Deep below the earth’s surface, dark secrets lie hidden and waiting. When the time is right, they find their way up, burrowing through rock and dirt and bursting into stark sunlight. Is it luck that anyone at all is there to witness the terrible moment? For one young man, simply being a bystander to long-buried mysteries was frightening enough.
About two years ago, Roberto worked as a software engineer just south of Phoenix, Arizona. “I’m kind of a code monkey,” he tells me.
The company he worked for had just moved into a state-of-the-art office complex in a technology development corridor. “Pretty much they laid down some road and water pipes out in the desert,” Roberto tells me, “and we put a building out there.”
Roberto’s company flourished in the desert. Construction started on more office buildings, grass and shrubs were trucked in, sprinklers chugged and sprayed at twilight. The desert blossomed with high-tech industry.
“They were really tearing things up out there,” Roberto recalls. “Everyday they were pushing deeper into the desert. They even found a huge cave system out there.”
Not far from Roberto’s office, a significant speleological discovery was made. While building a new road, a chance rock slide uncovered an previously unknown cave system. A subsequent geological survey determined that it was very extensive and had never before been open to the surface.
“I guess it was like a giant Tupperware container – all sealed up,” Roberto says, “and now it was open.”
One day in early December, Roberto snuck out for a cigarette to one of his office’s many landscaped terraces. “They’re all these weird little balconies and patios,” Roberto remembers. “No one uses them except for a smoke.”
While Roberto smoked, he turned over in his mind the tasks he still had to complete that Friday afternoon. He watched as a bird picked it’s way among the rocks in a dry creek bed that ran behind the office. The bed was blazing in the sun, the only shade being under a small bridge.
As the bird approached this respite, it suddenly screeched and Roberto saw it disappear in fit of feathers and claws. “Crazy as it sounds, what it looked like was a white alligator jumped up and ate the bird,” Roberto explains.
Roberto was at a loss to understand what he had just seen. Nothing stirred among the bleached rocks in the creek bed. Roberto went back inside and did what he always did in these situations. “I googled the hell out of it,” Roberto tells me.
What at first looked mostly like an alligator was, Roberto determined, the claw of something like a lobster or crayfish, or rather, a very large, white one. “It mostly looked like the pics of crayfish that live in caves and are all white,” Roberto says. “Except, of course, for the size of it.”
Roberto estimates that, based on the size of the bird, the claw that grabbed it must have been two or three feet long.
Although most people would be reluctant to come face to face with such a monster, Roberto was not among them. “I was freakin’ excited,” Roberto remembers. “I got my guys together and we got some gear. We were gonna put that thing up on YouTube.”
The next day was Saturday and two of Roberto’s friends met him that afternoon in the office building’s sprawling parking lot. They had spelunking ropes and cameras and rock-climbing gloves and cameras and flashlights and helmets with cameras.
“My one friend, Matt, brought a harpoon,” Roberto tells me. “I said, ‘Dude, why do you even own a harpoon?’”
The three friends descended into the creek bed, the rattle of their equipment the only sound under the unblinking sun. For several hours, they explored the length of the creek bed. The rocks were silent and undisturbed; the tunnel under the bridge was dark and deserted.
‘“The only thing we found was this weird white stuff,” Roberto recalls. “We thought it was plastic until we looked it up on my phone.”
Roberto and his friends suspected they had found the remains of a large invertebrate’s moulting process, specifically a piece of discarded exoskeleton. As night fell, the satisfied friends returned to their cars only to find more evidence waiting for them.
“My friends’ cars were busted up,” Roberto recalls. “Tires slashed, fenders bent – it was pretty bad.” At first, they suspected vandals, but it was hard to imagine who would travel so far for so little.
Then they noticed that all the damage was on the bottom half of the cars; the windows were suspiciously intact. “It looked like something short and strong went apeshit on it,” Roberto tells me.
Roberto and his friends felt deflated; all the time they had spent in the creek bed and the creature they were hunting had been here. In the far darkness between the parking lot lights, they heard a distant scuttling, like the clacking of claws on pavement. Then, they felt afraid.
Roberto and his friends piled into the one car with intact tires and left, never to return to hunt the strange beast. “That was definitely enough for me,” Roberto recalls. “I didn’t really need to be a YouTube star.”
For the next few months, Roberto’s colleagues were warned not to use the parking lot at night alone in fear of wandering vandals. The exoskeleton sample that Roberto had collected rapidly deteriorated. And in December, a flash flood washed and cleaned the creek bed.
“Nobody saw anything after that,” Roberto recalls. “It was all over.”
Roberto speculates that the cave system, closed off for thousands of years, had produced a monstrous version of a cave crustacean. Exploring our world at night, it had inadvertently been trapped when the sun rose and either died on the surface or found its way home. We are left to wonder what sorts of creatures a giant crayfish would prey upon or what kind of monster it might be prey for.
A few months after Roberto told me his story, he contacted me again to report what he thinks may be evidence of the creature’s return.
“So, they just finished this office down the road,” Roberto writes. “A guy who works there swears he saw something weird in the underground parking garage. He said it looked like a white alligator!”