This story appears in my forthcoming book A Creature Wanting Form available for pre-order presently.
What is that she said and he didn’t immediately answer so she said it again. What is that she said this time like a drum beat what is that kick snare crash and not comprehending the words themselves but nonetheless sensing the urgency of the tone like a dog can do he stood up and walked to the foot of the staircase and said hwwuha and she said come look at this and so he made his way to go look at it.
Just a minute before he had been swiping through a series of videos of birds that could mimic human language and each was more enchanting than the last. The type of thing where you'd go haha babe you gotta see this or text it to her so she’d think you were kindly and the bird is going like I’m Mr. Food Man and I love God’s Pure Light in that adorable uncanny way they can feint speech and therefore approximate a sort of imprisoned humanity. As if reporting the news from the bottom of a well.
In the last video he watched a crow was sitting there in a cage unable to fly or leave or do anything a bird needs to do to realize its birdhood and it goes Hi Joe.
You’d have to guess Joe must have been the fella taking the video.
Then the bird goes The Hangman is coming.
The Hangman is coming.
It looks into the camera like it’s staring right at you personally and just one more time for the road it goes The Hangman is coming in its tongueless bird tongue and the video ends after that.
The video was short so it never tied off the arc of whether or not the Hangman showed up. Eventually he will have made his way over there for Joe and the bird and everywhere else for every breathing creature you can only assume given how time and his job description works.
Hi Joe. The Hangman is coming.
Wait do birds have tongues or not?
Most of the birds you see in videos like that don’t say that type of shit. They usually go pee pee momma and that sort of thing. We’re a little baby boy and we wanted the worm for our mouth.
Give us the little worm for our mouth momma.
Then there was a news story about a five month old bar-tailed godwit that had been tagged and was tracked flying 8,435 miles nonstop from Alaska to Australia in a trip that took 11 days straight in the air and all of a sudden some other bird being able to give voice to a disembodied spirit wasn’t quite so impressive anymore. All birds are capable of summoning the eldritch but not all of them are jocks.
What is that she said using her phone’s flashlight like a private investigator with a comic book magnifying glass and having summeted and now standing there alongside he said I don’t think it’s anything. It looks like a mouse turd maybe.
How would a mouse shit up that high?
A dead little… moth larva maybe he said not knowing how he knew what the different strata of larvae were or if strata was the right word to disentangle them from one another species wise.
Look closer she said and he said baby it’s nothing let’s not do this right now ok baby? Being kind of a prick about it and then feeling bad five seconds later but it was too late to turn back. How the quality of the word baby can disintegrate in your mouth in the short duration of any sentence it bookends. He looked closer anyway and one of the tiny little maggots (?) was convulsing with the rhythm of his heartbeat one two three one two three one two three like skeletons waltzing and as a reflex he flicked it to Hell which was the wrong thing to do for numerous reasons.
Why did you do that?
I don’t know!
Now I have to find it again.
I’m sorry I’ll call a guy tomorrow.
He left her to her inspections and walked slowly left hand braced back down the stairs with his other arm cocking at the ready like a pugnacious cowboy itching for his holster and had the phone out in motion smoothing felicity as he flopped onto the couch and a moment later there for his eyeballs was a story about an immigrant who had died by suicide in a New York prison. The guard in his cell block had lied about having checked on him regularly the story said and in the interim the guy had scrawled on the wall a note.
Perdi mi memoria. No recuerdo nada he wrote.
I lost my memory completely. I don’t remember anything.
I leave you free he wrote.
The story said the man had had some sort of accident years ago some sort of trauma to the skull and hadn’t been the same since and had resorted to alcoholism to cope with that which is a very understandable response to trauma of any kind.
On another part of the wall he had also written mi esposa los amor and you can probably understand the bulk of the meaning there even if you don’t speak his language.
He swiped away from all of that and saw that Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers was released 25 years ago on this very day and thought about watching it later.
Wait I forget when did you find the first larva?
The first larvae.
The first moment was… well first I must tell you that we had been really busy for two weekends in a row so I didn't have time to do my usual sweeping and dusting and vacuuming she said.
The wedding in Maine.
Yes that weekend.
That was a nice weekend.
It was a very nice weekend yes. We saw your friend at the bar randomly and he seemed to be doing poorly but also fine.
That is about as good as you can ask for.
Well when I got around to cleaning I was sweeping upstairs in the bedroom and I swept up a pile of dust bunnies into what’s the thing you sweep into? The bin? You know what I’m talking about? The part that you sweep it into?
The tray. Not that. I don’t think that’s the word. Then I noticed a couple of little brown things moving around and looked closer. I thought nothing of it and killed them. Then I swept in the bathroom and the same thing happened. I saw a couple of gray brown guys moving. Then I cleared the whole house but in the back of my head I thought hm that’s weird I don’t usually sweep up bugs. The next day I figured I’d look into things more.
After sleeping on it?
After sleeping on it. So I opened the closet and inspected the top row of clothes. There was one of the little guys. Right there. In the back row where the clothes we never wear hang. All your shirts that don’t fit you anymore.
Sorry but you know what I mean. Tucked back in there was a blazer you wore at __'s wedding all those years ago. I noticed it had some yellowish wormy looking guys on it. It was completely eaten through with so many holes. You sang a song at their wedding. I just thought of that. So I started pulling clothes out. I had you go get a trash bag and I put it all in the trash bag. You know all of this why are you asking me?
I forgot what happened. I wasn’t feeling well. I don’t know why but I forgot he said. I’m not feeling very well now if I’m honest.
There was a hammering in the near distance. Chunk chunk chunk. They were used to the sound of the shooting range up the road so it was only momentarily distracting.
It’s just the gun people she said.
What was motivating this level of alertness on your part do you suppose he asked.
I have a very deep fear of infestations she said. Anything that involves an infestation makes me incredibly anxious. Staying in hotels makes me anxious about bed bugs. I guess that’s probably the best example. It probably goes to a control thing. Where I worry that there’s going to be a problem that I can't control. And uh this probably also has to do with control too because I’m OCD about things. There are certain things with cleanliness where I’m very compulsive.
I don’t really have that problem haha. I guess that’s not funny I’m sorry.
You’re compulsive but you have a different type of compulsion haha.
A truck was groaning outside and there was a thud on the stoop.
Did you order something he asked.
Yes she said.
What did you order?
Nothing she said.
In particular the thing that really bothers me about it is that these specific bugs can ruin clothing and rugs and upholstery and even furniture she said. My home is my heart. It’s the only place in the world I feel calm all the time. And like protected from the cruel world. And happy. And in my place. So the idea of not being able to control something that’s ruining my sense of order and safety in this world truly upsets me on a very existential level. I want to tell you something I’ve been reflecting on…
Well it’s my deep connection to capitalism.
It upsets me that I want to have nice things! That’s kind of weird to care about. That you have nice things without holes in them. Maybe it’s internalized misogyny. Keeping a nice home. I can’t really verbalize it but I know it’s in there. Inside of me. So contributing to that…
What’s the worst case scenario do you think for the larvae in terms of encroaching on your controlled space?
That they never go away! Obviously. That no matter what I do they never go away. Another reason it’s upsetting is what if one crawls in my ear when I sleep?
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I have to stretch my jaw open because I’ve been clenching it so tightly dreaming about everything I’ve ever done wrong he said.
I have to stretch my tongue all the time when I’m driving. Why are you saying that do you think a bug might crawl into it?
Do birds have tongues he said.
I think so.
That fucks me up for some reason but I guess it makes sense he said.
Yeah so bugs getting into my mouth is one concern of mine he said. I don’t mind swallowing a small bug he said. Often when I go for a run some little kind of flying guy will bungle into my open gasping mouth and it’s always a tough call whether to gag it out or to just say fuck it and swallow. It depends on how much moisture you have and at what point in the run it happens. If you’ve been sweating for forty minutes you don’t have saliva to spare. But I don’t like the idea of swallowing a bug that might not die instantly on the journey you know? Like an action hero bug or a spaceship type of thing where they navigate my esophagus and emerge covered in my slime and want revenge.
That could happen. You probably do eat spiders when you sleep. I’m not as afraid of spiders because their populations tend to be like normal. I just don’t like things that can infest. It’s about control but I think it’s normal to not want that.
I’d say that’s very normal.
Remember when we ate all those crickets in Mexico she said.
They were surprisingly good!
They were pretty good but I think it was like the whole thing of it. Being somewhere else and not wanting to not try things she said.
We stayed in a convent they’d turned into a douchey hotel.
And the people from Miami!
Oh god. The hotel was nice though.
It really was. I was going to say one of the most horrifying stories for me was some news thing I read from Australia she said. I think it was Australia. The whole town became mouse-infested and people just couldn’t get them out of their houses. They washed their blankets and when they took them out they found dead mice in there spun and heated in the water and folded into the fabric. They couldn’t get rid of these mice. Things like that make my skin crawl. I hate the idea of things I can’t get away from or clean up or control. It’s also the fear of the unknown. I like to know exactly what’s going to happen. I don’t want to wait and see I want to do something now and know. Hold on is somebody out there at the window?
No but let me look he said. No there isn’t.
Maybe it’s the people shooting. The shooting people.
It’s just the trash bins blowing over. I’ll take them in later he said.
Mice are like the last of their problems in Australia he said. They have like ten foot spiders and lizards that are basically monsters from space.
It might not have been Australia she said. It was some place in… I read an article about it a couple years ago. It keeps me up at night sometimes. What if that happens here? The woman who lived in this house before us was terrified of spiders did you know that?
No why would I know that?
You never listen to me. Our neighbors told us. To the point she had all the bushes pulled up because they had spiders in them. Big giant draping webs like you’d put up for Halloween but they were real. She’d have to call the neighbors for help killing the spiders because she was so frightened. They’d come over with whatever poison they had under the sink. We still have a fair amount of spiders here though. It seems like the spiders won that battle.
I know and I hate them he said. I don’t love a spider! Maybe we can sort of pit them against the larvae here? A kind of Godzilla versus Mothra type situation? Let nature take its course.
I don't love them either but more so I don’t like it when I see twenty of something. When they’re really good at producing eggs and multiplying that makes me feel crazy.
Did you see Heidi Klum’s costume?
Why? Oh because of the theme we’re working inside of.
I don’t love it but it’s more just funny. How do you spell Scarlet Johanson?
Scarlett Johansson. Two t’s two s’s.
So afterwards she took off the worm body and emerged like a chrysalis in another photo I saw. A vile monster blossoming into a run of the mill hot lady.
These hot bitches.
I know but she still had the face mask of the worm on. Like strips of raw bacon wrapped around her pretty face. It was like that movie you fell asleep for….
You have to narrow it down there.
Under the Skin with Scarlet…t Johans…son.
You would of course love that one.
It wasn’t like that.
Ok it was like that but not like that. It’s just such a quiet and slow movie. I’m never going to stop thinking about it. She’s this alien that is part scout and part hunter that scoops up dumb shits along the side of the road whose fatal flaw is being horny for Scarlett Johansson and needing a ride somewhere which are two universal human experiences.
I forget what she did with them.
Well we don’t know. Ate them I guess. Close enough to that. Like we do with pigs and cows I guess but the way the harvesting was rendered obliquely and stylized and sort of withheld in the film was so much scarier and imaginative than something gory would’ve been. Something where you actually could see what was happening. It’s much worse to not fully understand how someone or something is dying.
Wait why are you asking me all of this she said. About the larvae I mean she said.
Do you trust me he said.
I don’t think so.
You don’t trust me?
I don’t know.
He crawled into bed first that night which was the incorrect order of things and wrestled to drift off with the sound of the vacuum whirring and devouring downstairs. He listened in his memory to Low singing When I Go Deaf. Gradually at first and then suddenly the pills started to shave off the edges of everything like when you pinch in the borders of a photo on your phone and his body downshifted into its initial descent and the last thing he remembered was hearing a rustling in the closet. He thought of a nervous dog turning around and turning around before settling onto a cushion in its crate.
Did you ever watch a horror movie where it’s like a captivity scenario and they eventually show the fucked up basement with the green lighting where the characters are being kept in iron cages starving and shitting and bleeding and weeping all over themselves and the main girl the prettiest one they could hire for the role runs through and she’s bouncing off the walls in her tank top as she flees like holy fuck holy fuck and think I wouldn’t stand for that type of shit. Unlike these poor sons of bitches who made a bad decision you might think this is something I would not have let happen. I would figure out a way to forestall this evil done upon my person is what you might think. If not to ultimately abscond to freedom and have my vengeance if it’s fairly proved impossible then at least to puncture your jugular on the screw of the cage’s fitting out of spite. Fasten your own hair ripped from a shredded scalp into a noose.
That was one kind of dream.
I’ve been worried about my friend who’s been on the verge of self-induced oblivion for many years and thought I reacted poorly to his latest cry for help and it took me weeks to realize that it wasn’t that I did not care anymore but rather that I had cared for so long and so deeply that it formed a blockage in my chest and my tolerance equilibrium was thrown off its axis. How after you cry for an hour or two over a loss and then are like alright cut the shit. This caring isn’t going to thwart a single thing. Not one single thing will change due to this caring.
He stirred a few hours later and she had finally come to bed and the house was silent save for a faint panting. He stretched out his jaw and thought nothing of what might crawl inside of it.
The next day he called around to find a guy and the first one to say yes seemed decent enough so then here he arrived with his little canister of bullshit spraying it under the baseboards and everywhere. I’ve seen a lot worse the guy said misting this and that like you’d water plants but doing the opposite now not nourishing the living but sickening them instead.
As it happened the guy had recently purchased a home near where his family usually stayed in Maine and so they talked about that for a while trading references to obvious landmarks back and forth that neither seemed to recognize.
Near the church there? I don’t think we’ve ever been there.
Oh weird it’s right there.
It was unclear to him whether or not you’re supposed to tip a pest control guy and all he had was a baggie full of roughly twelve dollars in quarters but weighing his options and not wanting to seem cheap he poured them into this other man’s cupped hands feeling like a God’s Unique Asshole and thinking it would have been better to have just stiffed him instead of doing anything like this.
When the pest man left he looked out the window at his truck and saw some political bumper stickers that soured his impression of the entire ordeal even further. My affable demeanor and ability to display interpersonal kindness is hiding something much worse underneath one read. Man’s inhumanity to man is good actually said a second. A third was a Pearl Jam sticker and that was one kind of a toss up on what it indicated.
You should also ask me about the checking on how long it takes me to leave the house she said.
What are you talking about?
That’s a whole other thing related to how the bugs molest me. You don’t think they’re related? The longer we’re not going to be home the longer it takes me to leave the house. My worries about the house still being here in the same way we left it is a multiplicative relationship.
What does multiplicative mean?
What was that she said tracing an invisible flight pattern across the expansive canopy of the living room sky. Was that a moth?
I didn’t see it? I think you’re still just wound up he said.
Ah I know how that sounds he said. I’m sorry.
Multiplicative means like multiplied a few times as much she said. For every day we won’t be here it takes ten minutes to check the house to make sure it’s gonna be just like this when we come back. Like the amount of times I check the stove. If we’re going out for an hour I’ll check it once. Two days I’ll check it three times. Longer than that I’ll take a picture and check it ten times.
But the stove is never hot. It doesn’t turn on when we aren’t looking. It has never turned on by itself. A stove does not have agency baby.
That doesn’t matter. That doesn’t matter at all.
But it does baby.
I’m sorry before all of this you were trying to tell me about your therapy session she said. How did it go?
It was fine.
Well if you really care I talked about some dreams I’ve been having. She told me that she wasn’t a Jungian but that we could explore them a bit if I liked and I spent the rest of the time worrying about if she pronounced Jungian right.
Did she? Wait what was that? Outside?
Nothing. I don’t know. How would I know?
He went to look and there was a figure knocking on the door and the sound of children murmuring.
Is trick or treating tonight?
Oh shit she said.
But it’s not Halloween yet.
That’s how they’re doing it this year she said. As a precaution.
He opened the door to greet Spider-Man and his friend the fairy princess. Hold on kids he said. Hold on just a minute now we’re gonna get you something to eat.
Give us the treats they said.
So did she pronounce it right she asked after the coast was clear.
I honestly don’t remember. I forgot to look it up. I used to know that. I used to know so many things.
That takes me back to working in kitchens she said. Coming up behind someone with a hot pan and saying yanyo she said and they both laughed.
A little sing-song cadence.
So I told the therapist the one dream I have about being at the top of a towering edifice of one kind or another and being constantly aware of the hungry chasm below the entire time just never not aware for one second of the distance to the ground and increasingly in my fevered climbing how much longer the plummeting would take to be completed and the fear every moment that someone most often you would trip off the ledge and I’d be left to grasp onto your hand and pull you back to safety but I just cannot do it he said.
Did your therapist have an idea what that might mean?
Yes but I don’t want to say it out loud.
Wait what the fuck was that?
Just the neighbors. Their dog. Maybe the dog. The shooting people. The dogs and the shooting people and the kids in costumes he said.
Then there was the one about returning to my high school football team after being away for a year or two and it being a whole thing among the team that I was there no one entirely sure what to make of me and then after all of the build up I can’t find my helmet he said. Wait what are you doing are you looking for bugs right now?
I’m still listening.
I’m not going to talk to you while you’re bug hunting.
I’m sorry baby.
Baby I am also sorry. Did you see ___’s post about considering getting divorced so they could afford to have their baby? How their insurance was fucking with them so much that they couldn’t see any other way through it.
No. No come on.
What if we left the bugs be for now he said. There’s supposed to be an extraordinary moon out tonight do you want to go look at it?
Is your therapist attractive she said.
Is she hot?
No. God no. Can you imagine? What a nightmare that would be.
Do you want to fuck her though? Even though she’s not hot?
I don’t know. No.
She went off into the basement to look for a tool she was sure would be helpful in her pursuit of cleanliness and he made a good faith effort to scan the edges of the living room for larvae but couldn’t see any. He looked at his phone again and saw a video of Customs and Border Patrol agents shooting rubber bullets at migrants near the Rio Grande in El Paso and the people were all running away plunging back into the river because water even dangerous water is more forgiving than soldiers although there’s always a tipping point in that equation. The problem is when you are fleeing for your life you have to do the math so quickly.
All they wanted were some nice things he thought.
He went outside and sat on a chair in the yard when a bird alighted on the ground in front of him. It had been warmer than it should have rightfully been all week and the air felt like it had blown in from the wrong direction. The gnats and mosquitos were buzzing around dizzied and confused and unaware that they didn’t belong here. None of the correct things were alive at this particular juncture. None of these creatures were supposed to be alive.
He was waiting for the bird to speak or to do anything but sit there dumbly staring but it of course did not say anything it wasn't that kind of bird. He had this stupid idea that he could reach out and grab it by the neck. He knew it was impossible but he thought it anyway. That he was fast enough to do that.