posted on Nov, 24 2009 @ 01:54 PM
Before I believed; before I knew they were real - it all started with a cigarette. I stepped out of my place around four in the morning. Usually
I’d be waking up that early, but this day I couldn’t sleep and decided to pull the all-nighter and try to cut out of work early, later in the
afternoon. The morning was cold and dark as I sat down on the bottom step and started rolling a cigarette. I reached in my pocket - no light. Damn
I stood up to head back inside and noticed a figure smoking outside my next door neighbor’s. “Erin?” The man didn’t respond. I didn’t care.
I was tired and Fourteen flights of stairs to fetch a lighter was the last way I wanted to start my smoke break. I hopped off the steps and stepped
toward what I then knew to be a man. I could tell he was wearing a suit and figured Erin had had company that night. “Excuse me. I’m Erin’s
neighbor. Got a light?”
The Bug turned around, his pinchers flexed and I could see everything all too clear. Fight or flight kicked in, but all I could do was freeze. I had
screwed up. My many years of begging had erased the cliché - don’t talk to strangers - from my memory. And so here I sat face to face, not six feet
way from an immaculately dressed ant. His antenna turned focused in on me, the Bug reached in his pants pocket and with a voice like Clark Gable,
spoke; “Sure thing,” and produced a cheap, plastic lighter.
Now, I know what you might be thinking: run. And I was thinking the same thing. But then again I had made it this far. Does anyone really want to #
off a six-foot tall prehistoric creature in Calvin Klein? Not wanting to touch the thing, I put the cigarette between my lips and leaned forward
trustingly. The Bug’s claws seemed almost too awkward to operate the lighter. For a moment, before he lit my cigarette, I almost felt bad for him.
Poor space-monster flew all the way from the moon, got hooked on nicotine and can’t go back to see his family. I laughed nervously as I took a
first and second drag.
“Are you Erin’s friend?” What the hell was I thinking. Lets start a conversation with this Bug, maybe he’ll come over for dinner sometime.
“Erin? Ah, no. Just passing through town.” I watched the Bug intently when it spoke. The feelers swayed like tall grass in a slow wind or one of
those gigantic NASA satellites scanning the sky for alien TV shows. If only they’d point one of those suckers at Manhattan tonight, I thought. It
may sound strange, but as it spoke, I thought for a minute the Bug seemed human. In the slight glow of the streetlights, I could have sworn the
pinchers morphed into a proper mouth. Then again, when I was seventeen, I could have sworn I saw my Mother breathing as she laid in her casket. And
just like that:
“Still smoking?” The bug asked as he returned my nervous laugh, “What would your mother think?”
“Yea, I guess I am.” I wanted to ask the Bug what he did for a living, where he was from, why he was passing through New York - but the bizarre
nature of the situation sat on my chest and wouldn’t let proper small talk pass my lips. No need, though.
“I’m serious. Your mother would probably be very disappointed.” A lecture from an ant.
“Well, what would yours say?”
“You’re right….” his feelers moved about, “If anything she’d be proud. Look at you, turning your life around the way you did.”
“Turning a life around. A life in trouble. Getting off the drugs.” The strange-as-#-straw that broke the camel’s back.
“I have to go inside.” I said it, but didn’t really mean it. So I stood still.
“I’m Sorry. Too personal. Look I’m done with my last cigarette. Here,” he held out the lighter, “you can keep this.”
I grabbed it and put it in coat. I was feeling more like a child with each passing moment. If I was a child, I would poke this thing with a stick.
All I wanted to do now was shake the thing’s hand, but I didn’t know if he’d let me. And if he did, there was always the possibility he could
crush my bones like a pack of soup crackers. “How long are you in town for?” I asked instead.
“All the time.”
I took my eyes off the creature for the fist time. I wanted to ask him what he meant. “Look,” he said, “a taxi.” And there sat a taxi
outside Erin’s curb. Did he call it? I don’t remember. My senses aren’t their best at four in the morning, and I did have bigger things to worry
about at the time - like, say, the insectoid demon I was sharing a smoke with. And the Bug had already stepped on his butt, and opened the door to the
taxi. “Nice chatting with you.” He told me and slammed the door shut.
Behind the glass, the Bug looked like any other passenger. I wondered if the cabby would even notice. I walked up the stairs, inside, and up the
other thirteen flights. I locked my door and poured a shot of Makers. It was almost five. Was I out there for an hour? Or had I left later than I
thought I did. It was going to be a long day.
But that was that. Of course, I didn’t say a word to Katie or anybody else. He said he was around all the time. Maybe this is the kind of thing I
had stopped noticing during those long years - maybe I had fried my brain beyond imagination. I kept a cup of coffee with me in the stacks, against
protocol, but it helped me get through the morning and early afternoon. I wondered if all these books were getting in my head somehow; if each time I
touched one I took with me a little piece of fantasy, or science. Katie invited me over, I declined - just wanted to go home and sleep.
Nothing happened for a long time. I put the Bug encounter in my diary and the Short Man didn’t say a word about it. Like I said, I’m pretty sure
he just stopped reading. The visits became more mundane. Some chit-chat, the occasional card game, but mostly Delphanol and home. Once, Katie invited
me out to the Diner I used to call home, the experience was nerve racking to say the least - trying to be polite to Juan without letting Katie know
why I was being so chummy.
On the way out, we decided to take a walk. Katie suggested the park, but I insisted we serpentine up and down the streets near the brownstone. The
Short Man had always led me there, but I knew where it was. I wanted to see if there was anything different about it - anything that stood out without
the context of the Short Man and my need for Delpha. Funny though, I just couldn’t find the thing. Well, at least I couldn’t identify it.