[Little Bugs (Therian Tales Collaboration) / Ben Howard]

Therian Tales

Abe awakens to the sunlight penetrating through a hole in the wall of gossamer-tied branches. He sits up from the barely visible cobweb, yawning, and scratching the red hourglass of his chest. Every coarse hair on his dark exoskeleton, from the double-jointed legs to the muscular forearms, tingles as he recuperates. Just then, his stomach grumbles. Abe has been hungry for a week and decided last night he has to leave the web.

Abe weaved his web in the middle of a dense forest. Very few bugs ventured far out and those that did were easy prey. A month ago before they stopped coming, a bug with blonde hair, blue jeans, and a baseball cap appeared. The tied branches had made the forest so dark he could not see and stumbled into the web. Although just as blinded, Abe could hear the bug screaming and felt the vibration of his movements. From above, he crawled down to his prey. He had to laugh because, just like all of them, the bug never realized that thrashing only caused him to become more entangled. Abe undressed him and examined his flesh. It was young, healthy, and hairless, a boring body with no imperfection. At least his blood was adequate. Abe preserved him in a cocoon so that he could the bug as a reserve until the next one.

Out of an adjacent tree, Abe pulls a bundle of clothes from his previous prey. He picks a pair of khakis, a trench coat, fedora, and sneakers. Before leaving, Abe checks another tree where a cocoon lies, unbroken and perfectly preserved.

“I have to get food, mother,” he says. “Be back in a few hours.”

Abe crawls down his web. He walks for several minutes and comes and comes to the open field of a public park. It is still early in the morning with not even a groundskeeper around. Inside the forest, all was quiet and serene; out in the park, he hears echoes of car horns coming from the city just ahead. Abe grimaces thinking about that noisy crowded place. He walks up to the gate, looks left and right, then crawls over and jumps down on the paved sidewalk. He bundles himself in the overcoat, pulls the fedora down, and heads to the city center.

Here is the marketplace, a cobblestone ring around a cement fountain covered in bird shit. There are four buildings, a library and three mansions. Having grown up here, Abe always thought that they were somehow an attempt to guard this area from the city. A futile attempt, for they could not match the size of the skyscrapers. Seeing those giants above the Victorian architecture, shoppers would always be reminded that beyond was the postmodern horror of steel, machinery, and one-hour lunch breaks.

Abe looks around and sees several venues already open. One is a vegetable and fruit stand, promising fresh, organic produce. He searches inside the overcoat and finds a wallet. He orders a bag of apples. The vendor, a fat, squinty-eyed man, reaches out to him with change. Abe lurches his hand back and steps away from the stand. The vendor stares at him, eyebrow crooked.

“Just put it down,” hisses Abe.

The vendor obeys. Abe picks up his change, takes the brown paper bag of apples, and walks away. He can feel the fat man staring at him, probably wondering what the fuck is with this freak? Abe shakes with rage and clutches the bag tighter, fangs bared. He sits on the porch of a mansion composed of vertical windows, pointed arches supported by flying buttresses and other Gothic design. Placed on the roofs and in front of the gate are gargoyles. The original owner thought that they would keep out evil spirits while he composed his horrid tales. They must have lost their magic if Abe was born here.

His mother had been the great-granddaughter of another famous writer that lived across from the gothic mansion. Although her ancestor composed stories of love and beauty, he had apparently been friends with the crazed gargoyle man and convinced him and the senator in the third mansion to build the library. Even as the city changed over time, the area was preserved as a national landmark, though privately owned. The marriage between Abe’s parents could be seen as a great political match, combining the estates of two great writers and using the amassed fortune to further preserve the area. But fortune could not protect Abe’s father from a brain aneurism, nor him from being born deformed. Delivered on his mother’s bed, Abe ripped her open so severely that even the doctor was covered in blood. She screamed. Abe wondered what made her scream first: the pain or his ugliness.

Abe remembers that he has a bag of apples and eats one. It satisfies his hunger, but not the bloodlust. Ever since he was born, Abe would get this dry, itchy feeling and had to drink blood. The first time, he drank his mother’s vaginal blood. A day later, while breastfeeding, Abe bit on Mother’s nipple. She shrieked and put him back in the crib. When he would not stop crying, she let him suck. As he grew older, Mother provided him with blood from the butcher. By his teens, Abe grew tired of being fed. An instinct within told him to hunt with web.

He finishes the apples and looks toward the market. More bugs have shown up, dimwitted things wearing designer clothes and chatting on phones. Abe crosses his arms. The noise is irritating, and there are so many that he wants to run away. As long as they don’t touch you, he tells himself.

Abe moves amongst them, keeping his distance. It was a good idea that he dressed the way he did, for the little bugs take one look and steer clear. His body is covered by the trench coat, but his face, with its sunken white eyes, wrinkled pale skin, and visible skull, is a sight to fright.

Like Frankenstein, Abe thinks. Stay away from Frankenstein, everyone!

Abe finds no bug satisfactory. His natural instincts tell him to just grab what he can, but his human instinct tells him to be more particular. All these bugs with shampooed hair and clear skin are generic copies of each other. An hour passes, and still he does not choose one. He checks the clock tower over the fountain: 10:30am. Abe sighs, frustrated.

Suddenly, a blind, old bug stabs him in the foot with a cane. Abe kicks off the cane and stares fiercely at her.

“Oh, my! Sorry, darlin’,” she says. “I didn’t mean it.”

Abe backs away, keeping his eyes on her. A bug in a business suit bumps in from behind, spilling coffee on the trench coat.

“Jesus! Watch where you’re-“

Abe grabs him by the tie, hissing and baring his fangs. The bug screams and Abe throws him on the ground.

“Help! Police!” he screams. “Some psycho’s trying to kill me!”

“Leave me alone!” snarls Abe. He walks away, wiping off the trench coat. Stupid bugs, he thought. Weak. Easy to scare. The looks they gave him were of complete terror. He could tell in their wide eyes. He smiles knowing that despite their numbers, someone who looks different can still render them helpless.

Exhausted, Abe goes to the library for a break. Built from brick, it stands towering over the senator’s mansion. The architecture is a charming Baroque borrowed from the French.

Apparently, Mother’s ancestor thought Baroque was the highest of all beauties and wanted to give Americans a taste. Abe thought it was overrated but a quiet place to be in. The entrance is a spinning door leading into a lobby. Abe does not feel like being stared at, so he goes around to the back entrance. Abe stands next to the brick wall. Above him is a window that leads directly into the private collection. He looks around then proceeds to climb up. It is an effortless endeavor, the coarse hairs on his arms and legs sticking to the wall as easy as glue. The window is never locked, being on the second floor. He manages to slide it open and peek inside. The lights are off and all is quiet. At the time being, he has this treasured room to himself.

Abe feels the wall and finds the light switch. The room contains a private collection of the works of his ancestors, both from Mother and Father’s side. The two are separated, one section marked “Greystone”, the other “de Treville.” He goes to the former and searches amongst the rows of leather-bound novels, unfinished manuscripts, plastic-sealed notes, and other items. He finds the largest volume, Complete Works of William Greystone 1912 and flips through it. Abe always had an affinity for his great-great grandfather’s work: tales of graveyard terrors, matricidal urges, and creatures not of the norm. He wondered if William felt like he did, a monster surrounded by fearful idiots. He certainly found comfort in them and used to sneak into the library just to read these stories, since Mother would never let him out.

Mother.

She might have loved him but never understood. Catching rats in the basement was okay, but wanting to go out to hunt was strictly forbidden, even after the rats were gone. She tried to force the cold butcher’s blood on him. Abe refused, the instinct demanded hunting. Soon, the bloodlust became stronger and stronger he could not hold back anymore. If Mother would not let him out…

Suddenly, Abe hears a crinkling sound. It comes from de Treville’s section. He creeps over, the volume still in his hands, and discovers a bundle of rags covered in torn pages. The bundle shifts and sits up, revealing to be a female bug. She is filthy, brown hair tangled, freckled cheeks smudged with dirt. Her nose is flat and lips cracked. She yawns, revealing yellow teeth. Abe looks down at the rags she wears, noticing a white flannel dress. It is ill-fitting and reveals more of her breasts than deemed appropriate by public decency. As the bug stretches, two pink and erect nipples spill out. She opens her hazel eyes (perhaps her only redeeming feature) and notices Abe.

There is a pause, as though the bug does not fully comprehend what she sees.

“Whoa, you are ugly!” she says, smiling. “My name’s Crystal. What you doin’ in my bed?”

“I am Abe,” he replies. “And this is a library, not a bed. What are you doing here?”

“Well, the lady out front let me in. I was tired and figured I should nap.”

“With book pages?”

“Pfff. Who reads anymore?”

The bug picks up a page and blows it away, giggling. She picks up another and tries folding it into an airplane.

“I love paper airplanes! You wanna make one? No? Fine then, weirdo. More for me!”

She doesn’t run from me. Is she mad? Abe wondered. He sits down and observes with fascination. Normally, the bugs bored him but not this one. He has seen her type before, the homeless, yet her portrait is fascinating. Mad, homeless, hideous, and desecrating the literature of a man obsessed with beauty.

The bug picks up a web she finds between the books and eats it.

“I love the taste,” she says while chewing. “Like a not cotton candy cotton candy. Y’know what I mean?”

“Not really.” Abe feels strange. His lips twitch then part into a smile. There is an instinct like the bloodlust. It is unexplainable, yet natural, craving for satisfaction.

There is an echo of a lock being turned. Abe realizes it is the door and runs.

“Hey, wait, where are you–?”

Abe jumps out the window before the door opens, leaving the bug alone. He clings to the wall just below the windowsill and listens to the voices inside.

“My god! What have you done?”

“All right, lady. Come with me!”

“Aw, no! I was just hanging out with my buddy, Abe.”

“Sure you were.”

“Look at this mess! Do you have any idea what this collection is worth, you—“

The window is closed and Abe crawls down to the street. He cannot stop thinking about the bug. What was her name? Crystal. He repeats the name, imaging the filthy woman with her tangled hair, dirty cheeks, yellow teeth, and her smile, her eyes wonderstruck.

The backdoor opens. Abe hides behind a dumpster and peeks. A security guard is leading Crystal out the library. She looks pouty, like a girl who has been caught sneaking sweets.

“Please, let me stay. I’ll clean up the mess for you.”

“Lady, just get out of here.”

“Man, you’re no fun!” She spits her tongue at him. The security guard rolls his eyes and shuts the door. Abe stays hidden behind the dumpster, watching Crystal. The sun is at high noon and shines down upon her despondent, grimy countenance. Abe cannot look away, fixated, his coarse hairs stiff with passion. He realizes that Crystal is his choice. No one else but her will do. How does he capture her? Not in broad daylight and using force would damage her beautifully grotesque body. Abe chooses to be patient. He will wait as long as it takes until the opportunity arises.

After a minute, Crystal walks away from the library and heads over to the back lot of the senator’s mansion. Abe is right behind her keeping a good distance. Fortunately, the back lot consists of a graveyard filled with the senator’s entire family; plenty of headstones give Abe the sufficient cover he needs, ducking behind one of the moss-covered slabs whenever Crystal decides to twirl around while skipping. She comes up to the mansion, a building of such a plain, political nature that it bores Abe just to think about it. She scans the building until her eyes fall upon the cellar door. It has a rusted lock but stays in tack despite pulling. Crystal picks up a rock, throws it through one of the windows, and crawls inside. He waits a few minutes itching with anticipation then follows.

Much like the exterior, the interior is a bore of order, banal shelves of books, burnt-out lamps, and dust-covered furniture. There are a total of three floors, all connected by a flight of stairs in the grand room; if the mansion is like the one Abe grew up in then each floor would be something of a maze. He has been patient thus far, yet the anticipation, the hunger for Crystal, is gnawing at him. He takes a knife from the kitchen, bites on the blade, covering it in his venomous green saliva, and begins the hunt.

Nothing on the first floor but a library, dining hall, and living room. Abe checks the couches, closets, and even inside the pantries (Crystal looks like a girl who could sleep anywhere) but no Crystal. He is nervous. What if she didn’t stay in the house?

No, she’s here.

Second floor is mostly bedrooms, an office, and Laundromat, but labyrinthine in design. Abe finds himself entering the same room twice. Still no Crystal. Abe is terrified.

I will find her! She has to be on the third floor.

The third floor is only a single bedroom and areas for storage. Crystal is still not there. Where could she be?

There is an attic door.

Just above Abe. He pulls the string and a set of stairs slides out. They lead to an attic full of chests bundled with clothing. In the far end under a window is Crystal. She is lying on a pile of dresses. Abe stops to look at her body, pale, flabby stomach, breasts barely there, chubby legs, and chipped nails full of grime. The noon sunlight cannot make her face any better. It is disgusting. And Abe stares at it. He gently touches Crystal all over, shivering with ecstasy. He cannot just kill her, he realizes. He wants to keep her forever as his treasure.

Abe leans down and strokes Crystal across the face. Her eyes flutter open.

“Abe!” she says. “Wait, are you like only in my head?”

“No, Crystal. I’m real.”

“What’s that in your hand?”

“Let me show you.”

***

Kidnapping the fat produce bug had been easy. Abe just waited until he closed and followed him into the streets. Every part of his animal instinct told him to make a web, but the human instinct took over and he killed the bastard and brought him to the Gothic mansion. That had been at sunset. It is midnight now, no one in the marketplace. Abe looks through the bedroom window, making out the fountain by the street lamps. It was always more beautiful at night, with moon hanging high.

He burps. The fat bug had been a little greasy for him. He was now stored in the basement, preserved in a cocoon. Abe estimated that if he rationed properly, the bug would last him for two weeks or so. It would be hard hunting like this from now on, but worth it to be in a home nice enough for Crystal. It hurt to leave Mother in the woods, though.

All boys have to leave their mothers, thought Abe. Besides, there’s a new woman in my life.

In the master bedroom, place softly on the mattress is Crystal. She is wrapped in webbing, body completely cocooned, and her mouth sealed. She struggles and makes muffled pleas upon seeing Abe, eyes wide, sweat all over her neck and forehead. Abe frowns, upset she should be in such a state.

“Now, now. Don’t be like that, Crystal.” He strokes her on the cheek. She pushes herself into the mattress, desperately trying to get away from his touch. “I’m going to take care of you. You’ll like it here. It’s nice. We’ve only got a library and a few paintings, but I think I can get you to like them.

He disrobes down to his exoskeleton. He sits on top of her, scratching his large genitalia. Crystal is completely still.

“As long as you stay good,” he says. He points his finger at her. “Be good. You know that movie?”

“Rev mrr go!” she screams. “Rev mrr goooo!”

“Oh, well.”

Abe pulls out the knife from underneath the pillow and bites down. He lightly stabs Crystal in the neck where he did before and she becomes paralyzed by the venom.

“That’s better.”

He unwraps the cocoon slowly. Underneath is Crystal’s naked flabby body. Abe runs his fingers along her freckled skin, feeling her cherry nipples, outie bellybutton, and rough vulva.

“So beautiful.”

Crystal closes her eyes, mouth quivering. Abe strokes her cheek yet again.

“Don’t worry, love. I would never hurt you. We’ll just lie here and enjoy the night.”

He kisses her. One leg goes behind her, the other around her waist. His penis rubs against her cold thigh, hot. She will love him one day. She does not know this, but they are perfect for each other. Abe will show her and if she still does not?

Well, the city has plenty of prey.

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