SILVERY WINGS - MICHAEL J. SOLENDER
Originally published at Thrillers, Killers N Chillers in August 2009
“Why do you torture him so?”
Susan wasn’t so much annoyed with Dirk as being protective of her younger brother. Jackson certainly could be a regal pain-in-the-ass, but she didn’t think he merited the constant crap he was fending off from Dirk.
Dirk wiped the day’s grime and sweat from his eyes and forehead. The stifling sun had long since set hours ago, but even at 10:00 PM in the Ecuadorian Jungle in September the temperature was 90 degrees with a near matching percentage of humidity.
He had just used a makeshift tweezers from his Swiss Army knife to extricate a tick the size of a dime from deep inside his naval. From the struggle and gorged rounded shape he noted upon removal, he guessed it had been lodged in there since breakfast, though he had just noticed it. Harassing Susan’s brother was the only amusement he could avail himself of 4 days into their 10 day sojourn.
The three of them, accompanied only by an indigenous guide and trail cook, were advance scouts/researchers for the pharmaceutical giant, Navartan. They’d been sent to collect samples from a specific tree that grew only in the mangroves they just today began to encounter. The distilled bark had shown considerable promise in cancer treatments and its compounds as yet were not replicated in lab work. They needed to bring back a variety of samples.
Dirk and Susan were colleagues and Dirk was intent on some extra close research with Susan on this trip. He’d been extremely pissed when he learned she’d contracted with her brother, a freelance field researcher, to accompany and support them for the trip. Jackson was a third wheel Dirk did not have the patience for.
“He couldn’t possibly have believed me, could he? I said the itch in his ear was probably an earwig, not for sure and that they only ate through your brain half-way, not all the way. He had to know I was joking.” Dirk knew Jackson was gullible and also particularly concerned about the insects they were encountering on their expedition. “I mean, earwigs are not as lethal as legend has them made out to be, are they?”
“You are a royal prick, ya know?” Susan knew that while this region did in fact have an earwig population, they were not at all lethal and that the native lore was just that, lore. “You scared the crap out of him and now he’s off at the river trying to get what is probably just a dead mosquito out of his ear by soaking in that leech infested water. Go make sure he’s OK.”
“He’s OK, I'm sure, and Juan and Benito are with him. In the meantime, why don’t you and I check out the tent for our own biology experiment?” Dirk was forever on the make.
“Forget it. No reproductive biology until we get back to Quito and a real bed with real sheets.” Susan was half-laughing and while she wouldn’t have minded a quick trip to the sack, she didn't fancy being interrupted by her brother or the local help. “I’m turning in. You can repair to your own tent and explore manual expulsion techniques of the human seed.”
“Touché, my dear. I can’t wait for my roommate’s return, between his snoring and farting, I’m certain to have a most restful slumber - not.” Dirk already had a plan in mind to unleash on Jackson that would keep him up, and most importantly not snoring, for the rest of the evening.
He didn’t wait long as a ringing wet Jackson sloshed into the tent only minutes behind Dirk who had been waiting for him.
“Did you get rid of it?” Dirk asked, not really caring about the answer.
“Yes, Benito used a hollow reed to flush water into my ear canal and whatever it was had not yet established me as its host. According to him, the earwigs can lodge themselves into your ear in as little as an hour and then, curtains. The most agonizing pain and death known, the locals are very serious about doing anything to prevent them or dislodging them if they attack you.”
Jackson was creeping himself out and scanning the inside of the tent for Dermaptera, the indigenous silver winged earwig species that grew over two inches long in the jungle. They are characterized by their membranous wings which fold like cellophane, as legend has it, into their unsuspecting victim’s moist mucus membrane of the ear canal.
Dirk was having none of it but he egged Jackson on hoping to scare him into staying up all night, while he got some needed rest. “I saw several in here earlier; I think I got them all.”
“Whaaaaat?” Jackson was clearly in a panic, still sopping, the humidity in the tent was now even worse than in the outside breeze. The sweet smell of Jasmine lent an almost tranquil note to supplement the drone of crickets and cicada.
“I think the best thing is for us to sleep in shifts and keep our eyes peeled for those bastards, let’s each take 90 minute naps - what do you think?”
Jackson quickly agreed. “Ok, I’ll keep the lantern low, you go ahead and sleep. I’ll just lay here.”
No sooner than ten minutes had passed and Jackson’s snoring was practically shaking the tent.
“So much for that plan.” Dirk tried in vain to wake Jackson but exhaustion had set in and he was beyond arousal.
Soon Dirk was so tired that he managed to fall off, in spite of the noise.
The scream that awoke Susan, Juan and Benito was spine-shattering. Dirk’s initial cry was followed by two additional agonizing and deafening pleads for help.
Upon reaching his tent, Juan shined a light inside and saw Jackson hunched over Dirk with a Bowie knife in one hand and a bloody hunk of flesh in the other. Dirk was moaning and had both hands, covered in blood, clutching his right temple. It appeared his ear had been severed.
Susan was next on the scene and screamed at Jackson. “What’s going on? What have you done to Dirk?”
Jackson looked up, Dirk’s right ear in his hand. “I had to do it. I fell asleep, I was supposed to be watching, but I fell asleep. When I woke up, it was halfway in his ear, that damn bug was gonna eat into his brain. It was the only way I could save him.”
Dirk lay in his sleeping bag trembling.
BIO: Michael J. Solender is a recent corporate refugee whose opinion and satire has been featured in The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Winston-Salem Journal, and Richmond Style Weekly. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for The Charlotte Observer and is a contributor to Charlotte ViewPoint and Like the Dew. His micro-fiction has been featured online at A Twist of Noir, Bull Men's Fiction, Calliope Nerve, Danse Macabre, Dogzplot, Gloom Cupboard, Full of Crow, Pangur Ban Party and others. He blogs at Not From Here Are You?.
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