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by Jeremy Maddux
It was about midday when all the commotion started out on Brightway Boulevard. A man in pinstripe business attire was coming back from lunch with the routine sugar buzz of his franchised coffee kicking in when he noticed something on the ground. He went to his knees to be at eye level with it. It was uncharacteristic of him to do so, but he was sure he’d seen the thing move.
He discovered that it was an insect, although not one he had ever seen. Its wings were folded back as it scanned the ground with curious antennae that branched off into yet another pair of antennae. He watched it long enough to know it had drawn something up out of the pavement, possibly nourishment. It reminded him of a junebug except for the pincers and spider legs. It was indeed the strangest insect he had ever seen, so he called someone else over to try and identify it.
He hailed an older man over who threw his weight in all directions as he walked. He was clearly a man of burdens.
“You there! Excuse me, sir, sorry to trouble you but I was wondering if I could get your opinion on something.”
“I’m not taking your damn survey. There’s nothing you have that I want. Yes, I’m one of those closed-minded old sheeple that really believes the official story of 9/11. I have no beer money for you. Now, excuse me.”
“It’s not any of those things, sir. It’s an insect.”
Right here on the ground. I first noticed it about five minutes ago and I’m no closer to knowing its species.”
He’d stirred up the old man enough that he pulled out his reading glasses. He waited for the man in the pinstripe suit to back away so he could have room.
“It’s a cockroach! Why are you wasting my time with this? Don’t you have some schools to remove prayer from?”
“I’m… sorry, sir?”
“I know you’re that teacher who protested to have any mentions of God stricken from the school record. You sued the Owen County District and won. Why don’t you finish up your conversation with the roach? I’m sure he’ll be good company to you.”
“Sir, it’s not a cockroach! A cockroach has four legs. This one has six!”
“Freak of nature…” he said, walking on. He didn’t get far before he was right back there with the insect and the man in the pinstripe suit.
“Let’s suppose you’re right that it’s not a roach. It looks like a roach and certainly behaves like one. What moved you to determine it wasn’t a roach?”
First of all, its antennae have antennae. I’ve never seen or heard tale of such a thing in the insect kingdom. Second, it has six spidery legs. Can’t you see how the hind and back legs bend outward? It’s just like an arachnid.”
“Then explain the wings.”
“That’s just it. I can’t.”
“If you can’t see the plain science before you, then let me go pluck someone at random from this pedestrian lot to offer an unbiased view.”
“Welcome to it,” said the man in the pinstripe suit.
At last, the old man returned with a young black man armed with I-Tunes and headphones braced around his neck. The old man’s instigations vexed him.
“Just take a look down there and tell us what you see, young man, and be honest.”
The young man jumped backward, tripping over a fire hydrant and busting his butt on the sidewalk asphalt.
“You guys trying to give me a heart attack at 25? I have a severe case of arachnophobia. Summer Camp ’98. I got bitten by a black widow and a brown recluse on the same day. I hope it didn’t shoot its venom at me just now! I’m scared to death! If it comes down to it, I’ll sue!”
“We don’t even know if it’s poisonous,” insisted the old man. “You’re really telling me that roach looks like a spider to you?”
“Only roach is what you’ve been smoking, sir.”
“So he says roach. You say spider. I say I don’t know. Now what?” asked the man in the pinstripe suit. “I know! We’ll take the scientific approach!”
“So we isolate it by eliminating what we know it couldn’t be, right?”
“Actually, I was just going to poke it with a stick.”
Doing so caused the bug to spray a warning scent from an almond shaped fixture tucked beneath its wings, which fluttered as it emitted the pheromone of obscenity.
“Whoa, stinkbug!” shouted a woman in a heavy raincoat as she crossed the busy intersection.
“Ain’t no stinkbug I’ve ever seen” said the young man with headphones.
“Well, I can assure you that’s what it is. I recognize the smell. There was an infestation at my summer condo once.”
“I simply can’t agree with that charge, ma’am,” said the man in the pinstripe suit.
“There’s nothing else it could be,” she insisted.
It was at this time an on duty patrolman with an authoritarian gait joined the congress of onlookers.
“Alright, I’m gonna need to take statements from everyone. Who fired first?”
“Officer, there were no shots fired here,” said the old man.
“Then explain to me why they’re zipping up old Alan Cole over at the package store.”
“I didn’t hear a single shot fired, officer. We’ve been busy trying to contain this situation here,” said the music lover.
“What seems to be the problem?” asked the officer.
The man in the pinstripe suit was the first to offer an explanation, which was only fitting since he’d started all this.
“This insect, or bug, we’re not really sure which, has displayed traits relative to a junebug, spider, cockroach and even a stinkbug.”
The officer stooped low to examine it.
“I was afraid of this.”
He went back to his car and radioed for backup. When the officer returned, he mustered a short, dry ‘Ayup’ and settled both hands on his belt and holster.
“Might have to dust off the Patriot Act for this one.”
The man in the pinstripe suit couldn’t believe his ears.
“You’re not serious?”
“Son, if there’s one thing I’m serious about, it’s national security. If it’s two, it’s national security and keeping the gays out of wedding chapels. Now, if I treat this as just a stupid bug, then it turns out to be one of those military-controlled cybermoths gone rogue, or even commandeered by sleeper agents, guess whose ass will be twisting in the breeze when all is said and done?”
“Did you conjure this ‘stealth moth’ scenario as a legitimate possibility or have you actually been preparing yourself for this?”
“It’s just hypothetical, but it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened! I should know! I listen to ham radio!” The officer displayed immense pride at this farcical factoid.
When the officer’s partner wandered into the scene, he was taken aback.
“Pat, the coroner’s here. What the hell are you doing wasting your time with that cricket?”
“It’s just a body. Tag it and bag it. This is a very sensitive situation we’ve got here.”
Once the officer’s backup arrived, things escalated considerably. The Highway Department was called in to divert traffic around the mystery pest. The sun was beginning to set. All of the spectators, the man in the pinstripe suit, the old man, the music lover, the lady in the raincoat, the squirrelly police officer, could not bring themselves to leave.
Dusk brought out stranger characters, like Roxy the Cornergirl, who was none too pleased that the blue and whites had occupied her block. She would have no customers or clientele as long as they were there. She sat down on the stoop of a brownstone apartment and fished through her purse for a cigarette.
“The hell are you people staring at? What’s with the roadblock?”
“None of us can agree on what it is.”
“Oh, let me see! I’m here every night! I’ve seen it all!”
She staggered over on loud, clicking heels and swung her arms with each labored step. She crouched over to shine a handheld flashlight from her keychain on it.
“What? You’ve never seen a praying mantis before?”
“Now I’ve heard it all!” said the old man. He borrowed a cigarette and joined her back on the steps of the brownstone.
“The matron saint of the creepy crawlies. The mother mantis kills her lover during mating.”
“Do you see some of yourself in the mantis?”
“She’s a symbol of hope for helpless women everywhere. She uses sex as a weapon.”
“Kind of like you,” postulated the police officer.
Suddenly, the bug unfolded its wings and flew off. The party had no choice but to disperse. The next morning, the bug returned to the same spot and landed. Several of the bystanders from the day previous once again gathered around it. There were now two of the insects, one carrying an egg sac on its back.
The police were once again called to the scene, and once again, they set up a barricade around the thing.
By the third day, the media began to have a field day with the city’s silent visitor. All talk of war with Syria or Iran, of the Federal Reserve’s legalized tyranny, of the president’s executive orders negating the Constitution, were mere footnotes to the spectacle of the insect.
World famous entomologist, Douglas E. Sabian, was called in to examine the creature. After extensive field study, he came to a gripping conclusion.
“It’s clear to me what this magnificent creature is. It is all of us! Not one of us can figure ourselves out or decipher the puzzles of our selves without the abstracts of psychiatry! I believe we need a new science to accurately study this creature! Insect Psychiatry!”
Plans were made to begin funding Dr. Sabian for his study of the organism. The Mayor declared it would require much sacrifice on the part of the city’s inhabitants, but with patience, our curiosity would be rewarded.
The Occupy movement caught wind of this, and descended on the city’s infrastructure, demanding that they rescind this absurd proposal to allocate excessive funds to the study of vermin.
Police erected a human barricade around the insects, decked out in full riot gear. Many died protecting them. In the ensuing months, the families of deceased officers demanded reparations for their roles in protecting the unclassified species.
Congress passed a bill protecting the newly discovered species, and made it so that any harm inflicted on their ‘persons,’ so to speak, would be considered felonious.
Presidential candidates ran expensive campaigns pledging to protect the insect at any cost.
Wide-eyed eccentrics sprung from out of dingy apartments like floorboards to say that it was an alien takeover—that the invaders had come in the guise of pests. Their claims were roundly rejected and ridiculed.
So the Bread and Circus continued for a determined ten years, before the species died out altogether. It was unable to live in this harsh atmosphere which had been so contaminated with mercury, cadmium, nickel sulfate and pesticides.
The nation grieved and mourned for the loss of their greatest distraction, which had made them forget about the wars, the famine, the economic turmoil, the political scandal emanating from every congressional orifice (or office, what’s the difference?). In a somber tribute to the lost arthropod, the people cleaned up these affairs themselves, taking back their government.
When the history books came to be written about this tumultuous period, they finally settled on a name for the creature, the ‘Amnesia Bug.’
Jeremy Maddux is a megalomaniac, but don’t worry. You can trust him. He has worked backstage for a professional wrestling organization, suffers from a Martyr Complex and periodically dates an ex con. He once listened to an Alice in Chains song on repeat for twelve hours in a trance while he wrote. He really misses the 90’s. In his spare time, he hosts a podcast called Surreal Sermons featuring the most up and coming authors of Bizarro and Extreme Horror.