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"I don't claim to know everything," a hermit crab in the center of the circle said, "but I do know many things. And I know there is but one way to ensure the survival of our hard-won hermit crab knowledge: in the minds," he said, "of the hermit crabs of tomorrow."

This obviously esteemed speaker was not a hermit crab of tomorrow but, rather, one of yesterday, the bespectacled, the lauded, the beloved industrialist and thinker Dr. T.W. Tompkins.

"It is to their claws that I will pass the reins of hermit crab society," Dr. T.W. Tompkins said to rising applause, "for our young hermits are the ones who will operate the factory."

Yes, the factory: hermit crab's most important institution. As a young crab, Dr. T.W. Tompkins realized they literally had tons of sand that no one was using. And so he did what any logical species would do: He built a factory to exploit it. A glass factory. Because sand, you know, makes glass. Anyway, this glass factory changed hermit crab society practically overnight. They became rich, cultured, pampered--in other words, thoroughly civilized, an advanced, consumerist, fractious society.

While the applause settled, a hefty hermit crab, Burt, the CFO of the factory, hobbled into the center of the circle. "Okay, big shot," he said to Tompkins, "Why don't you just tell the little hermits how to run the damn factory already."

Dr. T.W. Tompkins rested a magnanimous claw on Burt's shell. "Burt, I'm aware this isn't your area of expertise," he said. "But fortunately, the conference has concluded for you that our young hermits must get their information by doing. They cannot simply be told, or lectured, by me or anyone else, on how to operate the factory."

He also explained that they needed an expert, a friendly guide to the information relocation procedure, an information buddy. As for the hermit crab youth to whom the information would be relocated, they would be known from then on as Superiors. It was they who would become the operators of the factory and, in turn, the most valued members of hermit crab society.

"Christ, Tompkins, you're betting our whole economy on word games?"

Dr. T.W. Tompkins, 100 percent certain of his strategy, ignored Burt completely and launched into an introduction of the new information buddy, Miss Katie, to a wave of cheers.

"Totally!" Miss Katie shouted above the cheering. "I will totally give all I have to our Superiors!"

Miss Katie set right out to implement the very first information relocation strategy, or "proven effective," a term Dr. T.W. Tompkins had coined in his factory management heyday. This first proven effective was based on the fact that information retention can increase up to 95 percent when the information buddy wears one of those conical party hats, you know, the pointy kind with the string. Party hats, you see, were found to elevate hermit crab dopamine levels, which were crucial to the proper functioning of the hermit crab brain's information relocation processing centers.

When the end-of-relocation skill check arrived, though, when the Superiors were tasked with attesting to their factory-operating abilities by producing a set quota of glass, the proven effective came up short. The Superiors fell far short of the quota, and there was broken glass all over the factory.

So Dr. T.W. Tompkins and the conference reconvened and concluded that technology was the answer. It is from screens that the hermit crab youth get their information, and it should be no different in the information relocation procedure.

"Instead of books, or words from a living, breathing hermit crab," Burt said, "you want them to get their information from a damn computer?"

"Exactly," Dr. T.W. Tompkins said. "It's brilliant, a positively shimmering idea."

"Screen, paper, sand," Burt muttered. "What the hell difference does it make?"

Dr. T.W. Tompkins and the conference were too excited by this new proven effective to pay any more attention to Burt's objections. For the end-of-relocation skill check, the conference was on-site at the factory, listening intently for the sound of breaking glass. They heard none. And they continued hearing none; that is, until they heard some, and then some more, and then even more, hearing eventually 41 percent of the glass shattering during production.

When the conference reassembled, Burt was there before anyone, lounging in the cool foam left by the tide, spinning a shard of the shattered glass on the tip of his claw. "Mighty fine afternoon, isn't it, Tompkins?"

Dr. T.W. Tompkins politely agreed with him and then positioned himself in such a way so that he wouldn't have to look at him.

The conference concluded that screens were a kind of replacement for lecturing. Therefore, they must reduce the dependence on screens. And so they developed a new proven effective: group work, whereby the information buddy puts the Superiors into teams and tells them to tell each other the information.

Still lounging, still spinning his shard, Burt just yawned, and he kept on yawning until the sound of breaking glass returned yet again.

Miss Katie told the conference that the Superiors weren't always "totally into" relocating information, preferring instead to hold discussions on topics such as the brand-new adopted baby of sex symbol Victoria Crabpants or the beef between hip-hop stars Lil' Thorax and Hermit Boi.

"Of course," Burt said. "When you expect them to tell each other things they don't know, they're going to turn to things they do know."

Dr. T.W. Tompkins' feelers bristled. But what could he do? He was short on successes that he could fling back at Burt.

After meeting, the conference concluded that cheering sessions at the start and end of group work would give the Superiors the necessary cohesion to treat the group work seriously.

All the cheers seemed to do, though, was mask the sound of breaking glass in the factory. "Give me a C!" "I got your C, I got your C!" "Give me an R!" "I got your R, I got your R!" "Give me an A..." and so on.

"Even for you, Tompkins," Burt said. "This was a dumb idea."

Dr. T.W. Tompkins had never been one to hide in his shell, but if there was any time he wished he could be a stereotypical hermit crab, it was then. "The good news," he announced to the assembly, "Is that I believe the proven effectives are not the problem. The conditions are the problem."

So they created better conditions, a multimillion-dollar facility for the sole purpose of relocating information to Superiors. But even this didn't help, and when the glass broke, Dr. T.W. Tompkins felt as if he was hearing the sound of someone breaking in to attack a member of his family. His ideas had never been so threatened.

"I visited that fancy cage you built," Burt said at the assembly. "What a waste."

"To put it plainly," Dr. T.W. Tompkins said, "I don't see how your big, fat shell could even fit inside the new facility." He immediately regretted what he said and crawled as far into his shell as hermit crab decorum would allow.

"Always," Burt said, spinning his shard of glass. "It's always the hermits who're on their way out that turn to name-calling."

The conference then unveiled the "Kinesthetic Information Relocation Intervention," which called for physical exercise while relocating information. A scandal followed when it was found that this proven effective was based on research completed with colobus monkeys rather than hermit crabs.

At that point, the family member of Dr. T.W. Tompkins who had been threatened earlier, his whole philosophy, was now gone, dead. Research-grounded strategies had failed. He was stunned, dazed, embarrassed. He, plain old Tompkins, had been robbed of everything he thought he knew.

In a last-ditch effort, the conference suggested the "Pit Method," whereby the information buddy digs a deep hole in the sand and guides the Superiors from the bottom of a pit. For Miss Katie, this was the final proven effective.

"I totally know it's all for the Superiors," she said at the assembly, still wearing her party hat, "But, look, it's too much. I have to quit. I mean, I had to just lecture after a while because I couldn't keep track of everything."

Tompkins had barely peeked from his shell, but that comment brought him out, slowly.

Burt noticed. "Listen, T.W. Can you just tell the kids the information now?"

Tompkins recounted all the ideas that had fallen short. They were beautiful, brilliant, shimmering strategies, all of them, but they were all so fragile. They all broke. Why?

At that moment, Butt pinched his shard of glass. "I keep this," he said, "to remind myself that things are often clear, transparent, like this glass. All the stuff you tried, it's all transparent, transparently ridiculous, silly, useless." He gave the shard to Tompkins. "Tell me, T.W. Tell me it's transparent."

Resentment welled up inside of Tompkins, and when he looked at Miss Katie, it turned to anger. Then it hit him. Lectures? How much time did she waste on lectures? The anger continued to well up in his shell, yes, rattling it even, but it soon gave way to something like relief, something like life being breathed back into his proven effectives, and, coming out of his shell, he told Burt no.

Burt cursed.

"This glass isn't transparent," Dr. T.W. Tompkins said. "It's frosted."

TERRANCE GUTBERLET (University of New Orleans) has an MFA from the University of New Orleans. He is the winner of the Ernest and Shirley Svenson Award for Fiction, and his work can be found in Asymmetry, Scrivener Creative Review, and Euphony. Gutberiet lives in New Orleans.
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Author:Gutberlet, Terrance
Publication:Phi Kappa Phi Forum
Article Type:Short story
Date:Dec 22, 2018

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