11 Sep Mosquitos
“Mosquitos”Written by David Feuling Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 7 minutes
July 29th, 1991: 2 pm
One of the young men spoke, breaking the quiet thrum of nature around the group. “The marathon winds right through these woods, Jordie.” Leeroy gestured with a sweep of his hand to indicate the dense wilderness around himself. “And you’ve got two more days to get that blood sample in for testing.”
“Don’t the mosquitos get a lot worse at night?” Jordie asked.
“They do, but that’s the point,” Leeroy answered. “When the big day comes, you’ll breeze through it.”
“And you’ll be allowed to compete,” Laura added. “Because that blood test isn’t going away.”
“Bugs and needles shouldn’t be part of riding a bike,” Jordie complained quietly. “I should be training tonight, not ‘facing my fears’ on some stupid camping trip.”
“You’ll thank us when it’s all done,” Leeroy replied. “Getting over your anxiety about lost blood is going to help you qualify for the race, because testing clean is the only way to prove that you’re the genuine article! Besides that, you know that getting over your fear of bugs is going to help you maintain focus during the two days of cycling through this forest.”
“I already agreed to all that,” Jordie muttered. “But I still feel afraid.”
“That’s ok!” Laura answered. She grasped Jordie affectionately by one of his arms, and then raised herself up onto tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “It’s normal to feel afraid, honey! That’s the nature of any phobia. We’re both here to help you get through it, though.”
July 29th, 1991: 8 pm
“Okay,” Leeroy announced. “You’ve got your water, snacks, radio, lamp, and plenty of comics to read. You’ve got a cot, so you can sleep as soon as you’re ready to crash. Just make it through tonight and you’ll feel a lot better about everything. You won’t lose that much blood, ok Jordie? I promise you’ll be fine.” The athlete wavered on his feet as though he might faint.
“These window screens will probably keep most of the mosquitoes out, anyway,” Jordie said. He ran his hand gently along the vinyl partition. The tone of his voice quickly betrayed that the words were expressed only to reassure himself.
“Don’t count on those, my friend,” Leeroy grinned. “Look!” he said suddenly, moving toward the screen. “When the bugs are hungry enough, they’ll squeeze right through.” He snatched up the nearby tabletop lamp and moved to illuminate one of the patio’s floor-to-roof screens. In the fading light, there were already countless mosquitos bouncing against the barrier while others landed and probed carefully for a way through. “It’s already starting,” Leeroy said. He slapped at an anticipatory itch on his neck. “Nighttime here is much worse than the daytime outside. Don’t fool yourself. You won’t escape being bitten.”
Jordie took a deep breath and allowed himself to look out into the darkness. He could only see as far as the light from the lamp could penetrate into the thin, warm fog of the night air. As Leeroy moved to replace the light source onto the patio table, the darkness seemed to approach at that same pace. Jordie observed that Leeroy was entirely correct about the tenacious presence of the mosquitos outside. The bloodsuckers were teaming furiously outside, and their eagerness to press their tiny bodies against the vinyl screens implied that they could already smell the presence of human hosts.
Leeroy went inside, leaving Jordie there. He locked the door behind him.
July 29th, 1991: 10 pm
Laura and Leeroy went together to project their voices through the sturdy door that separated the inside of the cabin from the screened-in patio. They greeted Jordie, and Jordie was immediately there behind the door with an answer. The timing was rushed, and it quickly became obvious that Jordie had been patiently waiting for them to check in with him.
“Things are bad out here!” Jordie shouted. There was an obvious timbre in his voice that betrayed how his teeth were chattering. The night was warm, and so the tremors they heard in Jordie’s voice could only be from some manner of sustained terror that was shaking him. “Things are scary,” he repeated loudly. He was fighting not to let any whiny fear into what he was saying, but that fear seeped through regardless. “The bugs are bad out here,” he admitted. “But, I’ve got them mostly in control.”
From behind the door, Leeroy could hear Jordie slapping at his own body. The sound implied that Jordie was striking everywhere. He slapped at his own arms, chest, back, thighs, calves, and elsewhere else. He struck with a consistent rhythm that was surely painful and exhausting. “Just let them bite you, Jordie!” Leeroy shouted. “The point is not to feel afraid of them anymore! You don’t want to get distracted and fall off the bike, just because your hands are busy swatting bugs!”
“It’s so much worse than I thought it would be,” Jordie said. His voice was barely audible through the door. “I didn’t realize it could ever get as bad as this.” The athlete sounded weak. His words wavered out as though he were feeling very faint.
“You can brave it out, Jordie!” Laura called through the door. “I love you, baby!”
“I can brave it out,” Jordie repeated mutely from behind the door.
July 30th, 1991: 12 am
“Please. Please let me in. I give up, and I want to come inside.”
Jordie hammered out a steady and measured rhythm on the door. One fist and then the other struck weakly in a one-two cadence against the wood. He must have been exhausted, because the blows of his hands barely rattled the door in its frame. “I can’t sleep!” Jordie called out. “They’re crawling all over me. I want to be let in. None of this is worth it anymore. Forget the marathon and forget the blood test. None of this! I just don’t want to be out here anymore.”
“Don’t say that Jordie,” his friend scolded him. Leeroy was seated safely on an entryway bench next to the exterior door. Laura listened to their conversation from a chair in the living room. Neither of those inside had seen their friend since he first went outside and was left alone. “I know you too well, Jordie,” Leeroy called through the door. “You’ll be mad at yourself if you give up now! You’ll get mad at all of us. The failure will stick in your head, and then this will all be for nothing!”
“Nothing’s going to stick in my head,” Jordie responded. “I promise I’m not going to be mad at all.” His voice sounded like a sob. “I’m scared and I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“We can’t let you in, Jordie,” Leeroy clucked reproachfully. ”We made a promise to get you through tonight. You remember that, don’t you?” From behind the door, there came a sniffling sound and then several beats of silence. It was clear that Jordie had thrown the brakes on his own quiet sobbing.
“I remember!” Jordie shouted it loud enough to make his voice crack. “But… please,” he added more quietly. “Don’t make me do it anymore.”
July 30th, 1991: 3 am
“Laura, I’m not feeling so good,” Jordie’s voice arrived weakly through the solid wooden door. “I’m all bitten up. Every part of me hurts. Even my tongue is swollen.”
“They didn’t bite your tongue, Jordie.” Laura did her best to answer kindly and calmly. She wanted to reassure him. “Try to sleep and it’ll be morning soon.”
“I tried to keep them out, but they’ve bitten me everywhere. On my tongue, in my eyes, and even on the palms of my hands. They’re under my clothes now. They’re going inside me.”
“They didn’t bite your eyes, Jordie,” she told him.
“I love you, Laura,” Jordie replied and then fell silent. He made no more sound, even after Laura bid him goodnight and went to her room.
July 30th, 1991: 7 am
Laura woke first in those post-dawn hours. She rose from the bare mattress on the floor of the back bedroom, and creaked on wooden floorboards until she was downstairs in the kitchen. She woke Leeroy, who was asleep on the couch in the living room, with a gentle shake of his shoulder as she passed by him. Leeroy yawned and then lurched his body into a sitting position. He rubbed at his eyes while Laura set a pot of coffee brewing in the kitchen behind him. Both of the survivors assumed that Jordie was asleep outside.
It was a natural thing to assume that Jordie was alive. The pair called out to him, and when he did not answer, they knocked gently on the door in an attempt to awaken their friend outside. When Jordie didn’t answer, they simply set about having breakfast without him. Judging by how absolutely all sound had ceased outside, there was surely nothing wrong. In fact, the morning was gorgeously peaceful. As Leeroy tuned his ears to listen, there arrived barely even a single beat of squirrel chatter or birdsong from the wilderness outside. When breakfast was done, it was Laura who ran out first to shake Jordie awake and congratulate him.
At first, Laura didn’t even recognize that a corpse was there with her on the patio. The remains in the sleeping bag barely filled the nylon sac enough to lift it off the ground and show that anything was inside. When Laura checked the sleeping bag, her scream brought Leeroy out to join her. They didn’t seem to understand that they had found Jordie’s body. Even after the police arrived to take Jordie away, they didn’t seem to understand what they had seen. The body didn’t look anything like Jordie had looked less when he was alive. At least three times before they left the cabin together in the early evening of that day, Laura and Leeroy called out aimlessly into the woods together. They were shouting for Jordie to “please come back.” It didn’t help at all, of course. Jordie hadn’t left them until he was forced to go.
The police refused to speculate on any cause of death before a coroner from the city performed an autopsy. They didn’t release the body for burial until well after the summer races were over. Things proceeded mostly as normal in those early days of August. Jordie’s absence on the day of the race was an irregularity that was perceived as horrifying only to those who understood the whole story.
August 3rd, 1991: 10 am
Two microphones were perched at uneven angles on the announcer’s desk in front of Jim and Sylvie from Channel 8’s Local News. The day of the race drew meager fanfare, and so only a few stations saw fit to set up booths and report live from the event. A single camera was sufficient for Channel 8 in this case. It would be more than enough to provide highlight clips for the weekend report.
“Good morning to those of you watching from home!” said Jim. He nodded amiably toward the camera. “It’s a beautiful day for a race! Are you enjoying the weather, Sylvie?”
“Oh, absolutely, Jim!” Sylvie leaned slightly forward to speak into her microphone. “The sun is out and the air is crisp. It’s perfect for our racers today!” She drew in an audibly deep breath and then let it back out. Jim smiled at her with a showman’s appreciation before he spoke again.
“The thing that really surprises me, Sylvie,” he said, “is the complete lack of mosquitos this morning! They’re usually out here pretty thick by now. Remember last year?”
“Well, don’t jinx us, Jim!” Sylvie laughed. “You’d better knock on wood!”
“Right,” Jim smiled. He tapped gently with two knuckles on the announcer’s podium in front of him. “I’ll knock on wood that it stays just like this!”
“I do have to admit,” said Sylvie, “I’ve never seen it so perfectly clear on race day! It’s never been like this before. What do you think, Jim? Are the mosquitos doing us a favor?”
“Maybe they already had a big meal just before this,” Jim answered with a polite laugh. “But it’s an absolutely perfect day for a race, that’s for sure!”
“It’s a perfect day for a race, Jim,” Sylvie agreed.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available