Bugs

Moving into a new place is always stressful, but that feeling is exacerbated once you realize that the place to which you’re moving is not only sub-par in quality to where you were, but you’ll be all on your own with no one to complain to once you get there.

These were the petty thoughts with which my mind was occupied as I stared out the passenger seat of the rental truck that housed the boxes I’d filled only days prior with the contents of my childhood bedroom.

My father, the driver of the truck, and I were headed towards my new place a few towns away. My parents had decided to go behind my back and find a listing on a social media marketplace for next to nothing.

They decided the cut costs would be worth it since, once they presented me with the leasing papers, they informed me they would be happy to pay my first and last month’s rent as well as the security deposit so I could focus on getting my bearings once I moved in.

“Come on, kiddo. You can only wallow for so long before you accept that this is a good decision for everyone involved.” My father said, noting the depressed expression on my face. “Your mother and I are ready to move on to the next stage of our lives and we believe you are too.” I ignored the fact that this was the line he’d been using to justify tossing me out of the house since I reached 30 in lieu of something more direct; and stayed silent.

I rested my hand on my palm and turned my attention towards passing landscape outside of my window. Tall trees shrouded small forests on the side of the road blocking the sun and its attempts to warm the cold morning.

I was leaving the suburban housing developments in which I had grown up only to be thrust into an environment where deer and mosquitos were a real threat.

I sighed dramatically as we turned off of the interstate and headed into a town I would have believed was empty had we not passed  a beat up sedan that was missing a front headlight. Whether it was abandoned on the side of the road or parked outside of someone’s house remained to be seen. It only took moments for the GPS to break the tense silence with the news that our destination was on the right. As we passed over a single-lane cobblestone bridge and the tall pine trees cleared, I saw the lowly building.

It was a small thing, triangular in shape, with an air of 70’s nostalgic architecture. The A-frame of the place stuck out above all else and I noted the symmetry of the front door and the two windows flanking it. Above the door, creating the center line of the large letter “A,” there sat a concrete pad lined with a chipped white iron railing. A sad green plastic lawn chair sat on the porch, its presence was neither enticing nor intimidating to me.

The house sat back on a long stretch of dry, patchy grass that had been mowed too short. Other than the sparse green spots, there were no other trees or shrubbery on the property. In almost perfect 90 degree angles, the pine trees we had passed earlier framed the two-story thing in a perfect cutout that wasn’t a centimeter out of line.

“Oh wow, would you take a look at that architecture. The roof nearly touches the ground. That’ll make repairs a hell of a lot easier, “ my father said, using a line I’m sure he’d saved from all the times he’d visited this property over the last few months. “It’s like a tent in the middle of the woods. Maybe it’ll do you well to exist out in nature from now on!”

I groaned and unclicked my seatbelt as we turned onto the grassy lawn, bereft of a driveway. My father performed a U-turn on my new front lawn and backed the end of the truck up to the front door. Our manservant Hank had driven my mustang up from the house behind the truck with us. Dutifully, he parked it beside the truck in the grass by the small home.

“Ready?” asked my father, searching for a pair of gloves in the center console and glancing at me hopefully. I rolled my eyes in response and blew out a breath.

Resting on the door mat was a small yellow envelope with the words: open me on it. I thought it strange that someone would leave the key to a new home just sitting out like that, and then I remembered I was in the middle of pine tree city and it occurred to me that breaking into an empty house was a less ridiculous concept than being forced to live out here for an indeterminate amount of time.

I unstuck the tape holding the envelope closed and used the small silver key to open the lock. As the door creaked open on rusted hinges, the stale smell of a home that hadn’t been opened in months hit me. A few dried leaves and grass clippings followed me in with the gust of wind produced by the door.

I sneezed four times in a row before I could get a good look at the inside. Once I did, however, I noted that every surface was covered in a thin layer of dust.

As I walked into the space, a glance behind me showed that the thin brown carpet now held outlines of my shoes through a thin dusty layer. I stood In the center of a small room left relatively empty save for some wires poking out from a wall and a kitchenette comprised of few feet of tiled floor. An island counter separated it from the rest of the room and, against the wall and under a few doors of cheap cabinetry, an old white refrigerator, gas stove, and dishwasher stood. The walls boasted four windows total. Two smaller ones on either side of the front door, and two larger ones on either side of what I assumed was the living room. I could feel a draft blow in from the old lead-painted, things.

A steep carpeted staircase with no bannister jutted out to the floor from the ceiling on the opposite wall. Behind it sat a slightly ajar door to a full bathroom and beside that, a set of shelves built into the wall.

I dared to approach the staircase, leaving more footsteps in my wake across the carpet, and climbed the stairs just enough to see the second floor. No more than another open concept floorplan with a washer and dryer, unimpressive brick fireplace, more dust, and more of the thin brown carpeting. I hopped down from the stairs and scurried towards the door, creating behind me a cloud I could see stir in the morning sunlight streaming through the windows. My breath quickened and I launched myself through the front door.

“What’s up, kiddo? You look like you just seen a ghost. Don’t tell me we bought a haunted house for you.” My father chuckled, handing Hank a box from the truck to add to the small pile on the grass they had already established. I panted, my heart racing and stress overwhelming me. I simply could not live here. The simple thought of cleaning what was already here by myself caused my mind to race and my thoughts to darken. I glared at my father and stormed off.

I took a moment to walk around the wooded area directly behind the house. I did a lap or two through the gargantuan trees and was somehow able to find my breath again. I didn’t want the woods to calm me like they did.

I returned to my father, ready to tell him I would happily live somewhere else if it meant I could escape this nightmarish place. However, when I made my way back to the front of the house, he was closing the front door and removing his gloves. I stared back at the truck to see it completely devoid of my possessions.

“You’re all set! Enjoy the new place and be sure to let mom and I know when we can stop by for dinner. You’ve got some nice digs in there! Can’t wait to see what that modern art lovin’ brain of yours comes up with.”

I couldn’t do more than wave as he clapped a strong arm across my shoulder when he passed, then entered the driver’s seat of the truck, and drove off. Hank waved at me through the passenger’s side mirror as they turned back on to the main road and bounced over the bridge. I stood for a moment, attempting to rationalize the fact that my father had just left me on my own in the middle of the woods with all of my things and a house that was coated in a layer of dust I was now responsible for cleaning.

I stormed through the door, letting it slam into the wall, and kicked a pile of boxes that sat in the open concept living room beside my few items of furniture. I grasped a box labeled sheets and towels and tossed it across the room. It burst open and spilled its contents onto the dusty carpeting. I screamed, I wept, and then realized I was hungry. My eyes were puffy from dust and sorrow, my nose ran and I wiped it on my sleeve.  I glanced towards the sad kitchen and, as if by instinct I walked towards it expecting to find food. As I approached the few squares of tiled floor, I saw a few small brown bugs skitter away from the center of the tile to the underside of the fridge, stove, and cabinets of the island. My skin prickled with unease and I exited through the front door to vomit.

I sat crying for an hour on a yellowed patch of grass on the front lawn. The sad state I was in overwhelmed my senses and I felt helpless. After some time, the sadness, fear, and overwhelming pity I felt for myself became spite. I stood, cleaned my face of tears and mucous, and entered the house once more.

***

Three hours passed before I had one box left to unpack. I was sweating, covered in a thin film of grime, and desperately craved a shower. I was also starving, so I decided after unpacking the last box, I would make my way through town to see what food they had to offer. Black marker scrawled in haste across the cardboard told me the contents of the last box were pictures and art pieces. I had saved it for last intentionally, craving the beauty within to calm my anxious mind.

Once the box was opened, I arranged a few sculptures around the room, then laid out the wall hangings before their new homes. I reached for my desk supplies, fisted an assortment of thumb tacks, and pushed them through the drywall in strategic places around the living area. As I pushed the last tack into the wall beside one of the old windows, I spied a many-legged thing I couldn’t have dreamed up in my wildest nightmare slip through the crack of the panes and into my house.

I shrieked, and in a moment of panic, smashed my bare hand down on to the thing. It exploded in a gory display of red and purple mush that I wiped down my already filthy pants before standing back to examine the art pieces I’d just hung. I figured the natural next step would be to vacuum so that I could enjoy my creature comforts once I arrived back from whatever meal I was about to enjoy, so I ran the thing around the entirety of the brown carpeting, over the cheap plastic blinds and over the countertops. I even bent down to vacuum up those brown bugs I had spied in the kitchen, but they had disappeared.

Nevertheless, I smiled satisfactorily once the task was complete and took a moment to gaze around the space that, for the first time, felt like a home. A gurgle in my stomach reminded me that my kitchen was bare, so I grabbed my car keys, and began my search for food.

It wasn’t long before I found myself hunched over a greasy burger from a local diner. One perk, I realized, of living on my own, was that I could no longer be told that fast food was not an apt choice for dinner. Juice from the tender patty streaked down my fingers and wrists as I ate and once that was gone, I unwrapped the second, only pausing between the two burgers for a French fry or two. All the while, I itched at my skin, clearly irritated by the dust from my new abode. Red splotches broke out across my exposed arms and a spot on my neck. I paid no mind to it as I ate, but once I paused to digest the plate of food I’d just finished, the itching intensified, specifically around the palm of my left hand.

Once I had cleared my two plates of food and milkshake glass, I hastily made my way back over the cobblestone bridge and into my home, eager to shower the filth from my skin. Undressing as I made a beeline from the front door to the bathroom, I grabbed a forlorn towel from the slender linen closet and turned on the shower.

The tub, ceramic, claw foot, and deep, ran brown with filthy water for several seconds before the small shower head’s water supply ran through a cycle it clearly hadn’t in years. The water pressure paled in comparison to what I was used to, but I was so thankful to be rid of the layer of grime on my skin that I didn’t care.

I stepped out of the shower, dried myself off and took refuge on the futon in the living area. I sat naked on the thing and breathed out the stress of the day I’d had. I noticed the same itch tug at my attention once the cool breeze from the now open windows hit my skin and had acclimated it to the temperature of my living room.

It focused at my left palm still, so I took a closer look. A series of miniscule holes punctured the exterior layer of the skin on my palm. They were surrounded by red, inflamed bumps that had itched as well. Some clear liquid escaped the holes when I pressed down on them, and the itching sensation intensified. This was probably a reaction to the water from the shower. Who’s to say how long that had been stagnant before I used it.

I spent the rest of that day watching videos and television shows on my phone, still naked from my shower, not caring to climb the stairs to what I now called my bedroom for a set of clothes I no longer needed to wear since I was alone.

Suddenly, I woke with a start to the realization that I needed to use the restroom. I didn’t remember falling asleep, but today had been so stressful I wasn’t surprised that my body had taken control of itself. My new home was pitch back with nothing but moonlight to illuminate my way to the bathroom. I staggered towards the small room and flipped the light switch on, slightly blinding myself. As I used the facilities, my left hand caught my eye.

Darkened red, purple, and blue veins dug deep into my left arm, the small holes in my palm now festering and filled with puss. The outline of what looked to be a pod of small bumps beneath the layer of my skin on my forearm pulsed with each beat of my heart.

I blinked in the yellow bathroom light at the sight and squinted. I poked at the bumps and felt an overwhelming stinging itch as my skin recovered. The bumps were soft, squishy even. I witnessed a bump disappear and form into something that soon wriggled its way through one of the veiny passageways towards my palm. I felt a tingling, itching, pinching sensation as I watched its journey. Small wiggling antennae poked through one of the holes in my palm, causing a small pool of pus to form at its base.  Wriggling through the white substance with its legs and long body, a creature resembling the bug I’d squished earlier was soon sitting in my hand, staring up at me.

All breath left my lungs, my heartbeat quickened, moving the small bumps beneath my skin with every beat. I couldn’t focus on what to do next, because I watched more of the bumps fade away. My arm went numb as I watched multiple squirming bodies fill my veins and wriggle their way out into the world via the puss-filled holes.

They dropped from my palm onto the tile floor of the bathroom, scurried away under the sink and tub, some made the journey down my arm and across the rest of my body. They rested in my hair, crawled into my, now screaming mouth, and scurried across my naked body, itching, tickling, and stinging as they went

I closed my eyes, I took a breath; never mind the bugs that were now crawling into my nostrils. I turned off the light to the bathroom, laid down on the futon, and hoped that in the morning, this nightmare would be a distant memory.


Last Story: The End

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