You Have Roaches
rating: +60+x

Brian stared for a full minute, hoping it would turn out to be something else, but the dead bug under the bed stubbornly continued to exist.

Gross. How did it even get in here? He went to get something to touch it with. Toilet paper and then flush it, I guess. It was when he came back and got on his hands and knees that he saw the nest.

It was a circular hole in the floor, teeming with them. They writhed over each other as he pulled back in horror, looking around for something to spray them with or sweep them away. He took two quick steps toward the door, ready to bolt if they came after him, but they stayed put under the bed.

He grabbed a pen and bent down again, hoping he could just be mistaken about the whole thing. No. Shit. That's real. He couldn't deny what he saw, and when he carefully stuck the pen into their midst and felt them pushing against it he had to accept that it wasn't a hallucination.

He jerked away, crawling backward to put some space between himself and the bugs. They swarmed over and around each other like fish in a pond, but only within their little circle. In fact, however they squirmed, they never rose above the level of the floor. They were flat, like a movie projected onto the carpet. But with depth; when he stuck the pen back in and released it with trembling fingers, it disappeared completely.

"Hey, I'm Neal. From the, uh, you called an exterminator?"

The man was in his late twenties, with a mop of blonde curls down to his shoulders. He was unshaven and very obviously stoned. He pointed to the words "Wilson's Wildlife Control" on his jumpsuit and smiled, rattling his spray can as proof of identity.

Brian squinted at him. "This is the right place. Look, I think this might be kind of serious -"

"Yeah, totally. That's why they sent me. I'm good with weird stuff."

Brian considered for a moment, then let him in. "They're in the bedroom, back here. Hopefully they haven't moved."

Neal started down the hall, taking the lead. "This the first time you've seen roaches around your house? I guess you don't have other pests?"

"No, never. As you can see, I keep it pretty clean in here."

"Yeah. Nice place, by the way."

"Thanks." Brian watched as Neal gently opened the bedroom door and peeked through, ducking as if anything might happen. When nothing did, he stepped in decisively and started looking around. Feeling absurd, but caught helplessly in the moment, Brian hung back to see what happened.

"Coast is clear, man," Neal said from inside the room. "If they were gonna, like, jump out at us or anything, they'd have done it by now. Were they under the furniture, or something?"

"Under the bed." Brian gestured, keeping the exterminator between himself and the spot he'd seen the bugs.

Neal got casually on all fours and peered into the darkness. "Okay. Yeah. Those are roaches all right. You'd be surprised how often I see stuff like this. They got in and now they're your floor."

"I've never heard of cockroaches burrowing in wood like this."

"Nah, man, they're not in the floor, they are the floor. The ground under your bed is those bugs now. They haven't burrowed into the house, they've burrowed into your personal space. You know?"

"No." He's just high. "I think I need a second opinion."

"I mean, call someone else if you want, but they'll just tell you the same thing. Here, check this out." Neal pulled a flashlight from his belt and lit up the underside of the bed, gesturing for Brian to get closer.

"Look what happens if I — there it goes." The exterminator stuck the long steel nozzle of his spray can into the midst of the roaches. Brian watched as its length disappeared into the hole, inch after inch, well into where the building's foundation should have been. "Okay, now if I just -" and he pushed it forward a little more. Brian yelped as cold metal poked him in the back.

"What - stop! What the hell was that?" He'd felt it beneath his skin, as if the probe were inside his body. He shuddered, touching his chest and back to make sure nothing bulged out.

"Okay. This is what I was worried about. What you've got is, this floor, this apartment, it's all connected to you, right? So, you're seeing them in the floor, but that's not really where they are. They're in you, right? Get what I mean?"

"I don't. I don't understand this at all. You're saying - so I just need to move? Is that it?"

"Yeah, no. The thing is, if you replaced the whole floor, the new floor would become your floor as soon as you had it installed. You see what I mean? They'd still be there. They're feeding on something moldy in you, like old regrets or a guilty conscience or something."

"But I'm not like that. I'm fine." He grimaced as he said it, a highlight reel of mistakes and social awkwardness playing in his mind's eye. "I mean, I'm a regular guy. I'm normal. This isn't normal."

Neal shrugged. "I don't know, man. It's probably not even anything you'd remember. Think of your life like a house. These guys must have gotten in way down at the basement. If you're seeing them here, then, like…" he made an awkward weaving motion with his fingers. "They're gonna be going all the way through. See?"

"Wait, are you saying there's more of them?"

"Well, you know what they say, right? 'For every one you see, there's a hundred more you don't."

Brian felt his jaw slack, his face going pale. He looked at his hands, then at Neal, searching for words but coming up with nothing more or less than "So what do I do now?"

The exterminator looked back sympathetically. "Well. They're in your space because it's yours. Changing the space won't help. You want to clear them out, I think what you're looking at is having to become a whole new person."

He felt lightheaded. "How do I do that?"

"Being a person is mostly about what you do, so repairing it's mostly about doing new things. Trying stuff, meeting people. Gotta make a lot of mistakes. It's a big process, obviously. Probably less expensive than replacing an actual house, though, so that's good, right?"

Brian crouched down, head between his knees, fighting the urge to throw up. "It's so - none of this makes sense."

"Well. Sure it does, man. Look, no judgment, all right, but this kind of thing doesn't happen overnight. You know? But, just, you're better off doing something about it now than waiting for it to become a real problem. Right? So it's good that you called today."

"Right." He stood, collecting himself. He was a capable person. He could handle this.

"That's the spirit, dude. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and, y'know, be okay with it taking a while. Like remodeling a house, right? You do one thing at a time until you've replaced all the bad parts with new stuff. That's how you'll get rid of this situation down here."

Brian nodded. "I think I can do this. Thanks for your help. I… just, thanks."

"No problem. Hey, man, while I'm here, you want me to spray for ants?"

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