At first, most people thought it was some sort of gag or promotional stunt. They looked around to see if there were any cameras nearby as the man in the big red suit waddled out to the middle of the park and dropped his duffel bag in the grass.
What was he supposed to be, anyway? Some sort of insect or cartoon character? No—upon closer inspection, with his long antennae and big claws, it became unmistakably clear that he was a lobster. But this was no ordinary lobster costume you might see on Halloween, made from cheap fabric and stuffed with foam. This had clearly been designed to look and move like an actual lobster. The carapace was made of a hard material—possibly a thick acrylic or polycarbonate—that glimmered in the sun. The tail consisted of distinct segments that moved separately with each motion. And the claws were jagged and sharp, like they were capable of crushing stone. Up close, you could see that the lobster’s entire body, from the head to the fin, was covered in stiff, bristle-like hairs.
When he bent down to open the bag, the man struggled to pull back the zipper with his immovable claws. Finally, after stabbing at it for what seemed like several minutes, he managed to hook the sharp point of the pincer claw into the zipper and pry it open. People watched as he pulled a stack of papers out of the bag and began handing them out to those around him. Some accepted it politely without reading it, while others ignored him altogether, pretending that they didn’t notice a six-foot-tall lobster standing in front of them with an outstretched claw. The few who bothered to glance at the page saw an anthropomorphic drawing of a lobster with a text bubble coming out of its mouth.
Had anyone bothered to read what had been handed to them, they would have seen that it said:
I am the lobster. Every year, tens of millions of us are killed in the United States alone to satisfy your selfish appetites, most commonly by dropping us into pots of scalding-hot water and boiling us alive. Some believe that I do not feel pain, but I do. I just feel it differently from you. Don’t believe me? Just listen to my screams as I burn to death.
The man in the suit then returned to the duffel bag and gently took out a squeeze bottle filled with a clear liquid. He lifted the bottle over his head, tilted it downward, and emptied the contents onto the lobster suit.
The first indication that something was wrong was the smell of gasoline wafting through the air. But still, no one was clued in to what was about to happen, even when the man in the suit pulled out a barbecue lighter and sat down calmly in the grass in the lotus position.
After several attempts to get the lighter to ignite, the entire suit suddenly went up in a flash. Normally it would take less than a minute for someone to suffocate as a result of self-immolation, and they would lose consciousness well before then. However, what the man in the park failed to account for was that the suit, with its solid materials, would act as a sort of armor—or, more accurately, a shell—which prevented the flames from actually touching his body and burning him alive. Instead, his lungs slowly filled up with smoke as his skin melded to the inside of the suit.
When the shock of what they were witnessing began to wear off, some of the onlookers rushed to the man’s aid, throwing sweaters and blankets over his body in an attempt to put out the fire. But whatever the suit had been made of would not allow for it to extinguish, and it burned on for several agonizing minutes. All anyone could do was watch as the man writhed around on the ground, screaming in pain until, mercifully, the flames died out on their own.
The firefighters and paramedics soon showed up and loaded the body, encased in its twisted shell, into the back of an ambulance. It was too big to fit in a body bag, not that it would have mattered.
It was unclear whether the man was a part of some sort of animal rights organization, or if he had acted alone. There were no logos or websites on the piece of paper, just the almost playful drawing of a lobster with the words coming out of its mouth. After the park had cleared out, all that was left of the scene was a patch of blackened grass.