It's been happening again. Now they're knocking on my door ready to break through, and I don't know how she followed me inside.
It started with small fireflies that would disappear as soon as I noticed them. Like little sparks of electricity in the atmosphere or dissipating after thoughts. I would be in the shower lathering my arms and these light-bugs would appear for an instant. I remember smiling and in a high pet voice, greeting them and wanting them to stay and play.
I think it all started with the light-bugs. Those came just a few weeks ago before the shadow-beetles or the big long black bugs that crawl on the sidewalks just out of vision. They're like full adult roaches but all black and swim on the ground like amoebas. They always dissipated like shadows in the sun before I locked my gaze on them but they followed me along on the sidewalk, just a few at first.
When they came into my apartment, I could feel them behind me when I'd sit on my rug. I'd quickly turn to catch them but they'd be gone. So I bought insecticide and the poison took care of the horrible infestation a few days later. Although my apartment was free, the edges of the city streets still crawled with these indiscriminate eye-sores.
Thousands of shadow-beetles appeared on my walk over to my friend's house for her dinner gathering. There was no use counting and the only defense is to look straight ahead or straight up in the air. She lives less than a mile away from me in a rental house. I pushed the unlocked door open and greeted my friend and met several new acquaintances.
“There certainly seems to be an infestation of the shadow-beetles around town this time of year,” I said. A young man looked at the hostess with a raised eyebrow. My friend laughed but it was clear to me that she hadn't seen the beetles. After a few minutes, she called the gathering to order by bringing the fragrant dishes to the round table.
I finished every morsel on my floral patterned plate then rested down my fork and listened. One of my newly acquainted friends who was introduced to me as a yoga instructor held the conversational thread. While he talked, a woman began muttering behind me. It was distracting so I turned around. No one was there.
“I make my baked goods with applesauce instead of eggs,” he said. The others continued conversing, but that same woman's frantic high voice spoke on a completely irrelevant topic.
“I left my daughter at the daycare center but I just don't trust those people there. I've got to go back and pick her up and take her home,” she said. “I can't believe I left her there, I should have trusted my feelings. I can't stay here anymore. Why am I here? She's not safe.”
I cleared my throat and said:
“Why don't you leave and pick up your daughter. I'm trying to listen to the yoga teacher.” The whole table went silent.
“Jim,” the hostess asked clearly uncomfortable, “what are you talking about?”
“One of you was talking about leaving your daughter at a daycare that you didn't trust. I was just saying that you should pick her up so we can keep talking. Worrying about it's not going to help.” Everyone at the table was frowning now as they looked back and forth amongst each other. Then they rested their steady eyes on me. They were putting one up on me.
“None of us have any kids,” she said with concern.
“Just because I don't know everyone here, doesn't mean I have to be the butt of a big joke,” I crossed my arms on the table and tilted my chin towards my chest. They kept looking at each other, still frowning, still scheming.
“I've got to pick up my daughter,” the woman's hysterical voice wavered. “Those people can't be trusted. They'll abuse her and make her cry. I don't like how those men LOOK at her.” Her voice dropped in volume at the end of the sentence.
How could the other guests be so unsympathetic to this woman's pain?
“If you're going to gang up against me,” I said, “I'm going to go help this woman pick up her daughter from daycare.” I quickly thanked the bewildered hostess and excused myself. “Come on lets go pick her up.”
Shadow-beetles littered the streets. My eyes followed the center crack in the concrete sidewalk to avoid looking directly at the swarms of beetles that bubbled over the curb and out of the grass. To ignored their fluid movements, I listened to the woman. She followed closely behind me and would not stop worrying about her daughter's safety. So I sped up.
The day care was closed and had been for hours but the woman continued to wail. I told her that there was nothing I could do now to help and that she should try to get a good night's rest. I walked home but she followed me still hysterical. The darkness moved like a woven carpet of shiny black beetle backs stretching across the streets and up to buildings' stoops. I began to run from the woman and the shadow-beetles.
The stairs to my apartment were beetle free, and I bolted up the three flights until I was short of breath. I unlocked my door and quickly shut it. I spun around making sure she wasn't behind my back and pressed myself up against the wall to make sure.
“My daughter!” she screeched.
I couldn't see her but she was in the room. I jumped on my bed and collected all my sheets up close to me as she began to violently sob.
I didn't sleep, but in the morning an authoritative knock sounded against my door.
“Jim, we're here to help,” a man said.
I couldn't be sure.