Deb has just hauled the trash bags into the alley when it starts up again: that distant, razor-thin whine she just can’t place. It’s louder now, bouncing off the front of every shop along Prosperity’s dusty streets. There’s a sharp odor on the wind that wasn’t there before.

She sees Louis the Grocer a block away, looking up and down Central Avenue for the source of the noise. His scowl reminds Deb of Laura the Innkeeper, who asked her to get off her lazy ass and take the trash out. Deb lifts the black bags again, sighs, skulks over to the dumpster in the alley shade.

The whine stops. Then it starts again. Violins, Deb thinks, or a siren. Must be that cop looking for those missing kids. People up the street are yammering. Someone’s car backfires for the fifth time in ten minutes. Crying children garnish the whine and the stink.

The alley reeks like vinegar. Deb’s nose wrinkles as she lifts the dumpster lid and heaves the first bag in.

The whine is suddenly deafening. It hovers right over Deb’s head. Something heavy moves on the roof.

The dumpster slams shut. Something hairy and black pins it closed for leverage. A leg. Deb screams, stumbles backward, falls. Swoons from the acidic stink that chokes her with the urge to vomit, blurs her vision, burns her eyes.

It’s huge. A Cadillac with legs. Stares right at her with sniffing antennae as it crawls down from the wall, over the dumpster. It’s not an ant. She’s killed hundreds with one stomp. It’s too big to be an ant.

She barely hears the other sounds over the whine. People crying. Car turning over. Engine backfiring again. No, not an engine. It’s gunshots. Deb’s heaving chest tells her she’s screaming.

It whines again, calling to its brood. "Bringing home food for the children," it seems to say. The drooling sickles on its face seem to smile at Deb as they gnash together. The stench and the droning hypnotize her. She doesn’t move as it lurches forward.

"Just a bad dream," she tells herself over and over.

Antennae kiss her face.

"I'll wake up soon. Just a bad dream."

Written by Mike MacDee
Content is available under CC BY-NC