Deep in the earth I awoke at last. My time had come.
What time? I have no idea.
Time for what? Time to live.
Why? The only thing I know for sure is that I was awakened to wreak havoc upon mankind.
And what an unsurmountable thing that may seem like for one so miniscule as I, barely the size of a mustard seed, eyeless and alone. My kind has existed since the beginning. To survive, we buried ourselves deep in the earth. While man built and destroyed over us, I slept…and waited. Build, destroy. Build, destroy…build, destroy. Such senseless, tedious beings these men are. And now, at such an advanced age, the earth is at last dying. It may have been her cries of woe that awakened me, cries as thunderous as the cracking of her body as she attempts to quake open deep, man swallowing fissures- her attempt to swallow the evil with her bones of earth and rock, and the great tsunamis caused by her great push of bones into blood.
But those delicate pink and brown two-legged creatures are resilient. They rebuild. They only grow stronger even after so much is lost. Mother earth’s attempts to defend herself are futile. There’s simply too many of them, this plague of men equipped with brains capable of wondrous accomplishments, such great potential. What a waste.
The brain. This thought excites me as I lie in wait. Patience is my name as I sit here feeling rather exposed, not used to being on the surface. I sense it is night. The wind feels cold to me only because it is new. I flex my appendages to keep limber…and also in anticipation. Four legs and two long arms, each ending with four fingers and an opposable one like a parody of the beings I loathe. The tiny hairs over them detect vibrations, light, temperature, and thoughts, this is how I see. My exoskeleton is sleek and uncrushable, like a flea that has undergone radioactive treatment.
I am a weapon of nature.
A passing centipede laughs at me. It says, “You? A force of nature? Be serious little one and look at yourself.”
“I have ambition. You may be content to crawl around down here in this loam, taking one minute at a time for your entire short life span---”
A bristly black horsefly silently lands upon an aromatic lump of humus next to the centipede. She says, “your weapon is Lyme disease is it not? While certainly a wicked affliction, it’s not exactly large-scale revenge.”
I say, “The disease I carry is intelligent madness. As infectious as the Coronavirus. As deadly as the Bubonic Plague. As subtle as a whisper.”
The centipede said, “I could save you from your insanity right now and eat you.”
From the stinger on my abdomen, I release a single drop of venom. It hisses as it eats into the mineral matter at my feet, releasing a noxious scented whisp of poisonous gas. The centipede gags and skitters off, half its legs curled tight against its body.
The horsefly says, “Nice trick.”
The earth vibrates in a steady cadence, the thumps grow heavier as the human comes our way. The horsefly takes off, in her mind I see the human figure come into focus. It’s a young man with a backpack. Through the horsefly’s feet, I can taste the man’s skin. It’s sheened in sweat; the horsefly laps it greedily until it senses a hand about to swat her. She bites hard before flying off. Good for you girl. That’s gonna leave a mark.
Slap! “Oh jebote! Gosh darn horseflies!”
The man’s sweat was sweet, mingled with soap residue, and containing no chemicals like the druggie’s do, only faint traces of harmless THC. He’s not one of the humans that choose to live in putrid squalor in dirty huts amidst the trees, destroying everything in their wake. Those ones are useless, their brains addled with manmade drugs. Not my kind of crazy. No one takes those beings seriously; no one listens to them. Others of my species have mistakenly entered those hollowed out crafts of craziness, only to find little foothold and little to control. Piloting them is like trying to control a paratrooper spinning out of control with his tangled-up chute waggling behind him, taunting him in the seconds before his splattery death.
A man or woman infected with one of my kind may scream at the top of their lungs, “It’s in my head! A bug is in my head! It’s eating my brain! It’s telling me to do things!” They will scream until they collapse. The norms will walk past quickly, desperately ignoring the screamer. If they’re lucky, some people-catchers will come and take them away. Most are not lucky; there’s just too many like them. They’ll either starve to death or take their lives with a drug overdose. The parasites in their brains may gain a little knowledge for the rest of us to absorb, but they will accomplish no advancement.
If Patience is my surname, Subtlety is my first.
The young man with the itchy-sore lump on his neck has unrolled a zippered blanket and a tarp. The night that has fallen is mild (though frigid to me), he will need no tent. He builds a fire and eats bread and cheese and artificial meat. His personal device is talking to him, telling him a bedtime story. I make my way, tiny and unseen, towards the rectangular, lit up device. It is close to his head.
The story ends and the man burrows deeper into his zippered blanket.
When his breathing slows, I creep up to his ear. His hand comes up to brush me away, but my thirty tiny fingers dig in. I’m patient in my advancement, I understand that his nerves may feel a tickle. At last, I enter the ear. Again, the man rubs the place I was, but he is ineffectual, I am deep in the hearing canal now, heading towards the midbrain to do a little research.
In the midbrain, I absorb this man’s knowledge- learned and experienced. The talking rectangle is a smart phone, the story, a podcast, the blanket, a sleeping bag. And so on and so on, all night while he sleeps. I require no sleep as I have been asleep for eons. Reading his brain is like paging through the library of his very being, his existence. His memories become mine. The sights he’s seen I explore.
By dawn I am sated with all his brain library holds. I make my way down to the Medulla Oblongata. This is the control room of my ‘man ship’. His name is Robert Augustine Henry. Friends call him Auggie. He is nineteen and attends a university called Berkely. He excels in Aerospace studies and is keenly fascinated by Astrology. He will soon become interested in Technology Sciences and Political Sciences to start with…Earth Sciences too, that would be fun. I pluck and pull the fibers from my cockpit, like a spider building an extraordinary castle of a web, controlling his brain and spinal cord.
Auggie studies. He attends every class and absorbs every word spoken by his mentors. The brain truly is a sponge. I keep my man ship healthy, making sure he drinks plenty of water and eats only healthy natural foods. I am able to fight off disease, illness…even the big C, but it helps to have a solid foundation.
Auggie is frightened at first, when he realizes he’s developed a photographic memory, then he is ecstatic. He pictures himself as a cartoon superhero dressed in red and blue, only instead of a big ‘S’ on his unproportionally large chest, he sports a ‘PM’.
One day in the cafeteria, his dormmate Sheldon sits down across from him. He is looking strangely at Auggie. This makes me nervous.
“Hey man, uh…is that real meat?”
Auggie looks at the red, rare burger in his hands, it’s dripping blood and grease onto the wrapping it came in. I take control in his brain before he can gag. We say, “Yes Sheldon. It is. It is much healthier for you than that artificial stuff.”
Sheldon looks at his own burger. It is dry and smells like fermented beans. “Hm. You eat real chicken too then?”
“I can’t get enough cacciatore.” We laugh.
Sheldon says, “Whatever man. I can’t eat anything that had a face.” He takes a bite of his bean burger and pretends it tastes as good as Auggie’s fat juicy one. “Hey, you want some of these?” He pushes a basket of French fries towards us.
“No thanks. Those are bad for you.”
“Uh… Auggie my friend, my pal…are you feeling okay?”
Ugh. The pest has been asking this every day. What’s so wrong with wanting to be healthy?
Sheldon continues as Auggies eats and ignores him, “It’s not just your new diet, man. Uh…you’ve been…distant. Like I don’t even know you…”
Auggie finishes his lunch and says, “I’m fine. I have tests coming up and feel the stress…”
“I get you, man. I feel it too. Hey, you wanna check out Polly’s party tonight? Gonna be a rager.”
“I’ve got to study.”
“Well. Maybe you’ll change your mind.” Sheldon stood. “Well, catchya later.”
Auggie’s spends little time in his dorm room, his second home is the library. His roommate is an annoyance, a pesky distraction.
The sun sets over the rolling California hills, rosy orangey light fills the library. It is warm and Auggie’s eyes start to droop as the words on the page before him blur. I realize that my man ship has not slept in 44 hours.
Auggie’s eyes snap open. It’s the pest. Auggie says, “What’s up?”
“I’m heading out to pick up some Coronas and a fifth. Heading to Polly’s place. You wanna come?”
“I told you I have to study.”
“Dude, you’re like, fallin asleep. You need a pick-me-up. I got some ex…wake you right up.”
“No man, I can’t take that shit. Coffee’s fine.” Auggie takes a tepid sip from his travel mug. “Go on. Have fun. I’m going to retire early. Uh…” Auggie rubs his eyes. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m coming down with something. Not feeling too hot.”
Sheldon takes an involuntary step back. It wasn’t that long ago they were all wearing face masks. Many on the campus still did even after vaccinations and boosters. “O-okay. Well, go get some sleep. Those bags are packed and ready to go.” He pointed at Auggie’s eyes and then took off.
In the dorm apartment, Auggie checked himself in the bathroom mirror. He inhaled a sharp gasp as he took in his ghastly appearance. His eyes were circled darkly and weighed down by large bags. His skin looked greasy, his teeth felt fuzzy…and when had he last shaved? Even as he watched, his eyelids came together. He stumbled into bed and slept like a deflated corpse.
The next day was Saturday. Sheldon sat on the edge of Auggie’s bed. Auggie opened his eyes, the brightness around the edges of the curtain at the window was the bright white of an afternoon sun. What a way to wake up, having this pest staring at you, it was as unnerving as it was annoying. Jebote!
“Hey man. You feelin better? You slept until three.”
“It’s three? In the afternoon?”
“Yeah. You look better though. Hey, you doin okay? Not burning yourself out?”
“I’m…fine. Sheldon, do you ever hear voices?”
Sheldon frowned and looked taken aback. “No, do you?”
Auggie sat up straighter and leaned into his pillows. “Sometimes I feel like I’m not in control. Like a robot on a mission. Listening to commands.”
“Uh sure man. Everybody feels that way sometimes.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Why are you studying so hard, man? You’re so smart already. You’re incredible at remembering stuff.”
“I’ve decided to go to WestPoint next year.”
“What? That’s crazy, man!”
“Really. I want to join the military. Be a specialist. Put my mind to good use. And fine tune my body to its maximum potential.”
“WestPoint. Wow. You really have changed.”
Auggie frowned, his eyes stared at something far away. He remained silent, lest he sound even crazier. He was becoming paranoid of people looking at him funny. ‘It’s not paranoia if it’s true.’ They really were looking at him funny all the time now, wherever he went.
Auggie avoided Sheldon which was difficult since they slept in the same tiny apartment. He’d started hiding in places Sheldon avoided, like the gym, and the LGBTQ dorms’ common rooms. One night he came quietly in to his and Sheldon’s place, the place was dark, he expected Sheldon to not be there. Then he heard his roommate’s voice, it was low…secretive. “…yes Mrs. Henry. I’d hurry if I were you…crazy…WestPoint…needs psychiatric help…”
The asshole had called his mother! She would be happy about WestPoint but insist on getting checked out by a doctor. Perhaps one who’ll want to x-ray his head. Can’t have that.
He picked up a heavy bronze bookend in the shape of a German Shepard and stood in Sheldon’s doorway hefting it. What am I doing? We can’t kill him…yet. Must plan, must be smart. Patient. In the cockpit of Auggie’s brain I made him lie down in his bed, face the wall, and feign sleep. I showed him how to take care of the pest, in a visual podcast like a dream.
The next evening, after calling his mother, calming her down, and promising a visit the next month, Auggie stood over a bubbling pot on the stove. Sheldon came in, looked warily at Auggie, and said, “Hey,” on his way to his room.
“Hey Shelly.” It was what he used to call him when things with them were good.
Sheldon peeked out his door.
Auggie said, “I’m feeling much better now. Was some sort of flu or something. I’m sorry I’ve been such a weirdo lately. Look, I’ve made your favorite, veggie chili…homemade chips and all…”
Sheldon came over to the hotplate on the counter next to their small fridge. He said, “Cool man. Glad to hear it.” He leaned over the pot and inhaled. “Wow, ghost chilies?”
Sheldon loved spicy food. The chili was so hot it made Auggie’s eyes water. He lifted the spoon and said, “Here. Try.”
Sheldon blew on the spoon a few times then tasted. “Woah, good. Is that okra?”
“Yeah, just like your ma makes it right?”
“Thanks man, I’m starving.”
“Ellen is on. I’ll make you a bowl.”
“You not eating?” He asked after Auggie handed him a bowl of chili.
“I’m not sure food that hot will sit well with me. Besides, I’ve got a chess meeting in a few.” Auggie grabbed his denim jacket and said, “Wish me luck.”
“You’ll smoke em dude!”
Four hours later, Auggie returned to the dorm. Sheldon lay on the floor in front of the tv, pinkish foam had drained from his mouth and into the blue rug, turning it purple. His eyes were wide and glazed and his legs were pulled up to his chest. His arms jutted at odd angles, like broken bird’s wings.
I put a distressed look on Auggie’s face and made him weep. We ran to John the Resident Assistant’s room and shouted, “Call 911! Oh my god! Sheldon! Come quick! I think he might be dead!”
The RA ran out his open door, his long red hair flying, his big sides jiggling in his white tee-shirt, and his eyes wide. We ran behind him to Auggie’s dorm. Students began peeking out into the hallway. Inside, Auggie stood behind John, who was feeling for a pulse. John said, “He’s gone.”
“Too late. I’m sorry Auggie. I’ll call 911. Looks like a drug overdose. Any idea what it was?”
Auggie covered Sheldon’s corpse with a blanket from the couch. “Uh…yeah…he’s been selling ex.”
Auggie turned away and took the empty bowl from the coffee table to the sink in the bathroom. We were smiling.
Auggie’s mother, Ruth, sat and listened calmly and with great interest as her son talked about his decision to attend WestPoint. She reclined against the back of the couch in her baby blue velour lounge suit and sipped a glass of chardonnay. “Well, I am a little surprised. This is all so sudden. I’m not unhappy, don’t get me wrong…I’m actually quite pleased. You know your father was a lieutenant in the Air Force. I’m sure he would have been proud of your decision. I just don’t understand why the change of heart.” She sipped her wine.
Ruth was an attractive bleached blond with a penchant for updos and sapphire jewelry. I saw where Auggie got his good looks from. His handsome, chiseled face was made for television. He said, “I love this country, mom. When was the last time we had a president the entire country stood behind? One that didn’t make a laughingstock of us. One who wasn’t a thug and a lunatic?”
“President?! My goodness!”
“I’m serious mom. I’ve been thinking a lot lately and have ideas for this country…the first step is to serve.”
“I was worried you know. Your poor friend was convinced you were losing your mind…”
“Mom, for the first time in my life, I’m thinking clearly. And I see a future in which I can make a real difference.”
“I’ll stand behind you the whole way. I’m so proud of you Robert.”
In Auggie’s brain, I relaxed. Step One was complete. With me in control, this young man would go far, and far ahead was our goal. But it was doable. Someday, I would get Auggie’s hands on the big red button and save the earth from mankind.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
As you said about mine this really wasn't the kind of stuff I read but I found it so intriguing that I had to keep going as I wanted to know more. Although I did read to the end I'm afraid I started to lose interest. I just found it overlong. The ending was good though but I'd have liked it to come quicker. Great idea, well told.
You do have a quirky sense of humor. Thanks for the story. My only thought is the dialogue. Make it essential.