"INSECTOIDS"
BY
JOSH BECKER


Story By:

Josh Becker
Bart Pierce
Richard Merciez
Larry Cox

Copyright 8/10/80
Registered With The
Writer's Guild of America


       Fran opened the door to her apartment building and heard a phone ringing up the hall, probably hers.  She pulled on her key and as usual it was stuck in the lock.  She grinned menacingly as she yanked and twisted as though she might come back with a gun and teach the lock a lesson.  The phone continued to ring.
       "I'll kill you you son-of-a -bitch!"
       It rang yet again.
       Fran completely let go of the key, placed two fingers on it and gently slid it out.  Looking to heaven and smiling she dashed down the hall and unlocked her apartment door.  This one worked correctly, the door opened and she grabbed the phone on the seventh ring.
       "Hello."
       "Hiya, Pumkin," said her Dad.
       "Hi, Daddy," she said happily, a little girl's tone in her voice, "how're you?"
       "Fine, just fine.  So what d'you think about that vacation.  Your Mother and I are all packed."
       "I can't go," she said.  "I got a new job today.  A legal secretary.  I'm making a lot of money."
       Mr. Moyers sounded concerned, "But what about your acting?  You've wanted to be an actress since you were eight or nine."
       Fran's whole body slumped.  "I'll never make it, Daddy."
       "But you've always been so sure…"
       "I'm twenty-five," said Fran, "and my skills don't impress anyone, including me.  I'm not even a good secretary, but maybe I'll learn to be one.  I'll never be a good actress."  She shut her eyes.
       "But Franny, you can't just give up all your dreams like that…"
       Fran did her best to restrain her tears.  "Look, you and Mom have a good time, all right?"
       "Sure."
       They both sat for a moment in silence.
       "I'll call you when we get back," he said and they hung up.

* * *

       Frank and Helen Moyers, Fran's parents, drove their 1965 Falcon station wagon pulling a small, 1958 Airstream trailer up north to a campground near some caves.
       Dressed in shorts and hiking boots, Frank tromped off toward the caves with his archeology book, a chisel, a hammer and a paint brush in hand.  He chose one of the smaller caves and walked in until it began getting dark, then he set his stuff down and began hacking away at the rock wall.  Within a few moments he began tiring a little and got down on his bare knees, but kept pounding and pounding, pebbles building up all around him.
       And then, just as he was getting exasperated, the white edge of a large bone became visible in the cave wall.  With renewed vigor Frank chipped all around it and the piles of pebbles around his legs built up.  One particularly large chunk of stone hit the ground beside Frank's left leg and split in half revealing the underbelly of a fossilized insect about an inch long.  Frank kept right on with his work, oblivious to the multitude of little legs protruding from the rock beside his calf.
       One of the insect's little legs vibrated ever so slightly.  The embedded bone became more pronounced as the rocks around it dropped away.  The vibration of the leg became a distinct movement.  Pausing for a moment, frank wiped his perspiring brow, then went back to his work.  All of the little legs began flexing, getting their mobility and strength back.  Changing tools, he took his paint brush and whisked some sediment from the bone.  The insect pried its back from the stone and crawled to the ground, its body made up of many flat planes looking almost like armor, the clampers at its mouth razor-sharp and serrated, the stinger on its tail like a small drill-bit.  Frank grasped the bone and attempted to yank it from the wall but it wouldn't budge, so with repressed excitement he went back to his delicate chipping.  Moving awkwardly on legs it hadn't used in thousands of years, the insect crawled up the edge of Frank's leather hiking boot, over the red and blue stripe of the protruding sock and on to the hairy flesh of Frank's calf.  Grasping the bone tightly and applying even more pressure it began to dislodge slowly.  The stinger moved down through the hair and poised over the skin.  The bone pulled free sending down a cascade of rubble, just as the stinger rammed deep into the flesh.
       Frank screamed and dropped his bone and the insect wedged the rest of its body into the small hole, immediately covered over by several drops of blood.  He looked down at his calf, saw the blood and winced.  Collecting his tools, book and bone together, Frank limped out of the cave.
       Back at the campgrounds and seated in his trailer, Helen scrutinized the wound, wiped off the blood with a cotton ball and alcohol from the first aid kit, put a small band-aid on the wound and went back to preparing supper.
       "It looks like a wasp bite," she said.
       Frank groaned, "It sure hurts."
       "From the size of the lump it looks like you're having an allergic reaction.  Remember when you got stung by that bumble-bee and your hand swoll up like a basketball?"
       Frank massaged the side of his calf and his face knotted up in pain.
       "Yeah, I guess that's it."

* * *

       Prudential Tower; fifty stories of gold mirrored glass glimmering in the sun.  Before it stood two men gazing up at its towering splendor, one dressed in a cheap business suit holding a vinyl briefcase, the other in designer jeans, a silk shirt unbuttoned to just above his navel and gold chains entwined in his thick chest hair.
       "Prudential has themselves one pretty building here," said Thomas Uto, the man with the briefcase.
       "It's my building," said Howard York definitively.  "Prudential is just leasing."
       "All right," conceded Uto, a sneer playing on his lips, "your building.  Now let's get down to brass tacks here, Mr. York.  Just exactly what kind of security system are you looking for?"
       "Well Tom - you don't mind if I call you Tom, do you? - well Tom, let's go inside, get a drink and talk this thing out."  York put a cigarette in his mouth and lit it with a gaudy gold lighter.  Uto eyed the lighter and the sneer wafted back across his face.
       "Sure thing, Mr. York, anything you say."

       York seated himself behind his huge, glass-covered, mahogany desk and spread his arms indicating the expanse of the fiftieth floor office.  "So what'd'ya think, Tom?"
       Uto was overwhelmed, but acted nonplussed, "It's a very nice office, Mr. York, now about that security system…"
       "Nice office?  This is the goddamned nicest office you've ever seen!"  York smiled and sat back.
       Uto's whole body tightened.  "You said there was something you wanted to discuss?"
       York leaned forward, his hands folded on the desktop.  "Look Tom, I built this building myself and it wasn't easy, let me tell you that.  I'll admit my Dad's a pretty big name around this town and that helped, but it was me that got it built."
       "Well that's fine, but…"
       "Let me finish," York interjected.  "Now I understand that a security system is a vital thing to any building, particularly one of this size.  I also know that for you to sell me one will be a real feather in your cap, am I right?"
       Uto's eyes were down to slits, his nostrils enlarged, "well…"
       "Of course it is.  I won't kid you Tom, I've talked with other security companies and I don't like the numbers they're talking.  It doesn't please me to have to spend one hundred and fifty grand on something that may never get used, you understand where I'm coming from?
       "Perfectly."
       York sat back.  "That's fine.  Now, I'm not talking cheap garbage, I'm just talking a low number, understand?"
       "Yes, indeed.  As it turns out, we have a brand new, fully-automated security system that will bolt and lock every door in the entire building at whatever time you set it, then unlock all the doors at whatever other time you set it.  It's infallible and the finest system of its kind on the market.  That is what I recommend for a building of this size."
       York rubbed his chin.  "What about people working overtime?"
       Uto produced a pocket calculator from his briefcase and began computing numbers while he spoke, simultaneously reading a sheet of paper on his lap.
       "Insurance laws demand that you have at least one security guard in the building all night.  With any other system you would assuredly need more than one.  With our system one is all you will need.  He is posted at the front door with a key - the only key - and he lets anyone out that has worked late, or lets in anyone with a late delivery."
       York quickly became annoyed with Uto's lack of attention to him and coughed loudly.  Uto looked up.
       "And just how much will this system cost?" asked York.
       Uto hit a few more numbers on the calculator, then equals and got $72,385.50.  He cleared it.
       "I can give you that system - installed - for one hundred and twenty-five thousand."
       "You're talking business."

* * *

       Frank parked his station wagon on the street and put a dime in the meter, then limped into the office of Al-Can Security.
       The secretary looked up.  "Hi, Frank, how was your vacation?"
       Frank hobbled over to the bulletin board.  "Pretty good."
       "What happened to your leg?"
       "Wasp bite."
       The secretary lit a long cigarette, removed her glasses and let them dangle on the chain around her neck.  "You should put some drawing salve on it, you might still have the stinger in you."
       Frank grumbled and looked at a paper tacked to the board.  "Prudential Town Center?  Where's that?"
       "It's that big, gold, shiny building off the Lodge freeway."
       "Oh, yeah."
       Frank turned to leave.
       "Hope your leg feels better."
       "Thanks."

* * *

       Inside of Frank Moyers' calf the insect had deeply embedded itself and hungrily fed on the surrounding musculature.

* * *

       In front of the Prudential Town Center sat several moving vans being unloaded of a vast array of office furniture and equipment.  There were also several telephone company trucks and one truck with "Al-Can Security Systems" printed on its side.

       In the basement of the building, in the boiler room, two scraggily men with unkempt, long hair and cover-alls bearing "Al-Can Security Systems" on the back, lazily installed the fully-automated security system.  While one of the men worked on the wiring the other man worked on attaching a panel with two digital clocks in it; the top clock set at 5:00 PM and the bottom one set at 6:00 PM.
       "Hey, Bud," said Sam, "hand me the eight-gauge solder."
       Bud poked around in the toolbox with a screwdriver.  "Sorry, no eight-gauge."
       "How about ten?"
       "Uhh…nope, no ten-gauge, either.  How about twelve?"
       Sam let the circuit board he was working on dangle from its wires.  "You think there's any eight-gauge up in the truck?"
       "Probably," said Bud, who busily rolled a joint.
       "You feel like getting it?"
       "I don't need it."
       "Yeah, but I do."
       "Fine," said Bud lighting up, " then you get it."
       "Fuck it," Sam said accepting the doob, "gimme the twelve."
       He handed back the joint and exchanged it with the twelve-gauge solder.  Sam pushed the clocks back into the box and screwed them in.  On the front of the circuit board, directly below the digital clocks, were a multitude of tiny little dots of solder.  Sam added one tremendously out-of-proportion glob of twelve-gauge, then sat back down and took another hit on the joint.
       "Big deal, no one'll ever notice."

* * *

       In the law office of Steiner and Schwartz the employees filed in, removed their coats and congregated around the Mr. Coffee machine.  Fran Moyers filled her disposable plastic cup in its re-usable plastic holder with coffee, then dumped in half a package of Sweet and Low.  Fran looked particularly nice in her two-piece suit, her lovely legs exposed in the slit in the side of her skirt.  A young, slick-looking, clean-cut law associate greedily absorbed this view of Fran and approached.
       "Hi," he said.  "My name's Don Smith, I'm one of the new associates."
       He held out his hand which Fran shook.
       "Nice to meet you," said Don.
       "And you," Fran replied.
       She took her coffee and walked over to her desk.  Don's cup stayed poised at his lips as he watched Fran's derriere sway as she made her way between the desks.  He turned and saw Mr. Schwartz standing in the doorway to his office watching the same sight.  Mr. Schwartz turned to Don, raised his eyebrows lewdly and shut his door.  Don smirked and sipped his coffee, then saw an older, stooped man enter the office and his smile fell away.
       "Good morning, Mr. Steiner," said one of the secretaries.  The older man nodded and walked by.  Don turned away, his eyes burning.

* * *

       At 4:00 P.M. Frank Moyers pulled his 1965 Falcon station wagon up to the front entrance of the Prudential Town Center and with a pained expression limped into the building.  Attired in his security guard uniform, Frank hobbled up to the receptionist at the front desk.
       "Hi, I'm the night guard."
       "Speak to the building manager, room 107," said the receptionist not looking up.
       "Thanks."
       Frank entered room 107 and was greeted by a big, athletic-looking young man in his early twenties.
       "Hi," said the young man, "My name's Bob Henley."  He grasped Frank's hand and shook it vigorously.
       "Frank Moyers, I'm the night guard."
       Bob smiled.  "Nice to meet you, Frank.  What can I do for you?"
       Frank blinked back his pain and lowered himself into a chair.  "I need to know where the keys are to punch the time clock with."
       "Right, the man was out yesterday and put them up.  Come on, I'll show you."
       Henley stood up and bounded out the door.  Very slowly Frank lifted himself up and dragged himself to the doorway.  As he stepped into the hall he caught a quick glimpse of Henley's back as he turned a corner.  Frank shook his head, moaned and followed.

* * *

       Thomas Uto walked up the hallway while he scanned a sheaf of papers in his hand.  He stopped and opened a door that led into a storage closet.  Lining the walls were various types of wiring and circuit boxes and a small row of multi-colored lights, all of which were lit except one.  Uto shuffled the papers in his hand, found the one he was looking for, read it quickly, then rapped the light with his knuckles.  It blinked on and immediately went out.  He left the closet and slammed the door.
       "Goddamn it anyway!"

       In a storage closet on the second floor, Uto found the two scraggily installation men busily smoking a roach held in a needle-nose pliers.
       "What the hell is going on here?"  exclaimed Uto.
       "We're taking a break."
       The directness of the response befuddled Uto for a moment.  "You're what?"
       "We're taking a break, man, be cool."
       Uto shook his head.  "The auxiliary power light on the first floor is out, when you get done taking your break would you check it out?"
       "Sure thing."
       "I'll go check the lights on the other floors."  Uto turned and left.

* * *

       At 4:30 P.M. the secretaries in the law office of Steiner and Schwartz all began preparing to leave.  Just as Fran was sliding her arm into her coat sleeve Mr. Schwartz's voice came through the intercom on her desk.
       "Excuse me, Ms. Moyers, I was wondering if you would come into my office for a moment?"
       Several of the other secretaries who already had their coats on turned to Fran and raised their eyebrows.  Fran removed her arm from her coat sleeve and entered his office.
       Mr. Schwartz, a perpetually grinning, good-looking man in his early fifties, stood and indicated Fran to be seated.
       "There's just a few more things I'd like to go over concerning the Blockman case before you leave," said Schwartz.
       "Certainly," said Fran.

       In the large room that was the offices of the four law associates working for Steiner and Schwartz, Don Smith busily sat reading a document and jotting notes on a yellow legal pad as the other three associates left to go home.  Once they were gone, Don stopped what he was doing and looked up.  He set down his pen and lit a cigarette.

* * *

       Frank Moyers took his seat at the desk located at the front door, stretched his aching leg out and watched the people file out of the building.  Every now and then someone would smile or nod toward Frank or say goodbye, amongst them Mr. Henley, and Frank strained through his pain to smile back.

       Within Frank's calf the insect had eaten away a sizeable amount of muscle and flesh and now appeared much healthier.  From its rear-end, beneath its stinger, a white, foamy substance emanated.  Amidst there appeared an egg and through its slightly transparent outer-shell, the embryo of an insect could be seen.

* * *

       At 4:45 P.M. a truck bearing "Bob's Maintenance Service" on its side pulled up in front of the building. Bob, a middle-aged black man with a balding head and a paunch, sat in the driver's seat and two black women sat behind: Kimi, an immensely fat woman weighing nearly 300 pounds and Lena, an elderly woman with rotting teeth and a hearing aid in her ear.
       "This place seems a little large for just two people to clean," said Bob staring up at the building.
       "Yup," agreed Kimi, "a lot of work for two people."
       Lena turned to Bob.  "You gonna get some new people?  You'll need 'em, this place is too big for just Kimi and me."
       Kimi and Bob exchanged looks, then smiled.
       "Have a nice night," said Bob.
       "Your pants are on too tight?  Well loosen 'em up."
       Kimi and Lena unloaded their pails, mops, sponges, cleanser and other supplies and bob drove off.

       Kimi and Lena entered the building and stopped at Frank's desk.
       "We's the night maintenance crew," said Kimi."
       "You'll have to sign in," said Frank extending a pen.  "You two are supposed to clean this whole building?"
       Kimi signed in.  "Seems so."
       Lena also signed in and the women began lugging in their supplies.
       Kimi turned to Lena.  "Where do you want to start?"
       "Anytime you are," said Lena.

* * *

       Up on the fiftieth floor, Howard York sat gazing out the window at the city below.  He glanced at the clock on his desk: 4:57.  From inside his desk drawer he produced a small mirror, a vial filled with white powder and a razor blade.  Dumping a pile of the powder on the mirror, York separated it into lines with the razor blade, took a hundred dollar bill from his wallet and carefully rolled it into a tube.  With this accomplished he paused.
       "No one thought I could do it and I did it.  Me.  With no fucking help from my Dad or anyone else."  York grinned maniacally.  "Fuck everyone!"
       He put the rolled up bill to his nose and lowered his head to the coke.

* * *

       The face of the top digital clock on the fully-automated security system lit up reading 5:00 P.M.  The machinery snapped to life; the bolts and locks on all of the doors and windows shot into place.

* * *

       Directly in front of Frank Moyers' desk, the front door bolted startling him.  He glanced at his portable time clock and it read 5:00 P.M.  With searing needles of pain shooting through his leg, Frank got to his feet, placed the strap of the time clock around his neck, put the key to the building in his pocket and began his rounds.
       He limped up the ground floor hallway occasionally checking a doorknob and finding them all locked.  At the end of the hall he pushed the down button on the elevator, got in and went down to the basement.

* * *

       Lena and Kimi were in the storage closet at the end of the ground floor (across from the elevator) and were busily filling their pail with water and adding ammonia.  All of a sudden Lena's hearing aid began giving out loud, piercing beeps which she did not seem to notice.
       Kimi rolled her eyes.  "Lena, your hearing aid's up too loud."
       "Huh?"
       "Your hearing aid's too loud!" yelled Kimi.
       "I can't hear ya," hollered Lena, "my hearing aid's not loud enough."
       "Lena removed it from her ear and tried to turn it up, but alas it was already up all the way.
       "Guess I better turn it down 'cause it won't go any louder."
       "Good thinking," smiled Kimi.
       "What's that?" asked Lena replacing the hearing aid, "Ya been drinking?"
       "You start cleaning here," bellowed Kimi, "and I'll start at the other end of the hall, okay?"
       "Why sure, but there ain't no need to yell at me."
       Kimi dropped her mop in the bucket and wheeled it up the hall, her immense girth bobbing up and down.

* * *

       As Frank entered the boiler room his leg was hurting him terribly.  Perspiration dotted his brow and bright yellow dots floated in front of his eyes.  Pulling in deep breaths, he reached down and lifted his pant leg revealing a huge, black and blue lump.  Suddenly he lost his balance and thrust out his hand against the fully-automated security system, but couldn't get a grip and his legs buckled beneath him sending him crashing to the hard, cement floor.  His head slammed into an outcropping spigot on the way down knocking him senseless, wedging his head up against the wall.
       Ripping upward and out, the insect in Frank's calf burst out of the black and blue lump in a mass of bloody foam.  It crawled up his leg, over his stomach and chest to his neck, poised itself backward over the jugular, then injected its stinger.
       Frank's eyes popped open and he tried to lift his head, but couldn't. He tried to lift his arm and could just barely get his fingers to twitch.  Rolling his eyes down he attempted to get a look at what was crawling on him.  Almost obliging him, the insect crawled into his field of vision on the center of his chest.  It stopped, wiggled its stinger, then plunged it into the shirt, through the flesh, twisted its whole body around and burrowed in.
       Frank's eyes rolled into the back of his head, however unconsciousness would not overtake him, just incredible pain.
       The insect twisted its way through the ribs and immediately began spewing white foam from beneath its stinger, amidst which was another egg.  With this accomplished it burrowed its way back up to the surface of Frank's chest, poked through the skin, crawled down to his navel and plunged its way in again.
       The bloody mess on Frank's calf began to vibrate and twitch, blood gurgling out of the wound and forming a pool on the floor.  All of a sudden the flesh from his ankle to his knee erupted and a horrible, primordial, foot-long insectoid wedged its way out, twisted its body around and bared its multitudinous fangs.  It quickly began devouring the shredded muscle and flesh from which it emerged.

* * *

       Howard York exited the elevator on the ground floor and walked to the front door, a stupid smile hanging on his face.  He grabbed the handle but the door wouldn't budge.
       "What the…"
       He looked around for the guard, but no one was in sight.  "Can't get out of my own damn building."  This struck him as being slightly humorous and he chuckled.
       Thomas Uto turned the corner scrutinizing a sheaf of papers in his hand and looked up to find York standing before him, no longer jovial.
       "Where's the goddamn guard!" York demanded.
       "Doing his rounds, I'm sure," said Uto.  He'll be back in just a few moments."
       York glowered.  "Pretty stupid system when I can't get out of my own damn building, isn't it?"
       "I'll have a key made up for you tomorrow," said Uto reassuringly.
       "Bet your fucking ass you will.  Now where the hell's the guard?!"
       Uto began feeling defensive and checking himself.  "He's either on this floor or the basement, that's where all his check-points are, so I'm sure…"
       "This floor or the basement?" York shook his head in amazement.  "It could be another twenty minutes before he gets back here.  Now that I think about it a little, this fully-automated system of yours stinks!"  York stomped back to the elevator and hit the down button.  "I want that key on my desk first thing in the morning, you got me?"
       "Yes, indeed," said Uto as the elevator door closed, "And fuck you!"

* * *

       Dripping blood from its razor-sharp fangs, the giant insectoid had completely devoured the whole lower leg, yet Frank was still both alive and conscious, although entirely paralyzed.
       Suddenly his whole body began to quiver spasmodically, a guttural groan forcing its way though his frozen throat as another huge insectoid ripped its way through his ribcage, snapping the bones like kindling, and emerging totally encrusted in blood and tissue.  Along with its brother, the two primeval insectoids tore into Frank's mid-section while he watched!
       The small, Mother insect popped out of Frank's thigh, having laid yet another egg, crawled past its two hungry children to Frank's head, inched its way over his face to his left eye and stopped.  Frank blinked as the insect poised its stinger over his pupil, then plunged…

* * *

       York stepped out of the elevator in the basement.  Although it was well-lit, it was still just painted cinder block and linoleum tile and was a few degrees colder and noticeably damper than the rest of the building.
       York stopped.  "What the hell's this guard's name, anyway?"  He shook his head and continued up the long corridor, his footsteps echoing and resounding hollowly.  "Hey, guard!" he hollered and paused.  No response.  Sneering now, he kept walking.  "Paging the guard, are you down here?"  The boiler-room lay just ahead.  "This is ridiculous, I can't get out of my own building."  He turned the knob on the boiler-room and pushed it open.  Stepping inside, the bloody carnage that had once been Frank Moyers' body came into view.  York winced and turned away just as a giant insectoid sprang from nowhere and bolted itself onto his face by ramming its muscular, wiry legs into his eyes.  Its long, spiky tail snapped down and embedded itself deep into York's throat.  He immediately collapsed to the floor, his body shaking.
       The small insect crawled out of Frank Moyers' open, lifeless mouth, over to Howard York and disappeared in the thick hair on his chest.  There were now four huge insectoids eating Frank's body, although none had touched his head, and they all left his meatless bones and moved in on York.

* * *

       Fran sat at Mr. Schwartz's desk taking dictation on a steno pad while Schwartz paced around behind her.  Every now and then he would peer over Fran's shoulder at the pad, bending so far over that his face would be right next to hers.  Finally Schwarz just stood right behind her and put his hand on her shoulder.  Without turning her head, Fran looked up at Mr. Schwartz and he seemed completely oblivious, so she kept on with her writing.  Suddenly his hand slid down and cupped her left breast.  Fran stopped writing.
       "Mr. Schwartz, your hand is on my breast."
       He didn't move it.  "Why yes, it certainly is.  Why don't we save the rest of this letter for tomorrow."
       Fran set her pen on top of the pad and cleared her throat.  "In favor of what?"
       "Oh now, Ms. Moyers," said Schwartz pushing his crotch against her back.  "We're both imaginative people, I'm sure we can think of something."
       Fran moved her chair over so that Mr. Schwartz was no longer touching her.  She cleared her throat again.
       "Mr. Schwartz, I'd really like to be a good secretary, but…"
       "Good," he said moving back in, "That's a fine attitude to take."
       "…But," she went on, "I don't see how this has anything to do with it."
       "You don't?  But Ms. Moyers, this has everything to do with it."
       Fran stood and walked around to the other side of the desk.  Mr. Schwartz seated himself in the chair.
       "I really can't see that, Mr. Schwartz."
       "You can't?"  He seemed to be nothing but totally reasonable.  "But why do you think I hired you, and at such an extravagant salary no less?"
       Fran was having a tad of difficulty keeping her wits about her.  "B-but I thought you needed a secretary?"
       "Oh, Ms. Moyers, I have a lot of secretaries, all of which, I might add, are far more qualified that you - in secretarial skills, I mean."
       "But…" said Fran no longer knowing what to do with her hands, "if you would just give me a chance I could be a good secretary, I know it."
       "I'm certain of it," he said smiling.
       Fran backed toward the door.  "I've got to go now, I'll see you tomorrow."
       "That's fine," he said holding up the pad, "then we can finish up this letter.  See you tomorrow - Fran."
       Fran left.

* * *

       Don Smith picked up the telephone at his desk and dialed.
       "Hello?" said the female voice at the other end.
       "Hi, Mom, how're you?"
       She paused.  "Disturbed."
       "Oh?" Don said lighting a cigarette.  "What about?"
       "You got a letter from your new employer today - the law firm of Steiner and Schwartz."  She sounded disturbed.
       "Did you open it?"
       "No, but what does that make any difference.  You didn't tell me you were working for Alexander Steiner."
       Don took a long drag of his cigarette.  "I was going to…really."
       "I'm sure you were, now would you mind telling me why?"
       "I needed a job and they had an opening."
       Now she was mad.  "Don't give me that.  What are you up to?"
       He ground out his smoke.  "Nothing. I just called to tell you I'd be home in about an hour."
       "You're not fooling me one bit, Don, it's no coincidence you're working there.  You're up to something."
       "I'll tell you later, Mother, goodbye."
       Don hung up.
He opened his Samsonite briefcase, reached into the back behind all the other manilla files and removed an old, creased, rather thick file marked "STEINER."

* * *

       In the storage closet on the first floor, Bud, the security installer, had a panel of multi-colored lights unscrewed from the wall and was testing the wires running to the back of it.  Sam, the other installer, was up the hall a little way in another storage closet dealing with a steel tube full of wires that ran from the ceiling to the floor.  He was busily screwing it back and forth trying to loosen it from the hole in the floor.

* * *

       In the boiler room, the giant insects had consumed most of Howard York's head and body.  Frank Moyers' head still sat atop his meatless bones, a small line of blood running down from his left punctured eye socket, the right eye wide open and unblinking.
       Within Frank's brain matter an exceptionally large insect egg lay incubating.
       Crawling up the wall to the ceiling, the small mother insect disappeared into the air vent.  Now numbering ten, the large children insectoids followed, but were too big to get past many of the pipes and obstructions.  With their razor-sharp mandibles they quickly severed the vent gratings, spigots and tubing of steel and copper in their way.  Gas began hissing out, all the lights on floors five, twelve and thirty-one blinked out and the insectoids swarmed the air vents.

* * *

       As Bud tested the panel of lights, the mother insect crawled out of the hole the panel attached to.  Bud continued working unaware of the insect's progress down the wall to his foot, then over his shoe to his sock.  The stinger became erect, pricked into the Achilles tendon and injected its fluid.  Bud reached down to scratch his ankle, go about halfway there, shook his head and groaned, "Man, I'm fucked-up," then slowly collapsed on the floor.

* * *

       As she slopped the sudsy water around with her mop, Lena sang religious spirituals and soaked her ripped tennis shoes.
       In an explosion of linoleum tile splinters, several insectoids burst through the floor directly behind Lena - yet she kept right on working, entirely unaware.  Several more insectoids climbed out of the hole and they all moved in on her as she continued singing, slightly off key.

* * *

       Sam had the steel tube out of the hole in the floor exposing a multitude of thin wires in a bunch.  He snipped one of the wires and it dropped through the hole.
       "Aw piss!"
       He shoved his thumb and index finger through the hole and tried to grab it, but it was just a little bit out of his reach.
       An insectoid moving through the space between the floors spotted the fingers and moved in.
       Sam removed his fingers from the hole.  "Hey, Bud!" he hollered, "Could you bring me a pliers?"  He waited for a reply, but there was none.  "That lazy bastard!"
       The insectoid was about to turn away when the fingers reappeared.  It moved in.
       "Come on, Bud, will ya gimme a hand…"
       The rest of Sam's words became a gargled, horrible scream as he yanked his hand from the hole, his thumb and forefinger cleanly severed at the knuckle, a torrent of blood pumping out.

* * *

       Pushing her mop and pail, Kimi turned a corner and ran right into five insectoids busily ripping Lena's scrawny body into bite-sized pieces.  They all simultaneously turned to the massive feast that stood before them.
       Kimi screamed and turned to run, but she was just too fat to get up any speed.
       The insectoids quickly pursued.
       Completely hysterical, she ran through a doorway that wasn't quite as wide as she, and toppled backward into the swarm of ravenous monsters.

* * *

       Fran left the elevator on the ground floor and walked past the guard's desk to the front door, which she found locked.  She stood for a moment baffled, not knowing which way to go or what to do.  Thomas Uto came around the corner frowning and muttering to himself as he glanced at the papers in his hand.  He saw Fran and quickly smiled.
       "What's the problem?" he asked.
       "The door's locked."
       Uto's smile faded and he glanced at his watch.  He shook his head.  "The guard must be on his rounds again."
       "Well, when can I get out of here?" asked Fran totally flustered.
       "Well…" Uto scratched his cheek.  "Just hang on one minute, I'll go take a look for him."
       Pushing the down button, Uto stepped into the elevator and the door slid shut behind him.  Fran seated herself at the guard's desk and began leafing through the newspaper he had left there.

* * *

       Thomas Uto left the elevator and began walking up the long, basement corridor.  He put his hand beside his mouth and called, "Hey, uh…"  His stifled call resounding around him.  Quickly he leafed through his stack of papers, found the one he wanted and tried again.
       "Frank Moyers!"
       There was no response.
       Uto mumbled and continued walking, "Hey, Frank!"  He stopped and leaned against the boiler-room door.
       "Goddamn it!  All the guards this company hires are deadbeats and drunks," he muttered irritably.
       Inside the boiler-room only one insectoid remained and it was busily cleaning Howard York's bones.  Frank Moyers' head sat atop his skeletal remains, the one good eye staring blindly.  Very slightly his head began to quiver.
       Uto continued checking through his papers.  "This is insane!  I'll have the guard's head for this!
       Angrily he stomped back up the hall.

* * *

       Mr. Schwartz sat at his desk looking at Fran's steno pad and flipping the pages.  "Not much of a secretary," he said, tossing the pad and getting down to work.  He began writing, then stopped because a soft clicking noise was annoying him.  He looked around and saw nothing, yet the clicking persisted.  He attempted to write some more, but became totally bothered and had to stop.  This time he looked slowly around the entire office and finally spotted it; a single strand of shag carpeting was stuck to the air-vent grating on the floor.  As the cool air blew past it a little chunk of backing connected to it tapped against the grating.
       Having located its source, Schwartz now tried once again to ignore it, but couldn't.  His concentration was disturbed.  He got up, walked over to the vent, picked off the strand of carpeting, tossed it in the trash can and sat back down and tried to work.
       And then the clicking began again.
       Schwartz furrowed his brow and set down his pen.  He went back over to the vent and scrutinized it - there was no carpeting stuck to it, yet there was definitely a clicking noise, only this time it was emanating from within.
       Getting down on his knees, Schwartz slid his fingers into the grating and began pulling, trying to remove it.
       Inside the air vent Schwartz's fingers become visible.
       His face knotted up and he pulled with all his might.  "Come on you stupid piece of shit!"
       The vent gave and Schwartz toppled backward smacking his head on the trash can with a loud metallic twang.  He quickly scrambled to his knees and looked all around the empty office as though someone might have seen him.
       The clicking persisted.
       He crawled back over to the open vent and peered in.
       Nothing.

* * *

       A giant insectoid burst through the floor of the storage closet and moved in on Sam, the fingerless installer, who sat in a huge pool of his own blood.  With the last of his remaining strength and use of his good hand he tried to slide himself to the door.
       "Bud!" he hollered weakly, "Help me, Bud!"
       In the storage closet next door half a dozen insectoids diligently shredded Bud apart.
       Another insectoid followed the first through the hole in the floor and they both moved in on the weakened installer who was hemorrhaging profusely.  He pushed himself to the door and tried desperately to reach up to the knob, but didn't seem t have the strength.
       Another insectoid climbed out of the hole.
       The door-knob seemed a mile away.
       Blood pumped I rhythmic spurts from his severed fingers.
       A fourth insectoid crawled from the hole.
       His eyes began rolling into the back of his head.
       The giant insectoids were nearly on top of him.
       His hand closed on the doorknob.

* * *

       Schwartz lowered his face an inch closer to the vent and a huge insectoid lunged out, its razor-sharp mandibles deeply embedded in the bridge of his nose.  His face smashed to the floor, his arms and legs flailing helplessly.

* * *

       Uto tapped Fran on the shoulder and she bolted.
       "Excuse me," he said apologetically.
       Fran shook her head and took a deep breath, "You startled me."
       "Sorry.  Um…I can't seem to locate the guard and he is the only one with a key."
       "But I have to get home," she said.
       "I can well understand, but there's nothing I can do.  Which office do you work in?"
       "Steiner and Schwartz."
       Uto glanced through his stack of papers.  "Why don't you go back to your office for a few minutes, I'll find the guard and give you a call."
       "Well…"
       "Go on," he said.  "It actually might be longer than a few minutes, these damn security guards are the lowest scum that ever existed, the guy's probably plastered in a closet somewhere."
       "That's not true!" said Fran emphatically.  "My Dad is a security guard and he's a great person."  She pushed the up button on the elevator.
       Uto blushed.  "I didn't know.  I'm very sorry."
       The elevator door opened and Fran stepped in.  She turned around, the door shut and the car went up.

* * *

       Sam's arm and head lay outside the storage closet, the door pushed up against his lower lip.  He shook as a wheezing moan escaped his throat and blood dribbled from his mouth.  His eyes nearly bugged out of his head.
       Slowly, his arm and head began to recede inside.  First his head disappeared and then his arm until only his hand remained.  He made one last grasp at hanging on to the door, but his fingers came loose and slid within.
       With a decisive click the door shut.

* * *

       Don Smith cautiously stepped out of the associates office and crossed the hall to Alexander Steiner's office.  He stopped and looked up and down the hallway - no one - then he pushed the door open.  From the lock-hole in the door jamb he removed a wadded up piece of tissue which he put in his pocket.  The door shut and locked behind him.
       Don walked over to one of Steiner's many file cabinets and opened the drawer marked "S."  He quickly fingered his way through the thickly packed files and stopped at "State vs.Smith."  Removing the file from the drawer, he seated himself at Steiner's desk and began to read.
       The document was dated "1966," the title "The State of Michigan vs. Edward Smith," the charge "Manslaughter," the defense attorney "A. Steiner," the sentence "15 years."  A piece of paper attached to the top of the document dated 11/7/71 stated: "Edward Smith, convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to fifteen years in Jackson Prison, committed suicide in his cell by hanging himself."
       Tears welled up in Don's eyes and one dropped onto the paper before him.  He took a notebook from his briefcase and began to write: "So now I finally know the whole truth.  Dad didn't just die in prison like Mom said - he hung himself in his cell…"
       While Don wrote, the small, Mother insect crawled out of the air vent, up the back of his chair and under the hem of his sport-coat.
       "…Dad was sentenced to fifteen years in jail for shooting someone I happen to know he didn't shoot.  Now I find out that he killed himself while he was unjustly imprisoned.  There was only one person that could have saved him from prison, and in turn suicide, and that person was the one that actually did the shooting.  That person is me."
       Don heard a noise in Mr. Schwartz's office next door and looked up.  Just then the insect rammed its stinger into the flesh of Don's lower stomach and wormed its way in.
       Don winced and grabbed his stomach.  He quickly snatched up his briefcase, his notebook and the file and stealthily left Alexander Steiner's office.  Closing the door quietly behind him, he tip-toed past Mr. Schwartz's door.  He stopped for a moment and held his breath and a faint crunching could be heard from inside.  Without letting out his breath he continued up the hall and just as he was turning the corner Fran stepped out.
       "Hi."
       Don jumped.

* * *

       The huge insectoids swarmed through the airvents, in the space between the floors, above the drop ceilings - everywhere.  Nothing stood in their way.  With their amazingly sharp mandible they severed wired, metal tubes, plumbing - anything.
       The insectoids were unstoppable.

* * *

       As Thomas Uto strolled casually through the building searching out the security guard, mayhem was going on above him, below him, and to either side of him, none of which he was cognizant of.  He halted before a panel of multi-colored lights that were blinking on and off.  Uto watched and frowned disgustedly.  Finally, the lights blinked off completely.  In a rage, Uto stomped away.

* * *

       Fran and Don sat and talked in the reception room of the law office.
       "…And then after 'Promises, Promises,'" said Fran, "I was in 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown' and I was Lucy.  We didn't have too much money for sets and stuff, but it was a really good show."
       Don winced a little and held his stomach.  "I wish I'd seen it."
       "You'd've liked it, it was a real good show.  But anyway, then I tried out for 'West Side Story' and I didn't make it and I tried out for 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' but I didn't make that either, and there's like fifty roles in that, so I started getting kind of depressed and everything and…:
       Don looked terrible.  The blood had run out of his face and his lips were white and crusty.
       "I have to go home," he said, "I feel really bad."
       "But that man was supposed to call when he found the guard."
       Unsteadily Don rose to his feet.  "I can't wait, I gotta go now."
       Fran took Don's arm.  "Well maybe the guard's back and he just forgot to call."
       "I hope so," Don moaned.
       The elevator door opened and Fran helped Don in.  Fran pushed the ground floor button and Don leaned back against the wall tightly clutching his aching stomach, his face wrinkled into a knot of pain.  They started down.
       Don swallowed loud, "Oh Jesus!  I feel real sick!"
       "What can I do?" asked Fran helplessly.
       Don just moaned.

* * *

       Uto pounded up the hall waving his papers and screaming.  "What the fuck is going on in this Goddamned place?!!"

* * *

       The insectoids continued to swarm everywhere.  They burst through the ceilings, skittered up the halls and wound their way through the vents.  One of them came to a tremendously thick electrical cable blocking its path.  With one quick snap it severed the cable and in turn sent five thousand volts through its body disintegrating it to a pile of ash.

* * *

       The elevator went into free-fall, then abruptly stopped throwing Fran and Don up into the air, then plummeting them down to the floor.  The overhead florescent light blinked out and a red emergency light went on.
       Don screamed in gut-wrenching pain and Fran shook her head, then recoiled as blood began staining Don's white shirt from the inside out.  His whole body began to buck and shake and blood streamed from his nose and mouth causing his screams to gargle.
       Suddenly Don's whole stomach ripped wide open and a monstrous, blood-coated insectoid burst out…then his chest exploded and another emerged.
       His gargled screams immediately stopped and his open eyes went blank and glassy.  Fran pressed herself into the corner screaming at the top of her lungs, her eyes bulging out of the sockets.  Wasting no time the two creatures quickly proceeded to rip off hunks of flesh from Don's midsection and consume it.  The little, Mother insect crawled out of Don's pant leg, and across the floor toward Fran.
       Fran smashed at the elevator buttons and got no response.  Wedging her fingers between the doors, she pulled them slightly apart and saw that the car was between two floors.  She forced her way through the small opening and jumped down into the basement.
       Completely hysterical, Fran ran up the long hallway, her footsteps resounding and echoing and now totally out of control she threw herself headlong at the boiler-room door which flew open sending the remains of Howard York's body cascading across the floor, then her mouth dropped open and she froze as she recognized the head sitting atop the mass of bloody bones and shredded flesh - her Father!  A gurgling hiss escaped her mouth as she watched the lifeless head of her Dad begin to shake and quiver then explode in a hail of blood and brain matter as a giant insectoid emerged.  Beyond hysteria she ran to the stairwell, bolted the steps two and three at a time, opened the door to the ground floor and encountered the ravaged bodies of Kimi and Lena, several insectoids still cleaning their bones, Fran could no longer even scream as the insectoids spotted her and began to approach, she simply bolted past and they began to pursue and within moments they began to appear everywhere, out of all the air vents, through the ceilings, some bursting through the wall and all joining in the chase and before Fran had gotten to the end of the first hall there were nearly a hundred closing in and she wasn't getting enough air to breathe but she couldn't stop running and then a red exit sign appeared at the end of the hall and miraculously she found enough energy to fling her entire body against it, but it just wouldn't budge, so without a second of thought she started up the next hallway and there were already a multitude of insectoids there on the floor and on the walls and hanging from the ceiling and Fran blindly ran past and then another red exit sing appeared
       And the light on the top digital clock on the fully-automated security system blinked out and the bottom clock lit up, the bolts snapped back from every window and door in the building and simultaneously the giant glob of solder in the rows of small solder began to bubble
       And Fran threw herself at the door and it opened and she kept right on running and the insectoids got to the door just as it was pulling shut and one of them crossed the threshold just as the heavy metal door slammed shut crushing it into a mass of green gooey pulp
       And the giant glob of solder continued to bubble, then drip while the severed gas main on the ceiling hissed and the dripping solder ran straight down a line of smaller solder dots connecting them all and the fully-automated security system began to spark
       And Thomas Uto stood on the third floor staring at his papers and angrily shaking his head
       While Fran darted across the street and the fifty-story, gold-mirrored Prudential Tower behind her began exploding from its bottom floors up and the whole world shook and dropped out from beneath Fran's feet and sent her headlong to the pavement while burning shrapnel whizzed by and gold mirrored glass tinkled everywhere.
       The flames engulfed the tower.
       Fran opened her eyes and took a deep breath.  She watched as the building burned and brought her hand to her face to shield her from the incredible heat.  She swallowed deeply and lowered her head back to the pavement, the muscles loosening in her neck…
       Her eyes burst open wide!  Her body began shaking and contorting spasmodically and a drop of blood dribbled down her neck and hit the ground.  She abruptly froze.
       The little, Mother insect crawled over her throat, up her chin, across her mouth, past her nose to her horror-filled eyes. It poised its drill-bit stinger over her right pupil, took careful aim, then lunged.
       Black.

 

 

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