Black Petals Issue #97, Autumn, 2021

The Extermination
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A World of Sensations-Fiction by Michael Dority
Goddess Deva-Fiction by David Starobin
Hunting Ground-Fiction by N. G. Leonetti
Love Letters-Fiction by S. J. Townend
No Content Available-Fiction by Richard Brown
Phantom Smell-Fiction by Daniel G. Snethen
Predatory Peepers-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Visit-Fiction by B. E. Nugent
The Working Man-Fiction by Christopher Hivner
The Extermination-Fiction By Dominique K. Pierce
Win-A-Burger-Fiction by Glenn Dungan
Counting Time-Flash Fiction by Ramon F. Irizarri
Terry and the Techo-Frog-Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Epistolean-Flash Fiction by Harris Coverly
Labelled Rocks-Flash Fiction by Holden Zuras
Along Side of the Road-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Beneath the Weeping Willow-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Half-Life-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Liquid Darkness-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Lost-Poem by Carl E. Reed
Succubus Seductress-Poem by Carl E. Reed
The Crime of Frankenstein-Poem by Carl E. Reed
Brother's Keeper-Poem by Cassandra O'Sullivan Sachar
Razor Beak-Poem by Jessica Heron
The Fall of Vampire Hunters-Poem by Matthew Wilson

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Art by Keith Coates Walker 2021

The Extermination

 

 

by Dominique K. Pierce

 

          The cockroach skitters under the couch, away from her.

          Ana doesn’t make a sound, since no one is around to hear it. Fear is always part performance—if she was in the office, she’d let out an appropriate squeak, maybe jump a little, something to let the others know there was danger. It’s a neat evolutionary tick, keeping the herd safe. In the office, she would call up the janitor or ask Dave for help; this is called differentiation, specializing in tasks or abilities for efficiency. But Ana is alone in her apartment and she has killed by herself before, when she needs to.

          With a folded piece of paper towel in one hand, Ana uses the other to tilt up the couch.  The cockroach, suddenly exposed, scuttles in one frantic circle before her hand comes down on it. It crunches, a small spot of dampness soaking through the paper towel.

          Revolting, Ana thinks, her expression placid. In the office, she would scrunch up her nose to signal her disgust to others, maybe stick out her tongue.

          She carries the dead cockroach over to the trash—it’s not quite the size of her palm, but she’s always had large hands for a woman. Her sisters teased her about it growing up, and the joke caught on with her friends, as these things do. In public, she still walks with her hands curled into tight dainty fists or hides them in the pockets of jackets and skirts. It’s difficult for her to touch people, which is a bad handicap for a group-animal. Just look at the word. Handicap.

          It occurs to her that cockroaches are also group animals. This doesn’t mean they are social animals; there’s a difference, Anna knows that well.  She holds her breath, listening for any sound of skittering movement but only hears the distant sound of cars, the air conditioner, her heartbeat—which becomes louder as the pressure in her throat builds. Eventually, she is forced to inhale.

          Ana returns to her desk. Her phone call is still on hold. The musical jingle cuts out occasionally, reverting to static. She sits, crosses her legs, uncrosses them. The latest research shows that sitting with crossed legs for extended periods of time is detrimental to the lower back. Half-formed dust-mites cling to the bottom of her pant leg from moving the couch and she brushes them away.  Her leg jitters momentarily, uncomfortable and exposed. She crosses them again, feeling like her mother. Her mother had great posture. Her mother is dead now, but not because of that.

          You are a valued customer, we apologize for the inconvenience and will be with you shortly. The jingle repeats.

          Her desk is a lone island in a sea of boxes, most of which are still taped tightly shut. She can’t remember which one contains her box cutters, a mistake she will not make again. A shadow from the corner of one eye distracts her but when she turns to look, it disappears. Movement flickers under the couch, or maybe an errand shadow. Ana resolves to get box cutters and insect repellant spray at the hardware store before dinner.

          She’s meeting a man tonight for the ninth time, the same man for the ninth time. She crosses and uncrosses her legs, practicing her excuses. Oh, I couldn’t possibly show you the place until I’ve unpacked.

          This is called natural selection. The man doesn’t know it yet, but he is like the dead cockroach in the trash.

 

 

          Ana checks her empty poison trap again. She brings it right up to her nose, looking for signs of life, or rather, signs of death—a broken off leg maybe, a smear of roach blood. Her hands are shaky as she places the unmarred trap back in the gap between the oven and the wall, rattling loudly against the drywall until she drops it. She is beginning to pay for her caffeine debt. 

          She’s hardly slept. The cheap window blinds that came with the apartment let in too much light from the street; not static light, but chaotic moving city light full of car headlights, changing streetlamps, blinking antennae and storefronts, which tease her with flashes of skittering shapes, jerking her out of confused dreams in which the phone is always ringing from somewhere inside the fresh painted drywall but no matter how closely she follows the sound, how many holes she cuts open, she can never find the source.

          We are experiencing a higher than average wait time. Please stay on the line to speak with the first available representative.

          Ana turns her phone on speaker, places it on the counter beside the sink and dons the stretchy blue gloves she bought along with her new box cutter and the half dozen gallon jugs of battery acid from the local hardware shop, now mostly empty.

          She hates seeing them like this, but can’t afford to look away as she pours. Frustrated with how weak and ineffective the store-bought liquid was, Ana had forgone trying to sleep last night in favor of making a sulfuric acid concentrate, boiling the water out of the battery acid over the stove, a shirt tied over her nose and mouth for protection. Her small studio had immediately filled with fumes, burning the vulnerable mucus membrane of her nose and mouth, continually filling her eyes up with a protective film of tears but she had refused to open the windows. Maybe the fumes would do what the poison traps and draino couldn’t, and besides, she didn’t want any of her neighbors to come knocking.

          That was one of her mother’s first lessons. Don’t alert the neighbors.

          Your call will be answered in the order received. Thank you for your patience.

          Her hands spasm, splattering acid across the bottom of the kitchen sink. It hisses on contact, mixing with the puddles of soggy food scraps, bubbling up with a pungent sour odor. The area around the drain begins to deform but she keeps pouring.

          During the day, cockroaches haunt the moist drain pipes of infected apartments, hundreds or thousands of dark scuttling bodies crawling over each other, fighting, breeding, eating their own dead, waiting for the temperature to drop, for the quiet of night. She’s heard them down there, her ear pressed to the sink, heard them moving around, heard their anticipation.

          They’re in the walls too; she’s followed the sound of them, crisscrossing the apartment, her ear and an acid-soaked rag pressed close. It leaves charred streaks, stripping paint and drywall to expose the guts of the building. Occasional potholes mar the trails where she’d jabbed inward with a bare elbow or knee, certain of catching one but they were learning, keeping one step ahead of her.

          She’s grateful that she doesn’t have to worry about calling in to work on top of everything else. The human brain, despite two hundred thousand years of evolution, is a sequential processing machine; multitasking is a myth. For optimal results, the human animal must do one thing at a time. In her head, she apologizes for the scene she made on her way out of the office, it really was the best for everyone.

          We apologize for the—the words are interrupted by a shrill ringing. The man is calling her again. The unexpected sound startles her, sending flecks of acid across the linoleum countertops which chew through the plastic with a sizzle, leaving uneven dime-sized holes. The burnt smell makes her mouth flood with saliva, her stomach twisting into hungry knots.

          Days ago, in a frenzied insomniac rage, she’d thrown away all her food in an attempt to starve the roaches out. Ana realizes now that she will starve before they do, but it’s too late. She can’t leave her apartment anymore. They would take the chance to flood out, finding new weak-points to saturate, multiply in. They would run through her sheets with their thread-thin legs, pushing through the mismatched crevice of her dresser which won’t fully close anymore to wriggle through the folds of her panties, slick outer shell rubbing up against the fabric. No, she won’t let them. They are trapped here, together, until she wins, until she forces them out.

          You’ve got to kill them all at once, she knows. They re-populate. She can’t let even one of them escape to carry away the imprint of the whole family, the saga, the sin of them, a thread of DNA winding them together like garrote wire—not one of us ever quite scrubbed clean.

          Not even Ana, in her apartment, who carries the ghost of her mother around.

          The ringing cuts off, the static-y hold music mutes. Her ears ache in the sudden silence. The incoming call must’ve cancelled her ongoing one and she knows she should feel angry about having to phone in again, about getting back at the end of the line but it’s difficult to remember what was so important with the fumes making her vision shudder and swim. Only the insects feel real, a mass of heaving chitin shell, vestigial wings, flickering antenna somewhere beneath her. 

          Ana upends the rest of the acid, watching in satisfaction as the drain crumples, weakened, collapsing in on itself.

          That should do it. They won’t get her now.

 

 

          Ana stands naked before her mirror, her reflection contorting, trying to see everything at once. She can feel them, their bristle legs prickling against the back of her neck, through her hair, always just out of reach, always half a breath ahead.

          Everywhere she can’t see, she feels them.

          She can hear them, the clack-clack of their pointed feet on exposed floor now that she’s pulled up the carpet. The sound merges with the ringing of the phone, the occasional pre-recorded message. Thank you for your patience. She should turn it off, the better to hear them, to track them, but something, something she can no longer remember stays her hand. The phone call is important, she needs to get through. Is it the exterminator? No, she was calling her mother. Wasn’t she?

          Her attention wavers, re-directed by the sudden crawling sensation between her shoulder blades. She arches, back straining, arm twisting, claw-like, to rake across her back. Her nails, blunt and mannish, dig welts into the already raw skin but the insects evade her groping fingers.

          Her stomach heaves, a horrible sickening lurch.

          Ana freezes, looking at herself in the mirror.

          Of course. It all makes sense. It’s the only place left for them to hide; they must’ve come out in the night, when the sleep-deprivation and hunger made her black out for seconds or days, unknowable lost stretches of time. She laughs, the laughter making her stomach twist and shudder with their fear. They should be afraid. Ana unscrews the last bottle of sulfuric acid. Her reflection’s arms tremble with excitement, her body glistening with anticipatory sweat.

          I’ve got you, she whispers to them and then drinks.

          She drinks as her teeth dissolve into stubs, her burnt plastic lips dripping down her face, her laughter becoming wet bubbles as holes open up along her throat—but she drinks. Doesn’t even feel the pain of it, too giddy, triumphant. Because as it eats through the lining of her stomach, acid tearing her to shreds, they pour out. Thousands of burnt convulsing corpses. Thousands of thousands.

          They smell delicious; her stomach gurgles with a last shudder of hunger, spilling twitching bodies out onto the floor around her in spasms, a flood of soft impacts, like snowfall, a gentle waterfall of the dead.

          We apologize for the—“Hello, this is Jefferson Public Hospital. My name is Linda, thank you for waiting, how may I help you?”

          Ana reaches for the phone, a sigh of relief whistling through her lungs. It’s okay now, she tries to say. I’m okay now. Tiny bubbles of blood and spittle pop and trickle down her exposed chest. Ana smiles with her ruined mouth. In the mirror, she realizes she can hardly keep her eyes open.

          Hello?

          She realizes suddenly how tired she is, lays what’s left of her body among the piles of the dead, adding one more thrawn shape to the uneven sea, and presses her skin to the cool bathroom tiles. She can no longer see.

          “He-lloooo?” An impatient pause, and then click.

          Ana closes her eyes, and lets the threads of herself unravel.


Dominique K. Pierce is a queer German-American writer, filmmaker, and literary agent based in Seattle, WA. Her work has been featured in The Malahat Review, The WHL Review, The Bombay Gin, Stone Canoe, Miracle Monocle, and on KVCM radio. Her screenplay “Film School Musical” has won nine awards, including the Platinum Remi Award at WorldFest Houston.

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