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The International Writers Magazine: US Travel

Critter’s Control: My Latest Misadventure
Sean O’Neill
I could not escape; the slimy, hard-shelled, bug-like creature clamped onto my right thigh and would not let go. As I swung his loose, gooey body around, the creature continued to envelop my limb with great vigor. Admiration was an after-thought – this was my life on the line. Certainly, as you can probably tell, this was not what I had in mind when I booked my summer vacation.

leech

My trip to West Virginia, at first, started off like many of my past explorations. Shining skies matched the glimmering smile stretched across my sun-kissed face. Everything seemed so bright – so promising. Admitted, I adjust incredibly poorly to changes in time zone. Locals often express feelings of confusion when they spot me binging on steak at 11:15 a.m. outside of my condominium. If I had to pick one turning point during my trip, I would probably choose 11:30 p.m.

The steak I cooked this past Thursday tasted overly raw -- absolutely disgusting. It felt cold and wet. These are good qualities to look for in a beer, but not a piece of meat.  Starving, I went out in search of something warm. My stomach started growling. I tried to assure myself that my hunger pains were more than well-documented, but this did not help. My body refused to stop clamoring for fuel.

Ice cream parlors, $1.00 cold pizza, and a candy store. Unsurprisingly, on this hot summer day, I could not find anything warm to devour. Typically, I would stand firmly against admitting that I was a tourist. However, as the old saying goes: desperate measures are called for when desperate times occur. A very small man wearing a yellow-and-blue striped garb was sitting on a dry-rotted stoop at the end of the road. I approached him.

Skeptically, I asked: “Sir, are you from around here?” He responded: “When they need to eat, they crawl downstairs.” If I had been more ominous, I probably never would have sought the man’s help. Instead, desperately, I heeded the man’s advice. My hunger level was increasing rapidly. Unfortunately, so were my feelings of anxiety and unease.

As I drifted down into the mildewed cellar area, my sense of proportion transformed. I began to feel a lot taller. The buildings that surrounded me seemed to decrease in size. Suddenly, adjacent doors were too small to enter. Most of the people I managed to spot stood on street corners blocks away. I guessed that they were waiting for a late bus, or a taxi driver who claimed he was ‘on his way.’ Everything appeared so picturesque. The scenery I observed in this otherworld looked splendid.

Sunlight cascaded upon the awnings and doorways of vacated storefronts. Exotic breeds of frogs and birds rested peacefully inside the windows of many shops. No one ever showed this sect of West Virginia in travel magazines. For a brief moment, I wondered why. Surely, this mini-village looked beautiful.

The area smelled as if stale water had rotted its contents. Seduced into a sensory coma by the vast amounts of color contained on the buildings aligning the area, I hardly noticed, however. There was no evidence that this smell of deterioration materialized in any way.

Architecturally, this quaint neighborhood appeared invariably alluring. After a while, I realized that this was going to remain constant and consistent throughout my travels here. Oddly, though, I incurred a strange urge. My tongue felt dry, and free of sensation. Alarmed by this sudden change, I frantically sought something moist to taste. I scraped a small portion of the brisk yellow paint off of one of the tiny buildings.

Before the bright colored paint reached my pallet, I quickly stopped myself. Something about the smell caused me to reminisce about my grandmother’s key lime pie. This may have occurred due to the sour scent that radiates from limes. In the past, I heard of “scratch-n-sniff” stickers, which were commonly found in Nickelodeon monthly magazines. However, this was different. “Sour” can taste good. It can even smell good. But this paint began to smell putrid – like rotting flesh.

In the midst of my confusion, I looked away from my paint-covered hand. I conducted a deep period of introspection, rapidly questioning myself regarding my current surroundings. Where was I – really? Why was I there? Who wanted me there? Eerily, as I proceeded to interrogate myself, I heard a piercing noise. A dooming crunching noise echoed up and down the residential street where I was located. I looked down, and the yellow paint started to liquidize. A faintly orange color began to appear. Such a phenomenon seemed foreign to me, so I immediately attempted to wipe the substance off of my palm.

Whatever this substance was, it was not budging. Not one bit. This menacing presence began to grow more and more orange. Soon, my palm was nothing more than a red blob. Soon enough, I solved my own mystery. I fell victim to a leech attack. Quickly, I whipped out a white, plastic knife (which, in case you were wondering, was not fit to cut any kind of steak) and wrenched the bloodsucker off of my flesh.

Impulsively, I screamed for help. The people I noticed hanging out on the far away street corner seemed to barely flinch. Soon, I realized that they did not flinch at all. Their perceived movement was a result of their images combined with my floating tears. Completely terrified, I reached out to my fellow man. I touched them. These people weren’t just “picturesque” – they were pictures.

I peered above, and noticed a horror I should have seen a lot sooner. A torturous sight – there were bugs everywhere. Quickly, I made a valiant attempt at escape. As I continued to run, the bugs progressively grew larger. My strides seemed to infuse the unwelcoming creatures with a sense of animosity. They foamed at the mouth as I began to sweat and weaken. Before I knew it, I could no longer see my body; I was engulfed in insects. When I thought things could not get any worse, they suddenly did.

The ‘queen-bee’ of my attackers, a large, dark aqua-green monster, wielded its horrifying jaw. Within seconds, this giant latched onto my leg and refused to dislodge. I tried to scream, but my vocal cords crippled in fear. Awfully, my trip to West Virginia somehow transformed into a delving into the deepest depths of hell. Refusing to resist the bug’s advances, I allowed myself to slip into a seemingly deep unconsciousness.

Suddenly, though, my experience made sense. Shaken to my core, I began to rise, entrenched within a drowning pool of sweat. For once, I only looked forward to enjoying the golf courses and historical monuments which made West Virginia famous. Why? I happily realized: dreaming hurts.

© Sean O'Neill May 2011
soneil05@villanova.edu


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