Marta and the Bug (7-8)
Sunday evening came and Marta was surprised: Anthony hadn’t brought many things to the house. The living room looked the same. Only the kitchen looked different. A dog basket had been placed in the corner along with two stainless steel dishes – one filled with biscuits, the other filled with water.
Mr Bumble was snoozing. His ears twitched and his eyes opened when Marta walked in. He looked rather melancholy, his face frozen in a constant frown. Marta went to the sink, drank a glass of water; Mr Bumble watched
her every move. ‘Poor dog’ Marta thought. ‘I know what you’re thinking: You’d much prefer to be somewhere else.’
The new situation was becoming more and more complicated. Dinner was late because Anthony had been called in to work and Marta’s mother was adamant the three of them should eat together. And when Anthony eventually arrived he brought with him three portions of fish and chips. ‘But I don’t like fish and chips’ Marta said. ‘Of course you do, silly’ said her mom but Marta told her in no uncertain terms that she’d always disliked fish and chips, ever since she was born. How could she possibly forget ? Eventually Marta’s mom admitted that yes she was wrong and Marta didn’t like fish and chips. With everything that was going on, she said, it had completely slipped her mind.
Anthony offered to drive into town in his Morris Minor and get Marta something else – Indian or Chinese. But Marta said she’d rather starve and went up to her room.
The embryos that she had discovered in her wardrobe had gone. No trace of them was left. They must have hatched and flown out of the window.
Lying on her bed, thinking about fish and chips and her mother’s unforgivable forgetfulness, Marta began to crave something sweet. She hadn’t eaten for a long time – not since the pizza at Gillian’s house. After
she’d inhaled the yellow atmosphere inside the old garden shed she’d been
content to sip only small amounts of water for the rest of the weekend. In
fact, the idea of regular food repulsed her. She yearned for foodstuffs that
had never entered her mind before: pollen, sap, nectar, fresh leaves. And
something else she’d noticed about herself: her vision had improved – she could zoom in on things at will. She was able to read the tiny label on her school jumper hanging at the far end of her room. Each letter and number was bold and clear. It was as if her eyes had been transformed into powerful magnifying glasses.
She tried to sleep but her brain was travelling at a hundred miles an hour. She watched the daylight fade into darkness, amazed at the activity in the atmosphere. She’d left the window open, so a stream of warm air circulated in her room. There were so many tiny microcosms to look at - miniscule particles, all floating in slow motion through space. She got up and tried to touch them, allowed some to settle on her fingers and arms.
After a while Marta became conscious of the yellow mist. It was seeping into her room - slowly building, creating a dense heavy fog. Marta opened the door and walked along the landing. The house was full of it, glistening in the dark. She heard a noise coming from her mom’s room – low, erratic grunts. She stood for a moment outside the door then gently turned the handle and went in.
Her mother was asleep. Anthony was sitting on the edge of the bed in his pyjamas, scratching his arms and legs. He looked at Marta and said: ‘What’s happening to me ? I can’t breathe. I feel thirsty. I need water.’ He got up and went to the bathroom. Marta looked around the bedroom: hundreds of translucent bubbles thrumming with embryos were attached to the walls. The thick yellow mist was swirling all around.
Marta opened the window then went over and shook her mom: ‘Wake up. I don’t think Anthony is very well.’ But Marta’s mom smiled in her sleep and said: ‘Really ? Oh, that’s a shame. It’s so warm and comfy in here. I feel as if I’m sleeping on a cloud.’
Anthony re-appeared. His hair and pyjamas were soaking wet - he’d doused himself in the shower. He was still scratching his arms. He looked at Marta in terror, then began to collect his clothes, stuffing them into his holdall.
‘What are you doing ?’
‘I’m leaving’ he said. ‘I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t stand it anymore. I wish I’d never come.’
She watched as he ran downstairs, shouting ‘Mr Bumble! Mr Bumble! We’re going, right this minute.’ Then, standing at the top of the stairs, she saw Anthony and his dog hurry through the front door, heard the car engine start and the screech of the tyres as he drove away.
She returned to the bedroom. Her mom was soundly sleeping. Marta breathed in the sweet fog swirling around the house. She looked up: on the ceiling and the walls the embryos were starting to hatch.
The bugs seemed to act in unison. First they wriggled free of an enzyme that acted as a sleeping bag; then they began to snack on the translucent bubbles, gnawing a hole large enough for them to squeeze through. After eating some more of the rubbery substance they began to fly all at once towards the open window. Marta seemed to be strangely familiar with this procedure; she knew the bubbles had a sweet, syrupy taste, high in sugar and protein - a necessity for new born bugs. They needed plenty of energy, especially as they were now swarming over the garden, like a thick black, red and yellow carpet. The swarm rose above the trees, heading in the direction of the town, lurching every now and again to the left and right in order to confuse the night birds that would swallow every one of them whole if they could. Marta
was flying amongst them too - her arms outstretched, surrounded by a sea of
tiny stones that glistened in the moonlight. Far below she could see a car
travelling along the road, a car she recognised as Anthony’s. The swarm began to speed towards the car’s roof, eventually overtaking Anthony’s cranky Morris Minor, then twisting in mid air so that Marta was facing the windscreen. She caught a glimpse of Anthony and Mr Bumble. Anthony was still scratching his arms, even though he was driving. Mr Bumble saw her and began to bark, poking his head out of the passenger window as the swarm swept past them and climbed towards the night sky.
When the bugs eventually came to rest Marta found herself in Gillian’s garden. The tiny insects separated and began to feast on flowers and shrubs, replenishing their energy after the long flight.
Marta entered the lounge through the sliding doors and climbed the varnished stairs. Gillian’s house was filled with yellow mist too, humming and pulsing with life. She looked in on the twins – they were sleeping together - then she entered the bedroom Gillian shared with her dad.
He was sitting up in bed. He too was scratching his arms and face, desperate for water. ‘Where’s Gillian ?’ said Marta. Her father looked at her, uncomprehending, as though he wasn’t sure who she was talking about.
‘Marta ?’ he said. ‘I’m sorry I forgot you liked pizza. Are you hungry ? Would you like me to get you some more ?’
She said it was ok, she wasn’t hungry. He began to scratch himself again – hair, arms, legs. ‘Go to the bathroom and drink some water’ she said. He got up and she followed him along the corridor.
While he was in the bathroom Marta looked towards the loft space. She knew the embryos were in there – thousands upon thousands of them, attached to the roof beams. She wasn’t tall enough to lift the entrance
board and drop the ladder so she placed her hands against the wall. She began to climb, her hands sticking to the wall, managing her weight, and she
positioned herself beneath the opening, lifting the board to gain entry.
Once she’d pulled herself up she couldn’t believe was she saw: not only were there thousands of embryos, as she suspected, but there was also a giant bug, standing in the centre of the loft space – so big its head was brushing the roof. Two large yellow bubbles sat by the bug’s legs. One contained Gillian. The other contained James. Gillian didn’t seem to mind being imprisoned in a translucent bubble. She was checking her phone – scrolling through contracts, perhaps. James, though, looked ill at ease. He was shouting at Marta – ‘Let me out!’ or ‘I hate you!’ or something like that. Marta didn’t
respond. She had more important things to do. She had to help her dad load up his car and then say goodbye to the twins.
Before she did, she moved closer to the giant bug. She realised now that it was the bug that had landed in her living room. And she realised another thing: Bug wasn’t a he – Bug was a she. A beautiful giant queen bug that had laid thousands upon thousands of eggs. Bug’s red antenna began to move – began to stroke Marta’s head. They were so soft and warm that Marta closed her eyes. She could feel pulses of electricity coursing through them – secret proclamations that only bugs could understand. Bug was telling Marta that it was time for her to leave. Soon the embryos would hatch and fly into the night. Then Queen Bug would die and the cycle would begin again.
‘Marta ? Where are you ? Marta ? Are you there ?’
She made her way out of the loft space and shimmied head first down the wall. Then, after kissing the sleeping twins, she took her dad’s hand and escorted him to his car.
Go to part 9: https://www.abctales.com/story/kilb50/marta-and-bug-9