It has been three days since the first snow storm of the season, and the man with the terrible eyes has gotten a bug bite.
The bite occurred some time during the first day of snowfall. The man was unused to snow; it hadn't snowed often where he was from, and when it did it tended to melt within the hour. Here, the snow stayed snow; it peppered the ground white and piled along the edges of things, and when he had touched it, it had made his teeth ache. He had decided then to stay inside and sleep away the storm.
The first time he had noticed the bug bite was after his shower. The motel bathroom is, and was, small and slightly dirty, but he'd come to expect this from motels of this breed. The water had stayed hot for all of thirty seconds, after which it went to lukewarm, then freezing, and despite his best efforts to keep things quick, by the time he had finished he had been shaking from the cold. He'd gotten out of the shower, passing the mirror. That was when he'd caught sight of the bite.
At the time, the bite had been a fraction of the size of his bitten-down pinkie nail. It was located on the side of his upper arm, just below the shoulder, and what it had lacked in size it had made up for in color; it burned searing crimson. It itched like mad, but it didn't hurt.
At the time he'd scowled, dressed, and then gone out to the main room.
The room had been dim, the blinds drawn, and what little yellowed light there'd been had come from the lamp on the bedside table. On the unmade bed had sat his duffel bag. Beside it wad his dog, curled up and feigning sleep-- a fact belied by its wagging tail.
"Alright, guys," he'd said to the room. "Was this you?" He'd pointed at the bite.
There had been no response. The room was empty save for himself and Dog.
"Guys?" he'd said. "Bugsy?"
There'd been no response.
"Where'd they go?" he'd said to the dog. He'd dropped to his knees and peered under the bed, searching.
Dog had whimpered, but had given no useful information.
"Fine," he'd said to the room, attempting to hide his unease. He'd gotten to his feet and said loudly, "Be that way."
And with that he'd gone to the closet, taken his coat, and went out to buy some antiseptic.
* * * * *
The second day, he'd woken up to burning pain. He'd dreamed of needles jabbing him in the arm, of figures in lab coats injecting him with poison, of dead-eyed children and blackened, crumbling cities. He woke with a jolt only to find that the pain hadn't stopped.
For a split second his mind was jumbled with panicked thoughts. A tracking device implanted in his arm. A tooth from one of the void creatures embedded in his flesh. Iotech had found him. They knew where he was.
Even before he'd turned the lights on, he'd come to his senses and recognized where he was, that he was safe, but his arm still hurt. With the lights on, he had examined the bite, and had found that it had grown to the diameter of a quarter. The skin was stretched and unnaturally shiny in the lamp light. It pulsed deep crimson, lighter along the outer edge, and nearly black in the middle. When he'd touched it, it felt hot to his fingertips, and the contact sent daggers of pain down his arm. When he tried to stand up, the room spun and he'd had to grab onto the bedside table for support.
"Dog," he had croaked. "What's-?"
Before he could finish, he had fallen back into bed. His stomach roiled and he had curled into a miserable ball. He felt Dog come in and nose his shoulder.
"Sorry," he'd said. "Can't. Don't feel good."
And he had stayed in bed for the rest of the day. Only in the evening did he find the strength to reach for the phone and inform the front desk he'd be staying a few extra nights. No, he had assured the clerk, he was fine. Everything was fine.
Then he'd hung up and laid in bed, miserable, until he slept.
* * * * *
On the third day, the fever is so bad that he can hardly bring himself to move. Everything hurts-- not the sharp, biting pain of a knife, but a slow, bone-deep ache that makes even breathing hard to do.
Now it is the fourth day. He is still in bed, twisting uncomfortable on the sheets. The covers have been kicked to the end of the bed for the umpteenth time; with them on, he feels too hot and sick, and with them off, he is freezing. He sweats both with and without them.
It happens sometime around 8:00. The burning, searing pain in his shoulder becomes a tearing, splitting pain.
He screams. He sees them. From beneath the furniture, hundreds upon hundreds of black beetles have come out, swarming over the entire floor, carpeting it in shiny black. He twists and turns in pain, his wounded shoulder in the air, and there is a great--
-- sickening sound of tearing flesh. There is blood, there is puss, there is black liquid he does not want to know the origins of.
There is also relief, an instantaneous cessation of pain.
And out of the mess trundle one, two, three shiny black beetles. They crawl out from the gaping wound on his shoulder and lose their footing, falling over each other until they land on the bedspread, where they are greeted by several other bugs.
Alan stares. His shoulder tingles. With a deep, shaky breath, he looks over at his arm and sees the damage; there is a crater-like hole in his shoulder the size of a golf ball. It is plenty deep, and in the back of his mind he knows he ought to be able to see his bone, but there is no bone, only meat. . . meat that is unnaturally dark, turning from blood-color to nearly-black. Some sick impulse is driving him to poke it, but he resists, afraid of the pain returning.
He looks at the beetles again. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a shift in motion and looks again.
The wound is gone.
The beetles watch him.
There is a long silence.
"Right," he says eventually, his voice faint. He wonders briefly where the beetles had actually come from before he came into the picture. How many other people had served as incubators? What had happened to them?
The bugs still watch. Waiting.
"I- uh." He scratches the spot where the beetles had come from. Though the wound is gone, the blood and other fluids are still there, staining his shirt. There's blood everywhere on the bed. Too much blood for one human to hold, he thinks. It looks like a murder has taken place. It looks like someone has pumped it all in with a hose.
"I- ah. No harm, no foul, I guess," he says weakly.
The bugs swarm over him, chittering gleefully.
"Okay, okay. Just don't let it happen too often, okay? Give me some warning next time?"
They chirp and click in what he hopes is agreement.
"Okay," he says. "Okay, okay, okay."
Strange things happen, he thinks. There's no point in thinking about it. So instead, he reaches over to the phone. He dials the number to the front desk, wondering as he does how much they are going to charge him for the bloodied sheets, and if he can convince them not to call the police.