It has been a while since I put a blog up here, but here's part of a preview chapter of the novel I've been working on. It still needs work, but the bones are there.
Just a quick warning, there is some occasional strong language and adult themes in this chapter.
Stirling sat cross-legged on a plastic garbage bag in the middle of the empty apartment’s living room floor. Earbud cables dangled from the sides of his head, and strains of faint music leaked into the room as he scrolled through an e-book on his phone. He sipped coffee from a paper cup and absently took the last bite of the gas station burrito he’d been eating for the last quarter hour.
A backpack sprayer leaned against the wall behind him next to a pair of elbow-length rubber work gloves and respirator mask. He hadn’t touched any of them since he’d set them there an hour ago.
The air in the room hung still and thick with the bouquet of forgotten take-out containers, and with just a faint top-note of cat pee. From the state of the carpets, if the previous tenants had owned a vacuum cleaner then they hadn’t used it. It was standard for this kind of job.
He sat, reading, eating, and being paid for it, because his job was as much about theatre as it was about results. It was the reason why he would arrive on-site dressed dressed in pristine white hooded overalls, a surplus fighter pilot respirator, goggles, and hefting a chromed backpack sprayer. On the back of his sprayer’s reflective tank was a graphic of a bug on its back, tongue lolling out, and with little Xs for its eyes. In short, he arrived dressed to impress. It was a look that said, “Here is a man that is going to seriously fuck up some invertebrates,” even if no part of the outfit was in the least bit practical. It was exterminator cosplay. He designed the outfit for maximum impact because people liked it when you took their problems seriously.
What people didn’t like, he discovered early on, was when you arrived wearing street clothes with a backpack filled with paperback novels. The only thing they liked even less than that was when you left early. This is why Stirling’s phone was full of music, games, and e-books, and why he worked at night when property managers were less likely to check in on him.
Stirling was in his mid-twenties with dark brown hair and a pale vitamin D deficient complexion that only the most devoted of graveyard shift employees ever achieved. While his looks surfed the descending slope of the bell curve, he didn’t have the face that inspired women to line up to cannonball into his end of the gene pool. This was actually a blessing in disguise, if he'd had the looks of a movie star, he'd be even more disappointed when he got turned down, and Stirling nearly always got turned down.
He yawned and swallowed the last dregs of his now lukewarm coffee. He glanced up at the window, then at the clock on his phone. It was 3:48 am. Twelve more minutes until he could pack up the van and get back home.
Outside the glass patio doors it was still raining. It couldn’t be said that it was raining again, or even, raining tonight, because that would at least imply that at some point in the recent past it had stopped. It was raining still because it hadn’t quit for nearly two weeks. It was the steady, miserable, downpour that lasted from October to June on the West Coast. This particular night didn't even have the grace to decide if it should rain or snow. What fell were icy wet splats of precipitation that had neither the warmth of rain, nor the dryness of snow. It was as though an infinite number of partly-frozen, pigeons were winging in an endless holding pattern overhead.
It was nights like this that Stirling liked best. Not because he was more productive, or because there was a certain late-December Christmas magic in the air—thought both of those things were true. Stirling liked these nights because he knew firsthand how miserable they could be, and he wasn’t one of the poor bastards shivering outside in the dark. Inside the apartment, it was warm and dry, if not necessarily clean. He read, listened to music, and wasted time in 71-degree comfort.
The infestation he’d been hired to deal with was actually pretty bad. If he’d been one of those conventional pest control types, he would really have had his work cut out for him. All the telltale signs were there. The bloody smudges against the walls of the bedroom, the brown haze around the baseboards, all clear sign that bedbugs, nature’s stabby little hobos, were in residence.
Bedbugs were just fine with him. Winter was a slow season for fair-weather pests like squirrels or raccoons, but bedbugs were an all-year-round kind of problem. The fleas were even more obvious, you could actually see them hopping to get out of the way as you walked through the place.
The previous tenants didn’t have to be bad housekeepers for the bugs to arrive, but it was why the little parasites stayed. You had to be either aggressively indifferent to housekeeping or uninterested in the well-being of your pets to still have a flea problem in late December.
He hopped to his feet, stretched out the kinks, and walked to the sliding patio doors. As he moved, he could actually see the occasional little bloodsucking devils try and hop away from him. He knew that if he stood in one spot for longer than ten seconds, a bubble would form around him which no bug or rodent would willingly cross. It was a handy trick for someone in pest control, and it was what inspired him to get into the business in the first place.
The apartment was three stories up, and as he looked through the window the rain appeared to turn into glowing lava as it passed down through the orange streetlights. His work van with its matching dead bug graphic was parked on the street below. A movement farther down the street caught his eye. In the reflected glare of the window, he hadn’t noticed it at first, but a ghost stood in the middle of the street staring intently up at him. It was an old man wearing a homburg hat and a light button-up shirt over his rounded shoulders.
Stirling could tell it was a ghost for a few reasons. The first signs were the most obvious. There was a faint ethereal nimbus glowing around it, and if you looked closely, you could just make out the rain drops splashing on the wet street underneath him.
The other way he could tell, was from how both of the ghost’s middle fingers were waving wildly above his head, while it made lewd pelvic thrusting motions in his direction. Through it all, the ghost maintained a steady death-glare at his window.
Stirling wondered how long the ghost had been there waiting for him to put in an appearance. Probably hours. The dead had nothing but time to burn. He raised his fingers back at the ghost and gave an exaggerated crotch-grab, just to make sure it got the message from fifty meters away. This didn’t seem to dissuade the old man in the least, on the contrary, on seeing the gesture he immediately picked up the tempo of his own waving and pumping, really putting in a good solid effort. He must have been a spry old guy before he passed, Stirling reflected, the terror of the retirement home.
Stirling continued the back and forth for a while, but competitive air-humping wasn’t getting the work done. Ghosts had no bills to pay, he, on the other hand, had an apartment full of creepy-crawlies and student loans to pay off.
A woman with an umbrella, whom he hadn’t noticed up to this point, glanced furtively up at his window before hurriedly getting into her own car and starting the engine. From the glance she shot at him, Stirling guessed she’d seen his little display. Not being able to see the ghost as he could, she’d come to the obvious conclusion that she was the target of his pelvic shenanigans. Crap. He hoped she didn’t report him to the landlord. He needed this contract.
A face peered up at him from the rear passenger window as the car accelerated away. Early carpoolers he decided, turning back to the apartment and leaving the ghost to thrust away unsupervised.
Goosebumps ran up his arms and legs as he looked around, he clapped his hands and rubbed them together. Excellent, it was time to make the goddamn donuts. He closed his eyes and went to work. A faint chill began to drift from his body and pool on the floor around him. Then it started.
At first it was just a tiny sound, the noise a pinch of sesame seeds would make hitting the carpeted floor all at the same time. If the apartment wasn’t so quiet, Stirling didn’t think he would have heard it at all. It was like snow falling, you couldn’t hear the sound of a single flake hitting the ground, but the cumulative sound of a dozen tiny impacts all happening at once built on each other enough to be heard.
Stirling opened his eyes and began to walk the apartment humming something that resembled the chorus to “Another One Bites the Dust.” The faint pattering sound followed him until he’d made a complete circuit through the bedrooms, closets, office, bathrooms, kitchen and living room. When he finished, not a single bedbug remained clinging to the walls, or flea hopped from his path.
Nobody ever complained about the smell of his insecticide or the mess from his steam cleaning equipment. Tomorrow the cleaners would come in and vacuum up all the evidence that there had ever been a single insect alive in the apartment.
He felt refreshed as he began to pack up his unused equipment. Five apartments cleared, ten hours billed, and another novel finished. He dropped the hard copy of his invoice, along with a business card and a thank-you note on the counter for the landlord to pick up in the morning.
“Sionara, bitches!” he called out to the empty apartment as he let himself out.