The Mites of Hilarity is a funny story for weird fiction readers. Follow two teenagers desperate to leave the shoddy umbrella of their lottery-winning parents. They discover opportunity in an untested piece of corporate technology and bizarre little bugs with an appetite for amusement.
With some uncanny humor, I had a lot of fun writing this. Part two is linked immediately at the end; otherwise, it’s located on the “Nicole’s Prose” page of this website. For those who may prefer to know ahead of time, I would rate this piece ‘Mature’ for language and content.
Do please let me know if there are elements that you particularly liked, no matter who you are. Knowing what works helps ensure each successive story improves. Thank you for reading!
-Nicole Van Den Eng
Our first Easter guest arrived at nine-thirty in the morning, hollering about the shitty vodka selection at Fastest Mart. His voice echoed down the halls from the foyer. It was Frank—always the first to arrive. The guy lived with us more often than he lived in his own trailer.
He didn’t go “way back” with my parents either, he was one of those people who went where the money was. My parents never had more friends than after they won $258 million. But every one of them was a gold digger and, worse, they didn’t dwindle, they kept coming. Mom and dad reveled in the attention and rewarded returning company.
“Hey! Anyone home?!” he yelled again.
Out my bedroom window I could see our driveway, winding through the hedges and around the front fountain. Frank had parked his truck on the grass rather than anywhere on the overly long driveway or the side parking lot.
Mom must have answered Frank’s bellow because he quieted down.
I was up and dressed, had been since seven. There was a homework assignment due the very next morning that had so far amounted to a half a page of random notes. I’d had a week to do it but it was taunting me from the depths of “you need this grade.”
“Cleo!” Mom’s voice squawked through the house intercom. I jerked around from the window view but didn’t move to answer her. “Cleo, get down here and help me.” She demanded.
I rolled my eyes. Nooooo, I thought. I crumpled into the chaise lounge closest to me. The mansion came furnished when we bought it. All fourteen bedrooms had a king sized beds; mine had two couches, a vanity, a bathroom, and a walk in closet in which I hid a mini fridge. It was perfect enough for me to never come out of.
“Cleo!” Except when mom called.
I lurched up and stabbed the button, “I’m coming,” I snapped.
Down the curved staircase and through the informal sitting room, Frank slouched easily at the twelve person dining table between a bottle of vodka and a bottle of orange juice. I could hear my mother on the other side of the swinging door. Frank and I eyed each other as I passed; we didn’t get along.
The kitchen was on the other side of the swinging door. My mom had the fridge open and was taking everything out. She heard me come in and leaned around her bent-over hips barely enough to see me. Her hair was tied up in a messy poof. The butt of her sweatpants read: Pocket. That used to be my dad’s “sweetheart name” for her.
“We have nothing to put out for the guests, Cleo,” she whined. “Look, I’ve got pickles, applesauce, grapes, salsa… what is this garbage?”
“Actually, mom, that could all go out.”
Somehow she made the sound in her throat match the look on her face. She fluttered her hands and pulled her phone out of her back pocket.
“Ruskin!” She growled into the phone. “You need to come in early. No. No, we have nothing to put out. So what, they should have started church earlier. You’re in charge of the pleasantries Ruskin, get your dumpy ass over here or you’re fired.” At some point my mother and the housekeeper, Denise, began calling each other by their last names as a kind of an insult to their family name disguised as professionalism. It was like watching them poke each other in the eye.
Denise was fired more than once. But every other housekeeper we hired quit, and every other employer Denise went to fired her. So each time Denise came back she hustled a 25 cent promotion and a more glorified-sounding title. She’d started as Housekeeper, graduated to Nanny, then to Head Chef. This time it’s Pleasantry Specialist. Mom liked to throw that word around, pleasantries.
Glenda came through the swinging door. “Janice,” she started, “I just saw Ambry get dropped off by some very questionable characters. Now, I heard that a teenager’s friends are his biggest influencers so I feel like you should set some guidelines.” Glenda was my Godmother and she enjoyed acting like it.
“Where?” Mom asked. It was easy for Glenda to get my mom worked up about anything.
“They dropped him off at the end of the driveway. I saw them as I pulled up.” She sounded proud of herself—that she’d coincidentally been present when Ambry got out of a car.
Mom trotted off like she cared and Glenda settled herself at the breakfast bar. Glenda liked fur and denim. She liked chilled red wine and Kalamata olives with the pit. She swallowed the pit whole. Said it reminded her of her husband who was in a Mexican prison for eight years. Glenda propped her chin up on her palm and gave me the sweetest look, which urged me to leave.
The front door slammed hard enough to rattle vases and I met my little brother at the bottom of the staircase. He was wearing the same clothes I’d seen him in three days earlier and he was actively trying to blow past my mom.
“Dammit, Ambry, I said where have you been?! You think I don’t know what you’re doing but honestly I’d rather you did it in the house. People out there will take your kidney if you’re not careful.
“Ambry. Ambry!” She begged for his attention as he stalked up the stairs, “You know those girls just want our money!”
“Jesus, mom, I don’t even like girls,” Ambry grumbled as he climbed the steps.
Mom watched him go with pursed lips. Once he was out of sight she breezed by me. “Glenda, do you feel like salsa is an acceptable dish for Easter?” Her voice faded as she passed through three doorways.
I took my opening and scampered up after Ambry. In my room, I woke my laptop and my hopeless notes looked back at me.
Mr. Grummell, stuffy, pretentious, and ever in my business, announced to our class that our Spring Break task was to “write 3,000 words defining the cause of laughter.” He was my Theater teacher but had majored in Philosophy so he tried to teach us Philosophy under the guise of Theater. But even so, I loved theater.
After Mr. Grummell stated the assignment, I raised my hand. He got that heavy-eyed look that called on me without having to use my name.
“I feel like this is unreasonable,” I said. “This is going to be totally different for each person. And this isn’t a Theater assignment, this is Philosophy. Again.”
“It’s not,” he countered, “If you’re going to make people laugh on stage you have to know what makes you laugh.”
I gave him what I equated to a dirty look. I did not do well with loosely classified projects. He knew this. And he also knew I loved Theater. And now, all I had was a half a page about how tickling elicits a cry for help.
“Hey, Cleo,” Ambry said from the other side of my door.
I groaned. I was never going to get this done. “What?”
“Come out here.”
When I opened my door, he wasn’t there. “Ambry?” I called.
“In here,” his voice came from the end of the hall, where no one went very often. I stuck my head into the office where Ambry had his back to me. An enormous desk decayed in one corner; it had some stupid desktop calendar, stationary, calligraphy pens, a paperweight. Against the far wall were three narrow bookshelves that had rows of model cars, trains, airplanes, tanks, all kind of models—again for looks, no one built models in this house… wrecked them maybe…
Ambry was using the 3D copier we’d installed last year. It worked like a 3D printer but was designed to replicate any item that was put in the tube. It wasn’t a public tool yet; it was still in the testing phases. My dad only got ahold of it because he blackmailed the best friend of the guy who owns the company testing them.
Ted Hopkins lived right next door to us, and directly on the other side of him was Bob Newman. Ted and Bob founded Tech House together, which was responsible for the 3D copier prototype. It looked similar to an oversized 3D printer, with scanning modules on the inside of a heavy glass tube that ran floor to ceiling; yet it required no design input at all and had a much greater range of elements to create from.
Ted was installing a beta model in his home for testing and dad, who was passed out naked on our front lawn at the time, woke to the sound of a cargo truck pulling into the cul de sac. Dad immediately sensed the opportunity for a swindle. He hiked it over to the truck as the driver is climbing down from the cab.
“Mr.—um, Mr. Hopkins?” The uniformed driver asked, trying to respectfully ignore dad’s nakedness.
Dad said confidently, “That’s me. Newman is still in bed, though; he likes to sleep in. Can I help you with anything?” The installer’s jaw drops open. “You know what, why don’t you put that in my place so you don’t wake him up.”
“W-well I thought this was your place Mr. Hopkins.”
“Oh. Nah, no, this is Newman’s. Mine’s next door. We don’t like to be apart for too long.” Dad led the assembly crew upstairs to our office knowing they’d be too shocked at the display to want to stick around and question him.
Ted Hopkins came knocking, of course, but dad had been nosing in his windows for years. Dad told him he didn’t know anything about a copy machine, but he did know a thing or two about cam daddies.
So we wound up with a secret piece of untested, illegally-obtained corporate tech and the big fat binder of instructions that came with it.
“Ambry.” dad ordered, “Sit. Read. Figure this thing out and let me know when you know what it is.” It had a simple dashboard and two receiving platforms. One was tabletop, for smaller items, and one was mobile for items as large as a mega screen TV.
Dad had his usual friends over to play with the machine once we figured out what it did. Ignoring the fact that the instructions explicitly said do not replicate any living creature, Frank copied Ambry’s gecko. It copied dead. The original was fine, but Ambry was pretty unhappy about it because he begged them not to.
Frank copied a bottle of rum and got sick after drinking it. Ambry chose not to tell him the instructions warned against consuming anything replicated.
They grew bored of replicating pens and shoes because, “You can’t copy anything good,” as Glenda said. Money came out with “void” stamped on it. Anything alive would die. Anything fresh would come out stale. It was a worthless toy. The office was now used solely as a means for tanning because it opened onto a spacious patio overlooking the backyard and river.
“What are you doing?” I leaned against the doorway while Ambry fiddled with the copier.
“C’mere,” he waved me in without turning around. He pointed to a cereal bowl on the small print bed. I stuck my face close. In the glass bowl was a pile of what appeared to be gray dust, except the dust was shifting, like sand blowing over a dune.
“What is it?”
“Mites,” he answered.
“Mites. Like little bugs.”
I jerked my head back with a sneer of disgust. “Why the hell would you do that?”
He shrugged. “I was curious about what would happen if you tried to copy something exponentially. I wondered if you had a pile of say, salt, or in this case, itty bitty bugs, would it replicate the entire batch or only one, or maybe you’d come out with a fused batch? But look, I can copy as many as I want. Seems like that would mean anyone with a copier would have the ability to bury the world in little bugs if they wanted.”
“Whatever,” I said and I headed for the door, “Look Ambry, mom’s already in a mood…”
“Didn’t you notice they’re living?” Ambry held the bowl out for me.
They were. They were minutely moving like a small scale ant hill. “How is that possible?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting it to happen the first time I did it. Look,” he pulled up the sleeve of his shirt. Up near his reddened elbow sat two flat, gray quarter-sized insects. They clung to his skin until he poked one of them, which then unfolded and squirmed. There were cilia on its edges. It reared back and exposed a mouth, pointed at the corners like an eye, lined with little teeth. It wriggled at me and bit back on Ambry’s skin.
“Ugh! Why would you let them on you?!”
“This was my first one, I fed him and grew him. I copied him first and then got the idea to see if there was a limit to how many I could copy. Now I have two big ones and mounds of little ones. Aren’t they cool?”
“Ambry, that’s extremely demented.”
“You’re just squeamish.”
“Yeah, well maybe you can get them this big,” I kicked the mobile receiving platform, “Then when they start eating people I’ll call you squeamish. Weirdo.”
“Ambrose! Cleo! Get down here and socialize!” Dad was finally up.
My eyes rolled all by themselves. “I’ve got homework!” I shouted back.
“That’s a stupid excuse, Cleo! You play your cards right and you might never have to work a job! That starts with treating my friends like your friends!”
I shook my head at Ambry, “Not at the rate they’re spending it.” We grudgingly stomped down the stairs.
“It’s Easter for shit’s sake,” my dad said, this time at an octave lower, “Spend some time with your family and quit acting like you hate us.”
I didn’t say it. I think Ambry muttered it, though.
“Hoppy Easter, Children,” Glenda cackled at herself, “I hid you some baskets that you will never find in this big house.”
“You’re right, we probably won’t,” I responded as I sat at the breakfast bar. There was a bag of Doritos, some ranch veggie dip, and cheese cubes everyone hovered over.
Sandy and Kicker were the new faces. Sandy was wearing bunny ears and an excruciatingly tight yellow dress. She had hickies from shoulder to ear.
Kicker was younger than the rest. He was the type to wear black eyeliner and change his facial piercings with the seasons. He was admittedly, really hot, but a skank. He got me once, but only once.
Kicker smiled slyly from across the room. With my eyes I threatened to tell my dad everything and his smile sank. I, unfortunately, noticed he was wearing my mother’s t-shirt and for the first time in my life I realized my parents were probably swingers. That made my upper lip wrench so hard I couldn’t stifle it.
“Someone’s in the mood to suck the fun outta everything,” Frank said. He leaned against the butcher block, eyeing me. His shirt read: Pussy Puncher. His thick, tufty hair was standing all around his head and he motioned with his drink. “I don’t suppose there’s any rat poison in the house?”
“Shhh,” my mom swatted his chest like he was just being a tease.
I got Frank arrested last year. It was midday and during a cookout. On the front lawn, no less—who cooks out on the front lawn?? There’s a pool in the back. Be normal. But that’s not why I called the cops.
The previous night he’d stormed into my room at three in the morning slurring about not being able to find his shoes. He dragged out all the contents out of my closet before I got up and kicked him out. In the morning he was still passed out on the couch downstairs. Then he spent all day lounging around our house, complaining there was nothing to eat.
Finally, in the afternoon, my dad broke out the grill to get something cooked. There were two selections: hot dogs and chicken breasts. I hated hot dogs. I vocalized this all the time. But Frank said ‘hot dogs are for kids’ and took the last piece of chicken, leaving me with two overly wiggly hot dogs.
I called the cops because of that jackass move. I lost sleep because of this drunk moron and then I was forced to eat a disgusting piece of ground meat because he was a greedy dirt bag. That drove me over the brink.
I ducked around the corner and said quietly, “There’s a guy at my house who refuses to leave and I heard him offer my little brother lines.” I’m pretty sure the cops were happy to have a reason to come flying up the road.
I think my dad assumed one of the neighbors called us in but when the cops asked who was offering cocaine to minors, I pointed to Frank, even though I knew I was incriminating myself. They arrested him because he did have cocaine on him, as usual.
My dad’s an easy going guy; it’s hard to get him riled up as he truly doesn’t care, but after the cops pulled away he was more angry than I’d ever seen him. He screamed at me hard enough to turn his face swollen and red. He called me a traitor and a prissy, spoiled narc. He told me rats aren’t welcome in the family.
Every curtain in the cul de sac was swinging. In a neighborhood of neurosurgeons, civil lawyers, and CEOs, we were the outcasts. We were the lottery winners and we didn’t belong.
And now, now I was the outcast of the family that was the outcast of the neighborhood. I looked Frank over; he disgusted me. He was an aging man who didn’t have enough composure for sobriety. He paraded his beer gut like it was pregnant with his very reason for being alive.
“I don’t blame you,” I said spiteful, “leeches have reason to fear rats.”
“Cleo Patrice!” Mom snapped.
I poured myself some orange juice and was about to flee for quieter ground when Denise banged her way in. She came in through the mudroom off the kitchen.
“Klotz!” she started off. Denise was a stout woman with dark, bushy eyebrows. She was loud and sure of everything she said. She came thundering in and you could see her eyes charted each person in the kitchen until she found the one who was, in fact, Klotz.
“Klotz,” she pointed at my mom, “You said I had Easter morning off for church. I asked and you said fine. My mother is eighty-two years old and she goes to church on Easter and on Christmas. It’s important to her and it’s important to me and you have no business phoning me up and telling me it’s to cut it short so I can come cook. You demand I drive over in the wee hours when every other suitable house person is in bed and not only do I make them pancakes, I have to listen to them talk the dirty.
“I had to make my mother leave church early. Do you know what that does to a woman her age? And who’s going to pay for my new Easter dress that is now going to get all greasy because someone refuses to buy me an apron!?”
“Denise,” my mother’s voice sliced in the way she does, “I will pay you overtime so you can go out and buy a dress that looks like a dress and an apron that looks like an apron, rather than this… apron-dress.”
“Klotz,” Denise whined at my dad, pleading for reason.
My dad waved his hands at the counter, “It’s Easter and all we have are Doritos!”
Ambry edged behind everyone’s back toward the mudroom Denise came through. He discreetly reached his hand for Denise’s purse that was tucked around the corner.
Denise picked up the entire bag of Doritos and hurled it at him. “Klotz!” She yelled, “you’re not getting them!” The Doritos scattered all over the floor. Denise laughed a choppy, throaty laugh and cut it off with: “Everyone out! If you want to eat, get out!”
Everyone obeyed. I don’t know who started using last names first but when my mother used ‘Ruskin’ it sounded like she was using a derogatory term and when Denise used ‘Klotz’ she sounded like a chicken. We cloistered in the informal sitting room because nobody ever used the formal sitting room, it was for looks.
“What were you trying to get?” I whispered to Ambry.
“Yeah, Bambi, what were you trying to get?” Frank rudely butted in with his horrifically insulting nickname for Ambry.
“Nothing. Get away from me, Frank.” Ambry made for the stairs.
“Where do you think you’re going, Ambrose?” Dad caught him.
“I’m going to go change.” He was still wearing sweatpants. So was dad, but it was a legitimate excuse.
I crashed on a couch and tried to let my bad mood show. Kicker came over and sat by me.
“Hey,” he said smoothly.
“Bend over, Kicker, here comes Frank,” I said. Indeed, Frank was approaching. I saw Kicker scowl out of my peripheral.
“Hey kid,” Frank started, “Whaddya say we try to have a good time today, eh?” His voice dropped, “Whaddya say we try to wring the pissant out of you?”
“You know,” I answered easily, “Kicker was just telling me how badly he needs to be wrung out.” I got up off the couch. “And don’t call me kid.” I made for the door.
“Cleo,” dad started.
“I’m going to make sure Ambry folded his clothes correctly,” I interrupted him.
Across from my own room, Ambry’s door stood open. “Ambry?”
“In here,” he shouted from the office.
“You can’t leave me down there,” I said as I entered. “What are you doing?”
“Making more,” he answered from the copier dashboard, with a 5 gallon bucket full of gray dust.
“Dude. Gross. C’mon.” I glared at him. “Seriously. Don’t leave me alone with them.”
“It’s gotta be one of us, right?”
“Why’s it always me?”
“Because you’re going to leave in five months,” he scolded. “You’re going to turn 18 and leave me all alone in this house while I’m trapped here for another two years.”
I looked at the floor because I knew he was right. “They forgot my birthday this year, did you realize?”
“Shit,” I said. He was right about that too.
Ambry turned away from me and picked up his bucket of bugs.
“How do you… how are they alive?” I asked.
“I don’t know. How do we know the machine isn’t designed to replicate life?”
“We tried it. Did you forget about Glenda’s cat? Not to mention, your gecko.”
He pursed his lips, “Yeah, but, maybe the cat was dead inside anyway after living with Glenda for that long.” He grinned. “These are special mites, Cleo. You want to see what they eat?”
“Not really,” I said honestly.
Ambry lost his little smile. Then he got the same look in his eye as the time he dared me to swap all the alcohol with vinegar.
“Should we make another Cleo?”
I didn’t find that funny at all and I let my face tell him so.
“Phth,” he made a noise. “Fine, I’ll do it.”
“Ambry, don’t. That’s just bad.”
“No, you’re just paranoid.”
“What if it sucks your soul out or something?”
“Then go back downstairs and don’t be a witness,” he opened the gate to the copier.
“Seriously Ambry,” I grabbed him by the elbow and tried to pull him away. He yanked his arm back and flung me forward. My foot hit his foot and I smacked into the glass at the far side of the tube. The scanner turned on and a white light skimmed down my body. I froze. When it clicked off my eyes flitted to Ambry’s on the outside which were big and round.
“Are you okay?” he asked cautiously.
I thought for a moment. I felt okay. I was thinking, trying to figure out if my memory was intact. I jostled my head in a nod. Then I let my gaze trail to my left, where the mobile platform was.
I clasped my hand over my mouth. There was a dead me laying on the stage. She was wearing the same clothes as me but her joints were bent in limp, crooked positions, her mouth lolled open, and her eyes were stagnant.
“Oh,” said Ambry, “I guess that answers our question.”
I thrust myself out of the tube and let whatever it was I was feeling come off my eyes like lighter fluid.
Ambry moved his jaw. “Sorry,” is what he eventually said.
I willed myself not to cry and not to look at the it because I was pretty sure it was going to make me cry. “What do we do? What do we do-what do we do-what do we do?” I stuttered. I snuck a peak. “Oh my god! What do we do?!”
Ambry held up his palms, “It’s alright. We’re fine. You’re okay; I’m okay.” He seemed to think about what he was going to say next but I don’t think he had anything. “We’ll hide it… her.” I watched his facial gestures instead of looking over at it. He was twitchy, trying to find the right reaction where there wasn’t one.
“Here,” he moved over to it. “We hide it in my room and I’ll bury it when it’s dark out.”
“Bury it?!” I don’t know why that made me mad.
He stiffened: “Do you have a better idea?”
“Help me,” he looped his arms under the body’s armpits and hoisted.
I think when people go through trauma they don’t feel it until afterward, I thought. This is going to fuck me up. I’m going to be fucked up for life. Do I look like that? Is that me? Am I dead?
“Cleo.” Ambry broke in. “It’s like a movie prop, okay? Don’t overthink it; work with it.”
I nodded roughly. Because if a show isn’t propped by its props, it’s logged with monologue, Theater Teacher Grummell’s voice echoed. Ambry knew me. I took a deep breath and hooked my arms under the horrible puppet’s knees. We dragged it out into the hallway; its butt dragged on the ground and we paused every few feet to listen for invading footsteps. The body’s head rocked with its chin resting against its chest. I thought I could see the tongue.
I dropped my end, crawled over to the wall, and threw up my orange juice on the carpet.
“Denise is going to bitch about that later,” Ambry said.
I had a lot of things I wanted to say to Ambry right then but I only managed a soft shut up.
We hid her between Ambry’s bed and dresser, folding her knees up tight as we could and covering her with a blanket. As I stood I noticed the aquarium on Ambry’s dresser; it was crawling with bugs that resembled a pile of lint. The only thing in the cage besides the bugs themselves was a ratty copy of a book. “Ew Ambry.”
“But look,” his eyes got bright, “look look look.” He pressed his index finger against the glass. “Look what they eat. Do know what that is?”
“An old book?”
“It’s a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces. I tried Moby Dick, they didn’t want it. I tried blank computer paper, they didn’t want it. They want funny books.”
“Ambry…” I didn’t even know what to say, “Sometimes you are really smart and sometimes you are really dumb.”
He got mad. “Oh come on. You think it isn’t obvious what they are eating and what they’re not?”
“You think they have any idea which books are funny and which ones aren’t?”
Ambry crossed his arms. “You can pretend like you know better than me, Cleo, but you’ve known about these for all of two hours.”
“And look what it led to!” I pointed at the draped corpse. “You have to take things seriously once in a while Ambry.”
“You have to loosen up once in a while Cleo,” he threw back at me.
“Guys!” Dad’s voice thundered from the lower floor. “Tina and Tony are here!”
“Coming!” Ambry yelled as loud as he could, two feet from my face. I closed my eyes in annoyance.
“Go down,” he said. “I’ll be right there.” He unlatched the top of the cage and hiked up his shirt sleeve. He picked the two large bugs off his arm and dropped them in the cage.
Predictably, I got snide remarks when I came down about how I had to ‘help Ambry into his pants.’ I ignored them. They couldn’t help themselves. Like I didn’t see that one coming. Idiots.
Mr. Grummell said once, “Whoever garners the most laughs in a crowd garners the most attention and therefore the most influence.” It was like human nature at its most desperate with these people; that their acceptance into the pack depended on meeting the pack’s fore-fed expectations of ‘I’m lewd too, I promise, I’m lewd too.’
Tina and Tony were actually somewhat nice. They brought us clever gifts on holidays and hardly teased. I hugged Tina in her oversized sweatshirt and tried not to breathe on her because all I could taste was ultra-acidic orange juice which made me wonder if I had dead-body breath.
“How are you sweetie? I brought you a chocolate bunny,” she handed me a hefty box. “Where’s Ambrose? He gets one too.”
“Ambry!” mom yelled up the stairs. There was no answer. “Ambrose get down here!” she tried again. “Cleo go get him.”
I blatantly stomped up the stairs because sometimes the only kickback you have is to be a brat about it. My stomps involuntarily weakened as I got higher because I remembered there was a dead Cleo up there somewhere. Not ‘somewhere,’ I corrected myself, not like it moves; it’s in one spot.
Slowing way down in order to avoid his room, I hollered: “Ambry!” There was no answer. I cautiously peered into his room, “Ambry?” The window that led onto the garage roof was open. “Dammit Ambry,” I said to the empty room. Ambry was only ever home half the week, leaving in and out of his window as he pleased. It didn’t matter how much mom and dad yelled at him, they were all yell, like gym teachers.
But the cage on his dresser that was crawling with bugs was now overflowing with bugs. I made one of those sickening inhales. They were crawling up the sides and over the top where the lid had been left open. There were so many little tiny bugs they came down the front of the dresser like a waterfall, clinging to each other like ants making a waterfall-ladder. My eyes trailed down the front of the dresser to the floor where they disappeared into the carpet.
“Oh, oh gross,” I started dancing on my toes. I tiptoe-pranced down to the office. “Ambry!?” My tone dropped into a groan when I saw the overturned bucket in the office, it was empty and I was sure they were all crawling through the carpet as I stood there.
“Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadddddd!!!!” I shrieked. “Dad! Dad!”
He came sprinting up the stairs, “What? What’s wrong?”
I danced around the hallway and frantically pointed to Ambry’s room. Dad stuck his head in and saw the open window.
“Aw, fuck that kid,” he said. He moved to go back downstairs. “Well, what can we do?”
“No, dad, the bugs!”
He turned on his heel.
“There are bugs! There are bugs all over his room! There are bugs on the dead body! There are bugs in the carpet!”
Dad looked at me in a way he never had before. “Good Christ girl, what is wrong with you?”
“We need to leave; we need to leave the house. They’re everywhere.” I pointed to the office, “In there. On the machine.”
Dad stalked past me toward the office and gave me a look that said if this was a prank I might as well ground myself right now. From the office he said, “I told you kids this thing is not a toy!”
I crept to the doorway. Things were out of place from Ambry’s use but there was no sign of any bugs.
“Look at this,” dad opened the patio door and pushed the platform outside. “This is made to be outside,” which it wasn’t, “what if you accidentally copied somethin’ bigger than the doorways? How would we get it out?”
I leapt clear past him onto the patio, nearly hyperventilating, “Dad. I need to be out of the house. Dad. I need to go. Can I borrow the car? For a few hours?”
“It’s Easter, Cleo,” his humor was dead.
“Please, dad, I just need a little breathing room.” I felt like my eyes must have looked wild. They felt wild.
Dad studied me for a moment in the sunshine. He must have decided I was not to be taken seriously because he lost his frown and said, “Wait here. You can leave if you can leave in this.” He went back into the office and moved around.
In front of me, on the replicating platform, a helicopter beamed into existence. He’d taken the yellow one off the shelf full of model cars and tanks and made it gigantic by model standards, though mini by helicopter standards.
“There you go,” he said from the doorway with a sharp grin. “Calm down before you come back downstairs. Any spiders are Ambry’s problem if they’re in Ambry’s room.” And he left. He walked away and left me.
I followed quickly at first, fleeing across the hall; I was going to go out the front door, but I was met with a small crowd of upturned faces at the bottom of the steps, wondering what I was yelling about. That was almost as creepy as the bugs, seeing all their eyes look up at me, and I retreated quickly. I hopped back through the office so quickly my feet touched the floor twice before I was out the door again. What was I going to do?
Suddenly I was itchy. I looked at the helicopter. It was yellow and black, egg shaped, and had no doors on either side. It was a one-person bubble-copter with its engine on the back of the cockpit. It rocked on the platform as I climbed in. It was a tight fit; I could hardly fit all of myself inside it. But there were no gears. That’s right. It was remote controlled. I moaned as I struggled to get back out, I wanted to be away from tiny carpet-munching, skin-crunching copy-mites. Ugh.
I ran back in and got the remote, proud of my resolve. Back in the chopper, my knees stuck out the sides and I had to bend my head forward. The remote fit between my belly and the windshield. I clicked on the remote and the blades started up. They went faster and faster and I toggled the ‘up’ switch a little bit and felt the pedals come off the ground; they clattered a little against the copier platform as I rose off the ground.
Dad came running out of the four season room below. He never looked at me that way either; he obviously didn’t think I was going to do it.
But I did. Taking off was incredibly satisfying. Once I was in the air, though, I was faced with the inevitable question: Where was I going to go?