The Ugly Green Bug

by

Stephanie Savage



J oan and I were walking from the theater. The movie had been a disappointment; we were subdued. A man in a polyester suit walked up to us, blocking our path. He asked Joan how to get to the convention center. He was flirting with her. I looked away--I was used to it.

There was no moon out that night, and the street looked unearthly, bathed only in garish neon and dim lamplight. On the sidewalk, there was a bug. It was turned over on its back. Its gargoyle-like head tossed to and fro; its gaping mouth snapped at something unseen. Along its length, translucent green legs twitched trying to right themselves. It must have been two or three inches long. I found myself rooting for this alien-looking insect. I was fascinated.

The flat concrete gave the poor creature no assistance as it teetered on its back. It leaned to one side; a few of its feet nearly touched the ground; it rolled back. There was a crack in the sidewalk, just an inch or so away--another move like that and it would make it. It tried again, but it couldn’t get the momentum. For a while, it did nothing. Its head stopped rolling; its mouth ceased to gape. I thought it was dead. But then, suddenly, it heaved itself on its side and over the edge of the crack. It landed on its feet.

I tugged at Joan’s arm, pointing to it. For a moment, the man stopped talking. Casually, he squashed it, then continued the conversation.

The blood rushed to my head. I couldn’t think. I tried to say something, but nothing came out. I glared at him. His eyes, buried in pink flesh, glanced at me, then back to Joan. On his lapel was a card; scrawled on it was his name, Jack Peterson.

I looked down at the bug. Its head was still intact, its mouth still gaping. Somehow, it was still alive.

They offered to take me home, but I refused. I was used to that, too. In a nearby phone booth, I called for a cab. I stood there thinking. It was then that I realized why it had bothered me so--that poor ugly bug was me. I knew what I had to do. He must know what it felt like. I did. He must be made to understand.

The cab pulled up. As I entered the cab, I could see the bug’s head still tossing. Its mouth was closed. I assume that it died, but I can’t be sure. I left.

“What’s going on at the convention center?” I asked the cabby.

He answered, “Some sort of carpet show, I think.”

Calmly I asked, “Do you know where the conventioneers are staying?”

“The Hyatt Midtown.”

“Thank you.” We were at my apartment. I paid him.

The lights were still out in the building, but I managed to make it to my room. I lit a candle and got some food for Maximilian. The half-light seemed to improve the place--it hid the natural grayness of the walls and the furniture. I stuffed a couple of items I might need into my purse. They made it heavy; the straps cut into my shoulder. Gently, I placed Maximilian and his meal in a paper bag. Max quickly settled down as I left my apartment, but his dinner fought desperately to escape. After a few minutes, it too was still.

I took the midtown bus, which was nearly empty. I’d forgotten how late it must be. I started to plan what I would do, but I couldn’t. All I could think of was that man. I tried to focus on his image, but his features failed to distinguish themselves--it was all just pink. His eyes started to take form. They were like paper cutouts. There was something missing from them, an essential depth. I had seen that look before. It was the look of my ex-husband, the look of my father as I ran to him in tears. It was everything I hated.

I got off at a 7-Eleven a few blocks from the Hyatt. I bought some twine and a bottle of cheap champagne, then made my way to the hotel. There were two men following me. I quickened my pace. They were still there. I grabbed my purse. If they think they can take it from me this time, they’re in for a big surprise. But they passed by, not even looking at me. It was the neighborhood.

When I reached the Hyatt, it was already getting light. I removed the cork from the bottle and dropped a few of my pills into it. On the label I wrote, “To Jack, from Joan, with love.” I recorked it and waited.

Eventually, people started to appear, popping up like ants emerging from their tunnels. I walked up to the front desk, saying to the clerk, “Hello, I’m an acquaintance of Jack Peterson. Jack is here for the convention. I have a gift for him from a mutual friend.”

The clerk thumbed through the register with a bored look on her face, tracing the lines with her long-nailed index finger. It looked like she was gutting the pages with a stiletto. Her finger stopped on an entry and stabbed at it. “Leave the bottle here and we’ll send it up to him,” she spat out from fuchsia-painted lips.

“There’s also a message for him,” I said, “but I have to give it to him personally.”

“Whatever,” she said disinterestedly. “He’s in room 492.”

“What floor is that?” I inquired.

“It’s on the fourth,” replied the clerk, glaring.

I took a see-through elevator that looked like a giant glass gun. It made me dizzy; I felt like a bullet being shot through the air. As I searched for his room, I savored the image. When I found 492, I placed the bottle in front of the door, knocked, then ran.

After I caught my breath, I went back to the front desk. “Jack asked me to get him a spare key,” I said to the clerk. “He seems to have misplaced the first one.”

The woman flashed me a wither-and-die look as she handed me the key.

I made the trip all over again. I waited around the corner from his room for about an hour, then opened the door. He was fast asleep. Anxiously, I tied his hands and feet to the bedposts. Then, I removed Maximilian from the bag and tied some twine loosely around his tail. I suspended Max from a nail, which secured a painting above the bed. Max always loved that. I turned on the television and relaxed in a chair.

The light was already fading when the man started to come to. I walked over to the bed and removed Max from the nail. Quietly I said, “Hello, Mr. Peterson. You probably don’t remember me, but we met yesterday.”

He murmured something I couldn’t hear.

“Oh,” I said, “I wouldn’t shout if I were you. If you look overhead, you will see Maximilian. You see, Max is a coral snake. All I would have to do is drop him, and . . . well, you can guess.” I stroked Max. His belly was swollen from the rat I had given him. He’d never go hungry as long as we lived in that dump. Jack Peterson was beginning to sweat.

“Did you know,” I continued, “that there are some twenty kinds of corals in North and South America, and they have antivenom for all but one? It’s true--the Arizona coral. Corals are one of the deadliest snakes in the world, related to cobras. And what’s interesting is, they don’t even inject their venom. The venom runs along grooves in their fangs. The coral grabs the victim and chews and chews, so that the venom is drawn into the wound. Excuse me, would you like me to put that other pillow under your head?”

“Uh, no, that’s all right.” There was a slight quaver in his voice.

“I suppose you’re wondering why I have you tied up like this. Well, you see, it started the other night. I was walking with my friend Joan--“

“Oh yeah, you’re the uh, the uh--“

“The ugly one. Don’t try to deny it, I know. Well anyway, there was this poor grotesque insect on the sidewalk. It was turned over on its back. The bug fought and fought, but it just couldn’t right itself. Finally, it made it. But then you squashed it, casually, without a second thought. I knew then that I had to find you, make you understand.”

“Yes, I understand,” was his swallowed answer.

“No you don’t. You don’t understand a thing. Not a thing. Did you know, when you’re bitten by a coral, you remain clear until death? Yes, you’re totally paralyzed, yet totally aware.” I sat down on the bed, my arm and Max resting on the bedpost above the man’s head.

“You see, the symptoms often take several hours before appearing. This often lulls the victim into a false security. Then you start feeling a little apprehensive. Lethargy sets in, and your eyelids begin to droop. You’re weak, salivating. You start to vomit. There are convulsions. Paralysis begins, and breathing becomes difficult. You lay there watching as your respiratory system goes, and the paralysis creeps its way through your arms and legs. All of which is reversible, if you get to the victim in time. Except for the Arizona coral, that is. I heard of a man who was mowing his lawn when he was bitten by one. Without thinking twice, he stuck his toe in the lawn mower.”

I stood up.

He was breathing hard now; sweat covered his face. There was fear in those two-dimensional eyes of his. I had him.

“Of course, I can’t be sure it’s true.” I gave the twine a gentle tug, and Max fell to the bed.

The man gave a shrill gasp as he tried to scream.

“Careful, you wouldn’t want to scare him.” I walked over to the TV and turned up the volume, saying calmly, “I’d grab him behind the head, if I were you.”

“I can’t,” he said frantically, “my hands are tied.”

“So they are.” I removed the pocketknife from my purse and freed one of his hands. Pulling the chair to the bed, I sat down. “Slowly, position your hand behind his neck. No sudden moves, now.”

His hand was shaking something terrible as it moved toward Max. Max lunged at his middle finger and held on tight. The man started pulling on him.

I said, “You’re working the venom into the wound.”

“It bit me, it bit me.”

“Well that won’t do you any good.” I took the pillow from beside him and put it on my lap. “Here,” I clapped my hands, “here Max.” Max obediently let go of the man and slid onto my lap. I put him back into the bag.

The man started sucking the wound.

“You’re only spreading the venom,” I said.

“Then what . . . what do I do?” He was nearly delirious.

“There’s only one thing you can do.” I cut loose his other hand and gave him the knife. “Now. You must do it now,” I told him, sitting down again.

“And if I don’t?”

“Well, you have to get to it pretty quick. If you don’t, the venom gets into the blood stream, and then it’s too late.”

“But I, I can’t.”

“It’s your life,” I said, “but you are running out of time.”

He closed his eyes, barely able to keep the knife in his hand. He started to bring the knife down, but he stopped before it reached his finger.

“Would you like me to do it?”

“No, no, I can do it.” He rested the blade on his finger. He looked sick.

“It’ll be over quicker if you do it in one motion.”

“Yes,” he said, gripping the handle. He drew blood.

“Max isn’t a coral snake,” I said quietly.

“It, it, it’s . . .”

“Perfectly harmless--an Arizona coral king snake. Red and yellow kill a fellow. Red and black, venom lack.”

He turned from pale pink, to bright red. “You were, you were--“

“Just trying to make a point. You see, you can’t know how horrified I was when you squashed that bug. It was like everything in my entire life. Well anyway, I think you understand now. You may cut yourself loose if you like.”

As he did so, I could see that he was still shaking. He removed a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face with it. He looked as if he were trying to say something.

I smiled. “I think I’ll be leaving now.”

He picked up the phone.

“You could do that, but then I would have to tell them about Joan, and well . . .” I pointed to the gold band on his finger.

He just stared at me. His face lightened a shade, to a bright pink. “All right go. Go before I change my mind.”

I picked up my purse from beside the chair and stood up. “Are you sure you don’t want this pillow?” I asked.

He didn’t answer.

“Well anyway, goodbye.” I took my gun from the purse, and emptied the barrel into his stomach. The pillow was blown into little pieces all over the room.

He lay there jumping and twitching. I assume that he died, but I can’t be sure. I left.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie Savage has a moderate physical disability; her lungs became mysteriously scarred when she was 11. While she was learning to cope with her condition, she began writing poetry. After a few years, she turned to fiction. Her fiction has most recently appeared in Potpourri, Jewish Currents, and in two issues of News of the Brave New World. Previous sales include another story published by Potpourri, as well as Devil Blossoms, PKA'S Advocate, Lite, Snicker, and American Atheist. She is currently working on her second novel. 3am Magazine's fiction archive




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