I finally sat down to write my own flash fiction contribution to Friday’s writing exercise. If you like, join us on Fridays for more writing prompts and sharing of the craft!
The road in was long and winding, passing through fields stubbled with the last vestiges of the corn harvest upstate. The only signs I had left the public road were large “No Trespassing” placards posted every few feet. Although I was supposed to be there, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something didn’t want me to approach.
The Jeep sputtered out as it normally did – something with the starter that I hadn’t gotten around to fixing. I got out and tried to figure out where to knock on the door.
Before me, a high, wraparound porch presented an impassable obstacle to the ornate front door. The hand-carved wood railing offered no stairs or opening for visitors to enter. The rest of the house was the same – two stories of elegant, inhospitable splendor.
Feeling more and more like an intruder – the kind who, like the placards warned, would be shot on sight – I wandered around to the side of the house. There, I found a plain green door. Black and gold stickers spelled out “VISIT R”. My heavy knock, a habit I can’t kick from my days as a process server, brought only silence.
I was about to turn around and head on out from this increasingly eerie experience, but as I turned to go, a voice stopped me.
“Ah … please …”
I turned around. The woman in front of me appeared to be in her mid-twenties, her youthful visage belied by the professorial tweeds she sported. On her sweater vest, a small ladybug pin was the only decoration she wore. I swear I didn’t hear the door open, but there she was, inviting me in.
“I’m sorry, I was in the far collecting room.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Now that the door was open, I didn’t want to go in.
“Please, come in.” She gestured and I went in, careful not to brush up too close. Even without touching her, I felt something cool and hard, like a carapace, surrounding her with its aura.
She closed the door behind us and took off down the hall. “This way!” Her voice trailed airily behind her as she scuttered across the bare wood floors, and I found myself unexpectedly panting for breath as I struggled to keep up.
Around and around in the maze we traveled, her leading and me chasing. The house was big from the outside, but I hadn’t realized how far back it went. I rounded a corner and she stood, hip cocked, arm extended to hold open one of two heavy doors. “This is the largest collecting room. Come in!”
I sidled into the room, and she let the door crash behind us. I could swear I heard a tumbler catch, locking it automatically. She glanced around, for one fleeting second of worry, then smiled again. “Everything is safe!”
With the doors closed behind us, the sounds of outside came flooding in. Insects called and answered, birds chirped, and rustling in the grass alerted us to the presence of something small and furred. With all of precautions on the door to the rest of the house, here, a sliding glass door remained open with only a screen door to protect against unwanted animal visitors. The rest of the room was filled with long, narrow tables topped with flat, glass-topped display cases. Some of the brilliant sun glinted off hidden colors.
“Thanks for contacting me through my Web site.” I fished out a business card – one of 500 I’d optimistically had made when I started my appraisal one-woman-firm. “What, exactly, will we be looking at today.” My arm remained extended for longer than was socially comfortable, and I tried to play it off as I put the card back in my pocket.
“These are the first for which we would like your opinion,” the woman said, gesturing. I stepped closer, expecting rubies. I got ladybugs.
There was a row of them, neatly glued to the bottom of the case. At least, I thought they were glued, until one of them started crawling. The woman rapped on the glass and the errant Marienkafer got back in line.
Completely sure that I hadn’t seen what I just saw, I moved on to the next case and crouched close. Here, a line of iridescent beetles, all shapes and sizes – but to a one, not smaller than a quarter – encircled another beetle. This one, the size of a golf ball, sported a gold exoskeleton, and they looked like nothing less than a parade of arthropodal supplicants approaching their monarch.
Also, I realized that the cases were, in fact, not topped with glass.
Straightening up, I stared at the woman. She murmured sweet nothings at the next case, from which emanated a soft shurr-shurring. I immediately decided that my lack of steady clientele notwithstanding, it was about time to let this one go and make my way back to the real world.
“I wish I could help you,” I said with my patented “it’s-not-you-it’s me” grimace. “But these are far beyond my expertise.”
I didn’t imagine it. The sound of wings and spiny legs increased, and it wasn’t coming from outside.
“Just one last one, if you don’t mind.”
Clearly, this lady wasn’t taking the hint. And where did that box come from? The one she held in her hands, larger than a shoebox, and moving with a suspicious trembling?
* * *
The bill for the screen door, when it came, put a sizable dent in my not-too-sizable checking account. I paid it gladly, even though I was still pissed about driving all the way into the middle of nowhere for a job that I could have turned down in five seconds on the phone. Oh well, lesson learned. And yes, I could have simply laughed it off and gone out the front door like a normal person instead of busting through the screen in the first place.
But that box. And, when she opened her mouth, the smallest hint of black carapace at the back of her smile.