by David Starobin
It was looking
intently at him. He
could almost see into the hexagonal soccer ball facets of its compound eyes. Certainly,
he could make out the shape of its body. Broad and flat and reddish brown and
no thicker than a razor blade. Because it hadn’t fed yet. It was waiting for
him to fall asleep. He tried to get his nails in there, into that little
fissure in the wood, to pull it out and squish it so that it couldn’t get him
and make babies that would infest his mattress. Because if that happened, he
would be utterly at their mercy. But the little bastard knew his intent and
retreated further into the depths of its tiny chasm. Not a bastard, a bitch.
This was a queen because she was broad and round. The males were longer and
more tapered. But the lone queen didn’t need a king to reproduce. All she
needed was a single blood meal.
checked the mattress, the folds of
the sheets, all the corners, the undersides of the bed frame. For eggs, blood
spots, fecal stains. Nothing. She was the only one. And they wouldn’t believe
him unless he could catch her. It was proof of his sanity on the line.
were usually kind enough to
give him a warning so that he could get himself situated before bed. But
apparently this guard wasn’t feeling magnanimous. The overheads abruptly
snapped off leaving him in the abyssal dark. He was alone in his bed. With the
When he woke the next morning
the overheads snapping on, he saw immediately that the Queen had left her mark.
In his experience they usually went for the belly, or an exposed forearm or
thigh, but since she couldn’t latch there through his orange pajamas, she’d
been true to her nature and gone for the neck. There it was. He could see it
through the cloudy piece of steel mounted in the wall over the sink that served
him for a mirror. A big blooming pink bite just beneath the jugular.
never be safe from the brood
that would spring from his blood. They’d get into his mattress, infest his
skin, drain him to a dry husk. They would take his whole world for themselves.
futilely at the mirror.
That was why they’d replaced it with steel. The glass had broken, and they’d
had to get the medic in and transport him to the triage unit for the
lacerations to his wrists and arms and chest. That had been in the Time Before
the Queen Vampire. That had been during the Time of the Worms. He had stopped
seeing those wriggling horrors burrowing into him about the same time they’d
stopped giving him the pink pills. It was a side effect, they’d said. A very
rare, extremely rare, side effect. They were just trying to make him better,
the doctor had said. Yeah, right. Like the Queen hadn’t been artfully placed
inside his headboard to consume him in the night, along with her thousand
children, one cubic milliliter at a time. It was what they’d used to do with
leeches, he seemed to remember. The medieval barber surgeons.
It was a disembodied voice coming from a hidden speaker in
the ceiling beyond his reach. The voice of the doctor that purred with the Ivy
League refinement so lacking in the voices of the guards. This was followed by
a knock at his door. Followed by the sheer slide motion of a view panel on the
obverse side of the portal that allowed his handlers to peek in whenever they
wished to see if he was up to something naughty.
observing him through the
slot were emerald green. Irish Eyes. The voice, the static overtones of the speakers
removed, was deep but feminine. Those eyes peered at Julie who now stood in the
center of his cell, then past him to the mess he’d made of his chambers during
the nightmare night. The cinnamon brows arched in mute rebuke.
see you’ve been busy, Julie.”
He was scratching
at the wound on his
throat which was just now beginning to itch infernally. It was worse, more
intense, than a mosquito bite but the cause was similar: The enzyme the bug
spat into the wound to make the blood digestible to its system. There was a
side effect for you, he thought. The bite must by now have looked like a giant
lamprey had got him and he walked up to the door to show her what she’d done.
Julie,” she said. “It’s nothing
to worry about. We’ll get it cleaned up for you. We’ll put the frame back
together and get you fresh sheets.”
you get it? Of course, you
don’t. What would you know about the Queen’s motives, unless it was you who
planted her in the first place?”
sorry, Julie. Just please calm
down and we can talk about it.”
too late for talk, Doc! She
already got me!” He showed her the wound on his throat again and there was no
mistaking it for anything other than what it was. Unless she was attempting to
deceive him. She decided on misdirection.
you been picking at yourself
again? You mustn’t, Julie. It’ll get infected.”
She has come to drain me
dry! And YOU put her here!”
Who are you talking about,
The Queen! THE BUG!”
given him something to make
him sleep but when he woke up it must still have been daytime because the
overheads were on. They seemed to switch on and off by timer as in a prison.
They glared down at him, twin alien orbs of white fire. But they were his
friends because they stalwartly held the bugs at bay fourteen hours per day.
He was back
in his bed which they had
reassembled where he’d broken the plankboard in his mad search for the Queen
during the night. Fresh sheets were on his mattress. And a fresh case for his
pillow which smelled like lavender even though the coarseness of the wilted
yellow cotton abraded his cheek. He couldn’t adjust his head just yet because
they’d strapped him in like an astronaut. He could wiggle fingers and toes and
that was about all.
must have had one of the
orderlies bring in a chair for her because she was sitting at his bedside with
one critical eye on his chart and the other on him. Those Irish Eyes were
sparkling emeralds set in a visage that could have been carved of alabaster.
you’re awake. How are you
feeling? A bit better rested, hmm? Sleeping on the floor all night didn’t do
you any good, that’s for sure. We might need to keep you strapped in this
evening too, so you can get your rest.”
He was coming
off whatever sleeping
drug they’d administered and must have been babbling a mile a minute, but his
words gradually came to his ears as making some semblance of sense.
Don’t you understand? You just
can’t do that to me, please!”
Julie? After the mess you made? Why
of the BUG!” He described the
vampiric little wretch as best he could in the most minutely exacting detail.
is a clean facility, Julie. We
don’t have those here.”
unless you planted her yourself!”
you just slow down a moment and
listen to yourself? You are here to be made better than you were. We are trying
to help you. To what end would we do such a thing?”
break me,” Julie sobbed.
you?” The doctor laughed and
there was not a trace of empathy in it. “Break you of what?”
answer. He couldn’t. Only
his cries issued forth. The doctor was scrawling something into her chart in
worry, Julie. This is just
another side effect. Some of your medications are mixing unfavorably with the
sleep aid we gave you. After an uninterrupted good night’s rest, you will feel
MUCH better. Trust me.”
from her chair and there was
the barest hint of a smirk marring her porcelain features. At the door she
nothing to break you of,
dear. Because you were already broken when you came to us. We’re here to put
you back together. Better than ever.”
door slammed behind her. An
hour later the overheads snapped off and the abyss returned. And from its depths
those tiny skittering creatures that smell of coriander and harbor on the
undersides of mattresses and awaken seeking fresh blood.
A month must have gone by. Or so he had counted the days in
his head. They must have bathed him while he slumbered in the drug haze
because, though his waking hours were spent lashed to the bed, every morning he
would emerge from the bug dreams fresh and un-sweating and smelling of
They had removed the steel mirror from over the sink so he
couldn’t by some happenstance catch a glimpse of his face. And they had made
the bedclothes snug beneath the straps so he couldn’t see even his hands. But
he knew the wounds were there. He could feel every suck mark of every
individual bite and sense the tracer line patterns where the bugs lay in neat
rows along the sheets waiting to latch on. There must have been a hundred bites
by now, three hundred, a thousand.
He was perpetually weak, weak as a newborn and not right in
his mind at all, no longer cognizant of the moment-to-moment happenings outside
the cell. But whether this was the blood loss or sedatives or an insidious
blending of the two, he could not be sure. He was only sure that he was
trapped, that he would die here in this eight-by-eight white box and never know
why. Was it a new therapy tool on the order of the prolonged exposure treatment
they used on phobics? Was it just some prison psychiatrist’s demented
experiment? Was he really “here” at all? Maybe he’d expired long ago, and this
was the coma dream that preceded true death.
taken too much blood,” he
murmured one day while the doctor was sitting with him reviewing his chart.
“Please, I need blood.”
got enough to manage for now,
Julie.” The doctor’s emerald eyes were filling his vision, engorging themselves
on his pallid state. “I’ve got good news. We’re almost finished here. Pretty
soon these bindings will come off and you’ll be ready to return to the world.”
world?” he murmured. “This is the
world. What else is there?”
seems like that now, but you’ll
adjust. That’s why we picked you. Your adaptability.”
nodded sagely. “That and
your condition. Borderline personalities and confirmed clinical-level
schizophrenics always seem to do better in the trials. The ability to lose any
grip on reality is an advantage. It makes it much easier to bear the general
surrealness of the experience and come out of it still functioning on some base
level of competence.”
I ask... one question?” Julie’s
tongue felt like a strip of rawhide in his mouth.
there a Queen?”
affected the same
self-satisfied smirk he’d caught on her face before. But this time she didn’t
hasten to hide it.
“Of course there was,” she said. “And not just one.”
She pulled her cell phone from her lab coat and showed him
a single image. He coughed and gagged and nearly vomited. The bedframe shook
violently under his assaults. But to no avail.
what your mattress looked like
at four o’clock this morning when we let you out to bathe you and put fresh
sheets on. Do you know how much blood has to be regurgitated in feces to turn a
mattress entirely black? I estimate about four pints. That’s four pints of you,
Julie. That you’re lying in.”
of tremors wracked him
and when they finally subsided he could only imagine a single follow-on
To make you like us, of course.”
The doctor winked one of her Irish Eyes and the porcelain mask that was so
alabaster perfect under the glare of the halogens slipped away.
Revealing beneath it the Progenitor. The Queen of Queens.
And the glittering emeralds that remained true beneath that facade of humanity
bored deeply into him. And the profound alien intelligence that gripped his cerebral
cortex in its adamantine vice neatly abolished the final vestiges of sanity,
and humanity, remaining to Julie Winthrop.
David Starobin is a new
Black Petals. He spends his free time traveling to little known corners of the
world seeking inspiration for his stories. He worked for many years in the
financial services industry until his muse finally ordered him to stop. He
currently resides in Brunswick, Maine.