Monday, 30 May 2011

The uninvited guest

Once again, Chuck Wendig has an awesome flash fiction idea: write about an unexpected guest. For me, this topic was a doddle. There's not a lot of fiction to it, this actually happened, though I did embellish it slightly - mainly by making me more coherent and toning down the swearing. A thousand words he says, but this one tops the scales at 1600 or so. But usually mine are anemic, coming in at half way, so screw it, I'm allowing myself a little lee way. For genre, I guess it could be part of my memoirs, though I'm not writing them till we get flying cars and all the other good stuff we've been promised.

The Uninvited Guest

If you’re going to take a bunch of kids on a week long camp, then fourth grade is pretty much the best age group. They’ve grown out of wetting the bed. They’re old enough that they won’t cry because they miss mum and dad. And hormones haven’t kicked in yet making them want to get frisky with each other.

But a week away from all the comforts of home mean that you need to stock up on the finer things in life the night before, so you have good memories to get you through. My classes are always boisterous and rambunctious at school, so once you throw archery and horse riding into the mix, a mental happy place is a necessity. 

Picture from here. Aren't you glad it's not of the star of the story?
The evening before our departure I have a few beers while the sun is setting and the roo is cooking on the barbie. Rare, so the juices can mingle with all the other ingredients on the burger: bacon, beetroot, egg, onions. I’ve read of salad, but I’m not a practicing member of that faith. The meal is finished off with some chocolate - even though it’ll set off my cough a bit. A nightcap, a level or two of whatever game takes my fancy, some tasteful porn, then an early night. Life is grand.

I often drink a fair whack of water during the night, and after an hour or so of sleep, I wake up with a tickle in my throat. In the dark I reach over for where I always put my jug, and being the classy bloke I am, I drink straight from it. I splutter a bit... some has gone down the wrong way. I lie back down mumbling to myself because I’m still coughing. Then I realise I’m having some difficulty breathing; I guess having chocolate wasn’t the smartest move. Oh well, it will pass soon.

Only, it doesn’t. And my throat feels really weird.

Like...  maybe I’ve swallowed a bug!

That thought brings me to full wakefulness. On a normal day, I cough like a returned serviceman who’s been smoking two packs a day since he was fighting in the Somme. When I blow my nose, it’s as if Satchmo stole Saint Peter’s horn and is sounding the last trumpet. So while I shun sport, I have a good pair of lungs on me. This bug ain’t going to hang around, I think to myself, and take a couple of really deep breaths. 

I smack myself on the head. Idiot! Deep breaths in isn’t the way to do this! What, you wanna suck the bug into your lungs? Maybe get it stuck in a bronchial tube? I take a few shallow breaths and then breathe out heavily. I try this a few times, ramping it up with some coughing too. I feel light headed, and lie back.

Maybe there’s no bug. It could just be my overactive imagination. I tell myself I’m overreacting and close my eyes. It doesn’t work. I think I can hear it moving, the sound carried to my inner via my Eustachian tube. I’m not sure if it’d work that way but it seems damn convincing to me.  I sit up, and start hacking and coughing again. I get a brain flash... I know... I’ll hit myself in the throat a couple of times, that ought to dislodge it! Being a slow learner, it takes me about three or four blows before I realise this is a really stupid idea. 

I have some more water, and convince myself that there isn’t a bug (again) and try to sleep. This lasts for about all of thirty seconds before I’m starting to stress about my shortness of breath. I try hanging my head over the end of the bed. Is... is that progress? I think that’s better. I flip over onto my back, and try that way. Yeah, that’s better. But it sure is uncomfortable. Hey, maybe I can see it! I leap out of bed, and head to the bathroom. I open my mouth, and stick out my tongue, trying to look down into my lungs. Can I see something? Maybe. Maybe if I shine a light, that’d help.

I race back to my room and dig out the portable light made up of a lot of bright LEDs. Back in the bathroom with my tongue sticking out, I blind myself a couple of times trying to work out how to shine the light down my throat instead of into my eyes. Then I decide that the bug might be scared of the light, and scuttling deeper into darkness, like a cockroach in the kitchen. I need natural light, that’s the ticket! Like fire! I go into the kitchen, and grab my candle for when we have blackouts and return to the bathroom. Angling the candle, I assume the pose again, but not for long... hot wax drips from the candle onto my upper inner thigh, barely missing my todger - it’s warm in Darwin so I sleep naked. After a short burst of swearing, I put out the candle. This was a bad idea. I can see the lurid headline in tomorrow’s newspaper: Teacher dies in bizarre sex act blah blah blah autoeroticism blah blah blah hot wax blah blah blah asphyxiation. Anyway, the light isn’t working. Probably it’s crawled in head first, and I am wasting my time illuminating its arse.

Finally, I get confirmation that there is a bug down my throat after a few more coughs and a bit of retching. Something must be working as I’ve now pissed it off, the bug starts biting me. Now I know I’m not crazy. Time to try panicking slightly. It doesn’t work, but I feel better. A few more coughs and this time some progress, but not the good sort... blood in some phlegm. I take some deep, calming breaths, but realise that once again I am attempting to suck it into my lungs. I don’t want this little guy deciding it has to eat its way out through my soft, tender alveoli.

At no stage do I think “I should go to hospital, I’ve been at this for over an hour.” Instead I think I could maybe poke it out, so I go and get a chopstick. Luckily, while I’m psyching myself up to poke it down my throat, I give a tiny feeble cough, and out comes a few legs. This is more like it! A few more coughs with some gusto, and here comes the rest of the bugger. Woohoo!

Now, I’ve always had a thing for killing bugs good and dead before this. I have had a long standing rule that spiders should be hit until they’re in at least three pieces to make sure they are dead. This guy, well, he certainly cops a flogging. I beat him with a shoe, a book, stomp on him with my boots on. When I’m done, he’s a monomolecular stain on the tiles, which I wipe up with toilet paper and then set on fire. Vengeance!

And now it’s time for me to get back to sleep. Easier said than done, I’m awash with adrenaline, full of rage and victory. So I get up and turn on my computer. In practically every game where you’re saving the world, there’s a bug level. So I dig out old save games and have at it, crushing chitin, pounding carapaces, and snapping limbs. I use chainsaws, hatchets, crowbars, machine guns, magic, my fists, tanks, and even spaceships on them. I feel better, even though I’m rather haggard as now it is dawn. Time to get my stuff together and go on excursion.

The first night of the camp, we’re sitting around the bonfire, and the owner of the property says it’s traditional to tell scary stories. He kicks off with a possible, but not very plausible story about a feral pig being attacked recently by a crocodile down by the river. He had been harping on us not to leave rubbish out as it attracts the wild pigs, and this element adds a good reason not to go wandering off on your own so we appreciate it. But the story is none too scary. A few of the kids have a go but they mainly tell retreads of whatever movie they saw recently, or completely over the top versions of the most scariest story ever, with excesses of blood and monsters.

One of the parents says that maybe a teacher should have a try, and with a gleam in my eye, I begin telling them of what happened last night. Of course I swap out phrases like “inbred, poo-rooting monkey fucker” with “Getoutgetoutgetout!” but the core of the story is there. I love story telling, with its facial expressions and tones and cadences, and I’m well into the swing of it with my Teachers Voice. Towards the end of the story, one of the parents is looking kind of green, one or two kids have their hands over their ears, and there’s a gaggle of girls clustered around a parent. I let my voice go rough and thoughtful as I end the story. “I’m not sure if the bug was in the cup of water,” I say, as if to myself “or if it crawled in there, while I was asleep. Maybe it was looking for a place to lay its eggs. Maybe it did.” The other teacher decides we’ve had enough scary stories for one night, and we head off to our cabins.


  1. Ick, nothing creepier than a scary story that's completely believable (that's meant as a compliment). Well written too, and good pacing.

  2. Thanks mate, the pacing was a lot slower at the time, and a lot more repetitive :D

  3. that was disgusting!
    good job! i almost thought he might turn into a bug!

  4. So gross to have a bug in your throat. Yuck! Good story!

  5. Bug stories are the scariest! I should've known this when I was a camp counselor. hehe

  6. I laughed out loud a few times. It's hilarious how when we're going through something odd like this, we think of the most bizarre solutions rather than going to a professional.

    If you're looking for some arthropod revenge, there's that game Jet Force Gemini for N64 in which all the enemies are insects.

  7. I loved the thought processes you went through as you tried each "solution" to your bug problem!