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A Cue from Stephen King

July 6, 2010

Stephen King once said that he would try to horrify his audience and, if he couldn’t do that, then he’d terrify them. If he couldn’t do either, he’d go for the gross out.

I figure I’ll try the same logic with the this prologue from my next horror novel Red Herring:

(Note: Be careful about reading this late at night or with the windows open)

Red Herring

Prologue

Clyde Gaudin wiped a sheen of sweat from his forehead and then went back to typing on his computer. Man, what is with this weather, he said to himself. The exhaust fan in the attic was working overtime trying to draw out all of the oppressive heat that had settled into his house while he’d been away at work.

For more than a month, it had been hotter than normal in the Atlanta area. Humidity had been high, resulting in powerful thunderstorms that had pummeled most of the northern half of Georgia. Even worse, after those same storms had passed, it had grown uncomfortably muggy, adding insult to injury.

He took another look at the project showing on the monitor and smiled. He had finally worked out all of the bugs and kinks. Not wanting to tempt fate, he saved the screen and then typed in another URL to check the sports scores. Atlanta was playing Boston in an interleague game tonight and he wanted to see if his Braves had found their offense after being waxed the previous night, 24-0.

The game popped up and he cringed. The Braves were down 16-0 in the top of the seventh and it looked like four different players were doing the damage. The only good news was that the game, already delayed three hours by that last thunderstorm, was in danger of being called by another approaching thunderst–

“Yahh!” he exclaimed. “What the hell?”

He shoved the keyboard drawer in and slapped at his left leg. Looking down, he curled his lips in disgust when he saw a roach scurrying away. Angrily, he spun around and stomped on the bug, smearing its body across the concrete floor.

Damned roaches, he snorted. Buggers were getting bolder, crawling right up his leg like he was a piece of furniture.

It was the rain and the heat and the humidity that was driving more of the pests into houses all over the neighborhood. He’d already killed a dozen this evening alone. It had gotten so bad that he had taken to keeping a fly swatter next to his computer workstation.

He lifted his foot and looked at the remains on the floor. At least these were easy to kill. It was those giant cockroaches that really got him. He still remembered the one he’d smashed that very morning. It had scared the crap out of him, coming in under his bedroom door and running right across the rug, straight at him.

Was it really trying to get at him or was it running for cover to get out of the open? Clyde didn’t care. He stomped on it as soon as it got close. And then he stomped on it again when it laughed at him and kept on running. Finally, he had to step on it, twist his foot and then drag it across the rug, leaving roach parts behind.

Remember, Clyde, they’re not cockroaches.

His neighbor Roger had pointed that out to him one day. The giant roaches were really called Palmetto bugs, but they looked like roaches. And they could fly. Well, most roaches could fly, but these…Palmettos…could fly across a room.

Suddenly, one flew right by his head and he jumped back, sending his chair rolling back until it hit the far wall. Struggling to catch his breath, Clyde watched the damned thing alight on his flat-screen television. He got angry. It seemed as if they were trying to take over the whole damned house.

He grabbed his fly swatter and edged over to the television. The bug stopped, its antenna twitching as if it knew he was there. He feinted at it and it took off, toward for the far wall. Clyde smiled, happy that the stupid pest had taken his bait. He swatted at it with a forehand worthy of Steffi Graf, connected and sent it bouncing off the opposite wall. He followed up by crushing it with his booted foot when it landed, stunned, on the floor.

It took him a few minutes to retrieve a paper towel to clean up the remains of both roaches and dispose of them unceremoniously in the garbage. He came back and sat down at his computer again. He figured he might as well do some more work instead of going to bed.

Quite frankly, he really did not want to sleep. He was worried about the roaches. A few days earlier, he’d slapped away a Palmetto that had crawled across his stomach as he’d read a book in bed. Now, with the windows open to let in positive air flow to replace what the exhaust fan took out, every time a breeze disturbed the hair on his legs, he was slapping at them. He had red marks everywhere.

He’d finally convince himself that he was being foolish and would fall back asleep long enough to get a decent night’s rest before work. That effort to convince himself usually took an hour, thanks to his insatiable curiosity for useless information. How many times had he read about horrible mishaps involving cockroaches, crawling into ears, up nostrils and into people’s mouths as they slept? Sometimes, he wondered if he wasn’t too smart for his own good.

He brought his screen back up from screensaver mode and scrunched his face. His project was almost finished, yet whenever he took a fresh look, he found something he wanted to change. He supposed that maybe he was trying to be perfect with this little scheme.

Little?

If all went as planned, there would be nothing little about it. He’d get back at them. And the best part would be that they would be the cause of their own downfall.

Finally, he finished and set up the project for delivery. He made it for the next morning, at two a.m., well before even the early risers. Satisfied with himself, he leaned back in his chair and let out a deep breath.

That’s when he noticed it.

Sitting right on the paper loaded into his printer holding tray.

Antennae twitching as it looked at him, unfazed by the fly swatter sitting nearby. 

My God, that roach is huge, Clyde thought, sitting upright. Normally, they were slightly larger than his thumb. This one was bigger than two thumbs side by side.

He thought about his swatter, but reaching for it would make the roach scurry away and he didn’t want something that huge crawling around his house. Besides, sitting on the edge of the stack of printer paper, it did not have enough of a foundation beneath it to be crushed. He’d swat it and the paper would bend, taking out most of the kinetic force of the swing.

Instead, he reached over to the other side of the computer and grabbed the roach spray. He normally kept it at hand for the smaller roaches because they died almost immediately after being sprayed. But, he knew the big ones died more slowly and more violently, thrashing about, running to and fro, flitting this way and that.

They’d run up the wall, take flight and land in his food and drink.

He didn’t have a choice, though. He switched the can to his right hand. Making sure he wasn’t aiming at himself, he leaned forward and caught the roach full in the face with a burst of spray.

He breathed a sigh of relief when the roach leaped away from him. He watched it disappear into the dark space behind the printer stand. For good measure, he stood, leaned over and sprayed two blasts into the darkness.

He decided that it was time for bed. He didn’t want to be around for this roach’s death throes. He had already set his computer to send out the e-mail, so there was nothing else for him to do anyway.

He logged off, pushed back from the work station and got up. Stretching, he grabbed his swatter and his spray and headed upstairs. At the top of the stairs, he hit the lights and sent the den into darkness.

A moment later, he came back to the top of the stairs and stared down at the bottom.

He listened but caught nothing. Hmm, he was sure he’d heard something. He finally told himself that he was tired and had imagined he’d heard something out of the ordinary. Yeah, just like that light he thought he’d seen in the woods, he mused.

Despite the mental reassurance, deep down, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was happening down there and it was more than just the death throes of a bug. Quickly, he reached back and turned off the exhaust fan. He then turned to the switch on the opposite wall and clicked on the light at the bottom of the stairwell.

He saw nothing and sighed in relief.

Then, a chill ran up his spine and he shivered. Why was he letting himself get so unnerved? Had the roaches gotten him that upset? If so, maybe he should spend the money for an exterminator.

He thought about letting loose some more spray toward the bottom of the stairs, if only to give him some false bravado. He didn’t, though. That would only acknowledge that his unfounded fears were true.

Chiding himself, he turned off the light again, set the security alarm on the wall unit by his bedroom and turned in for the night.

In the darkness of the stairwell, something moved up the wall.

The peacefulness of the Stone Mountain neighborhood was shattered again by the ear-piercing sirens and extremely bright red and blue flashing lights of the DeKalb police cars. Nobody’s sleep was disturbed, though. Everyone on the block was already awake when the two police cars screeched to a halt before 981 Cabot Court.

Sergeant Oliver Danbury was out of his car like a shot, sprinting across the lawn, through the house’s open front door and up the staircase. He and the officer behind him had their hands on the grips of their pistol the whole time.

A female officer stood in the doorway of the bedroom, but she was turned away from them, her hands covering her mouth. Danbury pushed past her, vainly looking for someone to tell him the situation.

Exasperated, he looked around. The bedroom was a mess. It looked as if a tornado had swept through.

Danbury saw something in the far corner, strode over and cringed when he saw Gaudin’s body splayed half off his bed, arms and legs akimbo. And Danbury was sure that he’d never forget the horrific look on Gaudin’s face. My God, he thought, it looked as if the man’s eyes were about to burst from his skull.

Danbury looked back at the female officer and, for the life of him, he couldn’t imagine such a seasoned veteran gagging at the condition of the corpse.

“Fletcher, pull yourself together,” he snapped. “What the hell happ–”

He stopped abruptly and looked down. Something was wrong with the body.

He leaned in for a closer look.

Gaudin’s cheeks puffed out. Something was inside Gaudin’s mouth and it was moving!

Then, Danbury saw the corpse’s lips move, the mouth open and thumb-sized shapes flood out, across the dead man’s face. Two of the shapes quickly sprouted wings and took flight even as Danbury suppressed the urge to scream.

Gaudin’s mouth was full of giant roaches!

While the female cop might have turned away from the terrible sight, Fergis, the other officer in the room, went one further by heading downstairs to the den as fast as his legs could carry him. He stopped by a computer, leaned against the wall opposite it and took several deep breaths to hold down his gag reflex.

He didn’t notice the computer screen suddenly come to life by displaying a single message.

“Delivery complete.”

********************************************************

I hope you enjoyed reading this. I still get chills when I read it. I…hold on a minute. There’s a damn cockroach looking at me. Let me get the fly swatter.

Be back in a mksitels…………………..

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2010 4:03 pm

    Eww and yuck and …. well done! I never lived in an area where palmetto bugs or roaches were a huge population. And I thank my lucky stars daily.

    Ugh, going to check my legs and arms for bugs now.

  2. July 8, 2010 3:37 pm

    Nice one, Greg. At least we don’t have roaches that size in the UK. Ours are iddy biddy ones, and it would take one hell of an imagination to turn them into material for a horror story!

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