If you’ve read my story “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.” in Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change, you may have an inkling of my feelings toward cockroaches (warning: graphic link).
Those feelings are only intensified when, while working on a web series I’m putting out later this year, I see something moving out of the corner of my eye – and it turns out to be a cockroach the size of my thumb scuttling its way up the wall.
Two inches from my head.
(Warning: this story gets graphic from here on out, so if you’re squeamish and want something to read, just go buy the book because its cockroach content is far less disturbing.)
Where we we? Yes. Writing meeting via skype in session, cockroach by my head.
I screamed. I jumped up. I dashed into the other room and grabbed my roach spray (any New Yorker’s best friend, and if they tell you otherwise they’re lying to make the city sound glamorous) and came back and squirted pathetic jets of toxic chemicals at the roach on my jacket. And what’d the little bugger do? IT FELL OFF INTO MY DRESSER DRAWER. I saw its little arms flailing as it fell, I watched it burrow down in between my socks, and I realized that I had no way of knowing whether the poison had actually killed it. Because I don’t know if you’ve been in a position to kill a cockroach recently, and I sincerely hope you haven’t been, but sometimes the little buggers don’t die.
Seriously. I’ve sprayed a continuous stream on a cockroach for something like forty seconds and watched it scrabble back and forth unaffected the whole time. Those nerve agents don’t act right away, you know. And even after they stop moving, their little legs keep twitching and sometimes when you try to scoop them up in a dustpan they’ll give another couple of twitches, and seriously, these are the last things on the planet that are going to have to worry about nuclear radiation, and sometimes I think also they are Zombies.
So now I had a drawer full of clothes and a maybe-not-dead-yet cockroach. This is when I started shaking. Those horrible delayed-adrenaline shakes. I pecked out a quick missive: “omg roach” to my co-writer to explain my sudden silence, and kept my eyes trained on the spot where roachie had burrowed down into my socks to make sure he didn’t try to come out again. All the while holding my roach spray as if it were an AK-47. Only tighter.
From there, the chronology gets foggy, in that way only post-adrenaline surge actions really can. I did a lot of yelling on twitter, I remember, and eventually it was determined that the drawer had to be emptied out as quickly as possible. This was upsetting, because by this point I’d realized that the only thing that was going to be more distressing than the moment when I found that roach (please let it not be moving) was going to be the moment when I finished emptying out the drawer and picking through my clothes only to not find a roach.
Into the bathroom goes the story.
I cleared a path on the floor of my apartment, which is roughly the size of a shoebox, and gave the dresser drawer a sharp kick or two just to make sure there wasn’t anything in there that was going to leap out at me. Then I gingerly pulled the drawer off its runners and put it on the floor. And nudged it with my feet a few more times. I shuffled it across the floor of the apartment, had another moment of vapors as I got closer to the step up to the bathroom (though come to think of it, it could have been my enclosed-space proximity to Raid), and dumped the drawer out into the tub.
Not sure what I expected – something to scurry up out of the fabric and make its presence known, perhaps – but nothing happened. A broom handle helped me pick up and shake out each sock, leggings, tights – and finally I got to a winter hat. I do remember thinking, I really wish I had one of those robotic arm grabber things. That is exactly what this situation calls for.
Instead, I poked the end of the broom into a hat and picked it up, shook it around a little —
— and let out another high-pitched shriek as my little buddy dropped, arms flailing, back into the tub.
Another scramble for roach spray ensued, only this time I grabbed the spray with the automatic re-shooting trigger function. I’m not even kidding. I had an automatic weapon on my side against this thing.
In hindsight, I don’t even know what to do with the image: a hysterical human being pumping automatically-propelled jets of poison at a scuttling bug-creature till the little thing finally stopped twitching. There’s something about that that makes me very uncomfortable. But we’ll put those feelings aside, for now. Because of what I learned next.
Returning to Twitter to share the tale of my victory, I was informed thusly: apparently that one was just a scout, a distraction. The real invasion was still coming. It was going to be an ambush, a massacre. And I had taken the bait.
I kept the Raid by my bedside last night. And I slept with the lights on.