Trapped I feel trapped... A flickering moth, abducted by the light in an eternal state of phototaxis A struggling rat, caught in a mousetrap gradually accepting the thought of death A cocky roach, appendages paralyzed by amber molasses feelers erratically flailing in distress A tiny ant, drowning in a pool of honey gulping every last, sweet breath of air A jittery fly, tangled in spider's web unwittingly preparing itself to be its next meal A busy bee, suddenly engulfed in green teeth while greedily drinking at its deceitfully sweet nectar A naive rabbit, snagged by metal cuffs wildly spasming with each attempted escape A fluttering butterfly, snatched in soft mesh impulsively flapping its wings to take flight A dangling fish, held proudly from angler's hook desperately gasping for atoms of air A restless dog, tightening its leash with each futile tug foolishly strangling itself to get ahead A tamed tiger, restlessly stalking its cage endlessly pacing, awaiting the day its at last released An imprisoned primate, thrashing about in its manufactured enclosure painfully aware of its dire and futile predicament thinking Let me out I want to live
House of 1000 Cockroaches
A Squirmy Short Story – By Cameron Brtnik
WARNING: This is a true story
Intro: The Cockroach
They’ve lived almost since the beginning of time; since life began on our planet, fish first walked out of the oceans onto land and grew limbs; through the Permian period, surviving the largest mass extinction the Earth has seen; the Jurassic period, living among the great prehistoric giants, and numerous ice ages, earthquakes, floods, and two world wars: cockroaches. Unquestionably the most disgusting, revolting and horrific of God’s creatures (although people delectably devour lobster, often referred to as “the cockroach of the sea” because of their bottom-dwelling nature; what’s the difference?).
What makes them so hard to kill? Perhaps it’s their crustacean-like exoskeleton that you can whack ten times with your shoe, causing nothing but minor scratches, merely teasing it, its flailing antennae mocking you at your pathetic attempt (they survived dinosaurs stomping on them for Christ’s sake!). Or maybe it’s their unwitting persistence, regardless of its environment, unnerved by human threat or shoes being hurled at them. Or it could just be their sheer number – 4600 species of roach in all – that ensures their survival. They can also, it seemed, survive any climate, hot or cold, dirty or clean, hostile or tame. Whatever the reason, I keep a healthy fear of roaches no matter how many unwelcome run-ins I’ve had with them. I still scream like a little girl when I see them. And I’ve seen cockroaches. A lot of fucking cockroaches.
Waiter There’s a Cockroach In My Soup
For years I worked at my father’s restaurant – a hub for cockroaches no matter how clean we kept it – and my father was a stickler when it came to sanitation and cleanliness. If there was even a crumb lying on the floor he would yell at the poor busboy that he wasn’t capable of doing his job properly. Yet everyday, for some reason, there would be multiple cockroach sightings. They usually ended up on the glue traps, meeting their sticky end. But sometimes they ended up in peoples’ soups. Even as the shocked and apologetic “this has never happened before” waiter, you can’t win that argument with the customer, and you just get’em a new one and hope they forget and don’t tell their friends. Word of mouth is 90% of your advertising; cockroaches in soups is usually not seen as a positive review. We scoured the kitchen clean till you could eat off every surface. My dad couldn’t figure out why or how they were getting into the restaurant, or the customers’ mouths. So one day, we took hammers to the walls and went to town. What we found was horrific…
They’re In The Walls
What looked more like termites in a rotted log, there were hundreds, probably thousands of cockroaches 1-2mm long swarming, a school of roaches, just behind the old wooden planks that hung on as a wall for 40 years. It was absolutely disgusting, far more horrific than anything I’d ever seen… So we did what anyone would’ve done in that situation: unloaded an armoury of Raid canisters into the walls like mustard gas in WW1. Clumps of cockroach carcasses fell to the floor, never to end up in a customer’s soup again. Thinking the problem done with, we patched up the walls and moved on with our lives. There was only one problem: the cockroaches kept coming. We couldn’t figure out where in bloody hell they were coming from! We finally came to a conclusion: they must be coming from the residents’ apartments upstairs. It was an old building with cheap apartments and it tended to attract shady tenants. But there was one in particular: Patricia, an old bag lady that was living on the dole, who we suspected was causing our cockroach problem. Part of her daily routine was to walk down to the local McDonald’s and collect discarded bags and drinking cups like they were Happy Meal toys. I remember feeling sorry for her. Anytime I “accidentally” ran into her in the parking lot, she’d go on about how she was waiting for her husband, who apparently played a mean trumpet, to return home…I only found out later that she’d been waiting for twenty years. Another peculiarity: she wrapped her legs in toilet paper to keep warm, even in the summer.
McDonald’s Bag Lady
We determined the reason for the cockroaches was not us, but in fact the filthy bag lady living just above our restaurant. There was an issue though: if we told her to clean up her flat she wouldn’t oblige, and would either act in or feign craziness (each indecipherable from the other I suppose). We were able to get the “sheriff” to lock her out of her own apartment, and obtained the legal right to enter her apartment. One day we broke the lock on her door, pushed it in, and what we found exceeds even the darkest recesses of imagination…
You couldn’t see the walls for the cockroaches…
A NIGHTMARE: a million cockroaches covering literally every square inch of walls and ceiling… It appeared as though the walls were moving, like a mushroom trip gone wrong. I had to look away, squeeze my eyes shut and open them again to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. Just as horrific: she had literally built a “garbage city” in her apartment. To get to the kitchen you had to walk through labyrinthine walls of garbage piled right to the ceiling, traces of McDonald’s bags used as part of the foundation. It was a scene from a movie; the next scene would inevitably be us getting attacked by an army of angry roaches, crippling under their sheer number, roaches getting in our ears, nostrils and mouths, suffocating, dying the worst imagined death. We all stared in awe (and sheer terror) for a long time. Then we went back downstairs, back to reality.
Fare Thee Well, My Cockroach
The next day Patricia came home (had she slept in McDonald’s?) to find herself locked out of her apartment. She started shouting and banging the door to get back in – I don’t know what she would’ve missed. The ambulance came and picked her up to take her to a “mental health facility.”I’ve never seen nor heard of Patricia since. I think of her from time to time, and hope she got proper help. The following day the landlord came and demolished the inside of her apartment. It took them a couple days just to get rid of the junk inside. By the end of he week it looked brand new: walls freshly drywalled, air acrid with the smell fresh paint, all ready for the new tenants to move in, never to have known the truth: their apartment once housed a million cockroaches.
Cameron is a writer based in Toronto and hater of all things creepy and crawly, big and small cbrtnik.com
A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
It was a well known fact that ants could lift up to a thousand times their own weight (actual research puts that at around a hundred times which is still an astonishing amount!) I’ve always had a slight unsettling feeling toward ants, not quite fear, but close to it. It was their hive mentality, similar to that of bees (God I hate bees). I live in a home with a backyard, which means that they invariably broke into my home daily in search of food and shelter. And everyday I could see them marching across the floor with crumbs of food dancing deftly above their tiny heads, the larger morsels being dragged behind them like luggage wheeled by a passenger at an airport. Imagine lifting a hamburger a hundred times your body weight – for me that would be a cheeseburger weighing in at an obese 18,000 pounds! I would typically stamp them out with my finger or toe, ending their short, hard life in a hundredth of a second; as if the finger of God suddenly appeared out of the clouds and stamped you out as you exited a McDonald’s, no time to reflect on your life, your decisions, or steal one last tasty bite of that delectable Big Mac.
One hot day (I had the aircon blasting in my one room studio apartment) I was eating lunch: a scrumptious ham and cheese sandwich I had made at home with a fresh loaf of 12 grain bread, and the ants were having their own feast at my feet. A miniature feast to my eyes, but then again what is the world but how every individual and living being views it? To the ants it must’ve been early Thanksgiving! It was like watching construction men at work; they were hoisting, lugging, carrying and transporting food back to their anthill to feed their gluttonous queen ant. Did you know she is the mother of every ant in her colony?! (What a succubus!) Watching these tiny workers, slaves, perform their labor always reminded me of Aesop’s famous fable The Ant and The Grasshopper – The ants busy from spring to fall foraging for food, whilst the grasshopper enjoys his life. When winter comes he has no food, yet the ants welcome him to feast with them, the lesson being, “work hard play hard” or something like that. I always looked up to the grasshopper, and his free-spirited, laid back view on life; the ants didn’t really experience life in my opinion.
Like the proverbial child burning ants with a magnifying glass, I enjoyed squishing them as they tiptoed by me, Jack trying to sneak by the giant, a costly mistake on their part. Some I would torture by dropping crumbs next to them, waiting till they pilfered their prize, then moving the crumb an inch away so they’d have to repeat the same exhausting routine again.. Ow! I dropped my sandwich on its plate and looked down – my left big toe started bleeding. What the fuck! I said out loud. I looked for the critter that could’ve caused such big bite – there! A large ant, clearly much larger than the rest, she did it, she looks like the queen (I thought the queen never left her dirt palace, which is why they lived up to ten years): her bulbous body was much bigger than her workers – it had to be for the breeding she did; one queen could produce up to a hundred million workers! I wondered if she could tell them apart… I stopped the bleeding with my napkin and used the same napkin to squish the queen before she could get away back to the safety of her sandcastle. I lifted the napkin to see if she was still moving – one of the bulbous sections of her body had exploded, ant guts smeared on the tissue, and I snickered to myself, satisfied I had my revenge. But she was still moving, thrusting her remaining upper abdomen forward, legs skidding left and right like she’d had too much ant wine (she was a queen and I imagined her loyal guards fanning her with grass and pouring sugar water into little goblets made out of clay). I had to give it to her; she was a tough little bitch, and I decided to let her hobble back to her hole and live out the rest of her days paralyzed, a crippled ruler, never again desired by any of her winged suitors or envied by her slave daughters, ha!
I went back to my sandwich and episode 4 of Game of Thrones (Season 6) and forgot all about the bite on my foot (do black ants bite? I filed away the thought for now). After about five minutes I could feel a throbbing in my foot. My left big toe had swollen up quite a bit, so I put some Neosporin on it and cursed aloud at that queen bitch. I lay on the couch, just getting into episode 7 (the joys of binge-watching on a lazy Sunday) and at some point I must’ve passed out because I awoke to the familiar theme song – daaa daaa da-da-da daaa da-da-da but I felt strange for some reason. It felt like something was crawling on me… I went to swat my legs and pressed down on something squishy. I was still half-asleep and imagined it being Jello, a cool, jelly-like texture…I slowly came to and suddenly my heart sank– it couldn’t be Jello! I was eating a ham sandwich– I looked down at my legs and almost spewed – my whole left leg was black like I had gangrene, but the blackness was moving… in a way that looked eerie, like hundreds of nano-bugs crawling, surging together as one… I let out an unnatural scream.. Jumping off the couch, swatting at them, just wanting to get them OFF OF ME!!! It seemed like hundreds (it seemed like a nightmare) of ants were on me, crawling over my leg like a stump, covering every inch of skin like molasses….
Swatting at them was doing nothing, so I had a thought: I could pour boiling water on them–no that would take too long to boil the water–I wanted them off me NOW!!! I ran to the cupboard, opened it and reached up to the top shelf to grab the Raid. I unleashed what must’ve been half the bottle and ants started falling off me like miniature rock climbers on an ill-fated mountain climbing expedition, trapped in an avalanche of poisonous fumes… One by one they fell away, and as I ran toward the porch door they left a trail behind me like breadcrumbs in the fairytale Hansel and Gretel. I leapt outside toward the garden hose, turned the handle and blasted them with forty pounds of pressure, the equivalent of what must’ve been a tsunami and typhoon rolled into one for those teensy fuckers. Almost all of the ants were off me now, though I could feel a few crawling around in my pants.. I stuck the hose down my crotch and blasted the remaining gnats off my skin. I started to feel better, but could now feel a throbbing pain across my entire leg. It felt like I was stung a hundred times and I could see scads of red bites with red swelling encircling each bite, each its own micro anthill, tiny active volcanoes….
I needed to cover my leg in ice immediately. I ran back into the house to the freezer, took out the ice cube tray, and popped every cube out into a plastic bag, quickly rubbing it all over my leg to soothe the (by now) excruciating pain, it’s cold temperature an ecstatic relief. I limped back to the door and bent down to see how the hell they were getting in. I noticed a small slit under the door, barley noticeable, but to an ant it must’ve been like a highway underpass. I got some tape and sealed it shut. The remaining ants indoors I took my revenge on, squeezing the life out of their black bodies, popping each ant like a blackhead on your forehead. That night I rubbed aloe vera on my body, usually used for burns, soothing the burn up my leg, cursing at those fuckers loud enough so they could hear me outside in their shanty hills. I had popped a couple painkillers and felt euphoric as I lied back on my bed, covers off, enjoying the cool air on my moist skin. I must’ve passed out quickly cause I didn’t remember falling asleep…but I awoke suddenly from a nightmare. I dreamed that I stepped into a giant anthill and starting sinking, ants slowly covering my whole body… I opened my eyes, but the room remained dark like the moon had fallen out of the sky. In my half-dream state, I thought I could feel my skin tingling, almost like my body had goosebumps, goosebumps that were spreading… Suddenly I had the horrifying thought that I didn’t just dream I was covered in ants– that I actually was covered in ants! I swat at my eyes and brushed them off so I could see…. I wished I had kept them closed…I started screaming like I was in an ocean being attacked by a shark. It was the only natural response to what I saw: my blanket had turned black, except it wasn’t my blanket – it was a living thing, writhing sheet of black ink, teeming with a thousand ants crawling over each other, seemingly unaware of each other’s presence…
At first I felt frozen, unable to move or even attempt to brush them off my body. Then the real world returned and I jumped up and started dancing frantically like my body was on fire (stop, drop and roll! my brain was telling me). I dropped to the floor and started rolling wildly around but I wasn’t actually contacting the surface, the ants acting as a buffer between me and the hardwood floor – it wasn’t working. It was like trying to remove an ever-tightening straight jacket that even Houdini would’ve struggled to get out if. I got the can of Raid and blasted myself. That was working; ants started falling off me me like dead skin. I was starting to get dizzy, inhaling the noxious fumes, but it was working. When enough had fallen off that I could see my clothes, I tore off my t-shirt and jumped in the shower..I’d deal with the pile of ant corpses afterward. The remaining ants on me were scalded by the hot water, like acid rain, causing them to writhe in pain as they plummeted a thousand feet into the pool of water at my feet, swirling around till they disappeared down the black holes in the drain…
By the time I got out of the shower, the survivors had made their way back outside. The remaining carcasses I swept up into a dustbin and flushed them down the toilet. I decided I was going to have to get an exterminator to rid of these fuckers. In the mean time, I would start the the extermination myself – I went out in the yard and spotted the anthill. I picked up a branch that had fallen off the tree and stuck it in the the hole, shoving it as deep down as possible, then tore up through the dirt until I had destroyed what was once a formidable sandcastle. I knew that there were labyrinthine tunnels below, so I went and got the bottle of bleach. I poured it down into the hole, imagining every ant getting bleached white till it dissolved their tiny fragile bodies, disintegrating into nothing… I could see a few ants emerging from the top, stumbling out of the hole like drunken sailors out of a tavern. I felt like a ten year old again, feeling a sense of pleasure torturing these motherfuckers. They deserved it! They attacked me firs– I stopped what I was doing. One ant struggled out of the hole (or what remained of it) and it was missing it’s lower abdomen… Damn she’s a tough lady! I thought. It was that damn queen bitch ant, somehow she was still alive… I could see how she was walking and it was horrific; there were two worker ants beneath her propping her up being used as legs, transporting her, keeping her mobile even with her disability… Although they were staggering now, losing balance, the bleach already dissolving their black guts like sulfuric acid poured on steel, melting them from the inside out… She lost her prosthetic legs but continued crawling, struggling over the top of the mound, trying to save herself…How is she still alive?? is all I could think to myself. I had an idea – I went and got my pliers, again feeling an overwhelming sense of delight that surprised even me (maybe all men felt the same, never losing their adolescence, their inner boy, harboring the same curious, sick, surprisingly evil tendencies… ). I found her halfway down the melted hill, struggling at every step, at every last breath… I trapped her in the plier’s prongs and said, out loud: I have the ant-idote for you (I know, a little over-the-top) and squeezed easily; her head popped, leaving just the upper half of her body, still jerking, until it too finally came to a standstill, the end of her reign, her kingdom overthrown by a man-boy, a violent coup…. What I couldn’t have known is that she had already laid a hundred million eggs just below my feet, all embodied with her genes, each encoded with one mission: To attack when ready.
Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things weird and creepy cbrtnik.com
A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
Inspired by a trip to the Honey Museum in Yunlin county, Taiwan July 31, 2016
The bees….the bees were everywhere…and the Venus flytraps…
The trip started out innocently enough.
We went to the Honey Museum for our grade 5 class trip, led by Mrs. Shea. I brought my favorite Jose Canseco bat (at least it was signed by Canseco. I didn’t care either way; I could hit consistent homers with it over the schoolyard fence). I would randomly swing it in the air, pretending to hit balls out of the park, and sometimes – I always felt bad about this later – I hit butterflies as they lazily flew by me, unaware of their impending, disorientating death. We knew that an “educational field trip” really meant “another boring museum”, but it was always a welcome opportunity to miss school. As soon as the “bee keeper” (pfft yeah right, more like an overzealous honey saleswoman) led us on the sure-to-be-a-snore tour of the beehives, Jason snuck off down the hallway, and like loyal servants we followed: me and Robby, all the troublemakers in class, no doubt. Even though Mrs Shea had a watchful eye on us, she couldn’t possibly watch every kid in the whole class, 32 students in total.
We darted down another hallway. The first thing Jason did was open the fire exit – you know the kind that say ALARM WILL SOUND: Only open in case of emergency. Of course, Jason pushed it open with little affair. It led into another shorter hallway, and to another door that read WARNING: Employees only. “Jason, are you sure we should go in there?” “What are you, a pussy?” That always worked. We headed in after him. The first thing that hit us was the overwhelming noise of buzzing: a million tiny wings flapping at once, causing the air to fill up with an almost solid, palpable (even malleable) noise, and if you were to wave your hand in the air you could somehow control it, affect its path. I had to cover my ears for a moment. When my ears adjusted, we moved slowly into the hive – or hives in this case – deafened by the angry buzzing surrounding us from every angle like a perpetual falsetto choir singing with their lips pursed tightly together; A thousand – no a million remote control helicopters buzzing around in the air. I wasn’t afraid– okay I was a bit nervous is all, but you would be too if you heard what I heard at such close range. The bees looked like they were feeding on something (isn’t that what Mrs Shea called pollinating?). I could see these flowers in their glass-enclosed fish tanks – that’s really what they were, the bees a thousand flying minnows – but they certainly didn’t look like any kind of flower I’d ever seen, not in real life. “What are those things?” Robby asked in a curious, but cautious tone of voice. “They’re not flowers, they’re called Venus flytraps,” Jason confidently stated. “I saw’em in a National Geographic once. They eat flies..or anything they can fit in their mouths (is that what they were, mouths?!). “Oh yeah,” I said, pretending to be cool, but suddenly feeling nervous and scared being in this off-limits room for staff only. I’d seen them too in movies, but I always thought they were fictional, like some baddie out of a Super Mario Bros video game. We certainly didn’t learn about them in Mrs. O Brian’s biology class. I just realized something: The bees definitely weren’t eating – they were pollenating. But I thought they only pollenated flowers… Suddenly I heard a loud SMASH! and looked in time to see Jason pulling off the lid (in his guilty pleasure kind of way) to the glass hive, letting it fall to the floor. “What’d you do that for?!” I exclaimed in shock, probably letting on a little too much how scared I really felt. “What are you, a girl??” That usually worked. Not this time. “That was real smart brainiac! Now the bees are gonna get out…–but it already happened. In what seemed to be no more than ten seconds, Jason’s entire right arm was covered with bees. The rest were swarming him…. I suddenly thought of that scene from My Girl where the kid (played by then child superstar McCully Culkin) gets stung by a hundred bees and was allergic to them and died. It was the first time I cried in a movie.