"You're not going to believe this bug." He stood on the porch and beckoned her outside with his beat up old Red Sox cap in hand. He hoped the creature's horror-show features might purge the hurt of his earlier words.
She remained at the kitchen table, her one piece bathing suit moist with sweat. It was the middle of July and Nebraska hot, even with the sun down and a 200 acre lake to cool them. She wished they would have stayed home with central air, he in his basement cave, she in a family room without children, but they always went to the cabin on summer week-ends. The simple act of getting up would only generate more perspiration.
“It's too hot.” She didn't look up from her Sudoku book, rolling a pencil between thumb and index finger, her refusal seared into passive-aggressive resolve.
"Fine." He slammed the door coming in and rushed past her.
“I thought you were going?”
“Getting my pellet gun.”
He made a noisy search, deliberately opening and closing bedroom drawers. A few minutes beforehand he had been taking an aggravated walk to their boat when he was stopped by a stabbing pain on his lower right calf that was strong enough to jolt the cigarette lighter from his hand. It was too late at night for stinging things to be flying about. He examined the back of his leg and saw a drop of blood trickling down. He pointed his flashlight behind him to find his assailant looming on the pier a few steps back. At first he thought it was a cockroach, but it was bigger and blacker with two pincer-like front legs and large hemispherical eyes. The creature didn’t give an inch when he approached and he skirted by it, leaving his lighter lie in place. She wouldn’t let him smoke inside anyway. He found his weapon and made sure to slam the door on his way back out.
"God damn it, Rob." She broke the pencil in half and threw the pieces at his receding shadow. She heard him bellow: "Die you bug bitch," as if he were addressing her, punctuated by a yelp of pain and two quick pops.
"Jesus, do you have to kill everything." She got up to get another pencil and looked outside.
"Attacked my toe." He limped inside with the dead bug still clinging to his blood-tipped toe. She stepped aside and let him pass.
"Get that roach out of here."
"It's not a roach." He tore it from his toe and dangled it's two inch long body in front of her face. "This bug had some kind of balls..."
"Damn thing didn't move until I got within a foot of it and then it attacked. They can fly, Weezer!”
“Let's go home.” She took a few steps toward him.
“You expect me to carry you?” Their truck was at the mechanic's with a clogged fuel pump. All they had was the boat and he was taking that to Lori's party. Rob flicked the body outside.
"Maybe a couple of Lori's Margaritas would cool you off." He tried to touch her face.
She stepped back and brushed his hand away.
“Don't wait up.” He said.
The screen door crashed. She stood behind it looking after him into the darkness. She heard the motor start and pictured Lori's cigarette-throaty greeting when Rob arrived on the other side of the lake, Lori's two-story glass and brick neo-modern lake house with its custom sand volleyball court, Lori flexing her ass in front of Rob, Lori using the adjective "primitive" to modify "cabin" when referring to their place.
She looked up to see a smattering of dark insects circling the yard light. The fine golden hairs on her arms rose when something flew into the screen door's wire mesh. She returned to the kitchen table.
The Doobie Brothers' Black Water drifted across the lake. She hoped Rob's injured toe would screw up his volleyball game. Then again, maybe Lori was attending to him with soothing words and Margaritas. Sudoku normally lulled her into a trance that impeded Lori thoughts, but it wasn't working. She decided that a bath might wash them away.
She ran the water. The beginning flow came out rusty, with the faint odor of sulfur. She got into the tub and pulled the curtain around as little raps sounded against the cabin's wall like the beginnings of a heavy rain.
She doused her loofah with strawberry gel and rubbed her body, imagining Caleb's hands. Caleb wouldn’t have hurled ugly insults. Caleb's hands pushed Lori thoughts away. She lifted her right leg over the edge of the tub, beyond the protection of the shower curtain. She sometimes hooked up with Caleb, whenever Rob played softball or sat on barstools watering the paunch above his belt, which was as predictable as the Cornhusker's schedule. It wasn’t natural to stay with one person for the rest of one’s life. A woman needed attention. Her hands moved down her body to her inner thighs, when she felt a sudden needle stabbing pain. She pulled the curtain back to see a monstrous bug—like the one that Rob had killed—with its syringe-like tongue impaled in her big toe.
She leapt out, placed her toe on the edge of the commode, and slammed the seat cover down until the pulp of it fell into the bowl.
Caleb's wife, Shelly, told her that you didn’t have to use the word "God" when you prayed, "God" knew when you needed him. She needed Caleb, Shelly would understand. Shelly had often invited her to Sunday morning services at the Apostolic Church of Christ. Maybe Shelly knew that Weezer had regularly serviced Caleb and prayed for a plague to rain down upon her. She texted Caleb. Please call, Rob is out. It was only 10:00 p.m., he had to be up.
He didn’t answer.
All the windows were open, each with its own imperfect screen. She closed the bathroom window and then the bathroom door, stuffing a towel into the crevice between door and floor. Proper breathing was important, slowly in then out.
Shelly hated Lori as much as she did, correct that, hated the occasion of sin that Lori offered with alcohol-fueled beach parties. What if Caleb had gone alone, just like Rob had? She strained to listen for more music coming across the water, but only heard the thick silence of humidity. She looked in the mirror, perspiration glazed her figure, not a hint of cellulite, tan skin contrasted with white flesh. It was the contrast that had aroused Caleb only a week ago. The sulfur-tainted bath remained half-full because Rob hadn't cleaned the drain like he had promised. This on top of air weighed down by gulf moisture stagnating over thousands of square miles, draining desire and initiative from all exposed to it. She picked up her sweat-soaked suit, pumped hand soap into it, and began rinsing it in the sink, twisted it into a tight pretzel of cloth, cloth that Caleb loved to see on, then off, skin, then sin. She would make Rob pay for slow drains, for fetid bathrooms, for the ignorance of his words. She texted Caleb again.
Need you now!
She heard the screen door open and shut. “Rob?”
No answer, she couldn't remember latching it after Rob's slamming exit.
“Rob, don’t do this.”
“Rob?” Her voice cracked.
Maybe it was the wind, a cold front to save everyone from the stinking humidity, rain to wash away evil bugs and to wreck Lori’s beach party. Her hands shook, her face pressed against the door, a tear rolled down her cheek.
"Anyone?" It was like waiting for the jack in the box to pop. She checked her phone, she’d been in the bathroom for over an hour. She dialed 9-1-1.
“Help,” she whispered.
“Speak up, please.”
“I’m all alone,” she whispered louder.
“Are you hurt?”
“These bugs, bigger than anything I've ever...”
“Are you hurt ma’am?”
“They have claws.”
“Have you been drinking?”
“No, you don’t understand, my husband was bitten, then me...”
“Give him the phone.”
“He’s gone. You have to help me. They’re in the house.”
“Who’s in the house?”
“Bigger than roaches...”
“Have you taken any pills?”
“No, no pills, please, my husband shot...”
“Your husband shot who?”
“One of the roaches...”
“Roaches aren't an emergency.”
“Not roaches. I don't know what they are.”
“Why don’t you get some sleep.”
“One got my toe and there are more outside the bathroom door waiting...”
“No god, please don’t...”
The battery ran out and the line went dead. She threw the phone against the wall. She was certain that she heard prickly legs darting across the kitchen floor. The bathroom felt like the inside of a sun-baked car with the windows rolled up. She lit the candle on top of the toilet tank and turned off the light hoping for some relief.
The room flickered with the shadows of wings and luminous beady little eyes. Something whizzed by her ear and her neck experienced a painful piercing. She turned the light back on and saw the creature hanging from her throat like an obscene pendant in the mirror's reflection. At first she thought the bug was screaming, but it was her. She swept her hand across the medicine cabinet shelf, pushing the narrow glass of it off its support clips and watched it shatter on the tile floor. She picked the tweezers from the shards, tore the vile thing from her flesh, and roasted it in the candle's flame. Burnt bug stink filled the room. She dropped the crisp husk of it into the bowl.
She turned the bathroom doorknob slowly hoping the click of it wouldn’t be too loud and pushed it open far enough to scan a few feet of floor. When she didn't see anything, she put her body between the frame and the door's edge. She saw her Sudoku book and pencil on the table. She wrapped a towel around her torso and slowly walked out searching the room for any movement.
The wind must have blown the door open, a stray gust from a passing cloud, who knows, she only knew that you couldn’t depend on a man, not husbands, not lovers, not 9-1-1 men. Maybe it was an early hot flash, hormonally induced hallucinations. Two stupid bugs, whatever. She replaced her fear with a vision of Lori in the midst of a yeast infection and the stink of it after volleyball in the unforgiving air. She took more normal breaths and returned to the kitchen table.
Her shoulders relaxed with the page-worn comfort of Sudoku and her jaw had unclenched when she heard the whoosh and sensed insect legs scratching against the flesh of her scalp. Her towel covering came undone as she whipped her head back and forth.
“Out, GET OUT.” She yelled.
The venom entered her scalp like a dentist jamming her palate with that obscenely large syringe. She ripped it from her head and slammed it to table, only to have the beast assail her thumb, its beak, probe, mandible, mouth sucking her blood, its eyes staring up at her as she crushed it with her Sudoku book.
She bolted through the screen door, naked over the grass, without looking back, feeling an exoskeleton or two crackle beneath her feet. She leapt into the murky water, heart pounding.
“Come and get me,” She laughed. The water was four feet deep and she hunched up into a jellyfish float keeping her head above the surface, so as not to touch the slimy lake bottom, feeling as safe as if she had returned to the womb until the first prickling touch struck her thigh and another one emerged, and dug into the bridge of her nose.
"OH GOD NO!" She stripped the bug from her nose only to see more surfaced into the muggy night air, the last air left on the planet. Others swam in loops around her exposed body like hungry sea lions, she gulped air, screamed, swallowed water, and thrashed, as if she were a feral boar being savaged by hundreds of toothy piranhas in the back waters of the Amazon. She descended into the murk as the creatures gorged on her fluids until they had had their fill of her and bobbed tail end up as the sounds of My Sharona came skimming across the lake.
Tom Schwider has a novel length e-book, The Long Cold Summer of Ben Black, available at Amazon. Other than that, he leads a rather tedious existence, staring out his third floor window awaiting the inspiration for his next story.