on November 10, 2010 in Horror

The first time he saw one, it was crawling across the new tile in the kitchen. He’d gotten up from bed intent on getting a midnight snack when his tired eyes caught a glimpse of movement. The thing’s ruddy little body barely showed up against the brick-colored floor. If he hadn’t happened to cast his gaze downwards while it was just finishing up wriggling across the gap between tiles, he might have missed it.

He stepped on it, of course. This was what one did with bugs, particularly in the kitchen. Particularly if it was a pest like an ant, not something beneficial. It looked like an ant, though it was hard to tell with its body all smashed up. He had only begun to wonder at a single ant found so far from any window, door, or even an externally-facing wall when he spotted a second one coming up about a foot behind it. Intact, it looked a bit less like an ant. It was ant-ish, but… squarer. Everything about it, its abdomen, the shape of its head and mandibles, its legs, were more regular and angular than an ant’s body.

Termites? he thought. That was what popped into his head when he thought “like an ant, but not”, though he couldn’t say they looked like what he pictured when he thought “termite”. As he squished the second one, he made a mental note to look up what termites looked like, because where there were two there could be others…

And in fact, there was a third one trundling along about half a foot behind the second. He stopped to look around and see if there were any others… and saw that the first one he had stomped on was up and moving around, and the second one was sort of pulling itself back together. He had seen some tough little bugs in his days, he had seen spiders and insects survive smashings that he was sure would have been fatal, but this was something else again. The squished torso looked like it was re-inflating itself, the legs and antennae were straightening themselves out… and now that he was looking at those legs closely, he realized that they couldn’t be termites. Termites were insects, like ants, and that meant six legs. This thing had four pairs… four pairs, and a stray one in the back. Nine legs? He looked back at the third one to make sure he wasn’t just seeing some lingering result of damage to a tail or stinger, but the third one also very clearly had a ninth leg in the rear, articulated and supporting weight and moving with the rest.

He realized that while he’d been staring, the first bug… if it was a bug… had almost reached the base of the kitchen counter. He didn’t know if it meant to climb it or vanish beneath it, but he wasn’t about to let either one happen. The soles of his slippers weren’t exactly hard, so he stomped it and then ground his foot against the floor, twisting and dragging to make sure the bug was mangled. When he lifted his foot, not only were bug parts spread across the tile, but there was a noticeable yellow-and-red stain on the bottom of his slipper.

He repeated the process to the second and third, then got a paper towel and cleaned up the mess. It was disconcerting how much the central masses of the smashed bugs managed to twitch. He was no longer interested in a midnight snack, and went back to bed where he slept fitfully.

It was still early in the morning when he got up and decided to do a search on the internet to see what exactly his nocturnal visitors had been. The image of them was already jumbled up in his head. He went to the kitchen trash can, intent on fishing out the paper towel and seeing if the remains were recognizable enough to aid in identification.

Then a pair of images came to him: the way the abdomens of the bugs had twitched following their destruction, and the way they had pulled themselves back together following his first attempt at killing them. He opened the garbage can and quickly tied off the bag, then rushed it outside and down to the curb with the trash he’d left out the night before.

When it came down to it, he really didn’t want to know that badly.

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