Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In honor of their return ... some stinkbug fiction

It's a chilly, rainy day in Western Pennsylvania, and somehow, I'm feeling a bit unmotivated. So I thought I'd post some fiction you might enjoy.

Many of you read this when I posted it in October of 2010. This was written for an assignment with my writing group, Writers at Work. Following this story is a sequel written the next month, but never posted here on the blog.

Driven to Distraction

“Your turn, Charlie. Hop in!” Meredith placed the jar up against the brick wall prompting the stinkbug to jump. “One hundred and sixty-two.”

 Watching the pseudo-armored bug struggle against inevitable death, Meredith smiled. The watery graveyard was mucky brown with those that had suffered identical fates – death by soapy water. It was a formula she learned about on Facebook from someone calling herself “Green Grandma” who promoted environmentally-friendly ways to solve common problems. Not that the eradication of stinkbugs was all that common, mind you. Meredith could not recall a time she had ever even noticed one of these insects in the past. Now it seemed these miniature army men were threatening to overtake civilization as she once knew it, creeping their way onto her kitchen counters, into her bathroom, atop her line-dried organic bamboo bed sheets. Everywhere she turned, she saw them. The news stations were airing special reports, strangers in the grocery stores were swapping war stories, and newspapers blowing in the wind sported headlines about the problem.

Meredith herself was working on a magazine article titled, Destined to Die: The story of an American stinkbug, but so far she could not seem to get past the title. That happened often with her. She would create a dynamite heading, often perusing her trusty Thesaurus for elegant alliteration or pithy similes, and then fall flat in her effort to match up her titling abilities with an equally dynamic article.

Maybe if I just spend some time with Charlie and all his Chinese relatives, I’ll come up with something, she had thought, but then succumbed to a killing spree rivaling any she had participated in prior to this partly sunny, unusually warm October day. Thinking about the mass grave she held in her hands made Meredith start to feel itchy. First, it was her shoulders and she twisted back and forth trying to reach the spots on her upper back where it felt like bugs were crawling. She could hear buzzing in her ears, the telltale sound of stinkbugs on patrol…or attack…or whatever it was they were doing.

“Vinegar!” she shouted. “I have to find some vinegar!”

Slamming the screen door behind her, Meredith started opening cabinet doors in her kitchen, pulling out bottle after bottle.

“There must be a jar of vinegar here somewhere, Tawny,” she said through gritted teeth. The cat ignored her, sauntering past her before bounding down the basement steps to his litter box. “The basement!” she exclaimed. “You are brilliant, Tawny. Of course, there’s vinegar in the basement!”

Tawny looked up at Meredith from his squatting position in the corner of the laundry room.

“Why vinegar, you ask?” Meredith directed her question to him as he scratched at the litter. “Well, because,” she continued. “Green Grandma says vinegar is the answer for everything! Remember when we watched that movie about the Greek family and the wedding?”

Tawny did not answer.

“Well, the bride’s father thought Windex was the answer, but let’s face it, Tawnmeister – Windex is not environmentally-friendly. Vinegar is!”

Retrieving the gallon jug from the cabinet above the washer, Meredith hurried up the steps, taking them two at a time. If I can find a way to eradicate these freakin’ demons, the article will write itself.

Her neck started to twitch as Meredith walked around the patio toting an almost full gallon of vinegar, without a clue as to what she was going to do with it. Realizing she was at a total loss, she went back into her office and began to type.

Dear Green Grandma…

The article would have to wait.

Hana Haatainen Caye
Photo by Mikaela Dunn

A Vengeful Stench
Opening the mailbox, Meredith spotted a bright green envelope. Her name and address was creatively printed across the front, as if merry little elves were playing with a brand new set of colored pencils. Tawny rubbed back-and-forth against her legs, mewing softly.

“I got it!” Meredith screamed. “I got it!” she repeated, jumping up and down with the prized piece of mail in her hand.

A woman and her son passed by on the other side of the street, witnessing the exuberant display of enthusiasm. The boy stopped and stared just long enough to catch Meredith’s eye. She waved at him as his mother grabbed his arm, pulling him to a seemingly saner place.

“Problem, lady?” Meredith yelled. “Haven’t you ever seen anyone get exactly what they wanted, huh? Better watch where you’re going … the stinkbugs might get ya!”

The protective mother quickened her steps as the boy strained to see what else the crazy lady might be doing.

“Yeee haaaa! Tawny, this is it!”

Getting caught up in the excitement, the tortoiseshell cat dashed over to the oak tree, scurried up several feet and paused before dropping back down to the mulch below. Meredith skipped down the walk to the house. As she opened the door, the smell of pumpkin roll baking in the oven sent her endorphins into an even greater frenzy, the disco ball of her brain spinning at a fevered pace. Meredith Graham had not felt this good since the Christmas of 1989 when her parents told her she was adopted. The relief and joy over finding out she was not biologically connected to the people who raised her boosted her serotonin level off the charts. This … this beautiful, wonderful, exquisite green envelope produced the same magnificent feelings. Pure, unadulterated joy.

But then, everything changed as Meredith spotted it, crawling insidiously across the crown molding, camouflaged against the stained wood.

"No!” she screamed. “I thought they were gone.”

With her heart rate climbing, she ran to the bathroom, unrolling a ribbon of toilet paper in her haste.

“I’ll get you. I’ll get you. I’ll get you.” Her voice crescendo-ing with each phrase as she mounted the couch and reached toward the ceiling. As her foot hit the slick leather, the couch slid on the hardwood floor, sending Meredith reeling backwards toward the entertainment center.

Crack. Her head hit the edge and she fell lifeless onto the braided area rug beneath her. The stinkbug flew from his place of ambush, landing on the green envelope as it perched on the edge of the table in the entryway.

The sound of the smoke alarm alerted Meredith’s next-door neighbor, who, finding the front door unlocked, discovered her body. The smell of burnt pumpkin roll wafted through the house and Gerry hurried into the smoke-filled kitchen in search of the phone. Snapping the oven’s control to the off position, she picked up the cordless, returned to the living room and dialed 911. As she was heading outside to wait for the ambulance, Gerry noticed the menacing presence of the stinkbug. Shivering with disgust, she gingerly picked up the corner of the green envelope and tossed it out the door. Whatever this dream-come-true letter revealed, it was just one more thing lost to the 2010 invasion of the stinkbugs.

 Hana Haatainen Caye

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