Monday is a tough day, treat yourself to this horror short story for free. Part of the soon to be released Vermin Anthology.
“Stop. Look will you just to stop and talk to me. Please, stop.”
She powered on past me, through the crowd, speed walking as quickly as she could. She was barefoot and dressed only in cheese and sauce stained pyjamas, drawing some amused looks from the people on the busy street, but she didn’t even give them a second glance.
“Will you stop,” I shouted again, but to her I was a phantom.
Angelica was only five foot and part of me thought I could physically throw her over my shoulder and march back to the house, but I was too taken aback by the bizarre behaviour. What on earth was she doing?
Only an hour ago we were sitting together on the couch, Netflix on, munching our way through an inhumanly large pizza that really should have served four. Four people with serious appetites at that. I had to hand it to Angelica, she was keeping up with me which was unusual. Normally, being the glutton I am, I would devour the pizza, delighted as a pig rolling in mud. She would nibble her way through a slice, maybe two if she was feeling especially hungry.
I suppose it was to do with our different jobs. I worked in human resources, so being a slightly rotund, jovial sort, wasn’t a deal breaker. On the contrary, it seemed to put people at ease. I’ve read all these studies about how attractive people are perceived as more confident and put people at ease. I haven’t found that to be true at all. People feel intimated by overtly attractive people, it makes them hesitant to open up, the guards are raised immediately. So not being a striking Adonis can actually be beneficial, I’m not just saying that bitterly because I’m fat and prematurely balding either.
Angelica (never Angie or An, always Angelica, and we have been married for five years) was the embodiment of fitness. No wonder, she was a personal trainer.
Recently though, she had been facing a dilemma. I’m forty and she is thirty five, although in my opinion she still looks twenty, When I tell her that, she rolls her eyes in mock annoyance but gives a little smile to herself.
The issue was that, god forbid, she was getting older.
You didn’t see many fifty year old personal fitness trainers. She told me when people met their personal trainer, you should resemble what they want to be, an ideal version of female fitness and beauty. Crow’s feet and wrinkles weren’t part of the package. People could be shallow.
For the first time, she began to really think about her future and it worried her. She would toss and turn all night while I pretended to be asleep- if she knew she was keeping me awake, she would feel guilty and I didn’t want that.
Both futures looming ahead of her were equally horrible. She would be some broken down, exhausted physical trainer who got the pity assignments and made the other young, nubile trainers look better. Or she would end up in an office. To me, that might not sound so bad, but we aren’t talking about me (heck, I like offices). At every point in her life, she had made choices to keep her away from a desk and working 9-5. Takes all kinds to make the world turn, I like that stability and routine, she doesn’t. Fair enough.
The thing about being a personal trainer, there aren’t really a lot of transferable skills to be honest. It’s a pretty specific skillset you have there.
Angelica felt trapped and I hated seeing her like that, it was driving her to distraction.
We had a bit of luck though, just when we felt things would never get better.
I was meeting one of the company’s employees, soon to be ex-employees, in order to ensure a smooth transition. He was a good guy, friendly, and it wasn’t contentious, he just had a better job lined up. Good for him.
“What’s next?” I asked him, conversationally while we got all his documents signed in my private office. I don’t get a private office because I’m important by the way, I’m a tiny, tiny cog. It’s only because HR stuff needs some privacy to function. Hard to say your boss is bullying you when he is two chairs away.
“The government is hiring forest rangers, get some fresh air, bit of fun, stretch my legs.”
“Rangers? Huh. What qualifications do you need for that?”
He looked over at my gut, bulging over the table, “No offence…but you need to be fit.”
“Funny smartass, it’s for my wife and she gets a big tick in that box.”
“That’s really it. Ability to work independently is a big bonus as we spend a lot of time by ourselves.”
“What is it you do?”
“Catalogue all the various animals we find evidence of. Sometimes they ask us to try and find a specific kind if they believe maybe it has went extinct. Usually bugs, nothing big.”
“Hmm interesting. Any more openings?”
“Dozens man, they can’t fill them all.”
I told Angelica about it. She wouldn’t be at a desk, her fitness would be an asset, her ability to fill her own roster of clients as a personal trained would be seen as effective self-management. She would walk into that job.
She applied, nailed the interview and after a few tense days, got the job.
She explained to me that the Scottish Government was obsessed with the environment for a few reasons, some good, some selfish. They wanted to preserve the countryside because it was one of the main draws for tourists to Scotland which made the country money. That’s good. It was also a way to keep the Green Party quiet, who the government needed to keep on their side given the amount of seats they hold in Holyrood. That’s a bit more selfish.
She loved her new job and it made me happy to see her sleeping soundly. Angelica was excited to go to work in the mornings, sometimes she had to stay overnight for a few days cataloguing the insects that lurked in the Scottish countryside.
I did feel a pang of jealously when I saw some of her photos. She was the only woman in the group as far as I could see and was spending her days surrounded by chiselled, handsome guys who looked like they stepped out of a Calvin Klein advert. It wasn’t hard to imagine some of them creeping into her sleeping bag.
It wasn’t serious doubts, she would never do that, but your mind is a sadistic monster.
Her routine was always the same, she would get home, normally in the evening, flop down on the couch next to me. I would have started dinner for her getting home. No offence to Angelica, she wasn’t much of a cook. After we ate, straight to bed (sex being reserved for weekday evenings).
We settled into our new, happier routine.
The only blip was one weekend when she was sent to find some possible extinct caterpillar. She hadn’t found any of the creepy crawlies and ticked the big extinct box on her iPad. When she came home though, she was a bit ill, as if she had a touch of the flu. I assured her it was psychological, she was stressed at having failed to find the insect, the first time she hadn’t managed to do so. She should take it easy for a few days and she would be right as rain.
She agreed and had a few days well-earned holiday.
Then the night came that changed everything.
As I was saying, we were getting tucked into an insanely large and greasy pizza. Angelica had insisted we order it to my surprise. A pleasant surprise, she normally forced me to eat healthy.
She almost ripped the delivery guy’s hand off and plopped it on the table.
Angelica ate the first slice in a single bite almost, while it was still piping hot.
“Slow down babe, enough pizza to go around,” I laughed.
She shovelled a second into her mouth.
Then a third.
I wasn’t laughing anymore.
“Stop,” I said firmly, having no idea what was going on.
She ate another slice, almost choking as she forced it down her throat.
“Stop it right now,” I shouted.
She did stop, looking at me with utter confusion. I didn’t know what to say, so I tried to put on my HR smile and gave a fake laugh, “you will give yourself a tummy ache, don’t want that.”
She continued, paying no attention to my objections.
“How about I run you a bath babe?”
Don’t ask me why, that is always my solution when a problem comes up. Running a bath does tend to relax her in my defence, very few things put Angelica at ease but that is one of them.
She stood up, ramrod straight, eyes wide.
Then she began walking to the door, with forced, almost comical exaggeration. Her trembling hand tugged at the door several times before she undid the lock. She opened it and stepped out into the flat corridor, making her way down the stairs. I threw on my jacket and a pair of shoes, running after her as fast as I could.
Here we are now, she walked down the high street and was now heading to the top of the shopping centre, where the open air carpark overlooked the streets.
She pushed by anyone in her way, eliciting a group of teenage girls to shout, “watch where you’re going, you stupid bitch.”
“And get a pair of fucking shoes,” one of them added, giggling.
Like everything else, she didn’t give the girls a second thought, marching on over all obstacles. Soon enough she was climbing the stairwell as if her life depended on it.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed her arm and pulled, this foolishness was over. I had no idea what she was trying to prove but it had gone too far. She resisted, a toned arm elbowed me brutally in the chest. She hadn’t held back, that was with every ounce of strength. Wheezing, I buckled on the floor and wretched up blood. I think she broke one of my ribs.
She wouldn’t turn round to see if I was okay, she kept that unstoppable march, heading up the stairs towards the top level of the carpark. It was about eight floors up, one of the tallest buildings in Edinburgh, but she was bounding up them.
Despite the agony, the fire in my lungs, I hauled my bulk up and went after her. I managed to keep pace with her, pleading with Angelica to stop.
“Please, talk to me, what’s happening?”
Now I realised how much of a trance she was in. Her eyes were wide, watering, tears pouring although her jaw was locked and her legs never stopped marching forward. A patch of urine had formed on her crotch and was running down her leg and she whimpered pitifully to herself. She was terrified.
Even if she couldn’t make a peep her eyes were screaming.
She walked across the car park without a second thought, ignoring angry honking drivers. My own steps were becoming more laboured, I think she really did break a rib. My imagination turned a simple stich from over exertion into a splintered bone rubbing at my insides.
She reached the edge, climbed up on the rail.
For a brief moment, I was afraid she was going to hurl herself from the top of the carpark to the streets below. We were so high up, no way she would survive that, they would be scraping her off the pavement. My beautiful Angelica, a broken corpse, I couldn’t bear the thought.
“Don’t, don’t Angelica,” I howled, so hoarse with desperation everyone in the vicinity turned to look, “for god’s sake, please don’t.”
She stood perfect still, holding her arms open wide, as if she was waiting for something.
There was an eruption of colour from her head, a bang that was as loud as a hand grenade. The brightly coloured particles, reds, purples, yellows, like a gruesome rainbow were caught in the wind and blew down over the crowded streets below.
The particles poured out of her as her skin she crumpled. Her burst, limp body collapsed in a heap, like an empty garbage bag.
I didn’t even know I had witnessed the beginning of the end of the world…
In the summer of 2017, a phenomena in the UK was witnessed in Lancashire and brought to public awareness by Dr Chris Miller of the Lancashire Wilderness Trust. Caterpillars had become infected with the baculovirus. This meant the mad caterpillars they would eat until they were full to bursting, climb up as high as they could get in the sunlight (bizarre behaviour for the ground dwelling insects) and then explode, showering others with the virus on the ground below.
Experts said this virus poses no threat to humans.