I decided to get the ball rolling on the whole art through pain thing that I'm trying to do over here, so I'm sharing a short story I wrote inspired by my experience with bed bugs. Please offer any feedback in the comments area.
By Bugged Out
Despite the cozy dimensions of my bedroom I still have a hard time chasing the tiny beast. I slam the toe of the sneaker three or four times where the bed bug is, but it continues to flee after each attempt. It climbs up the wall and slips behind a large piece of furniture. I crouch nearby, waiting for the intruder to come out from behind. I remain still and listen, as if waiting to hear tiny footsteps but my tense, nervous breath is the only sound I hear. That, and the tiny red bumps on my legs and arms that itch so badly they almost seem to make a noise of their own.
If I were a Cherokee in colonial North America or a Bushman in the Kalahari, this position would be appropriate for hunting an enormous, ferocious wild animal like a bison or lion. But here I am, a slightly freaked out New Yorker crouching in an apartment in Queens, pledging death to a weightless creature no bigger than the nail on my smallest finger. Despite its tiny stature, their presence brings on a psychological attack most of us cannot stand. At least roaches run away from you; with bed bugs, it’s you they’re running after. A hunter that waits for its prey to sleep before sitting down to a supple blood meal. The itching, the sleepless nights, the itching, the antiseptic scrubbing rituals, the itching, the fear of friends and family finding out, the itching, the throwing out of furniture…did I mention the itching?
My knees grow weary from being in this position, so with no sight of the beast I stand up and consider the hunt a lost cause. I return to my bed and to my book only to see five minutes later another bed bug, or perhaps the same one from before. I spring into action and on this attempt, successfully slay the tiny beast. I lift up my sneaker to see the tiny corpse flattened and pressed into the treads of the rubber soles. I warily prepare a wad of toilet paper, half-afraid the insect may come back to life and extract its revenge upon me. Allow me to better explain the source of this fear.
Sometimes, when hit with an object such as a sneaker, you find the beast’s seemingly lifeless body underneath, as still as a spot on the floor. Confident in your success, you turn to grab a tissue to pick up the corpse. In that fraction of time in which your attention is turned elsewhere, the bed bug “comes back to life” and scurries away. Although the insect may have simply been stunned by the blow and not killed at all, it is this illusion of immortality and/or invincibility that, along with the whole blood sucking thing, strikes fear into the hearts of so many humans.
Though this beast is now nothing more than a hairy brownish-black paste stuck to my sneaker, the fear of its possible immortality is still present. The hairs inside my nostrils stand on end as I smell its distinctive musk. I’m not sure whether it is a pleasant aroma or a foul odor; the scent’s instant association with bed bugs has already turned my stomach a bit. I quickly scrape the remains off with the tissue and rush to the toilet to flush it all down. My paranoia wouldn’t let me throw it in the trash and risk it coming back to life, crawling out of the trash can and seeking revenge.
It’s encounters like these that truly make me question the superiority of the human species. How great can humans be if our confidence and sense of security can be blown away not by an attack but by the mere presence of a creature, on average no bigger than a fingernail? Dogs and cats, which we consider to be lower than ourselves would never panic at the sight of a bed bug. Even a well-fed pet would lick its lips in delightful anticipation of trapping any insect in its jaws and enjoying a light snack. Ironically these are the same animals we allow to lick our faces.
All these thoughts about bed bugs have caused me to forget all about my sordid little murder mystery. I climb back into bed and resume flipping through the pages of my book. Suddenly, I feel something crawling up my leg. In reflex I jump and wildly fling my leg from side to side. The beast flies off and onto the floor, fleeing faster than most bed bugs I’ve seen in a long time.
Grabbing my trusty sneaker, I slide off the bed and give chase. But it’s too fast for me, slipping into an air vent. My paranoia blazes outside the realm of logic. Could the beast I assassinated earlier have swam back up the pipes to my toilet and charged towards my bedroom, vengeance in mind? I soon shake off the fear, give up and resume once more to my book. A few seconds later I feel the faint weight of tiny legs on my left thigh.
I react the same way I did before, shaking myself wildly as if in a seizure. I look frantically at my immediate surroundings, but the beast is nowhere to be found. As soon as I calm myself and lie back down, I feel three more bed bugs on my back, making me jump. I try to shake off and kill the beasts, but they, too have vanished.
It’s then I realize I am being attacked by the one creature more menacing than a bed bug. The imaginary bed bug, born in a nest of sheer paranoia. With my biological alarm system set on high sensitivity, my senses are plagued by the onslaught of countless imaginary bed bugs, crawling on any given part of my body at any time.
I spend the next half hour sweeping up and down my torso, legs, arms and even my privates with my hands, “feeling” the beasts’ presence. Although the book is right in front of me, I don’t think I’ve read more than a page since my first bed bug sighting. Convinced that no more reading will be done tonight, I put the book aside and force myself to go to sleep. This only fans the flame of paranoia that burns inside. The absence of bright light leaves me vulnerable to those bed bugs I cannot see.
The imaginary bed bugs continue to invade me, but now in multitudes. I feel dozens of them in my hair, legs, arms and the rest of my body. They crawl on me, and I jump up, toss and turn wildly. I keep telling myself that these attacks are simply a figment of my imagination, with little success as my paranoia rages on.
Suddenly I jump out of my sleep and to my horror, I find myself covered with bed bugs. So many atop my body they must crawl on each other just to move around. My sight is impaired due to the bed bugs that squeeze in and out of the tiny space between my eyeballs and their sockets. They lay nests in my eyes, and millions of babies hatch, born trapped between my lens and retina. My body throbs with the pricks of hundreds of simultaneous bed bug bites, their sharp little beaks piercing through my insides.
I’m getting some imaginary bed bugs right now just writing this.
I try to scream, but my mouth is crammed with bed bugs. My tongue cannot even move, my mouth is so packed with beasts. The bed bugs find their way into every orifice in my body, even in the tiny slit at the end of my penis. I try to breathe, but my lungs are filled with them. I can feel babies being born down there as my lungs burn from lack of oxygen. The beasts crawl up my anus; I can feel them exploring my small intestine and stomach. I can only pray that the stomach acid dissolves them.
I feel the beasts swimming inside me. My brain, devoid of oxygen, breaks down. Everything goes black. Just before I die I feel the bed bugs tearing through my flesh before finally bursting through to the surface. Bloodstained beats spill out of my chest and stomach through the enormous crimson gash.
I wake up from the nightmare, flinging my body into an upright position, hyperventilating and eyes bulging. The imaginary bed bugs are still there. I shake my legs and arms at their touch before turning on the light. I pick up the remote and aim it at the TV set. Maybe a little 24-hour cable news will put me at ease.
Just nothing involving bed bugs.
Copyright 2009 Bugged Out