“But roaches aren’t attracted to water!” Veronica, the landlord, said in her nasal voice that made Margaret’s ears want to bleed.
“Every living thing on this planet is attracted to water,” Margaret said into the phone, as politely as possible as she clenched a wooden spoon in her fist and rolled her eyes.
“Don’t take that tone with me,” Veronica said, “I know you’re rolling your eyes!”
“We’re on a phone. Who cares if I’m rolling my eyes? All I want is for the leaking pipes underneath the kitchen sink to be fixed. That’s probably why the roaches keep coming back. They haven’t been back for a few days but let’s get this fixed as soon as possible.”
“Roaches aren’t attracted to water,” Veronica said again in her nasal self-assuredness.
“They’re called water bugs in some states, goddamnit. They’re attracted to water. Fix the fucking leak!” Margaret struck her thumb as hard as she could against the red button on her cell phone.
Billy, Margaret’s boyfriend, stayed the night and was just waking up. He yawned as he entered the kitchen and kissed her on the neck.
“I want to make pancakes,” he said. “I want to make pancakes right now.”
Margaret wanted pancakes but she feared at any moment the roach infestation would be back. She didn’t want to tell Billy about her battles with the landlord over them.
“Maybe we should just get Magnolia,” Margaret said.
“Fuck that. Why spend money when we have all the ingredients right here?” Billy opened the fridge and took out some eggs, milk, and Bisquik. A white puff of Bisquik pancake mix burst out of the plastic bag as he opened it.
“When I was a kid,” Billy said as he licked his pointer finger and dipped it into the mix, “I used to— “ but his face went from nostalgic to confusion and horror. Cockroaches climbed out of the bag and onto his hand and arm. He flailed and screamed and shook himself violently.
“Billy!” Margaret yelled, “Billy!”
It was no use. He was screaming and jumping and yelling his way out the door.
Margaret called the landlord.
“Come over right now and look at this infestation I’ve got going on here. They’re everywhere! This needs to be fixed today or I’m breaking the lease and suing your asses!” Margaret put as much anger as she could into her thumb and pressed the red button to hang up.
The pest control guy got to her apartment an hour later armed with all the tools that existed to kill roaches, probably.
“Howdy missus,” he said as he tipped his hat and smiled. He whistled and spit through the gaps in his teeth as he spoke. “We’s got some heavy ammo-nition at our disposal here. We’s gonna smoke ‘em out. Shock and awe these sumbitches and make sure they’s children never
grow up to haunt yer packages of breakfast puddin’, knowmean? Now just set yer pretty face down, wear this here gas mask an’ wait fer the sufferin’ to begin.” He handed Margaret a gas mask and put on his own.
“Name’s Charley the Cockroach Man,” he said and pointed to the hand drawn logo on his shirt. It said Charley the Cockroach Man.
“Are you a one man army?” Margaret asked.
“Heh-heh,” Charley the Cockroach Man giggled, “Now’s missus I’ve got a wife and children sitting all alone at home. It ain’t too impressive to be a one man cockroach bomb.”
He was right, it wasn’t impressive but Margaret was just making small talk.
Margaret sat on her hands and nodded.
“You see,” Charley the Cockroach Man said as he put bait traps outfitted with blinking red LED lights in each corner of her apartment,
“Cockroaches, sure, they’s adapt biologically like any other creature but men—shit, we’s adapting everyday with the nimble mind the Lord blessed our souls with. We make a weapon, use it in Vietnam, hippies don’t like it, fine. We adapt. We start to use it in our living rooms to kill roaches.”
“You’re not spraying napalm in my kitchen are you?” Margaret asked, a little worried.
“Napalm?! Ha! This here spraying machine has got the best of roach killing qualities! I am not at liberty to say what this contains but it is highly experimental and highly effective! They don’t call me the Cockroach Man because I’m stupid, you know!”
Up until that point, Margaret had subconsciously believed that anyone who called themselves or had been called a cockroach man was stupid.
Charley the Cockroach Man was scanning the walls with a remote control with an HD screen.
“I’ll be done in jus a second! Just checking up on my radar doohickey, makin’ fer damn sure these bugs is suffering.”
“They don’t need to suffer,” Margaret said. “They just need to die.”
“Sweetcakes,” Charley said, “The dead don’t learn nuthin’ lest they suffer!” Charley put the remote back in his pocket. “I’m all done! Don’t take off that mask on yer face for another few hours. This shit’ll tear your face off from the inside.”
Without a goodbye or a tip of his hat or anything, Charley the Cockroach Man walked out of the purple fog he had sprayed into Margaret’s apartment and closed the door behind him. Margaret pulled out her phone and called Billy but there was no answer. She got up to go to Magnolia by herself.
The next morning there was no scurrying. There was no battle between Margaret’s broom and the wall in a fruitless effort to kill roaches. They were completely gone.
“Wait a week,” Margaret said, not yet willing to buy into the experimental la-di-da that Charley the Cockroach Man had put on pretty thick the day before. But weeks passed before she had any kind of disturbance from any kind of insect. They were definitely gone.
Margaret picked up her cell phone to call the landlord.
“Hello, this is Veronica Pasternak, landlord and general manager of Junglewood Properties. As you can tell, I am not in right now but please leave your name, number, and a brief message and I promise to get back to you as soon as I can.”
“Veronica! This is Margaret in apartment 256. You should call Charley the Cockroach Man every time someone has a complaint. They’re all gone. All of them!” Margaret was giddy. She was so giddy that she had decided to make it a night in for herself watching TV in her bedroom until she fell asleep. She had never been that comfortable in her place before. The TV lulled her to sleep.
She was awoken by a tickling on her legs. At first it was slow and sparse enough to be ignored but soon it felt as if whole armies were climbing her. She turned on her side light and watched as about twenty tiny bodies scattered like cockroaches.
But they weren’t roaches.
They giggled and screamed as they scattered. They walked on two legs. They were all bald and a pasty white. They were tiny little naked white men and they numbered at least ten times more than twenty.
Margaret couldn’t help but think, “What the fuck?” Who wouldn’t? She told herself she was dreaming and she tried to fall asleep with one eye open. Eventually she did.
The next night, she awoke to a tickling in her ears. One of the tiny little white men was hanging onto her earlobe, whispering into her ear. She screamed and grabbed it and threw it against the wall. It screamed the whole time it was in the air interrupted only by the thud of it hitting
the wall. Margaret turned on the lights.
A crowd of solemn tiny little naked white men were watching as their comrade smeared himself on the wall to the carpet. They were whispering and wailing and sobbing and when, finally, their comrade’s lifeless body hit the ground they turned to Margaret with hatred burning in their beady little eyes.They climbed up her leg, biting and scratching, and calling her names in a language she didn’t understand.
She swatted at them and stomped on them and grabbed them by the handful to flush them down the toilet, but soon their screaming and pleading got to her. Roaches couldn’t scream. What were these little feeling monsters? She called the landlord again.
It went to voicemail.
“Veronica! Whole new problem! Apartment 256! Little white men! Naked! They’re like roaches!” Margaret hung up the phone and crawled into a corner so she could watch from every angle to protect herself.
They ran free around her house. They climbed bookshelves, swung from ceiling fans, caught rides on the cat and when they approached her she swatted them away, their screams be damned. These were little anarchists.
Margaret dialed the police.
“Sounds like you’ve got a weird roach problem. Why are you calling us?” they said and hung up.
Margaret dialed Billy.
“There’s no fucking way I’m ever going to your house again,” Billy said and hung up.
Margaret searched Charley the Cockroach Man and found a phone number. 24 hour service. Perfect.
“Yes’m, hello! You’s reached me, Charley the Cockroach Man. How may I be of assistance?”
“Charley! It’s Margaret. You came by my apartment a few weeks ago!”
“Oh, sweetcakes! I always ‘member a voice after I done heard it once. Of course I remember you. What seems to be the issue? Roaches come crawling back? Them’s sumbitches sometimes never learn.”
“No!” Margaret yelled. “Little tiny naked white men.”
“Oh, hell no,” Charley said and hung up the phone.
Within five minutes he was knocking on the front door. The little tiny naked white men were prancing all around the house, completely unaware of the fate that lay ahead of them.
“Put on this mask, sweetcakes,” Charley said. “I can’t well kill ‘em but I can trap ‘em. They’s got full citizenship rights and shit.”
“Yeah, they screamed when I squashed them. I felt pretty bad.”
“Don’t feel too bad. These things is worse than roaches. Ruin everything they touch. Look at them two over there fuckin’ on your soup bowls. It’s a damn shame.”
Charley put on his own mask and sprayed some pink fog and all the tiny naked men fell asleep.
“If you step on a few of them, I won’t tell,” Charley smiled and nudged Margaret.
Margaret stomped and stomped. They were all asleep and when they couldn’t scream, it didn’t matter. She became happier and happier with each squishy sound.
“Aw, shit. You go on and have fun. You deserve it,” Charley the Cockroach Man said as he disappeared through the pink fog and shut the door behind him.
Andrew Hilbert is a writer living in Austin, TX, who's involved in a smorgasbord of creative activities including creating musical variety shows, audio short stories, 'zines, and more, which you can read on his blog and website, www.hilbertheckler.com.
He's also written a fantastic book short stories like these, which you can purchase here .