He stood there and told the man, frozen in terror, that he wouldn’t feel a thing. Stood there, on two legs, six feet tall, same as the man wearing underwear in whose bedroom they both stood, and assured the man in his underwear that what was about to happen to him would be painless, and would probably be accomplished in about five minutes, depending on how still and cooperative the man was. He explained that the itch the man would likely experience in a couple of hours or a couple of days, perhaps while he was taking a hot bath or shower or standing in line at Starbucks, would be intense, possibly unbearable, given the comparable sizes of the two of them. For reasons he didn’t know and therefore couldn’t explain, he told the man, this wasn’t a typical scenario. Still, he repeated, you won’t feel a thing tonight; although it wasn’t exactly night, closer to morning really, but still dark. He told the man there was nothing he could do to avoid the itching, but that perhaps taking several large doses of Benadryl would mitigate the severity of the itch. He wasn’t exactly certain that it would work; he’d heard good things, though. He spoke to the man in perfect Standard American English. The man liked the voice and diction of the other. Despite his horror, the man found the other’s voice reassuring, like the voices of t.v. spokepersons touting the benefits of pharmaceuticals, the consumption of which he was told by other less reassuring voices could cause severe side-effects such as paralysis or death.
No introduction was needed really. The man recognized the other, and even knew his name: Cimex Lectularius, a name that might have belonged to a Roman soldier, perhaps the one whose spear pierced Jesus on the Cross at Golgotha. Cimex Lectalrius: he who pierces, the man mused. He made a mental note to research the topic in the morning.
Despite taking extreme precautions to keep Cimex from molesting him in his home – much as he’d done to keep the Jehova’s Witnesses away – Cimex had managed to penetrate his defenses and come in anyway. What precaution had he failed to take, what detail of his defenses had he missed or omitted, the man wondered, although not out loud. Even though he had rehearsed many times what he would do and say the moment a face to face meeting with Cimex finally arrived, such as “Die you fithly bugger!”, he was now in fact speechless.
Cimex Lectularius, or C.L. if one is initially inclined, clearly intended – no, perhaps that’s the wrong verb – too “pathetic fallacy,” the man thought, ascribing human characteristics to non-humans. Cimex was an insect, make no mistake – an insect that chain smoked cigarettes. American Spirits, in fact.
Contrary to how one would expect the man to react when an adult human-sized insect appeared in his bedroom, the first words out of the man’s mouth were not “Oh god, please save me from this monster!” but “Please put out that cigarette. This is a no-smoking house.” C.L. refused. “I can smoke anywhere I please,” he said. As arrogant as he is bold, the man thought. “You enter my house, uninvited, hide out, lurk – how long have you been here anyway? – until the dark, typically undisturbed wee wee hours of the morning, and then menace me with your intention – though perhaps biological imperative or insect instinct is a better description of your behavior – to inflict a so-called painless bite, or, if I fail to cooperate and remain still, serial bites – punctures in my flesh, first injecting a salivary anesthetic and then extracting my blood – my blood! – until your, your – hunger bubble is full, then retreating into some dark crack or crevice of my home, though I can’t imagine where an insect of your size could possibly hide without eventual detection (and extermination, the man thought but didn’t say). The nerve!”
Cimex stood perfectly still, American Spirit dangling from his mouth, smoke curling around his head, and announced in his pharmaceutical spokesperson voice, that he did in fact “intend” to, Bela Lugosi-like, suck the man’s blood until his aching hunger bubble was filled to capacity. He further explained that what happened next – defecation — was not something he intended but which would nonetheless occur, as it was a natural consequence of satiation and an act over which he had no control.
How did the man respond to that? Speaking of arrogance… Instead of rushing to his kitchen, opening the tool drawer and grasping the claw hammer that lay atop other miscellaneous DIY repair items he’d accumulated over the years, returning to the bedroom and using said claw hammer to smash C.L. to death while he had the chance – what did the man do? What did he do? He dismissed Cimex Lectularius as a figment of his imagination, a dream, a hallucination, Ekbom’s syndrome…a whatever in a world of so many waking and sleeping whatevers. The man climbed back into his bed, rolled over and waited to, as he imagined, rejoin some supposed dream state from which he could then awake. He could not. Could not because he was not and had not been asleep. He had in fact been standing in his bedroom face to face with Cimex Lectularius, insect not Roman soldier, and he was somehow still alive. And at that sudden startling realization, the realization that he was not and had not been dreaming or hallucinating, his heart stopped beating.
C.L., leaning against the door frame, drawing deep on his American Spirit, must have sensed the sudden diminished production of carbon dioxide in the room, because he became alarmed and scurried to the man’s bed. He immediately extinguished his cigarette and commenced CPR on the man, first with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (the man, despite his lack of consciousness at the time, would later recall his resuscitator’s foul tobacco breath and bloody saliva leaking from his mouth), and then pumping the man’s chest with the heels of his hands as if he were a trained EMT. His resuscitating skills were impressive; in no time at all he had restored the man’s heartbeat – and, using the man’s cell phone which he located on the nightstand, he called 911. He was a hero.
Was saving the man’s life an act of altruism? Did he, in fact, have a capacity for compassion not ordinarily associated with insects? No, he was too clever for any of that. What better place, he had quickly surmised when he weighed his options in the situation, than a hospital, to sate his appetite for human blood – all those bedridden, immobile, drugged, sedated, restrained hosts. Like shooting fish in a barrel. He would accompany the man to the hospital and feast forever. The only drawback to his plan that he could foresee was the ubiquitous prohibition against smoking in hospitals.
Tim Hanson lives in Santa Monica, CA and works as a substitute school teacher. His short story ‘Broken Bottles’ appeared in great weather for MEDIA’s 2014 anthology I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand.