Spit Out the Bugs in Your Mouth
By Stephen Thom
Spit Out the Bugs in Your Mouth
It started as a seedy glow; then the toxic light burst overhead, drowning everything within a small circle on the pavement underneath in addled yellow. Kiku shuffled in the glare, stuffing his hands deep into his long coat. The recipient was supposed to be waiting under one of these street lights; perhaps further down to the left or right. He drummed his fingertips on the inside of their pockets and rolled his tongue over the bug underneath it, feeling the smooth curves of its sectioned back and the prickles of its tiny legs. Where was the recipient? Bubbles of saliva formed between his lips as the bug became increasingly impatient inside its wet recepticle.
A shadow unfurled in the centre of the street and Kiku saw another man, several lamp lights to the left, step into his own yellow puddle. His face was obscured by a broad black hat and his shoulders were also hunched inside a trenchcoat. Knees spasming into motion, Kiku started towards the figure but immediately retreated as several more thick shadows oozed onto the tarmac. A light film of drizzle began to douse the street and Kiku could see each lamp now housed its own huddled man. The vague patter gnawed at the periphary of his hearing as the two lines of men stood uncertainly sounding each other out. Perhaps external agencies - but perhaps also, this was routine procedure now? It had been months since the last handover and security was tightening. Still, the recipient, the recipient...
Suddenly balking, Kiku clasped a palm to his mouth - but not before the bug scurried over it, encased in a web of spittle; hairline limbs flickered across his knuckles and down his coat front. In a moment he was on his knees flapping at the greasy pavement, eyes rolling up to see the speck of insect fast-forwarding out of the circle of light. There was a hot feeling on the inside of his forehead and his eyes began to well up. 'Fuck, fuck...' he muttered, scraping dirt from the road and staring at the black lines under his fingernails, creeping panic bleeding down the fingers beneath to throb in the the places where the underside of his skin met raw muscle. On the opposite side of the street, several men stepped out of their light wigwams and started in his direction.
From his crouching position Kiku rustled in his pockets again - nothing but a fountain pen. The rain spattered thicker drops and he imagined plunging the pen tip into a be-hatted head...the soft hole afterwards, like a candle being removed from a cake.
It was only when he pulled himself to his feet, prepared to face the oncoming shadows, that he realised the road was crawling with bugs. A man splashed through a growing puddle beside him and spat a frisky insect from his own mouth into the clusters that swarmed on the street floor around them. The black bug clung bitterly to a wadded noose of bile dangling from his lower lip. Several of the men were also bent double, coughing out clicking bugs into the writhing mass. A couple of the coated figures were dancing as the shiny nest scuttled around their shoes. Dancing!
The man nearest to Kiku slapped him on the shoulder and smiled a toothy grin. 'It's passed,' he urged, 'you took the initiative, but we should have been braver, too. Thankyou, thankyou so much.' It was an accident, Kiku thought, before his brain filled with the image of a small smoke-filled room, a circle of chairs, pale people standing up to talk in tandem. Maybe even though it was an accident, it was what was supposed to happen.
The coated men gathered under a single light and watched as the frothing group of insects converged before scrambling through a rusty grille into the sewers. They wouldn't last long; they were only able to survive in sublingual spaces, passed from mouth to mouth over time. Their little frames pulsed under the glow of the lamps with the foul energy they had harvested. Kiku pressed his palm into the gap between his eyebrows, imagining the lost possiblities, but only because it was all he knew, and all he had known up to that point.
In the rustling downpour Kiku was the last to leave, matted hair absorbing shock and wet sheets. His eyes felt as if they had melted into their sockets and he was disgusted now by the bugs and disgusted to be human, but the coated men had left him touching on the spark of an idea that he was growing along with everyone else - that we have all learnt something, are all older, are all more aware of the fragility of life.