The Bug:Episode 1

By: Barry J. Hutchison

FRANKLIN, MASSACHUSETTS, USA


24th MAY, 8:47 AM





It's Tuesday morning. Eight-forty-five-ish. Thereabouts. We're stuck in traffic on the way to school. Again. Every day I say we need to start leaving earlier. Every day we don't quite get around to it.

The car's hot, even with the windows rolled all the way down. Horns blast all the way down Washington Street. It's the heat, the damn heat. We're not used to it up here. It makes people crazy. Even the air-conditioning has given up the ghost. The hot air it blasts at me when I switch it on feels like laughter in my face.

At least the kids are quiet. Bradley's deep into some handheld video game. He's got that fire in his eyes that nowadays only seems to come when he's shooting pixel people in the head. Claire's reading, even though reading in the car usually makes her throw up.

“You sure that's a good idea, honey?” I ask. “Don't want you blowing chunks before you get to school.”

“It's OK, I only get sick if the car's actually moving,” she says without looking up, and I can't really argue with that. Don't even know how long we've been sitting here. Longer than usual, and there's no sign of the traffic even starting to move.

I straighten my arms and push myself back in my seat, trying to fend off the back cramps before they can start. It turns into a stretch, which leads on to a yawn. That's what I get for staying up late and shooting pixel people in the head. Still, it was a gratifying experience. I can see why Bradley's so hooked.

There's a movement in the car, just below my line of sight. I look down at my lap, and that's when I see it.

That's when I see the bug.

It's dark and shiny. And big. Real big. About the size of my iPhone, maybe a little bigger still. It's on my thigh, right by the steering wheel. Even through my trousers I can feel its spindly legs trip-trapping against my skin.

I gotta admit, insects aren't really my strong point. I don't like them. In fact, I loathe the creepy-crawly little bastards. My natural instinct is to bludgeon them on sight with whatever happens to be closest to hand.

But I'm not bothered by this one. I gaze down at it and get the distinct feeling that it's gazing back up. But I'm not afraid. Not a bit. There's no revulsion, no disgust, no urge to smash it with my shoe. The bug is just there, but in my head it's like it has always been there, right there on my lap. Gazing up. Nothing for me to worry about.

I blink and it vanishes. There one second, gone the next.

I don't know how, exactly, but I guess it must crawl inside me, because first I can feel it, then I start to hear it. Chittering. Whispering. Telling me to do things. Terrible things.

To my kids.

I watch them in the rear view mirror, clicking buttons, flipping pages. Click-click, flip-flip. They don't look up, don't acknowledge me. Drive them this damn road every day and they never acknowledge me. I watch them in the mirror, and the bug keeps whispering softly in my head.

A car horn blasts. The woman in the 4x4 behind me points angrily ahead. The traffic is on the move. I grip the wheel and grit my teeth and lurch us as quickly as I can towards the school. I turn the radio up loud. The kids complain, but the bug stays quiet. I can still feel it though, wriggling around inside me.

My hands shake all the way to the front gate. I brake hard and the seatbelt goes tight across my chest.

“Steady,” Claire says, sounding just like her mother.

“Go or you'll be late,” I tell them. Have to get them out of the car. Have to get them away. They gather their bags and I wave them goodbye. No kisses. Not today. The bug won't let me.

I watch them walk – not run, why don't they run? – through the gates and up towards the front door. Other kids swarm in the doors beside them. I keep watching until they're all inside. Keep watching until long after all the other parents have left.

I move to drive away, but then I hear the bug begin to whisper again, its voice soft but urgent in my brain. It tells me my children are careless. Tells me they've forgotten something. Tells me I should bring it to them.

The door beside me opens. Was that me? I try to fight, to resist, but then I'm standing on the sidewalk, and my feet are taking me to the back of the car. The trunk opens with a squeak. There's not much in there. A couple of scrunched up carrier bags, a pair of running shoes I bought in January and have only worn once.

My eyes fall on the tire iron. I look at it for a long time, listening to the bug as it squirms and whispers, whispers and squirms.

This is good, it says. These are the things a good daddy does.

The iron is heavy in my hand, the pitted metal rough against my skin. There's a clunk as the trunk closes, although I don't remember doing it.

Now bring it to them, the bug says, and its squirming makes my face go hot and my insides itch. Bring it to them, and show them what we do to careless little children.

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