Winner of the 2023 Sloan Prize
Declan Kelly was born in Edinburgh and has lived there his whole life, especially enjoying the city for its atmosphere and people. He first began writing in high school and continued to do so after winning a school writing prize. He is currently studying law at the University of Edinburgh and has received a special mention of the Sloan Prize in 2020 and 2022, before winning in 2023.
The Immortality of a Crab
Wee guy was half buried and smashed tae bits in the shallows. The airm eh the critter swinging gimpy in the surf, as if trying tae cling oan tae something. Although there wis fuckall tae cling oan tae. The crab wis deed. Kaput. Mental to ‘hink that some scientist types reckon that the crab is at the end of evolution. Millions of years to end up as the same freaky armoured wee cretin cutting aboot the sand. Carcinisation they call it. Ah ken’d this Spanish lassie once. She’d tell me they’d huv this sayin’. ‘To contemplate the immortality of a crab’. She said it meant something along the lines to be ‘hinking aboot ‘hings. Four hun’ed million years hud these science cunts daeing this same ‘hing. One deed crustacean had me daeing the same shite.
Four hun’ed million years eh evolution to get to the armoured immortality eh the crab. Still ended up dead in the water. Probs picked off and molested by a seabird, or maybe just swept intae a stane by a riptide. I picked up the wee gadges crippled claw, shell shattered far up the arm to expose the white flesh and tendons inside. Ah mind when I was a bairn, my ma and da wid take us doon tae Berwick f’ur holidays. Wee caravan park overlooking this cliff tae the ocean. We’d take the dugs doon there by the beach wae the wee play park. Hud this banging slide that went aw the wae doon the cliff. Mind one time I was skidding doon this slide, and ma da wid call me over tae him and my wee bro. He hud a crabs claw like the one I was hudding the noew. He puts his fingers the white flesh tae grab a tendon eh the crabs ligaments. He pulls the wee bit eh fleshy string, and the claw pinches shut. Daft being excited aboot noew but we were wee. I found it quite minging, just watchin’ f’ur the macabre fascination. My brother oan the other hand, cunt was buzzing out his heid over the mechanical working eh a deed creature. So much so my bro went hunting tae smash up some mare crabs. Sadist bastard like, but that’s just how he is. I went tae sit wae my ma instead. Probably why ma brother went tae study animals and that and I sat oan ma arse as far as academics were concerned.
No that it helped him or any eh us much. Cunt fucked his degree and pissed aff, right at the minute ma Da’s lungs started soonding like a handful eh gravel being churned in a blender. Old mans health went tae shit slow like. Ages it felt like, two or three year. Doctors reckon it wis probably aw the fags he used tae huff oan. My Da blamed asbestos fae his work. My Ma used tae say he wis chatting shite, since he hud the PPE oan aw the time. Whit ever it wis, he’s deed noew, and there’s nout tae be said beyond he’s gettin’ put in the ground.
It wisnae Berwick there. The weather wis hoatter. The mood worst. There’d be nae fruity cocktails by the pool here. I left Edinburgh the week efter the Cavendish closed its doors f’ur good and Jenners spewed smoke doon Princes Street, and oan the day I left every‘hing felt shite in a weird way. My Brother used tae phone hame loads f’ur a blether when he first left tae the middle eh nae where. Then it wis every other week. Then every other month. Then it seemed like the cunt just existed in the memory between ma Da’s death bed and my Ma’s incessant praises eh her favourite lost. I thought that brother eh mind should watch. Love that only lives in memory is precarious cause memories fade, some faster than others.
Probably why when Da died, my Ma sent me chasing the wee bastard tae the abyss he disappeared tae. Watching that wee cargo ship slash the waves as it boosted back to civilisation beyond the horizon, two weeks travel in any direction, I began to see why that cunt eh a brother eh mine didnae even gee us a ring. The sun wis slipping below the waves wae the wee red boat chasing it away, and I had tae make peace wae the fact ah wis stranded oan this pebble in the biggest ocean oan earth for three days guaranteed. Nae back out plan. Wae technology getting that advanced ye’d forget it aw relied oan codes and infrastructure tae work. Couldnae get reception just oot side Dundee, nae phoning taxis even as far up as Aberdeen. Way oot here ye’d be lucky tae load up an email.
The formalities eh a shan attempt at border control relegated tae the past, I began the steep hill walk up tae ma gaff f’ur the next few days, left tae ma ain devices on this tropical island. The temperature was droppin’, but the ground was still oozing heat fae a day eh roastin sunshine. Ma back wis gushin’ wae sweat, and my shirt was drippin’. If I wis going tae hunt ma brother tonight, I’d need tae make maself less honking and less minging.
I found ma residence after ages passing through hill ridden rock paths and bush and palm crawling wae beasties. It wis a wee hoose shared wae a couple eh islanders, telling aw you’d need tae ken aboot this place’s tourist population. When I arrived they were having a blether about sutin that wis nae concern eh mine. They gave me their best polite courtesy and let me ken wit the script wis wae the place. Short and sweet. Younger lass and an old boy. The age gap seemed a bit noncey, but I wisnae here long and had nae intention eh prolonging ma stay wae the two. There wis a Da’s to bury efter aw. The wee lassie asked me where I wis fae in Ireland. I gee’d her the benefit eh the doubt and laughed it aff.
I planted ma bags doon in the upstair room, the big light aff but the room still illuminated by the cream wa’s. I sat oan the bed, mattress solid as the stane that likely cracked fuck oot the crab oan the waterline. Still a welcome change tae the rocking bunk bed fae the ship here. I watched wae drowsy eyes beyond the open screen on tae the balcony. The pastel sky just made me mare knackered. A warm breeze brushed past the many palms dozing in the tropical twilight and intae the room, silencing the roar eh the beasties whining in the hot evening air in the world beyond. Ma eyes fell shut without registering, and my sweat mixed wae the paper thin duvet eh the bed as sleep subsided intae dreams.
And fae dreams the nightmares mooched their way in. Ah could feel the breathe eh the reaper oan my neck as a navigated that dreamscape. A road twisted before me, both sides swamped wae woods. Mind ah heard that if ye were loast in the wilds and they could find a road you should follow it. Roads lead back tae toons. But ah wisnae alone oan this asphalt black top. Crabs. Hundreds eh them, crossing the threshold under cover eh the darkening night. Thousands eh tiny claws clattering and clicking against the path, scurrying fae one side eh the bush tae the other. I decided tae find oot where these wee buggers were going. Ah stepped side by side wae the wee creatures through the undergrowth, swiping branch and fern fur ma path. Each step took me further fae the warmth eh the road behind me.
Wae the migration eh a million crustaceans as ma shepherd, ah emerged fae the thick mangrove forest tae gaze upon a hill. At its peak wis a lone palm tree, burning a blaze. Deed leaves and embers shed fae the inferno in its upper leaves, radiating a glow bright against the blackening sky. It wasnae a normal fire like. Normally when you face a bonfire on bonfire night or the likes you can feel the cauld against yer back while the heat hits ye in the face. Naw. This wisnae like that. It wis like the fire wis causing the cauld, wae any sense eh warm far behind me. Aw the crabs dossed about in a circle around the tree, quickly hurrying tae it but no approaching it within a few feet. Then the tree began tae bleed red intae black. The bushy main alight on top eh the burning torch eh a tree rustled and sparked. The leaves twisted as the scrawny back eh something recoiled fae the plant. It looked like a person up in the tree, wae arms withoot fat or muscle aw frail and feeble, scabby and scarred. It’s face didnae carry the same pale complexion eh it’s ragged frame. The face looked like porcelain, but no that yid find in a bathroom. The features eh the face looked like they were baked fae dirt. The eyes carried nae soul, just a gaze that stared straight through ye and intae suttin else. The mooth hung open aw dozy, and wouldae looked docile hud it no been brandishing two sabre tooth tiger type teeth, matching the horns spiked fae it’s heid. The creature leaned fae the tree tae ma face, which makes sense since dreams dinny huv any regard fur things tae make sense. The tree creatures mouth hung open, it breathe feeling heavy and strained like it was oan the cusp eh spouting some words. A request? A demand? Fuck knows. Aw ah ken wis it kept staring, breathing it’s honking breathe aw ominously, as if it wis watching suttin interesting.
Ah woke up in bare sweats, aw cauld and soaked. I tried no tae ‘hink about the dream cause when ye ‘hink about dreams is when they get etched intae memory. And I wid like fur that weird occurrence tae slip away pronto. I’d fucked it and slept the night instead eh finding ma brother quickly. The sky was hinging in a twilight before the sunrise. A slipped fae the sodden sheets and moved oot, quick tae be done wae this place and ma arsehole eh a brother.
Ah approached the address eh where his hoose wis listed, although addys felt mare like vague suggestions eh locations oot this way. I quickly realised my brother wis hud up in the islands only pizza shoap. Place wis listed as Andy’s Pizza. Fuck knows who Andy wis but it wisnae my brother. Ah hud a look through the windaes eh the place, and there wis plenty eh them. The place looked like wan eh they btec ‘cafés’ that were less like a coffee shoap and more like a place fur lunch. Place didnae huv the character eh those Italian places you’d expect wae a pizza place. Joint wis running oan bare necessities. The photaes oan the board inside looked decent enough, but ye kent they were those stock images. Wid it fuck look like that if ye actually goat suttin. The toppings anaw looked whack and rotten. Aw sorts eh weird shit. If ye thought pineapple wis bad, this Andy’s place wis listing hings that straight shouldnae be oan a pizza. I’ll let ye imagine whit kind eh hings. No chance wis this place being open this early, although the opening times listed oan the front door said aw sorts eh strange times. Dinny ken who’d fancy a pizza at 3am oan a Wednesday, but I’d whitey if I hud suttin that greasy at that time during the week. Probs just a product eh the island living I suppose. Huv tae live yer life by the boat coming in and what it brought wae it. Oot here making cunts get experimental wae their scran. Anyhow there wis nae trace eh ma brother at the front among the dust ridden tables, so I cut around the back.
Whilst ah couldae pictured the front eh the place back haime, the back eh the building wis half disappearing intae the bush. The leaves mixed wae the various bins and boxes. Ma heart droap oot ma arse when ah saw this massive crab trying tae pry its wae intae a flimsy black waste bin.
“Oh ya cunt!” Ah shouted oan instinct alone.
Must’ve gave a certain so and so the fear, since ma shouting resulted in another racket near by as someone near bounced tae life.
“Dinny mind ther creb!” Shouted a familiar voice, if somewhat dilated by an accent similar tae my hosts back at the lodging.
He came stumbling and clattering fae where he was conceal, before the sight eh me almost knocked him oan his arse again.
Both eh us stood, eyeing each other. Nout wis said for a few seconds, although it felt like ages.
“‘Mon, I’ll show you what ‘av been up tae.”
I followed him, no kenning quite how tae let him know the news. ‘Aw by the way Dad’s deed.’ Naw, didnae feel right chirping it oot like that. Plus, me coming up oot eh naewhere probably wis aw the sign he needed. I kept oan his tale as he lead me tae some shipping containers a wee stroll fae the restaurant.
“You still going about wae that burd?”
“Aye, me and Blake ur ‘hinking about putting a mortgage doon oan a hoose.” I hit back wae.
“Decent likes. Bounce up here wae me.” He motioned fur me to climb one eh the stepladders beside one of the many shipping containers. I clambered up the side, before seeing a hatch cut intae the metal frame. He swung the hatch open tae reveal the interior wae the metallic door skelping the side eh the container. The stink eh moss or algae immediately came humming out the opening. Inside, shallow water wis hit wae light creating a disco dazzling reflection eh the liquids motion. It quickly became obvious whit wis making the water move. Hundred eh crabs, wae long legs and heavily armoured claws and bodies, all moving and worming over one another.
“I’ve been breeding crabs. Uni degree came in useful afteraw eh. See, I thought I could mix the genetics eh the common coconut grab and the Japanese spider crab.”
“Some ‘hink crabs are immortal, but they’re actually no. See they ‘hink that cause their nervous system and pain receptors and the likes are that different fae mammals, but actually…”
“Whit the fuck.”
“Whit the fuck is aw this?”
“How’d ye mean like?”
“This is some bunny boiler type stuff. What kind eh nutter behaviour are you daeing?”
“You ‘hink this is bad probably good ah didnae show you the yin wae the crabs carrying the implants.”
“Wait… Implants aye? Whit are you actually oan.”
“We’ll see right there wis this boy oan the internet that used wee battery packs and electrodes tae control cockroaches…”
“Aye because that’s normal eh. You’re no right in the heid like.”
“Stoap being such a soor face cunt. I reckoned I could dae the same wae crabs. Control the crabs and that.”
“Why wid ye want tae dae that?”
“Well ah dinny ken if you noticed, but this island has a pedo problem. Massive scandal a few year back, whole population wis found to have a culture around pedophilia. When I came here I wis like ‘I’m sick eh aw the tech lets droap aff the grid, surely the scandals been resolved’. Well, it hudnae. Whole place is rotten tae it’s core wae a culture eh evil. Might’ve been better sticking in where I wis before. So I’ve been working oan a way tae level this wicked world tae glass, starting right here in paradise. There wis a conspiracy theory fae America that this wan pizza place in Washington was a front for a pedo ring. I’m like that, but in reverse.”
“You’re a radge like. I dinny like nonces as much as the next gadge, but aw this, really?”
“Aye, wit else um a supposed tae dae.”
I had nout tae say nor nout I could say, till he chimmed instead.
“Look, ah ken why yer here. Dad’s deed eh.”
“Look, ah ken I’ve been a shite brother. Ah shouldnae eh fucked aff when Da came doon wae it. But I couldnae take it. Like I’d just be seeing cunts going about wae their relationship and aw that and I felt like every’hing wisnae worth a sook. Every’hing wis going tae shite and there wis fuckall tae dae. I just reckoned ah could put a pin in it aw, step away and every’hing wid be alright. I didnae want tae watch Ma’s heart break as every’hing fell apart. I didnae want tae watch Da grow mare deed by the day before he wis fuckall but a shadow eh a shadow. Being here wae this radge crab endeavour, it feels like I’m doing something. Standing by watching back hame, I felt like I wis watching every’hing sink tae the bottom eh the ocean whilst I stood in the sand maself wae cement shoes. Fuck knows if I’m making any sense oan any eh this.”
“You’re no, but ah get it. Ah hink. Still nutter behaviour.”
“I’ve always been a bit eh a nutter though.”
“No wrong likes.”
I took a moment tae breath and appreciate the cloudless sky eh the tropics after the cunts wee rant.
“When’s the funeral?”
“Next month. You coming tae it.”
“Soond…That’s sound. Folk will be sad like.”
“It’s a funeral cunts will be in a downer regardless.”
We both hud a laugh aboot that. I spent the day wae the daftie. Showed me aboot the island, goat tae try some eh that pizza eh his. Half decent for the only place in a thousand miles. Hud me doon the boozer and fur the talk he wis geeing about hating everyone oan the island he wis surprisingly pally wae everyone. Obviously just frustrated wae every’hing, plus wae nout tae dae its always good to pick up a hobby. Even if it is daeing freaky shit wae crustaceans.
Ah gee’d um a hand that night in the restaurant. Had every cunt and their dug doon tae celebrate me being there. Big pizza party, kinda personal gig ye wouldnae get without kenning half the cunts there. I helped um clean till the quiet hours. We sat resting oan one eh the tables in the parlour, knackered after the close. The hot air eh the tropics boiled in the darkness eh the night as it danced wae beasties, our quiet sanctuary far from noise. We sat and talked about oor Da over a pint poured fae warm gless boattle. Shite pint, but well earned and decent aw hings considered. Came close tae greeting the kind eh ugly tears that feel like acid as they bleach yer eyes before water falling doon yer cheek. Although we’d kept the patter going, so we’d greet fae being poorless rather than actually bubbling aboot life and death.
Ah gee’d him a hug goodbye the next day. Ah watched as that wee realm eh his disappeared beyond the rocky waves. Fuck knows wit he wis oan. I guess his tears ur his ain, as ma tears are mine. Mad cunt. But madness riddled wae reason, in its ain way. The creativity of folk that’ve geed up oan the world is really only limited by how much they want cunts tae ken. I guess deep doon my bro wanted nae cunt tae. His bridge tae burn. He might do some stupid shit oot there. He might be just chatting. Fuck knows. Aw ah ken is he canny be chilling wae crabs forever.
Declan says: This work is written in the Scots vernacular based around Edinburgh, but has influence from that spoken in Glasgow as well as the borders also, particularly Dumfries. In respect of that the influence is general as is inevitable with the cross influence of variations of language meeting with each other. This is particularly notable in Edinburgh due to the attraction of the area as a city to people from various different areas. The influence of multinational elements is especially notable due to this as well as the influence of the internet. This can be seen with influences as far as Australia, exemplified by the integration of words such as ‘probs’. The particular word choice is especially focused on the working class vernacular. This is the explanation of the prolific use of profanity.