the adventures of the stubbed-toe mosquito: a cooperative tale by tabnet (Zinnia Kray and Cthulu).

The ominous squealing grew louder; the aural hybrid of fingernails on a chalkboard and a malfunctioning buzz saw.

It grew soft and slow... at times in the velvet coal it seemed to stop altogether, alighting upon perhaps a burnished brass desk lamp or perching on an unoccupied coat hanger. I could gauge its recesses by the clicks of the grandfather clock in the hall, until seconds turned to minutes and attention became impossible. Yet somehow it would then start up again, just as velour was once again caressing my lobes, coming at me from a direction where it had not been before, and never from the same spot (nor to the same target) twice.

I dug my fingers deep into my ears and swathed myself in the bedclothes; mummified and deaf perhaps I would stand a chance against the creature's roving mouth.

Enshrouded. The weight of the tangled duvet increased exponentially as fresh oxygen was depleted. Like breathing through asbestos. Fragments of lint adhered to my drying tongue. But I couldn't... I couldn't.... I couldn't open a window for succor. The creature would know immediately.

I was in a crypt, the dust up to my carven ankles. My wings were stained and corroded lines ran from my downturned eyes to the floor. In the silence of the inner earth my sanctity was disturbed for the first time in a century, with the sound of feet on a long-disused staircase which had lain behind a walled- over passage, and the intrusion of a glow beneath the timbers of the moldering door.

Dream. No. I shuddered awake from my momentary fantasy. To my horror, I had a damp leg. The smell and raspy feel of warm urine adhering to flannel bothered me, but I was paralyzed, out of wariness of the tiny vampire still circling my room.

In my delirious, sleep-deprived psyche, the centimetre-long mosquito took on the dimensions of a ghoulish vulture -- a carrion crow sniffing death. I bit down on my thumb.

It grew, swelling slow but firm and vast as a giant peach, filling my mouth and prying the limits of my jaw's extent. Soon it blocked my view but worse, to complement the burning sensation on my hand and in my mouth, I felt something creeping upon that self-same arm. Slowly, like a plate tectonic, I moved my elbow in one angle, and then another, but in all cases the source of the creeping was unseen.

As I gradually grew accustomed to the thumping pulse in my brain, I realized that I could no longer hear the flying menace's charnel call. I jerked and flopped and pursed my lips and blew past my hand, in some effort to sweep the source of this unsubstantiated sensation. In desperation, I bit down on the thumb, hard. It exploded inside my mouth in a shower of pus and petroleum jelly, and I quickly yanked it aside, alternately spitting and swallowing, to move my arm at long last and examine this peculiar prickling.

An earwig scurried beneath my gaze, shrinking as if in shame, waggling its abdomen in penance. I let it crawl beneath the mattress - I bore no qualm with it.

In fact, studying its shiny orange carapace and oral pincers, I could feel my frame of mind shrinking -- going inside the earwig -- into its chittering insectoid brain -- a brain filled only with electric instincts and the infrared images of prey. It was a bizarre sympathy, and after a few minutes of staring at the purposefully groping creature I was unable to tell if I was it or it was I. The earwig-psyche swallowed my own. I was it's two-legged homunculus, its slave on remote control. The emperor dreaming of being a butterfly.

Warfare was being waged, subtle but sure, between the avians and the creepers. From my advanced vantage point I had never known but upon reverting to this scuttling mentality I was treated to a barrage of messages reinforcing my own feelings towards those flying abominations. The individual conflicts raged on night after night in every bedroom on the planet, with one side invariably growing and returning bloated and successful. Confrontations were brief but furious, and the repercussions could be felt for weeks afterwards.

It was hopeless. I was not going to sleep at all. This was the fifteenth straight night of my imprisonment at the mercy of the exoskeletal auto de fe. The advent of my sorrows was checked off on a dank corner of my bedframe, the soft wood carved by my degenerating fingernails -- three fives, as stark and as unforgiving as a Puritan fencepost.

Insanity or death awaited. I knew it. I had known it since the third night, the night I had sat up under the covers with a flashlight and a cracked mirror, examining the mapwork of broken blood vessels under my sagging and bleary skin, retracing the grooves of black-purple misery that underscored my yellow and manic eyes. My internal processes had all but ceased, thanks to the cessation of the circadian rhythms: rotting food lay partially digested in my gastric system, putrefying and sending up polluted vapours. Unsloughed-off dead cells collected in every conceivable place -- my skin was a thick and pasty horror. It was only a matter of time before the meat that made up my external body was eaten away by the atmosphere and its attendant microbes. My vital powers waned more with every scratch on the bedpost.

The question now became one of a more academic nature - whether it was better to lose this war of attrition, laid low by decay and entropy or to surrender the one thing I had hoped to keep secure, that ruby fluid well contained and most vital. Both were life, on different levels. Certainly the two shared different benchmarks of how much could be gone and still to live a functioning existence. The final answer seemed the same in any case, but would ice sincerely work with the efficacy of fire towards my inalterable obliteration?

Or was there another answer? A solution concealed beneath the down wisps of my torn pillows and the rusted coils beneath my weight? One thing for sure - it could not be found beneath the stifling shelter of a filthy quilt, unless, unless it was instead inside me.

A most puzzling quandary from one trying to decide whether to keep their skin literally or figuratively.

Then, seized with a sudden instinct, I let one poxy arm shoot out from my cotton-wool coffin. My hand clamped shut around something small and animated. Quickly, before my reflexes gave me away, I drew my hand back in and forced the insect, still squealing and hovering, down my digestive tract.

The metamorphosis began almost instantly. I could feel its cellular matter breaking down in my guts; then, the miraculous response of my neglected body to this new intruder initiated a life of its own, complete with functions and their attendant functions.

Life's ceaseless mechanism continued even as I lay there, breathing, palpitating, under the weight of my misery and a new, unexpected, revelation.

It began with a gurgle, deep and primal, coming from the most primordial of soups. A silence, then another kindred rumbling, both soft and loud, grating in the head but gentle on the ears. It slowed and stopped again, then returned, rhythmic and vibrant with the music of life. A bead of sweat, still distinct from my slickly smeared forehead, pulsed furiously down my brow and into my eye, then, continuing its journey as a tear, over the top lip, slowing as it rounded the curve into the bottom; over and under and ending as one more wet spot on my soaking flannels.

I directed a soft stream of air up and over the trail it left behind but this seemed parallelism most vile - as air was pushed from my lungs, it arose also from my stomach and, lo of most repugnant fluids, sank to my colon. I stopped, the flow ceasing as if a faucet was turned and waited, bubbles clenched tightly in reverse peristalsis as sphincters trembled and jerked in anticipation.

I tried to swallow the misdirected gas back down my tortured gullet, as attempting to accomplish the same in the other direction with whatever powers abdominal muscles could muster, and pondered how long I could hold out before the difference in pressures between my insides and the impossible atmosphere outside my skin tore me apart like a paper frog.

A pinch, a prickle; toes tingling as capillaries complained of sluggish, used up blood; perhaps a cut could introduce oxygen into the system, though the pins pressed against my arches didn't seem to be sharp enough. The tear's salty trail burned like Novocain up my neck, flaming numb from my chin to my pulsing lips.

A twitch, a tickle; betrayal at long last! Control had been maintained over two orifices top and bottom, though two valves were foolishly left unsealed, as much as no headway being gained or lost on either front. Followers of Hermes himself could not imagine preventing this foul treachery, however, as my compatriot, the earwig, in the guise of evaporation, sniggered and snuck from the comfort of my boxsprings to the hell which is my nasal cavity, dank and crowded with scars and stalactites. Could not the ear a better home provide, safe from gusty exhalations?

A quip, a quiver; whispered insults directed at my mother cause my follicles to stagger and sway with perceived indignity. In retaliation disaster strikes in all directions - the offender ends up removed, plastered, crucified and glued to the far wall with what he might have waded through, but worse, far worse...

The rush of noise before the action - indrawn air rubs against and passes the outgoing gas in the forced dance of the diaphragm. Then Hiroshima on top and Nagasaki in the nether regions. The only thing which could possibly match the fantastic flatulation (which, if ignited, could surely illuminate the night sky with blue) would be the exit from the mouth, consisting of the belched equivalent of projectile vomiting. Noxious fumes spout from my lips, anus and navel and any remaining life in beneath this duvet is instantaneously obliterated beneath this combined sterilizing spray. As my rear clutches at the horse that left the barn seconds ago, I wipe the foam and bubbles from my chin and finish with a half-slobbered sleeve as I gape with disbelief at the presence I sense. Wings tinged with acid and proboscis scored with mucous, the pandemic predator has returned for the second round.

Sullied with my humours, the beast watches me with a form of maniacal curiosity. Although its eyes are too small for mine to detect, I can perceive that they bore into me. It stops its damned humming; perches sedately on the end of my scaly and half-obliterated nose. Fear chokes the remains of my innards.

Too weakened to swat it away with the stubs of my fingers, I merely gaze down my nose, breathing shallowly, and regard the creature, using the same querulously calm gaze which it directs at myself.

At this point, a quatrain from Swinburne's "Sapphics" runs ring-around-the-rosy through my decimated grey matter:

Newly fledged, her visible song, a marvel,
Made of perfect sound and exceeding passion,
Sweetly shapen, terrible, full of thunders,
Clothed with the wind's wings....

In an instant of arcane epiphany, my eyes cross paths to focus sharply upon the infinitesimal beastie cowering before me, and I know, I know, in that one instant, that it is looking into the windows of my soul much as I am looking into its. But I see nothing but an ocean of red. I wonder what it is that it sees in mine. Dials and gauges, flickering and adjusting themselves with every visit? Perhaps my shadow is reflected in my eyes as a colossal hand, blotting out the sun, or a blind mole, seeking desperate refuge beneath inches of concealing topsoil leaving me free to continue my pointless existence.

At any rate, the thing sees into me with a perceptiveness unmet by the most enlightened Buddhas in heaven. I am as fragile glass to this creature, a weak and fickle toy. It is upon this realization that I surrender myself completely to the alien's bloody bliss.

I loosen my filthy pajamas, wrench the buttons aside, and present my neck to the mosquito like a lamb upon the Jew's altar, or a wolf cowering before its betters. My mortified flesh sighs in relief as I do so. I have let go of the grudge, given up the ghost of my stubborn human will.

I feel a touch, a caress on my collarbone. The small angel alights and inserts its proboscis into my yielding skin. I feel no pain as it does so. My life flows into its stomach. However, the communication is not simply one-way -- as I give up my blood to the creature, it transmits to me its saintly knowledge, a knowledge of the higher realms of buzz and screech, of the white noise and sanguine smells of nirvana. I realize the animal's correctness; that life feeds off life while life endures, and that once life ends so will the futile struggle.

As the last drops of my blood are drawn away, I kill the animalcule with pinching, bloodless fingers. We die as one.

Morpheus buries me like an ant in the path of an unwinding Persian carpet, and for the first time in weeks, I lie, as in death, with no fear for my soul or next of kin.

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