When he heard a loud, sharp crack, he instantly knew what it was. He checked the sole of his sandal and saw that he had stood on a cockroach, one of its legs still twitching. It didn’t matter. He was always standing on them, most of the time on purpose.
Stanley Marwood was on his way to the fridge to retrieve milk. Upon opening it, the sudden light sent more cockroaches scuttling around, trying to find some form of darkness. The milk had taken on a light yellow tinge, as it been there for three weeks, its purpose only for putting in mugs when he made tea. He put it back, and the cockroaches felt safe again to feed on the mouldy butter, the fungicidal cheese, the brown grapes, and the half eaten pot of yoghurt which he had every intention of eating.
From a tin next to the sink, he picked out a tea-bag. Around it, in the sink and crawling around the cupboards beneath it, many ants dashed around for some unknown purpose, on a neverending search for food, or for some token to take back to the nest, which had to be nearby, or there wouldn’t be so many of them. There could realistically have been around 400 in and around the sink, but Stanley didn’t care.
There was also glistening lines criss crossing the sink, walls and counter, marking the path where slugs had slowly crawled. While he waited for the kettle to boil, he amused himself by crushing the ants beneath his thumb on the drainage board next to the sink. He wiped blood on his trousers, made the tea and walked back into his living room.
Stanley was 57, and had never done much in his life, other than own an allotment for 17 years, but had to abandon it when a new road was built which cut directly through it. This had made him more bitter than he already had been, and slowly but surely, his negative attitude towards many things had lost him his friends.
Everything, according to him, was the government’s fault. The councils. Those with some sort of authority. People who wore uniforms. They were all conspiring against him, personally. This was why they gave him minimal benefits and hounded him with all sorts of threatening letters. Pay your licence. Pay your water bill, pay this, pay that.
What Stanley failed to realise was that this was the normal way of life for most people. If you had money, you could live easier, with more home comforts. If you were poor, you had to budget carefully, but Stanley found fault everywhere.
The television and papers were full of rubbish. The kids of today were mindless psychopaths, and no-one trusted anyone any more. Perhaps that was one thing he had got right, but his bitterness had led him to get his appearance slip.
He had worn the same clothes for five months, and for three months had not washed at all in any way. His hair was long, matted and wiry. He had a straggly beard where once a fly had laid eggs. He had been in bed, felt movement, and soon discovered that maggots had emerged onto the pillow. That was one of the times he had actually bothered to do something about it. In fact, that was the last time he had washed, but as yet, it was only a matter of time before another fly laid more eggs in such a comfortable nest.
His living room was small, but had been made smaller by all the litter he had accumulated. It wasn’t over the top, he did put some things in the bin, but most of the time he simply put them to one side and ignored them. He mostly used one half of a sofa as his regular seat, the other half piled up with old newspapers, posted circular adverts, and empty cans of lager along with half eaten, dried up trays of gravied chips. A few pizza boxes lay around, with some of the food left.
A television was set up in one corner. This was covered in useless paraphernalia, as was the mantle-piece and a lot of the carpet. Stanley’s appearance had taken on a slight grayish tint. This was because some of the dirt on his skin was now ground-in. It was the same with the dirt on the windows. The last time they had been cleaned was fifteen years ago when he had told the cleaner after paying him to bugger off and don’t come back until he lowers his price.
All of the window sills in his house were like a little grave-yard, scattered, as they were with the bodies of many flies, bees and wasps that had been confused by the glass and had exhausted themselves trying to get out. Some of the small corpses were simply shells, having been there years, and some of them where fresh, dying only today. The front and back gardens were overgrown with weeds. They were basically small jungles for the insects and rodents.
He watched television as he drank his tea, disgusted as usual by what was on. They must think we’re thick, he thought. They spoon fed us this rubbish and expect us to be entertained. Yet, every day, he always found himself watching it.
Flies buzzed around all over the place, and beetles and lice crawled on the carpet. In amongst what could realistically be called debris, maggots crawled and wriggled. Some of them in amongst mouldy fruit, somewhere beneath the litter. The air always held a heavy, musty odour of decay, the stench of waste.
He finished his drink and leaned forward to do what he always did, when he saw a cockroach on the coffee table, scuttling along across papers and torn open envelopes. He slammed the cup down, crushing it. He laughed aloud and looked at the bottom of the cup. It was squashed amongst other cockroaches that had died the same way.
A few months ago, he had bought a fly swatter. That was always kept on the coffee table. He didn’t just use it for flies. Many a crushed carcass had stuck to it, most of them now just falling off. Stanley enjoyed using it. He would swat all the insects he could see when he had it in his hand. Most nights when he was on his way to bed, he would smack every insect he saw, so it usually took a while to get to the bedroom.
Tonight was no exception. He put the mug down, picked up the fly swatter, stood up, and saw a spider on the back of the sofa. There was no hesitation in crushing it. It left a smear, but so had previous spiders, killed the same way.
Out in the hall, he turned on the light, and a few cockroaches and beetles scuttled to find darkness. There were a few flies on the walls. They were always difficult to swat, Stanley had found, but he enjoyed the challenge. He got two hits out of two strikes. He had been a master of this for a while.
Two cockroaches scurried across the floor. He simply stood on both of them and walked up the stairs. Halfway up, he saw a spider on one of the steps. It had built a web in a corner. He smacked it, its carcass dropping off the weapon. Before he reached the top, he had swatted one beetle and four flies.
He walked into the bathroom and switched the light on, putting the swatter next to the sink. In the dusty bath, he saw three house spiders, seven beetles, and nine cockroaches, most of them crawling around, probably wondering where they were, and how they could get out.
He also noticed that around the window, some of the frame had rotted away, and woodlice crawled around, some of them making the short journey to the area behind the sink taps, and along the walls on an epic journey to the floor or ceiling.
Again, a few cockroaches scuttled on the floor, searching for darkness and small crevices. Two moths fluttered around the bare light bulb, casting flickering shadows, the sound of beating wings against the glass loud in the small confines of the bathroom.
He soon entered the bedroom and pressed on the light. A spider had been on the switch, and was crushed beneath his finger. He wiped it on his trousers and accidentally stood on a spider and beetle in the two steps it took to reach his bed.
Every night he would read a novel before settling down for the night. Most of the books he read were adventures set in wars. So he sat for a while reading that, the sound only punctuated by the buzzing of three flies around the light bulb.
After a while, he stood up, switched off the light, and climbed into bed, beneath his grimy, dirt stained sheets in his clothes, which he always did. Sleeping in his clothes kept him warmer. That was his excuse, and for a long time, he had stuck to it.
The flies had also settled wherever they landed in the dark, and all was quiet. After a while, he began to feel movement near him beneath the sheets. It was normal. It happened every night. Insects didn’t follow his sleeping patterns, so sought darkness and warmth next to him, and crawled along him and over him, never truly seeming to settle. He felt what must have been a cockroach climb over his bare foot and crawl along his calf, under his trouser material.
As it neared his knee, it found progress increasingly difficult, but still, it pressed on, reaching halfway along his thigh, when Stanley, finally irritated by this, slammed his fist down onto where it was. Its innards and shell smeared his skin, but Stanley settled back down to go to sleep.
He didn’t settle though, as something caught his eye at the window. Something outside was glowing white and slowly moving around. What on earth was that? he thought, deciding to get up and investigate.
He never closed the curtain at night, but had trouble seeing through the dirt encrusted window, but what he made out was that there were several specks of light, rather like a concert crowd waving lighters when the band performed a ballad. He had to see what they were, so left his bedroom and went downstairs and into the kitchen.
Before he reached the back door, an audible crunch reached his ears and he automatically knew he had stood on a cockroach in his bare feet. It oozed between his toes, but he ignored it and carried on to the back door. Unlocking and opening it, he walked out and stood before the small jungle which was bathed in white beneath the hovering lights.
More came from there to join the others, and float around like many stars that had somehow came much closer, yet had remained the same size. Soon, they all seemed to gather together to form a shape. Some floated by him, and Stanley saw what they were. They were little glowing insects. Lice, flies, Spiders, slugs, ants, woodlice, etc. All the ghosts of the insects Stanley had killed slowly gathered into one huge shape.
It formed into a giant, glowing cockroach, the size of a coach. After a few seconds, it began to slowly walk towards him. It reached about two metres before him, before the shock of it was too much for Stanley to take, and his heart simply stopped, his face went white, and he collapsed dead, into the jungle. The image dispersed back into the specks of light, and all slowly faded away.
Stanley didn’t know that the large cockroach couldn’t have done anything. It was after all a spirit. It had no substance in the real world, so could not have harmed him. Rather like insects in the real world. Their defence against humans being their very appearance.
There was usually nothing to be afraid of. How could a small, inch long insect reduce a fully grown person into a nervous wreck? It was part of their natural defence, and the cockroach’s very visual presence performed the job it was meant to do, cause him shock and give him a seizure. He was also unaware that insects had to have souls as well as mammals. They had to if they were living, sentient beings, and if humans and animals went somewhere after death, then insects had to go somewhere as well.
So it was with the insects in Stanley’s house. They had gotten their revenge for his constant killing, and now the garden and his house, for now, had become an insect paradise, and if this was heaven for them, maybe their ghosts were already home.