THE INTERIOR WAS IN ORDER, unlike the exterior. Given its remoteness and few (if any) visitors, however, its state was understandable. My uncle’s life was a sad and lonely one. He saw me as the child he never had. I could barely recall him, but he had named me his heir.
Perhaps he knew how much alike we were. I also enjoyed long spans of solitude, as far from the world as I could manage. Lonely souls seem to recognize each other, but we give no more than a nod and then move on.
This place would suit me perfectly. It was filled with the treasures of a learned and well-adventured man. Each room was a museum that granted me hours of wonder.
Still, I often felt a presence while I wandered. In his study especially, I felt driven away by unseen eyes. For a time, I avoided that uncanny place.
One sleepless night, I set out to conquer that puerile fear.
He kept many journals with copious, scrawled notes. The difficulty of deciphering his handwriting was formidable, but the words uncovered made me weep.
It seems that he lost his mind near the end of his life. In light of this, his disappearance was all the more tragic. At least it made more sense.
Continuing my search, I found a strange pair of spectacles in his desk. They were more than lenses and a frame, sporting odd electronics or machinery. Trying them on, I found them quite blurry, but a knob allowed them to be focused.
A glimpse around the room was quite a different experience.
Certain things jumped out. Some were bathed in darkness, others seemed vivid, nearly luminescent. For a considerable time, I examined everything around me.
The lenses tired my eyes and gave me a headache. Absently, I stuck them in my pocket to scour the countless journals for any notes about them.
As I worked, I discovered that one of the bookshelves concealed a door. Beyond it, a staircase spiraled down into darkness. Finding a candle and matches, I soon had it burning and slowly descended the steps.
A large room spread out around me. Part was beneath the house and the remainder stretched on away from it. A fuse box near the bottom of the stairs flooded the cavernous chamber with light when I threw that venerable switch.
There were many benches covered in tools and the dust of years. But the center of this space captured my attention immediately.
Some bizarre contraption surrounded an arch of stone, apparently attached to it. This arch stood separate from any wall.
Seeing a control panel, I examined the dusty labels until I found a great button labeled ‘power.’ At the press of my thumb, it roared to life with a thundering raucous.
Instantly, I became aware of warm air. I would have thought I stood on a tropical beach instead of in that dusty vault. I began to fear the machine was burning.
A strange sense of presence confronted me again. I was certain that someone else stood with me, but all around, I saw nothing. I began to itch all over, maddeningly.
Suddenly, one of the light bulbs popped.
I scrambled to shut the machine down and panicked as the power button had no effect. Thankfully, I recalled the fuse box and threw the switch.
The machine fell silent and the lights went out, leaving me in darkness. I stumbled up the stairs scratching.
With the door sealed and concealed again, I examined my arms and hands and found them speckled with tiny, red welts.
Somehow, I must have blundered into a nest of spiders or mites. The thought of countless, tiny things crawling all over me drove me to the shower. The water was so soothing that I sat down and filled the tub.
I was thinking of hiring an exterminator when something caught my attention.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a strange, blurry speck. When I looked, there was nothing. As I settled back into the tub, I saw it again, zipping across the floor.
Again, when I looked, there was nothing. I waited, and, as nothing further happened, I put it out of mind.
While dressing, I recalled the spectacles and my task of sifting through the journals. The sun was up, and, though I was exhausted, I decided to press on.
While reading, I felt another bite. I searched but the culprit escaped me. I was on the edge of exasperation when I saw, in my periphery, another small, blurry speck.
Slipping on the spectacles, I was astounded.
Some small kidney or bean-shaped creature crawled along the floor. The cleft was pointed up and it went about on no fewer than nine spindly and multi-jointed legs. Using an empty jar, I captured this… bug.
Removing the glasses, it vanished, leaving an apparently empty jar. Through the lenses, I could see it plainly.
If this had been the biting creature, I wondered at the condition of the vault. With glasses ready and a lamp, I descended the stairs.
The walls, floor, and ceiling were covered in quivering beans.
Grabbing a board, I set about smashing every one I found. Many jumped on me, biting, but now I could see them!
Catching my breath, I turned to the arch.
Now that I knew what it was, the ravings of my uncle didn’t seem so far-fetched. I moved in to inspect it.
But, in the dusty floor, I found tracks leading away into the darkness. These were not the tracks of anything tiny. As I estimated its size, something scuttled slowly toward me.
I was right, it was the size of a couch.
They were mentioned in my uncle’s notes. Without their warm environment, they cannot last long. This is no comfort to me.
As I look at the countless tiny specks that cover me, I ponder his observation:
They do not bite to feed, but to lay their eggs.
story by Joe Stanley