by Erick Mancilla

The drive back home was soothing. The warm day had been cooled down by the fluid night. It was a welcomed balm from what had been happening. I thought back to those evenings when I was a kid and Pop would pack us into the car for a night drive. My brother, sister, and I would pretend to fly as we stuck our heads out the backseat windows. The blowing wind shampooing my hair like a pampered prince. In a kind of truce, Mom and Pop set aside the bickering and arguing just for these rides. What I’d give to go back to those days.
Once I got home, I checked inside the paper bag again to make sure the dose was still there, and I spotted a ladybug resting on one of my knuckles. It took me back to when I was twelve and gave my first love a ladybug as a gift. The little, red bug crawled to the tip of my finger, but before it could fly away I crushed it between finger and thumb. Even though there was no sound I’d like to think it suffered an agonizing death.
I walked in to the smell of rotting meat. Carmen sat on the floor petting a sick Max. He didn’t react to my presence as he laid in pain, dying. That joyous energy the brown lab once had was now gone.
“Did you get it?” Carmen said.

“Yeah.” I dropped the paper bag on the loveseat like it’s the heaviest weight I’ve ever carried. There’s another way to deal with this, but I won’t do that to Max.

“I’ve been praying.” Ever since Lucy died my daughter is my faith.

“Any change?” I  asked, wishing like a child.

“No. Every time I scrape that nastiness out and think I got it all, there’s more.”  

“The official word is epizootic. Doc says it started in Hoisington, Kansas. GMO crops yielding an unusually large harvest that brought out aphids in the trillions. Aphids attract ladybugs and it just spread over the fields like wildfire, and that’s where something weird happened. It’s as though the ladybugs have mutated into a kind of tick. And there’s no containing it.” I was working myself into a state.

“Dad, calm down.”

“Stupid president with his tough guy mentality. He created a political mess with Russia but can still find the time to waste on Twitter. Meanwhile this thing is killing animals off in record numbers. And now, even Mexico won’t help us. Some joke, huh?” 

I rub my face to rid myself of the whole situation.

“Why is it so bad with dogs?”

“You know dogs. They’re like a vacuum cleaner with legs.”

Max’s whining came in a weak plea. “Let me go at it for a bit,” I sighed.

“Dad, don’t.”

“So just let him deal with it on his own?”

“No, that’s what the dose is for.”
I waved her off and sat before his head. I took a wire toothbrush to scraped the roof of his mouth. I opened his snout, he offered up no resistance. The stench so strong, it was all I could do to brace myself from what was inside. Countless ladybugs nesting and feasting on the roof and gums of Max’s mouth. All the while the bugs slowly released a killing poison. The ladybugs rolled out in clusters as I brushed. I told him what a good boy he was as he let out a languid cry. Carmen stomped out each ball with an anger I’d never seen before. She then sprayed the mush with industrial strength insecticide.
For a moment, there was a sense of accomplishment. The bugs were all gone, but as soon as I rested, more would take their place.
“Dad, please. Just use the dose to put him to sleep, okay?” Carmen wiped her eyes. She’s right. It’s the only way. Max’s head began to bob, rocking up and down—how he used to love hanging his head out the car window. His rib cage extended and deflated with force. Choking on the vileness within, he let out a violent heave. As his mouth opened wide a pulpy redness poured out. It ran over the floor like animated syrup. Ladybugs from the roiling spread popped off here and there. From my waistband, I took out the .357 and shot Max in the head. The blast sent blood and bugs flying, spattering the wall. Another wave came pouring out of him. We stood over the mess in silence for awhile.

“Dios mio… ”

I heard my dead wife’s voice in Carmen as she threw the empty insecticide container at the mess.

The tears ran down my face. “This thing is getting worse. Let’s burn this place to the ground. We should head toward the beaches for now. We’ll take him out back and bury him.”

“The house?”

“Yes. What? You want to wait for the infestation to kill us?” I carried Max, bugs still dripping from him.

“What about Joker?” Carmen checked her phone for any breaking news on the infestation.

“He’s fine. For some weird reason they’re not affected.”

With his tail curved in a question mark, he stalked over the darkened slop to his favorite sleeping place and leaped onto the love seat. He noticed the paper bag and knocked it off. The small container of pills to put Max down rolled out and onto the floor. The bottle’s rattle provided a new toy to play with. Splashing around in the dark slush, Joker batted the cylinder around without a care in the world.

Erick Mancilla is a blogger of geek culture and a writer of horror and weird stories. He has two stories out at ironsoap.com (ezine) and another in the back page of the comic book Harrow County #19. “Epizootic” made the close-but-no-cigar category for the Flash Doom contest in January 2017.
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