringe. Jacob Jenkins turns his back on her before she can reply.

‘You were saying?’ his face is trained on Randy, he lightly touches the younger man’s sleeve.

When Randy speaks his voice is suffused with self-importance. 

‘It’s the largest one of its size ever recorded. Had I known I would make such a significant discovery, I would have spoken with the board earlier.’ 

Eveline reaches into her pocket and hopes desperately for a pen, anything – a sharp pencil will do. She closes her eyes and pictures her hand driving down hard on the back of Randy’s neck, the lead puncturing his skin in a swift jab. The hand in her lab coat pocket clenches and unclenches. The violence of the thought makes her dizzy.

‘Now, if you’ll excuse me.’ 

Randy extracts himself from Jenkins and squares his shoulders.

‘Welcome. Dr. Randolph Behmer, Marine Biologist, Dean of the Department of Biology.’

There is a smattering of applause as Randy steps up to the lectern. An attendant hushes the crowd and silence ripples through the room. Randy’s chin juts forward, his pale forehead more pronounced than ever. He clears his throat and adopts a benign smile. Eveline’s jaw is clenched so tight it begins to give her a dull headache. She doesn’t blink as he pushes the greying cowlick out of his eyes. 

‘Dosidicus Gigas’ he pauses for dramatic effect. 

‘Also known as the Giant Humboldt Squid, or in Spanish, Diablo Rojo.’ 

Eveline grimaces at the words. His Spanish sounds just as forced as when he ordered for her at that Taqueria a month back. She had found it endearing then. What a little idiot she had been, so thrilled that the handsome Dean was interested in her research. She remembers the exact moment she chose to overlook his forced syllables, staring hard into her wine glass at the red flecks of sediment swirling at the bottom. He had ordered for them both in a garbled mix of english and spanish. He used the moment to flirt with the waitress, as though it was some kind of elaborate mating dance. Eveline still wasn’t sure who it had been meant to woo. What a fool she had been, ignoring the feeling that it was not the first time he had taken a student from the University to his favourite ‘authentico’ restaurant. 

On the stage, Randy raises one hand and brings it down with a dramatic swish. Somewhere behind him, an assistant triggers a mechanism and the enormous curtain is pulled away to reveal the murky depths of Eveline’s specially designed tank. One million gallons of saltwater swirls in the darkness. It’s a cheap trick, worthy of a kid’s magic show, but even after all the hours she’s spent staring through the thick glass, Eveline can’t begrudge the crowd their hissed intake of breath.
‘May I present the world’s largest predatory squid.’ 

The crowd hangs on his every word.

 ‘The largest ever to be captured by scientists.’ 

She is beautiful. An enormous shimmering conoid floating in the darkness. Her eye stares out at the crowd— vaguely human in the reflected red glow. Her long tentacles are phosphorescent, sanguine for now, but Eveline knows all too well how powerful they are. Built to rip a man limb from limb. Eveline named her Lilith as they stared eye to eye on the trawler deck. What she would do to go back to that moment. The rain falling in thick droplets on the deck, the rime of the ocean on her skin, hair whipping around her face as she battled the wind. As they transferred Lilith to her transport tank, a tentacle flung free – in a graceful arch. The giant suckers had wrapped around Eveline’s upper arm, each sucker ringed with a row of sharp teeth that tore at her skin. As long as she lives Eveline will remember the sweetness of that moment. The pain blossomed alongside the feeling of completeness she felt. As the specially designed lid was quickly laid over Lilith’s tank, Eveline had sunk to her knees on the deck. How many years had she waited for this? As she nursed her bloody arm, the ligaments in her left shoulder torn but still attached, she knew she would gladly have given a limb if that’s what it took to have found Lillith. Even months later, when despite all the doctors predictions her shoulder had healed quickly, the angry red welts were still raised on her skin. She wouldn’t have changed a thing about that meeting. She wasn’t left with a scar, but a memory of a violent kiss. Standing behind Jacob Jenkins, watching Lilith float above the heads of the philanthropic society, Eveline breathes through her rage and mentally traces the scar down her arm, at least no one can take that away from her.

She had spent the best part of four years tracking Lilith’s shoal as they travelled up and down the Humboldt current from Mexico to Washington. She had tagged the squid a year earlier, diving off the coast, back when Lilith was just another fast developing female. From the comfort of her lab, Eveline watched the shoal navigate the currents of the California coast on maps that marked their speed at upwards of thirty miles per hour. She discovered that the shoal did not just travel cross current, but that they rose closer to the surface from dusk to dawn. Privately she liked to think it was because they appreciated the changes in the light during sunset and sunrise. After all, changing skin colour is how squid communicate.
Even as a child Eveline had dreamt of lights hanging in the darkness. Thousands of glowing squid dancing in the murky depths, hunting, fighting and making love. Studying Lilith was the culmination of a lifelong obsession, not just a PHD, and now Randy was claiming it all for himself. Looking up at the tank from below the stage, Eveline realises her fists are clenched tightly and her breath is coming fast. She orders herself to breathe deeply, to let the rage subside, there’s nothing she can do but dig her nails into her palms.

For most of his speech, Randy smoothly parrots her research as though he’s reading from a Wikipedia page. The audience shuffles about, trying to get a better look at Lilith. For all the eyes, Lilth stays almost still, quietly suspended in her tank as Randy speaks louder, trying to draw the audience’s attention back to himself.

‘This squid only thinks about two things. One is eating and the other is reproducing. Even though she has a big brain, I don’t think she spends a lot of time philosophising.’

He chortles at his own joke and looks directly at Eveline. She recalls the crossed out line in her dissertation, the one Randy had said wasn’t “academic” enough: ‘Cephalopod intelligence is controversial in scientific circles but as this research shows the Humboldt Squid exhibits highly curious and intelligent behaviour’. That piece of shit. 

It takes Eveline a few moments to register the flash of change in Lilth’s skin tone. 

Humboldt Squid pulsate red and white when they hunt, even hobby fishermen off the coast know this. She wonders if it was Randy’s insult that influenced Lilith’s light talk. In the short time Lilith has been in her tank, she and Eveline have begun to connect using light signals. Eveline hasn’t told anyone about it yet, it is too early to know for certain and there have been too many variables to catalogue it as an experiment. Eveline knows that her desire to communicate with Lilith comes from a deeper place than her love for science. It’s a dark aquatic need, bordering on spiritual, and for someone who has spent every waking hour worshipping science it feels like a sacrilegious act. Did it really just happen? Perhaps it was just a reflection. Eveline’s mind races, her heightened emotions churning. 

All through the nightmare that was last week, when she realised that Randy had stolen her papers, locked her out of her own hard drives and that the worst really was happening. On the same day he dumped her, he presented her life’s work to the board as his own. Lilith floated in the tank, watching. Had she been listening? That excruciating final confrontation, when Randy sauntered into the lab to recommend she reconsider her position within the team, as her role was now redundant. Now that Lillith was in her tank, he could assign someone else to study the squid. She was shocked by how calculated he had been but more ashamed that she had fallen for it. She had slept naked in his bed, goddammit. It made her skin crawl. Who would possibly believe that the research was hers? This time, the light pulse is unmistakable. Lillith is signalling her aggression. Squid are cold creatures, lethal when underwater. If one was to slip into the tank… no – it is unthinkable. Eveline designed the tank herself. A design that allows Lilith enough space to simulate the experience of a hunt when feeding.  

Eveline looks up at Randy on the stage, handsome as ever, he thanks the crowd for what he knows will be generous donations to his research on the ‘red devil’. Eveline allows herself a small smile, but she does not clap along with the others. Tomorrow he will walk into the lab to gloat. He’s a creature of habit. She knows it will be early morning when he comes.  Eveline is the only one who feeds Lilith, the only one who knows how to unlock the complicated mechanisms at the top of the tank. They haven’t replaced her yet. She closes her eyes and pictures how fast Lilith’s hunting tentacles are. She is so strong, strong enough to rend a man limb from limb.