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MARG-INS Good Deed Gone Wrong
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It was probably the sweetest thing I'd been asked in quite a while ... young Jackson Hammond calling me up on the phone and asking very politely, "Miss Marg, will you and Ally babysit my hermit crabs while my family is on vacation?"

Jackson, of course, is the son of co-worker Teresa Hammond and she, her husband and their two children were about to embark on their summer vacation. Since I'm an animal lover and am also very fond of Jackson, it was impossible to say no. Besides, Teresa said they could move in to her office area so it would be convenient for my daughter and I to check on them, giving them food and water when the need arose.

Now, I haven't taken care of a hermit crab for quite some time. Not since oldest son Bobby won one at the Chocolate Festival, probably seven or eight years ago. It, of course, became a family pet as its cage was in the living room and most of the care and feeding fell to, well, you know how that goes.

Just like my daughter's finches that she got for her birthday some three or four years ago ... and the cockatiel she inherited when a friend moved to a different state this past spring ... she insists they are 'hers' but she doesn't seem to be the one feeding them every day and sitting by the cage at night to hand feed Topper the cockatiel a cracker.

But I digress.

Teresa assured me it was a piece of cake, just make sure they're moving, change the water a couple of times and put in a little food. It all went pretty well, one of the crabs was a small one in a Nemo-painted shell, it would get way back in so you could barely see the tips of its claws. The other one was in a regular shell but was starting to grow out of it.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking care of them, but they probably weren't used to getting picked up and talked to quite so much. Not that I was really expecting an answer when I asked them how they were doing; it just seemed that a little conversation would do them good.

Nemo - I'm not sure if his real name was 'Hermie 1' or 'Hermie 5' - was almost always in the little coconut hut that served as their home. The other one would hang out by the little fake tree or situate itself by the starfish-shaped sponge that I spritzed to keep the cage moist. One night, working late, I was getting ready to leave and thought I'd check on them and was shocked to see Nemo three-quarters of the way up the horizontal bars of the cage, climbing quickly to the top, getting some exercise. I made a check of the cage door to make sure it was secure; I certainly didn't want to have one of Jackson's pets escape on my watch. It was fine; Nemo just hung there and wiggled his little eyes and antennas at me as I made sure he was safely locked inside.

So the day before the Hammonds were to return from their 10-day trip, I was feeling pretty good about keeping the critters fed, watered and happy. When I came in to work that day, I made my usual stop at their cage and ... terror struck.