THE TERRITORIAL IMPERATIVE

© 2003 Lisa Morton

 

MAN: I shoulda realized when I first saw the manager wearing those army surplus boots. Thick rubber soles, laces halfway up the shin. This guy was ready for action. I mean, I was checking out new apartments because of the goddamn bug problem in my old one, so here he is trying to show me this studio and hoping I won't notice that he stomps again every time my back is turned. I only saw one myself - medium-sized, not one of the fuckin' tanks - and that was a damn sight better than where I'd been living. The graffiti wasn't too bad either, so I took it.

It was a week, maybe a whole ten days before I started to really see 'em here. One night I couldn't sleep, so I got out of bed to go get a beer, and I saw three of 'em scatter by the light of the refrigerator. I ran back to my closet and stepped into my heaviest hightops, but of course by the time I got back and turned on the light they were gone. I sat there with a beer in one hand and a can of Raid in the other until the sun came out, but they never did.

Next morning I went shopping. You know, the usual - thirty roach motels, ten packages of Combat, six cans of spray. Roach motels are the best, but they tend to develop vacancy problems - they fill up too fast. Combat's kind of like religion - you can't see it work, you just gotta have faith. I liked Raid myself. Sure, the apartment'd stink like a chemical dump, but there was nothin' like drowning the little fuckers in a pool of toxic hell.

I set the motels and bait traps out, then I waited. Waited until the middle of the night. I sat there in the bed, ten feet from the kitchen, and I swear to god I could hear 'em in there. I could hear them - little skittering noises, six legs on linoleum. So 'bout two in the a.m., I get up real quiet, can of Raid in each hand, and I tiptoe over to the light switch, flip it - and Jesus fucking Christ, there were hundreds. HUNDREDS of the mothers! I just stood there, I didn't even know where to spray first, man, they scattered to every crevice, under every cabinet, into every drawer. I was barefoot, and three of 'em ran across my toes. Goddamn, I can still feel that, one of them running up my ankle until I hit it so hard I nearly broke it myself. After that I went and scrubbed my feet under the shower for nearly two hours. When I was done I had to bandage them because I'd scrubbed all the skin off.

Sure, I complained to the manager. Laughed in my face. Told me I was seeing things. I invited him up to check it out for himself. 'Course when I turned on the light, they weren't there. These fuckers are smart - they'll be here when we're gone. In fact I think that's just what they're waiting for.

Well, I wasn't gonna give up that easy. A man's gotta defend his territory. It's in the genes, one of the oldest instincts, I was goddamned if I was gonna give in to a bunch of bugs. I called in a professional pesticide guy, who sprayed the apartment, then gave me a huge bill and told me my worries were gone. Ha. They didn't even wait twenty-four hours - they were back that night.

I stopped eating, so they wouldn't have food. I bought metal-soled boots. They stopped letting themselves be tricked into the roach motels. It was just me versus them.

That was when I decided to try to capture some of the enemy, instead of just wiping them out. Killing them wasn't working, but what if I caught 'em, tortured 'em, left 'em out where their comrades could see what was in store for 'em? So I got big jars, emptied 'em, filled 'em with food, left 'em out.

You bet your ass they went for it. Wasn't long before I'd have a big gallon jar full of 'em. Sometimes I'd take one out and cut off its legs, set it in the middle of the floor as an example. I impaled two on shishkebob sticks.

It worked. They stopped coming around. In a week they were all gone. I could turn on the light any time of the night, and the place was spotless. Fuckin' spotless.

Only thing was - I still had that big ol' gallon jar full of 'em. It was sitting there on a table in the middle of the apartment. I'd punched a couple of holes in the lid so they could breath, 'cause I'd wanted 'em to suffer. Now they were still alive in there. Hundreds of 'em, crammed together, filling the jar, a big fuckin' orgy of roaches.

I realized something else now, too - I had proof nobody could deny. I'll bet you didn't believe me, either, huh? Well check this out. (He reaches beneath him to a hidden place and withdraws the big gallon jug full of roaches). Yeah, there they are.

Now I sit here staring at the goddamn jar hour after hour, and I've started thinking things like... well, everybody's wondered what it would feel like to fall off a forty-story building, right? Ever look at a spinning power saw and imagine your hand going into the blade, how that would look and feel? Well, I started to imagine... oh god... (He begins to unscrew the lid of the jar) I tried not to, but I couldn't help it... I thought about... oh christ... I gotta know... the fuckers won after all... motherfucker, I can't help it, I -

(He unscrews the lid and raises the jar, preparing to dump the contents on his head. As lights slam abruptly to black, he screams hysterically.)

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