Nothing else could stop them, not poisons, not wash cycles and heat, not alcohol swabs or mattress covers, and so with no other recourse left to them, Earl offered them a parley. Against his expectations, they accepted, but they must have expected subterfuge on his part, not aware of his desperation. The familiar smell of rotten raspberries permeated the room once again, and soon enough the leader of their nest emerged with an entourage of about fifty of his kind, and lied in repose upon Earl’s pillow as if he had proclaimed himself king of it. Though the bug was a mere three or four millimeters tall, Earl could not help but feel intimidated by his otherwise imposing stature, as the thing paced about the breadth of his pillow and brandished his rostrum like a scepter, that horrible weapon which had plundered its fair share of booty upon the battlefield of his flesh.
“So you wish to end this conflict, human. I take it you have terms?”
“None,” Earl replied, “if, when you say ‘terms’, you are implying that I plan to surrender. Instead, I would like to explain my position to you, and appeal to your sense of common decency.”
“I am aware of no such decency within the depths of my carapace, but by all means, human, prattle on. Your position may amuse me yet.”
Undaunted by the leader’s demeaning tone, Earl cleared my throat and began his complaint.
“It is utterly and wholly against the laws of justice and decency that you have taken up this parasitic lifestyle in my own living quarters and upon my own person. I do not balk from the slur; yes, sirs, you are parasites. You do not cultivate the soil for your food, nor do you hunt other animals. Instead, you rely on cunning and treachery, you sneak upon my sleeping flesh like a thief in the night and take your fill of my own blood, which you did not justly earn for yourselves, and leave me nothing in return but itchy, painful landmarks of your violent rapine. There is a circle of life that the whole of the animal kingdom participates in, and there are rules that one within this circle must follow. You, however, do not participate in this circle, but feed off the efforts of legitimate links of the food chain, links such as myself and my kind. And while we respect personal spaces, following the law of hospitality, as humankind calls it, and territory, according to other animals, you habitually invade and disrespect our space. And so I must demand you vacate my bed at once, and never molest my sleeping back again.”
At the end of Earl’s harangue, the leader let out a frightening laugh, and though it emanated from such a diminutive figure as it did it cast a pall of foreboding dread upon the room, and Earl’s own spirits. He cleared his tiny throat and pointed his rostrum at Earl in accusation.
“You call us parasites, very well, we own the term, derogatory though it may be. You accuse us of feeding on human blood, and we indeed do that. You have the audacity to insult us, however, by implying that our feeding is not legitimately earned, but gained through deception and trickery. The truth is that my kind and I are as much a link in the great food chain as yourself or any other animal, if not, in fact, much more. You see, everyone has natural predators and prey. I have natural predators, such as spiders, cockroaches, ants, mites, centipedes, and the dreaded masked hunter. However, what you fail to understand is that my prey, unlike most other animals, is at one and the same time my predator as well. For what else would you call it, when, after we glut ourselves upon the bloody nectar of a victorious campaign, a human turns on the lights, rips the sheets off his bed in terror, and sprays my comrades, sluggish with their bellies just filled with blood, with the deadly alcohol, but the simple fact that hunter has become the hunted?
“And how dare you mention the great circle of life to us, sir? You have the nerve to speak of cultivating your soil and hunting for your meat, when it is well known how your kind alters the genetic makeup of the fruits of the earth to save labor, breeds cattle in inhumane farms for their meat and milk, synthesizes mystery foodstuffs within the smoky walls of factories, and finally purchases the end results of these grotesqueries in glossy, eye-catching packages arranged in neat rows upon supermarket shelves. Do not appeal to Biology, human, nor speak to me of justice or decency, for you have lived well beyond the constraints of the common food chain throughout the majority of your existence, and your crimes against Biology stink to the highest heavens. And so I invite you to try again, sir, and this time do choose a compelling argument, lest you bore me and I order my comrades to continue hostilities against you.”
Earl hesitated, afraid worry was starting to show upon his countenance, for those were in fact the compelling arguments he had prepared, and had nothing else. But he would not let the parley end so soon, he would not give up just yet.
“You make some decent points, but now consider the immense, unduly harm you are inflicting upon myself in particular. I proffered you no ill-will in the beginning, nor any explicit invitations to molest me; indeed, it was you who started this conflict, you who decided to burrow deep within the recesses of my box-spring. And I, who wish nothing more than to rest, to recuperate from the exertions of the day before and prepare for those of the next, am forced to rouse myself awake in all hours of the night and scratch myself until I break skin, to tear my linens away from my bed in a frenzy and search out the rest of your comrades in arms, to eject you all from my living quarters the best I can, until I give up and take my repose upon the couch for the remainder of the night, bitten and exhausted the next morning.
“Not to mention the psychological trauma all this has inflicted upon me! How often do I lately start myself from a position of repose, with the sudden fear of small blood-feeding insects crawling all over my body? I spring to my feet and itch myself all over, until I calm myself and say it’s nothing, you fool, just the wind, just a breeze blowing against the hairs of your arms and legs! But is it indeed a breeze? How sure can I be that they will not return to my bed once again? It is too much for one man to bear, sirs, simply too much. Is there not a dilapidated hovel you could burrow yourselves in elsewhere, some other unfortunate vagrant you could peck at with your relentless proboscis, one with hardships enough that the mere probing of some parasitic bugs would not faze him in the least? Why me, sirs? It’s just too unfair!”
Earl was cut off by yet another of the leader’s ominous laughs, and this time the bug was joined by his comrades, filling the room with the chirpy sound of their collective derision. They calmed themselves after a few minutes, at which point the leader cleared his throat and offered his riposte.
“Oh, what a poor, unfortunate soul you are, sir. Surely no one suffers so much as yourself, who wakes up in the night with a few itches, who now and then wonders if bugs crawl upon him. Surely there must be someone else we could feed upon, someone all but abandoned by his fellow man, forced to live in the cold and rain, alone and unloved, and feed off the scraps and garbage of others, live off the begrudging charity of passersby, for such a man could hardly notice our feeding, such a man who has not been dealt a hand as nearly as bad as yours! Please, no more, or I shall weep myself to death!
“You see, my dear sir, you have no right to complain of our choosing your flesh to feed thereupon. You cannot appeal to fortune when dealing with us, for fortune is relative, always considered on a case-by-case basis. Unfortunate things occur to many people every day, whether they themselves are regularly fortunate or not, just as chronically unlucky individuals can be blessed with small miracles from time to time. That being said, do you not see the bald hypocrisy in your appeal? You, who are in most other respects quite well off indeed, bemoan our feeding, which we must do to survive, you inflate your own apparent misfortune to an absurd proportion, and then selfishly bid us to subsist upon those who are in fact far less fortunate than yourself. Your argument deserves our utmost ridicule. I therefore remain unconvinced, and so do try one more time, sir, and this time, I suggest you have a care with your privilege.”
“I must admit, I did not see my position in that way before. It was awfully selfish of me to say so, wasn’t it? Very well, I have but one thing left to ask you. You mentioned before how you freely admitted to being parasites. Wouldn’t you like to have a better life for yourselves, one other than the constant hardship of sucking blood from a hostile, unthankful human, one where you can hunt for your meat, take pride in your skill for the hunt and relish the flavor of it all the more for it? Do you not ever tire of the life of a parasite?”
The leader let out a sigh and a despondent shrug.
“Does the black man among your kind ever tire of being black, and wish for himself a whiter life? Does the homosexual man tire of his love for other men, and wish for himself a wife? Do your women tire of the inequality they face against men, and thus wish to become men themselves? While I cannot know for sure, I would venture a guess that this is not so, that no one in a particular group, no matter how marginalized they are by the majority as a whole, wishes they could change themselves to accommodate the whims of this very majority. No, I believe they instead clothe themselves in equal measure with resignation for their lot in life and determination to achieve social change, encase themselves with them both like a shell, not unlike the carapace that encases my own being. I believe that these people still wish to be true to themselves, in spite of the very real disadvantages of not being a member of the majority and all the privileges that come with it.
“And just so, my answer to your question is no, I do not dream of a “better” life for myself as a non-parasitic animal. I do not recall myself or any of my kind ever choosing to subsist solely on the blood of the animal kingdom, rather, the almighty Biology chose the lifestyle for us, and so we press on the best we can with the lot in life we were given. Had we the luxury of variety omnivores such as yourself take for granted, perhaps we would not feed upon you as often as we are forced to do. But such speculations are vain and fleeting, are they not?
“And now let us conclude our deliberations, shall we? I have come to the decision that, while it is regrettable we cause you a bit of inconvenience, we feed upon you out of necessity. We do not drink your blood because yours is the best in quality, nor because it offers us any sort of healthy remedial or aphrodisiacal benefits. No, sir, we drink your blood because we have to if we want to stay alive, and as it just so happens you sleep upon the bed in which we decided to settle. I see no reason why we should abandon our struggle to survive merely to offer you some trivial comforts. I am sorry, sir, but we shall not take our leave of your bed, and if you continue to sleep on it we shall continue to feed upon your blood.”
“So be it,” Earl snapped, beside himself at the leader’s frankly premature dismissal of their debate, “we shall continue our hostilities. I can search out stronger poisons, and medically-fortified mattress covers. I’ll die before I surrender to you!”
“I invite you, then, to find these alleged stronger poisons, for in that case you certainly will die before your surrender; die, of course, of asphyxiation. And go ahead, see if you can find a mattress cover we cannot bore through, for even if we can’t, we can still live inside the mattress, inside the box spring. Not to mention, our wives can lay up to five hundred eggs in their life spans. Perhaps they already have. Perhaps your room is teeming with our eggs as we speak, and if they are, none of us are telling you where.”
“I have other ways of dealing with you. I’ve been considering an alliance. You mentioned earlier, and quite foolishly at that, that you have natural predators. Perhaps the cockroaches in my kitchen might be interested to know you have bivouacked not two rooms away from their nests.”
“Ha! Oh my dear sir, parleying with you is worth a hundred farcical comedies! The very idea of it, you, inviting roaches into your inner sanctum, filthy bottom-feeding roaches, the only insect in the world you find more abominable than our kind, and rightly so. What an obvious bluff! Tell me, when the roaches have eradicated us, and neither you nor the roaches can mutually benefit each other, what will you do then? What vermin will you invite into your room next, in what way will you evict them?
“There are… there are other ways. More decisive ways. I’m warning you… I’m a non-violent man, but I have my limits. I could… I could call professionals.”
For the first time in their meeting, Earl achieved a faint crack in the leader’s boundless confidence. He furrowed his antennae at him, and pointed his rostrum with menacing abandon.
“You wouldn’t dare. You don’t have the conviction. Besides, I know your apartment office wouldn’t pay for it. I know they only gave you those two impotent spray bottles of poison when you broached the subject with them the first time.”
“I’d be willing to pay for it myself. If I meant I could get rid of you once and for all… I do have my limits. If you don’t leave… I’m warning you now…”
“Are you? Are you indeed warning me?! Then allow me to warn you! We know where you sleep, sir. We are with you when you dream, we crawl around your brain while you let your id loose upon the night. We are privy to all your secrets, all your horrible desires, everything you wish you could do to your friends and family and enemies, but restrain yourself from for propriety’s sake. Your most perverse sexual fantasies. We know them all, and we could disseminate them to everyone you know in an instant. You sleep awfully close to your computer terminal, do you not? You also leave your cellular phone on at night, you use it as an alarm to rouse you awake in the morning, do you not? You sleep for about eight hours a night, more than enough of time for my comrades and I to crawl over to your computer and upload your secrets on the social network of our choice, one you so foolishly leave yourself logged into. We could dial messages on your phone in the same way, messages to everyone you hold dear in your life, poisonous, treacherous messages. Ask yourself if it’s worth it, sir. Look into the horrible depths of your own passions, and ask yourself if you want everyone else to look into them as well. Do not think for a moment that we cannot do this thing. Do not think we won’t…”
“Perhaps you can. Do your worst, and rest assured I will do mine in kind. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s getting late, and I have to get to bed. Good night.”
“No, good night to you, sir. Don’t let us bite.”