The next morning, Pamela knocked on her daughter’s door. “You up, Hon?”
“Don’t be late. You know that gets you in trouble at work.”
The younger woman only emerged from her bedroom when Pamela was half way into making breakfast. “That’s smells good.”
“Don’t think you’ll get salmon and eggs for breakfast every time you sleep in.”
Pamela noticed her daughter scratching her crotch as she walked. She stopped scratching when she sat at the table.
Adeline shrugged. “A little. It’s okay.”
They ate and talked about a television movie the daughter had watched the night before. “It was real scary with rats!”
“You know scary movies give you nightmares.”
“It didn’t last night. My new friend keeps me safe.”
“I’m glad you like her.” Pamela had skipped waiting for a bus, to skip into a shop and buy the stuffed opossum two days earlier. It was worth being a little late for work. Her boss wasn’t a dick about such things, unless it kept happening. She smiled at her daughter.
“After the movie, I was afraid of her, at first, but she just stared at me until I thought she was silly.” The imagination of a mind like Adeline’s wasn’t as rich as a child’s, but it did not lack for creativity.
“I told you it wasn’t a rat.” (well, mouse)
“Oh, no, Momma. She’s not.” She dug into her food, and they finished their meal without rushing, chatting occasionally. Adeline wasn’t a chatty person. Her mother was thinking about her night of employment ahead.
Together they cleaned up the table and washed the dishes. Pamela remembered to empty their compost basket in the apartment’s downstairs bin. Adeline retreated to her room. A couple hours later, Pamela stepped off of the bus in the city’s stinkiest industrial district.
Army jacket man wasn’t at the stop. A worker in jeans and a dark shirt was. She waited for Pamela to leave the steps, before boarding.
Pamela walked confidently to the “Show Her” club. The homeless man had acted reasonably in the face of those scary large bugs, but her mind associated him with their danger. She chided herself for judging the man on his looks and the strange situation irrelevant of him.
The first roach struck after a block of walking. It smacked seemingly blindly into her shoulder. Growing buzzes alerted her to the coming swarm. She looked for an alcove to duck into but the streets were lined with fences sporting razor on top or outward curved spikes. There wasn’t even a guard booth at an entrance. She ran covering her eyes with an arm, watching the sidewalk to keep her direction.
Twelve bugs bounced off her jacket and pants before she reached the second street. Again, no hiding places! When the bulk of the swarm struck, she dropped to her knees and curled up trying to protect the front of her body.
They were everywhere, diving through gaps or crawling across every inch of her body. She began sobbing, terrified, impotent, eyes shut tightly. They smelled ghastly. The deep, resounding, collective buzzing rattled her nervous system. She screamed when claw after claw scrambled across her face! One darted into her mouth. She choked but coughed the horror out and clamped her lips, chest heaving with sobs. They were climbing into her clothes!
Pamela’s self-preservation kicked in, preventing her from losing conscious and surrendering to the swam. Blindly she stuck her hand into her purse and felt for a small bottle. Gripping tightly and pulling it out, she flicked off the protective top and pressed. Pepper spray fanned out in all directions as she swept her arm around!
The reaction was instantaneous. A hundred roaches launched from her collapsed body! They returned to the swarm just as the cloud’s core buzzed furiously past. Several of them, struck squarely with the stream of capsaicin, died flailing on cement and asphalt. She kept spraying until it emptied, her clothes ruined, her face and eyes burning. Even shut, the powerful irritant had seeped in. She continued sobbing, but her heart took some relief. Bugs remained which acted immune to the spray but only a few. She brushed away the ones she could feel.
The cloud of roaches was down to a few impacts per minute. Her mistake was to jump up and resume running. Adrenalin roared through her senses, but the abrupt lurch to her feet, drained blood from her brain. She collapsed back to the sidewalk.
Someone was riffling through her clothes. She gasped and woke up, swinging her fists.
Army Jacket Guy ducked away. A crushed roach fell from his filthy right hand. “I’m sorry!!”
For long seconds, Pamela didn’t know where she was. She sensed movement, chitinous claws treading clothes which stung her skin. They were unbuttoned and unzipped! Her mind collected itself back to something of a panic. “I’m calling the cops!” She felt around for her purse which was no longer on her.
She looked around but didn’t recognize her surroundings. It was a fenced yard. Concrete weights lay in ordered rows and columns. She lay between four of them. The man ducked behind one.
When a bug, the size of pill bottle, emerged on Pamela’s bare belly, she shrieked and knocked it off! Its wings shot open, and it flew upwards. She felt frantically around for others, hands sweeping through her clothes. This was what the man had been doing – at least for starters.
“You gotta say it, Lady, or I won’t help you.” Army Jacket man huddled nervously behind the huge cube of cement.
“Help me!” Pamela tugged off her jacket and blouse simultaneously. She wore a sturdy, black bra. Behind her white blouse, customers could imagine her tits available for fantasies about her. She wrestled with pulling her slacks off of her butt, discovering that she should have unbuckled her red sandal, high heels.
“Lean forward. There’s one on your back.”
“AAUGGGHH!!” Pamela yelled, not terrified anymore but strongly disgusted. She felt the man pry the bug from her spine. She found one in her left pant leg and ripped it out, hurling the bug as far as she could. She heard its wings flutter and fade.
The man crushed the one he’d removed.
Finally she kicked off her shoes and shucked her pants. She dared to stand up, grabbing a cement block for support, not rushing. Pamela stood in black lingerie before the homeless man. His eyes scanned every inch. His expression remained anxious. He wasn’t scoping her out except for roaches. Pamela swallowed a lot pride then. “Th-thank you.”
“Turn around and spread your arms and legs.”
She complied, but he didn’t mention any bugs. She asked, “Where is this?”
“It’s a cement proving yard. There’s a lose bottom edge of the fence. He pointed. I snuck through it before they came.” The classic chain link fence couldn’t stop individual roaches, but it must have forced most of the swam to fly around it. The blocks made excellent cover from any bugs which careened through the links.
“Did you see my purse?”
The man gulped and went to a nearby block. “If you’re gonna call the cops, I’ll run. They’ll think I attacked you. Please tell them otherwise.” He picked up the purse and handed it over.
Pamela took it. “Sure. Is the worst is over? Tell me it’s over.” She began checking its contents. Only the pepper spray was missing.
He sniffed the air before answering. “For tonight, yes.”
Awkwardness sprang between them.
“I’m Pamela.” She considered offering a hand but thought better of it.
“Jurgen, Ma-am.” He gave a brief wave.
“How do you know about these things?” Pamela remember him claim that they weren’t cockroaches. He’d yelled they’d ruined his life!
He looked at his feet – fell silent.
“I shouldn’t pry.”
He shook his head, agreeing.
Pamela picked up her coat, separated the white blouse from it, and turned it inside-out twice, shaking it each time. No bugs. She examined her blouse just as thoroughly. One bug, trapped in the sleeve was eager to leave when exposed to the air. She grimaced and shuddered. “Is this going to happen every night at dusk?”
“I don’t know. The swarm is growing, but they aren’t adapted to North American predators. He pointed up. She understood then that he knew a lot about the possibly, invasive insects.
Several crows swirled in the sky. The bugs were large enough, in some cases, to be seen dangling from their beaks. Black wings contrasted well against the twilight sky. They were having a feast. The man said. “When it’s fully dark, bats will continue the hunt.”
Cringing, Pamela put the pepper spray stained blouse over her arms. It stung her skin but being naked stung worse. She buttoned it up and then began investigating her pants.
“Why are some huge and others small?”
“They have a complex life cycle. Most insects have three stages of maturity. These ‘sectoids’ have seven.”
“Sectoids?” It sounded like stupid, sci-fi gobbledygook.
“Sorry, it’s a silly term. I made it up, hoping my colleagues would laugh off my mistake.”
Pamela avoided saying what was now obvious. The man before her had introduced the species into the states. It had likely been an accident, but it had ruined him professionally. “Where are they from?”
“The swamps of Iraq. They were barely thriving there. I was supposed to be looking for weapons of mass destruction.”
“That would have been decades ago.”
“Hey.” His sour face lightened. “Only two. I’m not that old!”
“Wer- um, are you a insect specialist?”
“No. Not at all. I’m a chemist.”
“Then why?” Pamela edged around the truth.
“They emit a strange gas, like a stink bug. The local, Islamic confederation told superstitions about them being fertility totems. A lot of bugs have that association – locusts, bees, scarabs, all over the world. I wanted to examine the gas, but there wasn’t a proper lab anywhere nearby. It was a chaotic time.”
She’d heard that a million people had died, resulting from a war which had yet to fully end. At least the US had mostly pulled out.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Just avoid this area until nature catches up.”
“I have a job and responsibilities I can’t shirk.” Pamela stepped into her thrice searched pants and pulled them up, zipping and buttoning them.
He turned away, likely fuming.
She put on her shoes and then crawled out under the fence. Her clothes were already ruined – to the tune of four hundred dollars. She texted her boss and sent a picture of herself. “Shit happened.”
“Gods! We’ll manage.”
Pamela followed crows to the bus stop. When darkness fell, she heard tiny shrieks in the air. The bus arrived every hour after 7pm. It was nearly eight when she boarded. Then, bus to bus to bus, she made her way home, slightly amused that other riders kept their distance.
Pamela called the house phone and told Adeline she’d be home early. Adeline was delighted!
She reached the front door to her apartment well before 11pm. She took her time unlocking multiple locks and deciding what she would tell her daughter.
“Momma!” The happy word slipped through the opening door.
“Step away. Go to the kitchen, Sweetheart. Momma smells awful and doesn’t want to get you dirty. I’ll wash up and then hug you.” She promised.
In the bathroom, Pamela untied her hair. Two roaches, stuck together like a fat but short cigar fell out, hit the bath rug, and separated. They scrambled to find darkness. She shrieked and stomped the slower one! The other disappeared under the sink cabinet.
She didn’t dare investigate. It was too late to buy bug spray. She’d do it in the morning. Her hair smelled awful! She took a shower. Maybe there was a hungry mouse in the walls that would end the escaped Sectoid.
…to be continued…