Author: Dmitri Christopher

The tapping starts up again, rousing Walter from unquiet sleep. He flattens himself against the door and peers through the peephole; here they come, creeping down the hallway. Some roll on thin wheels spliced between their toes. Most creep on spindly spider legs.

Sometimes they leave eggs behind. Eggs of all types and sizes; tiny larval sacks, leathery reptile ova, enormous shells that could hatch a bear. A single bulbous eye turns up and meets Walter’s own. One of them squats in front of his apartment to give birth, then stalks out of view. A freshly laid egg tips and falls toward the door, the mucosal film of its excretion glistening beneath the fluorescent bulbs.

“Bombs, they’re laying bombs,” Walter says, his whole body shuddering like a horse bedeviled by stinging flies. On hands and knees he can see three shadows through the gap above the threshold; the two egg bombs they left yesterday, plus today’s little gift. Close enough to poke with his pinky finger, though he dare not. Opening the door, even shaking it just a hair, any pressure at all could trigger detonation.

“Why is this happening to me?” Walter asks, jaws still moving after the words are gone. His toothless gums worry a sore beneath his tongue and a thin string of saliva dribbles between the quacking lips. Fresh accusations bellow from his stomach, three days empty. They want to starve him out. Even if he somehow bypassed the booby trapped door, he would last all of three seconds before they turn his arthritic rump into shredded beef. Imagine he fought them off, by some miracle he kicked their clicking clacking cockroach bodies to bits, what then? Only two days ago one drifted past his window on rattling locust wings. They are everywhere. There can be no escape.

“Dammit, dammit,” Walter says, crumpling into the bench beside the door frame. His head leans against the jamb, the wood is cool and rough against his ear, and he falls into the wary trance of a hunted rabbit hiding in its burrow, too exhausted to flee further. Soon enough the tapping resumes, the rhythmic wheezing grows closer, and he is on his feet again pressed against the peephole. Another one creeps by.

Somewhere past the doorway where Walter stands, beyond the empty kitchen in a forgotten corner of the living room, Dean Martin croons from the speaker of an old FM radio. Dean serenades his companion, beseeching her to stay inside lest she succumb to the creeping winter cold. She protests but does not refuse the invitation, they both know what lurks in the frigid darkness beyond the door. A telephone rings unheard beneath the music and the antique box beside it sounds a familiar tone. A feminine voice dissipates through the dusty air.

“Dad, it’s me. I’m sorry but we won’t make it down this week. We’re completely snowed in up here. They’re saying another sixteen inches tonight. Did you get your gifts? It says they delivered one this morning. Can you check please? Love you.”