“So, this will be your room while you’re here,” explained Mrs. Abrams, the elderly owner of the hostel. “You *would* usually be sharing it with three other people, but you’re my only guest at the moment. Feel free to choose whichever bed you want, but I recommend the one next to the window. They’re predicting snow tonight so you’ll be able to watch it fall while you go to sleep. There are no street lights, but the lamps from the ski hill up on Mount Todd are more than bright enough to illuminate things.”
Eli smiled and nodded while he placed his suitcase down on the bed. If all went according to plan, this was to be his first stop on a six month, world ski tour prior to attending college.
“Bathrooms are down the hall; same with the showers. Since it’s just you, I won’t enforce lights out, but I would prefer if you not decide to wash at three in the morning. Somebody actually did that once, if you can believe it. There is a computer in the living area if you want to use it. All I ask is that you not commit internet fraud… ha-ha.” She said all this flatly, as if she had rehearsed her lines.
“Okay, thanks. That all sounds pretty good.”
“By the way, how long do you plan on staying?”
Eli considered. “Depending on the weather, probably a week or two.”
“Glad to have you. You’re the first person I’ve had stay here in quite some time. That hotel up the road has been stealing all my business.” She sighed, “Young people these days seem to think bigger is better. Oh well,” she brightened. “You’ll do.”
“Well,I’m glad to be here.”
She smiled in a sickly-sweet way that Eli could see himself coming to find intensely irritating and said, “I know it’s late, but would you care for anything to eat before you go to bed?”
“Thanks, but I think I’ll stick with a hot shower.” Not wanting to seem rude, he added, “Not really hungry,” as he started unpacking his bag. It was filled with tidy stacks of clothes sealed tightly in freezer bags.
“Hm-mm.” She leaned over and examined his belongings. “Why the baggies?”
“I’ve run into bedbugs a few times.” Seeing the indignant look on Mrs. Abrams’ face, he hurriedly added, “I’m sure *your* place is fine, but I’ll be staying in other hostels, too.”
Just the same, his host seemed a little put out. “Well,” she sniffed haughtily. “You won’t find any here. Not any at all.”
“I never thought I would; it’s just a precaution.”
“Alright then.” Shegave Eli a look that struck him as being not unlike the look one would give an ex-convict who was liable to re-offend at any moment, and hurried out of the room.
As he arranged his bags neatly in the dresser, Eli noted several insect droppings. *No bedbegs. Yeah,right*.
He was lying on something flat and hard. Rock? No. Rock was not warm, perfectly smooth, and vaguely tacky to the touch. Plastic sheet? That seemed closer. He didn’t stop to consider why he might be lying on plastic, but instead chose to open his eyes.
An insect the size of a concert grand was looking back at him.
“Ugh.” He didn’t mean to say anything; it just slipped out.
Click. The insect ratcheted its head slightly to the side. Eli realized with a wave of nausea that it was examining him. It was deciding if he was ‘good eats’. *Good eats!* Eli began to cackle hysterically, and the thing drew back, startled.
As the first monster’s head shrank away, Eli saw that he was surrounded by its brethren, all of whom were staring down at him hungrily against a backdrop of solid black. Eli’s laugh caught in his throat, and they dove forward in unison, their proboscises poised. The first punctured the side of his abdomen. The second planted itself in his thigh, and a third slid in between the bones of his hand. He felt his knuckles grinding and sliding against it. He had not thought such pain possible. Turning his head, he watched his arm slowly deflate until it looked like shrink-wrap pulled tight over his bones. Then the insect on his arm withdrew and started in on his chest…
Eli lay awake in bed, panting. The source of his nightmare was all too obvious. There was a bedbug on his chest, hungrily feasting on a fat, blue vein. He flicked the insect away and rolled over. There were two others crawling on him: one on his inner thigh, the other on his arm. He slapped the one on this thigh away in revulsion, but extracted the one on his arm carefully. He was going to show it to Mrs. Abrams. Oh yes! And he would be leaving. Most certainly! He would refuse to pay, and he might even complain to the health board. It was at times like this when a person couldn’t help but thank God for freezer bags and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
Eli dug a bottle of aspirin out of his suitcase and dumped the pills onto the night table. He dropped the bedbug into the bottle and screwed the lid shut. Sliding his feet into slippers, he groped his way into the hall where he was greeted by the sight of what seemed like an army of bedbugs scurrying for cover from the light. A small, nagging voice in the back of Eli’s mind wondered why the little buggers were out in the hall where there was nothing to eat.
Mrs. Abrams was still up, sitting in front of the television. One hand held a cup of tea, while the other turned the pages of a magazine. “Can I help you, dear?” she asked in that tone which seemed to Eli to be unique to little, old ladies.
“Well, yes,” he replied. “I woke up and found these crawling all over the room. They’re even in the hallway.”
Mrs. Abrams leaned over as he emptied the medicine bottle onto the desk. She squinted and said, “I’m sorry, dear. What am I supposed to be looking at? I don’t see anything.”
“What do you mean? It’s right there.”
She adjusted her glasses. “What’s right there?” Sweet. Innocent. Joking? Messing with his head? Lying like a lawyer? Utterly blind?
“The bedbug. They’re all over the place.”
”Oh no, dear,” Mrs. Abrams said this as if she were a school-teacher attempting to reason with a particularly dense child. “As I’ve mentioned, there are no bedbugs here.”
“Then what’s that?” He pointed at the insect.
“I see nothing,” was the simple, almost taunting reply. A reply that was lent a certain surreal quality by the fact that there was now a bedbug crawling out of the woman’s nose – an awfully *big* bedbug.
“Good heavens! Can’t you feel it…” Eli trailed off as five more crawled out of her collar and began to make their way down her arms. More bedbugs, possibly thousands of them, were beginning to stream out of Mrs. Abrams’ nose and ears. She opened her mouth, and he saw that one the size of a cell phone was latched onto her tongue. The engorged insect fell away and scuttled off into the shadows.
Eli could feel the insects climbing up his legs, invading every crack and crevice of his body, but that was not the worst. No. The worst was that even the coffee table had started to crawl towards him. Only it was no longer a table, but the piano-sized horror from his dream. It’s proboscis jabbed outwards, puncturing his solar plexus. As the monster slid his left lung out through the hole, he heard Mrs. Abrams cry, “Ooh! You’re right! There are bedbugs! Now I see! NOW I SEE!” She was clapping her hands in glee like a small child.
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