LADYBUGS



Written by Lizzy Santana



Mel set down the final box in her new apartment. The walls were pristine despite being incredibly old. She took a long look around her new home, and she could tell it was from the 70’s. Patterned kitchen carpet, wooden paneled walls, creaky wooden cabinets that desperately need varnished. It was ugly but in a charming way. Her best friend, now roommate, Lisa, absolutely adored the place when they first looked at it. Granted, their only other choice was an even older apartment with wacked plumbing and what looked like bloodstains on the floor. Even though this apartment was about a hundred dollars more, it was worth it.


The only thing that drew Mel away from choosing this apartment was the fact that it was a duplex. According to the landlord, the couple next door has been occupying that apartment for a while. He said that they were his eyes and ears, and are the ones that reached out to him about the past tenants of Mel’s place, where they supposedly just up and left without any explanation. They left their three hundred in rent sitting on the living room table, so the owner wasn’t too concerned. But that information made Mel uneasy, and solidified her hatred for landlords.


Mel put her Bluetooth earbuds in her ears and started playing music while she unpacked some of her belongings. The first thing was supplies for her first semester at a local community college, where she’d be studying veterinary medicine. Mel couldn’t wait, and wanted nothing more than to begin. Lisa wasn’t planning on going to school, just working. Which was disappointing to Mel, just a little. When they were in high school they talked about going to college together, rooming in a dorm, staying up late studying and eating ramen, maybe checking out a party or two, trying drugs, hating drugs, trying alcohol, enjoying alcohol. The duo planned to go to the same big out-of-state university years before. But at the beginning of their senior year, Lisa decided she didn’t want to go to school, and begged Mel to stay with her. “We’ll get an apartment. Let’s get jobs now and start saving money.” Lisa proposed. Mel agreed, and they both got jobs. But Mel is the only one who saved her money.


Mel looked at the time. Lisa should be here soon with the rest of the stuff, she thought. She opened up a small box labelled “Andrea.” Inside were two ceramic sculptures of angels, worn with age, each posing differently, one holding a dove and the other with a flower in its hair. Mel’s mom had gotten her these when her younger sister died to symbolize the both of them, that they will see each other again someday. Mel wasn’t really religious, and she wasn’t fully convinced that she would see Andrea again someday. But she found comfort in the idea that she might see her sister again. She could only hope.


Mel set the two angels on a shelf attached to the wall, right above where they planned to put Lisa’s TV. She stood back and admired them. Hard rock blared in her ears. Her eyes were welling with tears. She thought about Andrea, her poor sister, and when she heard the news of her body being found. She remembered the hospital. The unmistakable smell of a very specific cleaner, the sounds of heavy footsteps and heart monitors, how cold it was, the way her –

A tap on her shoulder.


Mel jumped out of her skin. She turned and saw Lisa smiling, holding two iced coffees in her hand. Mel took out her earbuds.


“You asshole. You scared me.”

“Sorry. Want a drink? Got your favorite.” Lisa handed Mel what she knew was an iced cinnamon latte.

“Thanks.”

“How’s unpacking going? Hope you haven’t been staring at those creepy angels the whole time.”


Mel frowned. Lisa had a twisted sense of humor. She knew the truth behind the angels, and knew Mel’s trauma with her deceased sister, but she had no filter. When she saw the angels she had no choice but to berate their appearance.


“They’re not creepy,” Mel said. “Need any help carrying anything?” Lisa had fractured her ankles and knees countless times from years of doing ballet, and now had trouble with heavy lifting.


“My dad is bringing all the heavy stuff in. He should be here soon.” Lisa took a long sip from her drink, which Mel wasn’t sure what it was. Lisa got something different every time. Lisa stopped drinking and smacked her lips together. She was satisfied with whatever brew she bought.


“Small things is all I have with me. I think I can get it.”


“You sure?” Mel asked. “I don’t want you paralyzed on the floor.”


“I’ll be fine! Drink your white girl abomination.”


“Fuck you.” Mel took a defiant sip. Delicious. Lisa smiled, blew Mel a kiss, and left through the front door.


Mel and Lisa spent the remainder of the sunlight setting up their little home and making it as cozy as they could. Lisa’s mom gave her old curtains, some made of white lace and others a sheer pale yellow. The lace went up in the kitchen, where Mel put up wall décor of fake fruit and comically oversized silverware that she bought on sale at Target. The pastel yellow ones were put up in the living room, along with little knick-knacks and family photos that Lisa had. Lisa’s dad came and set up the TV, helped get the girls’ beds put together, and did other fatherly things, like check the plumbing and judge the faulty architecture.


While the duo was decorating, right before sunset, they heard a knock at their door. Mel answered it.


“Welcome wagon!” A woman with a wide grin and a man with a crooked nose were standing there.


“Hi.” Mel smiled.


“We are so glad to have neighbors!” The woman was practically shouting. “I’m Katrina, this is Enzo.”


“Mel. That’s Lisa.” Mel opened the door wider where their new acquaintances could see Lisa straightening a framed picture on the wall of her cat.


“Hi, Lisa!” Katrina jumped with joy. “Oh, before I forget, here’s my number.” She dug around in her pocket and pulled out a slip of paper.


“Oh, thanks,” Mel said. “Do you want mine?”


“Did that ditzy old landlord not tell you? He wants all his tenants to have each other’s numbers, just in case of emergency.” Katrina took out her phone and handed it to Mel. Mel typed in her number.


“Why call your neighbor in case of an emergency? Why not call the authorities?” Mel asked, amused.


“There’s some problems that police can’t solve.”


Uncomfortable silence enveloped the room.


“I’ve seen so many people come in and out of here. Hope you two stick around for a while.”


Katrina’s grin took up the majority of her face.

“I think we plan on it,” Mel tried a smile, but she was too uncomfortable to retain it. “I’m going to the community college just down the road.”


“Oh! What are you going for?” Katrina’s eyes gleamed.


“Veterinary medicine.”


“Oh, how wonderful!”


“Thanks.” Mel felt discomfort, but wasn’t sure why. She looked over at Enzo, who stared intensely at his fingernails, picking at them. Katrina caught her staring.


“He has bad clinical anxiety,” Katrina said, smiling an almost apologetic smile. “Don’t you, dear?”


Enzo didn’t answer verbally, just nodded, eyes fixated on his fingernails. Blood was starting to pool.


“Well! We better get going. We have dinner cooking. Baked chicken, yum-yum!” Katrina cackled, her mouth wide and never resting. “Hope to talk with you both again soon!” She grabbed Enzo’s hand and led him away. Mel closed the door behind them.


“They seem fun.” Lisa said sarcastically.


“Odd couple.” Mel, stunned at the interaction that just took place, tossed the slip of paper with Katrina’s number on it on the coffee table.


“He didn’t talk at all. Katrina’s husband, or boyfriend, or brother, or whatever.”


“Hopefully we don’t have to interact with them again anytime soon.”


Lisa stood back from the picture frame. She tilted her head. She returned to it.


“What if they’re one of those neighbors that like to have weekend game nights?” Lisa said, finagling with the frame. “But not even fun game nights where you wager real money. Just regular Monopoly or UNO. Or Yahtzee.”


Mel shivered. “I hate Yahtzee. But if they are that kind of couple let’s just say we partake in sex cult activities on the weekends.”


“But what if they’re into that?” Lisa steps away again from the frame. She smiled. She was satisfied. “What if they decide they want to join? Or even worse, they’re already in one?”

“I don’t want to think or talk about sex cults. Let’s get dinner, I’m starving.”


Lisa pulled out her phone. “Chinese takeout? I have reward points saved for Uzi’s.”


The girls sat on their couch with their takeout resting on their laps, cheap reality TV playing in front of them.


“I swear to god,” Lisa started to say through a mouthful of lo mein. “If he marries that money hungry bitch I will riot.”


“He probably will.” Mel retorted, picking up sesame chicken skillfully with her chopsticks.


BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!

Fuck! Oh fuck!”


The two stared at the far wall.


“So, not her brother then.” Lisa joked.


Mel laughed. “Cross your fingers.”


The banging stopped. Lisa and Mel looked at each other. Lisa giggled. “That was fast.” She tore a crab rangoon in half and gave a piece to Mel.


They turned their attention back to their shitty reality TV special. The guy on the show got down on one knee. “Svetlana, will you marry me?”


“Oh come the fuck on!” Lisa shouted.


“Told you.” Mel had her eyes fixed on the TV. She held her chopsticks between her fingers and grabbed another piece of chicken. She brought it up to her lips.


“Mel, wait!”


Mel stopped. She looked at Lisa. Lisa pointed to the chicken. Mel looked down, and sitting on her food was a ladybug.


“Ew.”


“My mom used to say that ladybugs were good luck! If one landed on you or something you own, you were going to have a good day.” Lisa’s eyes were lit up like Christmas trees.

“My day would’ve been better if a bug hadn’t landed on my food.” Mel flicked the ladybug off of the piece of chicken. It flew through the air and struck the TV screen.


“Mel!” Lisa was upset.


“What? Don’t land on my food next time.” Mel put the tainted chicken piece into a napkin and continued to enjoy her food.


***


The night was long for Mel. Her stomach was killing her from the Chinese takeout. She tossed and turned, debating taking another Tums.


Can you overdose on Tums? Mel thought. I’ve already eaten four. It’s just basically candy, right?


Through the darkness, Mel reached over to her open container of Tums sitting on her nightstand. She shook one into her palm and plopped it in her mouth. She let it rest on her tongue and dissolve while she lay motionless on her back, eyes closed, praying for the awful stomach cramps to disappear. Then, she felt something. Something moving in her mouth. Slowly at first, then buzzing frantically. Her eyes snapped open. She screamed, spitting out the Tums and the mysterious intruder.


Lisa awoke, frightened, and jumped out of bed to run to the light switch. She flipped it on, and stared at the scene in front of her. Mel was sitting on her knees on her bed, looking down at the slobbery Tums.


“Mel, what the fuck?” Lisa asked, the gruffness of sleep in her voice. There was a hint of laughter riding her words.


“There was something in my mouth.” Mel kept her eyes locked on the floor.


“Yeah. You know Tums do kind of tingle, right?”


“I’m not joking,” Mel’s tone was harsh. “There was something moving in my mouth.”


A pause enveloped the room. Lisa knew her friend was seriously freaked out by whatever just happened. She made her way over to the Tums. It was slightly elevated, as if something was under it. She knelt, and with her index finger she gently flipped it over. Underneath was a ladybug, drowned in spit and muck from the dissolved Tums.


“Huh. You had a ladybug in your mouth.” Lisa laughed.


“That’s not fucking funny,” Mel snapped. “It’s disgusting.”


“Chill out, Mel. It’s just a ladybug.” Lisa grabbed a tissue and picked up the dead ladybug and the Tums.


“This house is infested. We need to call the landlord.”


“Infested? You’ve seen two.”


“Two that I almost ate. I’m going to call that stupid landlord in the morning.”


“Yeah, okay. This is probably the whole reason people kept leaving. Which, if that’s the worst possible thing about this place, so be it.” She walked out of the room to the bathroom to throw the tissue away.


“They’re just ladybugs,” Lisa said when she returned. “It’s not like black widows are crawling in your bed and biting you, laying eggs in your skin or whatever. Ladybugs can’t hurt you.”

“That doesn’t mean I want to eat them.”


“Then don’t. Just check your shit before you put it in your mouth.” Lisa flipped the light switch down and the room became dark again. “Try to go to sleep.”


Lisa got back into her bed, turning her back to Mel. Mel covered herself with her blanket and stared at the ceiling. Above, she saw a ladybug running and disappearing into a crack.


***


Mel was finally able to sleep after staring unblinking at her ceiling for a few hours. But since her body was so accustomed to rising and shining so early, she got up at her usual time of eight. To her surprise she saw that Lisa was already out of her bed, and she could smell something cooking downstairs. Mel sat up, and looked over at the floor. She could see a slight stickiness was there from her regurgitated antacid.


Making her way downstairs, Mel could hear bacon sizzling. Suddenly she was starving. She entered the kitchen, where Lisa stood over the oven with a spatula in her grip.


“Good morning, insectivore.” Lisa smiled.


“Don’t call me that,” Mel was serious, but she couldn’t help but laugh. Last night’s events were kind of funny to her now that the initial shock wore off. “What are you making?”


“Egg and bacon sandwiches, on bagels. Extra larva, just for you.”


“You’re fucking gross,” Mel playfully shoved Lisa, grabbing a cooked piece of bacon from a pile on the plate in front of her. “Could be a little less crispy.”


“I made some a little less crispy for you. You just took one of my pieces.”


The girls ate together on the couch, leaving the TV off. They spoke to each other through mouthfuls of delicious breakfast sandwiches, about the next big grownup plan for the both of them.


“I’m going to try to find a new job before classes start.” Mel said.


“I’m getting Tinder.” Lisa said.


After eating, the girls went back into the kitchen to clean things up. Lisa started filling the sink with hot soapy water for dishes, and Mel began to gather trash and vacuum the ugly carpet.


“You are literally the messiest cook alive,” Mel said. “All these crumbs and egg bits on the floor. Like, how do you manage this?”


“Ever heard the saying ‘never trust a clean chef’? Because that’s what I live by.”


“Pretty sure that’s not the saying.” Mel laughed lightheartedly at her friend.


“Dry these?” Lisa asked, nodding her head towards the clean dishes on the counter.


Mel agreed, and began drying the cups and bowls. They did this in silence for a while.


“What do you want to do?” Mel asked, breaking the silence.


“Maybe watch some TV, kind of thinking of going shopping -”


“No,” Mel interrupted. “I mean in life. While we’re staying in this apartment.”

Lisa stayed silent.


“I would like to start dancing again,” Lisa finally answered. “But I don’t have the money for physical therapy.”


They were silent again. Mel remembered when Lisa first fractured her ankle. It was during a recital back in sophomore year of high school. Lisa was so distraught that she didn’t go to school for three days after.


“You should still think about pursuing that,” Mel said. “It’s never too late.”


“Well, yeah,” Lisa almost sounded sad. “I’m just afraid that I waited too long.”


They continued washing the dishes, neither of them talking. Mel felt bad.


Lisa laughed. “At least I’ll never have to worry about being told ‘I can see your lunch’ while doing a plié ever again.”

They laughed. It was silent again.


“You excited for your vet classes?” Lisa asked with a smile. Mel didn’t know how to answer. She was, of course, very excited, but she felt like telling Lisa that was wrong. Mel felt guilty about having that jolt of anxiousness to start her vet classes. She knew feeling guilty was dumb to feel, it’s not like she herself fractured Lisa’s ankle or ruined her toenails from years of pointe.


“Kind of. I guess. I don’t know.” Mel fumbled.


“Whatever,” Lisa smirked. “You’re totally excited. I’m excited for you. In the future, when I finally get a huge dog, I get free vet care.”


“I can’t promise you that.” Mel laughed.


Once the girls were done with cleaning, they spent the rest of their day binge watching their favorite trashy reality TV shows. In the middle of them eating dinner – Mel made her famous potato soup – Mel heard a skittering sound go across the ceiling.


“Do you hear that?” Mel asked.


“I hear Bradley saying that he isn’t going to give a rose to Katelyn. I’m fucking pissed.”


“No, Lisa, seriously. Do you hear that?”


Lisa muted the TV and listened. The skittering continued, now a little louder. It moved from one side of the walls to the other, pretty fast.


“Oh, yeah. Do you think we have raccoons in the walls or something?”


“Don’t say that shit.”


They listened to the rolling sound continue. It got louder. The walls started to shake. Mel noticed the angels above the TV were scooting closer and closer to the edge of the shelf. She jumped up and ran to them, scooping the delicate ceramic into her protective embrace.


“Is this an earthquake?” Lisa asked.


“The floor isn’t shaking,” Mel noted. “It’s the walls.”


The rumbling stopped. The walls stopped their dance. Everything was quiet again. Mel waited a minute or two before trusting the angels to stay put on the shelf. Eventually she set them down, and backed away slowly towards the couch.


“Okay,” Lisa paused, gathering her thoughts. “That was fucking weird.”


Mel didn’t know what to do except laugh. “Yeah, it was.”


Mel found herself in a deep sleep. She dreamt of her sister, Andrea, when they both were children and would play in the big field beside their grandparent’s farm. Andrea was eight, Mel ten. It was summer, both of them were donned in their cutest sundresses, picking flowers for one another and putting them in each other’s hair. They were giggling, chasing butterflies, pretending they were faeries or princesses. Mel was twirling around, feeling the warm wind sweep around her legs, her white and pink checkered sundress drifting up. She felt like she was floating.


“Mel! Mel!” Andrea’s screams pierced through the air and rang a death bell in Mel’s ears. She stopped, frozen in place. Where was her sister?


Mel ran to the sloped hill where Andrea was and looked around. She didn’t see anything.


“Mel!” The cries came again, but this time Mel could hear water splashing. The pond.

Mel ran down the sloping hill to where she remembered the pond was. The pond was huge and deep. Their grandparents always told them not to go down the hill unless they had adult supervision. When no adults were around, it was Mel’s responsibility to keep watch of Andrea. She failed her task.


Mel arrived at the pond. There was nothing there. No sign of her sister.


“Andrea?” Mel squeaked out. Her heart was pounding. She crouched down closer to the water. Tiny bubbles started appearing at the surface, disfiguring Mel’s reflection.


“Andrea?”


The bubbles started to become heavier and heavier. Without a second thought, Mel reached her hand into the water. She grabbed hold of what felt like rubber, and yanked it up through the surface. Mel was frozen in horror; her brain was unable to fully comprehend what was in front of her. It was Andrea, her face rotten, and hundreds, if not thousands, of ladybugs were pouring out of her eyes, nose, and mouth. Mel could see more burrowing in the decaying flesh around Andrea’s skull, laying what seemed to be eggs.


Mel dropped her sister’s dead body back into the pond water. She stumbled away from the pond, her chest constricting, feeling like at any moment she could throw up. A waxy secretion covered Mel’s fingers from where she touched Andrea’s corpse. She gagged, and ran as far away from the pond as possible before she violently threw up. Mel’s beautiful sundress was now covered in dirt, grime, water, and upchuck. It clung to her skin like cellophane. She started to cry.


Bzzzzz.

Mel snapped her eyes open. Her face was wet with tears. She looked over at her phone on the bedside table and grabbed it. Nothing on it – she could’ve sworn she heard a buzzing. She glanced at the time – it was only 3:29am. She set her phone down and closed her eyes. Her heart felt like it was going to beat out of her chest, her stomach was clenching. She’s had nightmares about her sister’s death before, but none of them have felt that real or gruesome.

“Lisa?” Mel whispered to her friend through the darkness. She desperately wanted someone to talk to. Being alone with her thoughts and feelings in her head sounded miserable. Lisa would be able to make light of the dream in a way that Mel couldn’t, and she needed that levity.


“Lisa? Are you awake?”

Silence. Mel threw one of her small pillows at Lisa. She didn’t budge.


“Lisa!” Mel shouted this time. Her friend didn’t move.


Mel slowly got up. She tried not to panic. Maybe Lisa was just in a really deep sleep. Everything is probably fine and they will laugh at how stupid and paranoid Mel was being. Everything is alright.


Bzzzzz.


Mel looked at her phone again. It wasn’t the source of the buzzing. Whatever it was, it was coming from Lisa’s side. Perhaps it was Lisa’s phone. Mel made her way through the dark to her friend’s bedside. As she neared, the mysterious buzzing sound began to get louder and more intense.


“Lisa?”


Mel touched her friend’s shoulder. Under her palm she heard a light crunch, and what felt like movement. She immediately pulled her hand away and grabbed her phone, turning on the flashlight and pointing it towards Lisa. Screams caught in her throat. Lisa lay there, on her side, with millions of ladybugs and larvae scouring her body. Her flesh was nearly gone, bone showing, blood dripping. Even her clothes seemed to have been torn through, her back revealing a colony of carnivorous insects shredding through Lisa’s tendons like a delectable pasta. Her eyes were open, as if she were awake as she was being ripped to shreds. Her mouth was agape, inhabited by larvae squirming around.


“This can’t be real. This can’t be real,” Mel whispered to herself over and over again as she backed out of her room. “This is a dream. It’s all a dream. Please let me be dreaming.”

Once Mel reached the hallway she retreated down the stairs at the speed of light. What do I do? What do I do? Her thoughts went a mile a minute, her heart beat like a drum. She knew her landlord wouldn’t answer his phone this late at night, and she couldn’t call the police, they wouldn’t believe her –


That’s it!


Mel ran to the coffee table where she carelessly threw down Katrina’s phone number. She dialed and waited for her neighbor to answer.


A groggy voice picked up. “Hello?”


“Katrina! Katrina, it’s me, your neighbor, Mel.”

“Yes, I know, silly. You gave me your number.”

“Something awful is happening. Lisa – Lisa is dead. I think.”

“Dead? How is she dead?”

“I don’t know! She – her face, the face is covered in – in bugs, in ladybugs, and I don’t know what is going on. I had a dream involving ladybugs too, with my sister in it when she – when she died. It was gruesome, exaggerated, and the worst dream I’ve ever had, then when I woke up…” Mel’s voice caught in her throat.

“Ladybugs are good luck.”

“What?”

“Mel, ladybugs are good luck. Are you sure this is all real?”

“If what I’m experiencing is real? I saw Lisa’s face, it was practically gone, how could this not be real?”

“Your dream wasn’t real.”

Mel stayed silent for a moment.

“Do you think you’re a pushover, Mel?” Katrina asked. She sounded like she was smiling.

Mel didn’t know how to answer.

“I’m calling the cops.” She finally said.

“What did I say, Mel? There are some problems the authorities can’t solve.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with you?”

Mel began to feel an itch around her ankles. She looked down, slowly, and saw a handful of ladybugs squirming around her feet. She let out a squeal, and shook her feet with as much strength she could muster. They refused to leave, burrowing themselves into her skin. Mel swiped at her legs, but her attempts were fruitless. She could see the creatures bulging from beneath her skin, making their way up.


“Ladybugs are known to dine on pests.” Katrina growled. The line went dead.

The walls began shaking, just like the night before, only this time with more violence. Mel looked at the shelf holding her ceramic angels, and saw that the walls around it were beginning to crack, making a passageway for hundreds more bugs. They attacked the angels, and threw the one representing Andrea to the ground, where Mel watched it shatter to pieces. She flew to the floor, sobbing, tears falling, and tried her best to pick them up.

Ladybugs began to fly at her from every direction, clawing and gnawing at Mel’s flesh. She tried to scream, but when her mouth opened it immediately filled with the red plump bodies of her attackers. Her throat was crowded, her cries muffled. The amount of them crushed her body down where she was face down on the floor. Mel gripped the pieces of ceramic in her fist so tight that she could feel hot blood pouring out. The last thing Mel saw was a swarm of black and white faces engulfing her vision, turning the world around her to the darkest shade of black.


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