By: The Earthotic Way
Mike woke on the ground in the forest and lay with eyes closed, certain this was a mad delusion. He smelled clean outdoor air, moss and damp earth, heard the soft roar of the rustling trees, felt roots and rocks jabbing his backside. His feet felt as sore and tender as if he’d been walking on hot coals. The last thing he remembered was having lunch at a steak house: oysters, three martinis, filet mignon. The last couple months had been profitable for his law firm.
Mike opened his eyes. It was evening – the sky rosy purple through the treetops! Where had his afternoon gone?
Groaning, he began to rise. His back was killing him, his shoulders, his hips. Everything hurt. Small wonder! He’d been lying across the bunched roots of an oak tree good-sized stones and branches too. Several acorn-sized bruises knotted his flesh. Many curses later he was unsteadily on his feet. His head thudded fuzzily. He was probably still drunk, though this felt worse than a regular afternoon hangover, and he was painfully thirsty. His clothes were gone. Here he stood in a white undershirt and boxer shorts. No phone, keys, wallet, belt. For all purposes he was naked in the forest.
“Hello?” Turning gingerly this way and that, he took in his surroundings. Not much to take in except trees and thorny bushes. The sound of his voice was eerie, as if the wind carried it fast away, obliterating his words. He tried again. “Hello? OUCH!”
This last interjection was in response to a rather hard pinch on neck, which he slapped. He took his hand away, wincing in disgust at the bug – an enormous mosquito! He hadn’t seen one that big since going to Alaska. A common joke there was that the mosquito was Alaska’s state bird. There was also a good-sized smear of blood on his hand. “You little bastard,” he told it, shaking its crushed body away.
“If this is someone’s idea of a joke,” he began loudly, talking to the forest. Someone had to be nearby, hiding, laughing. Practical jokes were entirely possible. Lawyers could be real jerks. When he found out who had done this to him, he was going to raise twenty kinds of hell.
A memory floated back to him, about lunch. The memory came alive with the thudding of his head. A woman had approached him: Carole Kingham, the adult daughter of a plaintiff he’d quite recently torn apart in a deposition. The man had lost his case when he could ill afford to do so and, yes, Mike had to admit, the guy was railroaded. But it wasn’t Mike’s job to save every fool in the world from con artists, and con artists had the right to attorneys, too.
She said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Griffin. I’m not going to make a scene. Dad was crazy to get involved with that broker anyway. As they say, there’s a sucker born every minute.”
Mike responded, “I was just doing my job.”
Carole had laughed aloud. “Aren’t we all? Look, I’m meeting someone here but I’m early – can I buy you a drink while I wait?” She was a fairly attractive young woman and Mike never turned down a drink. Mr. Kingham had said his daughter was smart, a doctor of some kind.
Time to get out of the woods. Night was overtaking the sky. Though the moon was full, the shade of the trees kept it from helping him. The ground was treacherous and his bare feet took a terrible beating. He felt awful, thirsty, aching, and then again with these mosquitos! They lit on his arms, legs and neck, buzzing in his ear, wings batting at his hair. He smacked at himself almost constantly. Tomorrow he’d be covered in welts and itching miserably – at best. He might catch a disease. He was going to sue the hell out of somebody.
Mike walked face-first into something invisible, knocked backwards onto his sore backside. He howled in shock and pain. What had he hit? It wasn’t hard, it had a little give to it. Reaching forward he felt around until he understood that he’d collided with a barrier made of stiff netting, like screen-door material. Further examination showed it was pulled tautly over iron fence posts at least twenty feet high. The screen fence stretched away in both directions. In the give of the moonlight, Mike saw that netting roofed the enclosure as well, as if he were in some kind of bird sanctuary or butterfly pavilion!
I was just doing my job. The words floated back with a different meaning. Carole had talked about her job. Ichthyology? No, the one with bugs. Entomology. Another memory drifted stupidly from his hazy lunch hour: Carole saying, “Entomology with a specialty in parasitology. Makes me a perfect date for a lawyer.”
He tested the screen for sturdiness and found it remarkably resilient. He could not tear it open, not without tools. But enclosures weren’t built without gates. He decided to follow the fence.
Off he went, slapping at mosquitos. The moonlight was more helpful beside the fence, and when he shook his hand to rid himself of its most recent wrecked mosquito corpse, he realized with genuine horror that there were at least eight of the little bastards – no, big bastards – slurping away on his right arm. Some of them looked two inches long. Not even Alaska had such enormous bloodsuckers. With a dismal shout he knocked them away. Blood beaded up on his arm in several places. He looked his other arm, felt his neck – he was being eaten alive by the things! He was covered in his own blood and their hideous carcasses and still more mosquitos came at him, hungry.
He didn’t realize he was running until he tripped and fell on his face before the gate, an iron frame with iron bars, quite thoroughly covered with the same screen material. The gate led to a small stopgap – a space that functioned sort of like an airlock might – before reaching a second gate. Warnings were posted everywhere. The ones Mike could see said: DANGER. Authorized personnel only. Protective gear required.
The inner gate was locked, of course. One couldn’t leave a dangerous experimental area unlocked. Someone could get sued.
“Bloodsuckers for a bloodsucker,” said a voice near the trees beyond the gates. An older man with broad shoulders and a crop of white hair shining in the moonlight was standing on the dirt road, observing Mike with his hands casually in the pockets of his jacket.
Mike asked in shock, “Mr. Kingham?”
“You like my daughter’s work?” Kingham asked. “Got her brains from her ma. Those critters sucking you dry are her own special creation. She calls’em a hybrid. They’re skeeters she bred for Africa, she says to ‘naturally inoculate herds of antelope’. Can you beat that? But they’re not ready yet; my Carole says they’re too dangerous to use. They swarm by the thousands, and big as they are, they can suck enough blood from an animal to kill it. Takes a few hours.”
“How in the hell did I get out here?” Mike demanded.
“Well I was meeting Carole for lunch today and she said, ‘Guess who’s in the next room, Daddy, that attorney you love so much.’ Course, it might be that I was expecting to find you there, seeing as I’d called your secretary last week to ask about your schedule. I made a purchase ahead of time. Kids call it a roofie – I’m real disappointed by how easy it was to get. What’s this country coming to?
“Anyhow, you were already pretty liquored up and happy to take another drink, even from me. After that, you were pleased as punch to do whatever I asked, even when I asked you to drop your phone in the sewer downtown before we went for a ride. Not five hours ago you undressed yourself, and took a walk straight into the woods just because I said it would be funny. I’m a little surprised to see you, but I guess the skeeters don’t come out till dark, eh?”
Mike had threats ready. Kingham hadn’t seen half of the problems a good attorney could cause a stupid old man. Insight into human nature, which was admittedly a rare skill for Mike, suggested it might be better to take a more polite tone.
“Nobody has to know about this,” Mike told Kingham in his most mellow, jury-pleasing tone. “You don’t want to cause your daughter trouble, or ruin her career, do you?”
“Carole’s got nothing to do with this; I stole her keys outta her bag, and she don’t know we’re here.”
“Just let me out, and we’ll call it even.”
“Well sure Mr. Griffin, if you can give me back my retirement savings and fix the worry and hardship my wife has suffered.”
“What? Like now?” In disgust Mike gestured around himself, almost roaring with the frustration of having his arms coated with bugs. He raked them away and more came hurtling in, like sharks drawn to blood. “Did you want me to write you a check?”
“No, sir. What I want is to watch them skeeters drain your blood until you die, then bury you in the woods, go home, and have a beer.”
Mike put his hands to his face and felt so many sucking mosquito bodies that he seemed to be wearing a mask of them. The rest of his body was covered. The bites ceased to be painful individually. Instead an awful, prickling sensation like electricity trilled across his skin. They swarm, Kingham had said. They can kill an animal in hours.
What kind of animal? How many hours? Mike’s sense of unreality was turning into cold terror in the pit of his gut.
“You won’t get away with it,” he warned the older man. “My secretary knows you were tracking my movements.”
“Mr. Griffin, I had a good long talk with the lady. She hates you near as much as I do. I don’t think she’ll mention me.”
This was true. His secretary did hate him. Maybe this was what finally made it all seem perfectly clear and real. Mike felt his self-control slip. “Please! This is crazy! You’re not really going to…just stand there and watch this happen!!”
“Tell you what,” said Kingham. “My deposition lasted seven hours while you drained the life outta me. If you can hold on that long, maybe we’ll talk again.” He took out smartphone and tapped a button, like he’d started a timer.
Mike began to scream for help. But they were obviously quite alone in these woods, after a very short while, he could no longer hear his own voice for the buzzing in his ears.