Spit Out the Bugs in Your Mouth

Spit Out the Bugs in Your Mouth

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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 underneath 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. 

***

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18 thoughts on “Spit Out the Bugs in Your Mouth

  1. Another good ‘un! I found myself wishing I knew more about this world you plunged me into. Have you got plans for a longer novella or novel set in this world? I really want to know more about it – the whos whats wheres and whys. So much suspense! I’d definitely read it. Great job again.
    As for any points, I wasn’t clear straight away that the bug was in his mouth – maybe that was just me as I did read it just as I woke up this morning -, but I had to stop and read these words more than once to get the meaning:’He drummed his fingertips on the inside of their pockets and rolled his tongue over the bug underneath it …’. For some reason I missed the fact that the bug was under his tongue as I spent too much time trying to work out whose pockets the fingers were in (the word ‘their’ confused me – which isn’t hard) and then how come he was rolling his tongue over a bug underneath the said pockets. Perhaps if I’d read it when I was fully awake, I’d have cottoned on straight away. That being said, I really enjoyed this and I think your writing is becoming tighter and more honed with each story you share.

    • Hey! Thanks Julia. Its a kinda metaphorical/imagery-type thing/nonsense so I wouldn’t be looking to expand it… re: sentence for sure, I wanted it to be a check back moment, casually dropped in, like a cigarette in his mouth, but it’s a bug. I think Im ok with anthropomorphising fingertips for the sake of avoiding using ‘his’ three times in a row…at the moment, haha, maybe I will double check that… I didn’t like the one line of dialogue in it though but it’s hard to do that type of isolated line right. Awesome feedback Julia!

  2. Ah, Stephen, what a wondrous mind you have…deliciously creepy, but wonderful just the same. I hate roach-like bugs being anywhere near me; and the thought of one in my mouth–yucky to the max. As always, you leave me wanting to know more.
    And BTW, I tagged you in the Writing Process Blog Tour 2014. If you don’t wish to participate, no problem; but if you do, the rules are in my latest post.

  3. “They wouldn’t last long; they were only able to survive in sublingual spaces, passed from mouth to mouth over time.” What a wonderful line!!! This is the film noir version of Naked Lunch! I’m aware this might sound like a sycophants tea party, but you’ve won me over….am a fan, hahaha!

    • Yes! I just had to google ‘what is the space under your tongue called’. See? Today we are trading mystical writing knowledge secrets…mystical. Really chuffed you enjoyed it 🙂 *clinks mug of tea*

      • Haha! I looked it up as well, I love it! In fact, I should use it everyday. “How was your day today?” “Mwah, subversive and sublingual. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

  4. Wow, entering into your creepy world very late at night is making me think Rod Serling from the old Twilight Zone show is suddenly going to appear in my bedroom and explain what happened to Man that he is transporting these yucky bugs around in His mouth. I loved the vivid images you’ve placed in my brain: men in trench coats, under lighted wigwams, everything (in my mind, anyway) dark and rainy and suffused with the sickly yellow of street lights… and then a colony of roaches, spit up or out, making their spittle-spattered way to the sewers. Oh my! Well done.

  5. I may be going out on a limb here but I interpret this as metaphor for ridding ourselves of falsehoods, learning to speak truths without bugs festering under our tongues. And your protagonist, Kiku, accidentally spits it out, freeing everyone else. Don’t know if this was your intention but I think it is brilliant. I also love the name Kiku. You’ve done a wonderful job describing a very noir-ish street. The only thing that threw me is very minor and probably an American quirk. The word “tarmac” here is most often (almost always in my part of the country anyhow) associated with airport runways. So I had to re-read that part a couple of times to understand where they were. Then I googled “tarmac” and saw that it also means pavement.

    At any rate, wonderful writing, Stephen. I become more and more a fan upon each reading. Thanks for that.

  6. Another good job – sinister setting and storyline, with vibrant, visual imagery. The idea of the roach under the tongue is something that would freak most people out – and you managed to do that with me! I too love the name Kiku.

  7. You have so mastered how to set an atmospheric scene! I would never have expected a bug under the tongue, even with the title. I was thinking metaphorical bugs. On another note, in the stuff that I read — environmental/ecological type stuff — that seems to almost be becoming more of a clarion call, for humans who don’t currently eat insects to take up the habit. It’s protein, solves (or helps to) the problem of hunger (as there will be about 9 billion of us in something like 35 years), addresses climate change, etc. I never thought I’d say that I’m considering it; in the latest Nat Geo, they say something like “bug flour and additives will be commercially available soon” (presumably in North America). And, ye gods . . . “wadded noose of bile dangling from his lower lip.” That is so brilliantly grotesque! Oh, finally, I don’t know if this is of interest, Stephen, but I thought of you: http://thelondonmagazine.org/tlm-competition/the-london-magazines-short-story-competition-2014/

  8. I have once again nominated you for an award, Stephen. (Beginning to get old, huh? lol) It’s called The Very Inspiring Blogger Award, and you can find the details on my latest post. And by the way, this one is relatively painless. 🙂

  9. Buggy bug world. Kiku should have crunched some under his feet. You know that rich crunchy sound of exoskeletons breaking and squirting forth weird bug juice. That one. Crunch! it goes. Crunch!
    The conclusion inspires a sense of absurd, insidious terror: that the human being has a lesson to learn from every experience! Even a chimerical one such as Kiku’s. It portrays the human as a creature in perpetual growth and development, though he nears his death with every second that passes. There is no point when he can say “I know” with absolute certainty–only “We’ll see” or even better “We’ll learn”–a creature in a strange world whose workings are beyond his comprehension, yet he calls it his home. There is terror when everything seems relevant to one’s life.

Thankyou for reading, feedback/constructive criticism always welcome :-)

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