Rustles and scratches fill our pitch-black sitting room. Bugs. Digging through cracks in the walls, searching for moonshine to gorge on. I sink back against the sofa cushion, grateful for the wooden boards on the window, and wrap my fingers around Lee’s pocket torch. My head aches. The blisters on my socked feet sting and throb. Outside the flat, a distant door bangs. My heart leaps. Is it Lee? Has he come back?
A wail floats up the stairs. Footsteps echo. A deep, male voice, not Lee’s, yells for someone to put out the moon. More steps. A fist slams into our door, and the key chain rattles. I hold my breath. Silence. Even the bugs stop moving. Then the intruder stumbles off down the hallway, growling and sobbing like a lunatic. My belly churns.
Damn bugs. They’re destroying everything.
Rage coppery on my tongue, I tuck my dark curls into the back of my hoodie and pull on battered, brown boots. Then I switch on the torch. The thin beam spills across the cluttered room, trembling like a spider’s thread. I flick it over the worn rug, metal step ladder and broken T.V. The shadows shudder and stretch.
I point the torch at the framed photograph of Lee and me outside a country pub. Arms flung around each other, we grin over pints of Guinness. Sunlight soaks into everything: our tanned skins, the wooden bench, the gray, stone wall. Strange to think we took it only three months ago on my twenty-first birthday. When the days stretched from dawn to dusk and weren’t stuck in perpetual twilight.
I snap away the light and drag my thoughts from summer’s golden warmth. Where is Lee now? Is he hiding? Lost? Crazy? Dead?
“Here, buggy buggy,” I murmur. “Time to get squashed.”
The darkness yawns and presses in. Then a bat-sized moth flutters past my right ear and perches on the torch. As it feeds, the light flickers and dims, and depression slips, like a black cloak, over me. I struggle to stay focused, determined not to give up or slide into insanity. I raise my hand. Only then a kitten-sized spider drops from the ceiling. It lands on my wrist and runs along my arm. I squeak and leap up. Shake it off. Try to stamp on its hairy body. But it darts under the sofa.
Huge black beetles scuttle into the puddle of pale light on the floor. They lap, then gulp. One of them turns its glistening head and chomps off the tip of the torch’s beam. I back away, my skin crawling, despair burrowing into my bones. I don’t get it. Why are they demolishing light? They weren’t zapped by space rays or mutant bug-eyed aliens. So maybe Lee’s right. Maybe it’s some kind of virus.
Something tugs at my untied boot laces. I glance down at a giant cockroach. It climbs my jeans. I let it. I let it drain my strength and courage. I let it suck on my will, my reason for living. I let it extinguish the light in me. Until it reaches my thigh. Then I bring up my knee and slam down my hand. It crunches against my palm. I grimace and study the thick goo. Then I move to wipe it on the arm of the sofa. But the beetles rush towards me, greasy bodies writhing and tumbling.
I click the torch button, but the light stays on. I click again and again. Still, it shines. Something tickles my face. I shriek and slap it off. Goo gets on my lips and cheeks, so I wipe it away with my sleeve and spit. Bitterness seeps into my mouth, burning my tongue and throat. I retch and cough and spit again. Then I hurl the torch across the room, and the undulating wave of dark bodies chase after it.
The room plunges into blackness. Trembling, I perch on the sofa’s edge and count ragged breaths until my pulse slows. Then I sink back, wrapping my arms around my knees. I close my eyes. I imagine Lee beside me. I conjure his narrow, bearded face, lopsided grin, olive and gold-flecked eyes. I pretend to kiss the curved scar over his left eyebrow.
I drift. I dream of the dusky, empty streets that I’ve searched every day since Lee left. His distant shouts echo off crumbling walls. He yells curses and barks at a beetle-shaped moon. In the shadows, bugs suck at the day’s edges and night advances. Outside a country pub, I kick a broken beer bottle. Lee’s last words float out of it:
“Do you want to board up that window, babe? I’ll go find food. Don’t worry. I’ll be back before sunset.”
When I wake up, a sliver of gray shimmers above the blacked-out window. My belly growls. I stand, grab the step ladder and climb. I stretch towards the light. It smells like sunshine on fallen apples. I press my palm against it, and my pale skin tingles. My mouth waters. I tug at the boards. I yank and rip and dig out iron nails. Blood trickles down my wrists.
“Hurry,” Lee whispers.
The wood falls, and brilliance engulfs me. I blink, dazzled.
Lee chuckles. “You took your time.”
Then I realize: the light isn’t dying. It’s inside the darkness.
I poke out my tongue.
I lick. I gulp. I bite.
* * *
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