Alice walked one whole mile to work every single day. In one of her two suits, blue or gray, she plodded down the walkway from her small house, out onto the sidewalk, and one short block to the thick of the city of concrete and bus fumes. Someone had planted trees the prior year, perhaps in hope of prettying up the street. But now they leaned, straggly, sad, at odd angles.
Alice passed through the whoosh of the glass and steel door of her office building, rode the elevator to the eleventh floor and set herself up in her cubicle for another eight hours of data entry. Up until today, she liked her job okay. She had her favorite mug, workmates who nodded hello, and a boss who didn’t mind if she left early on Thursdays for her book club.
But this month, her book club was reading a book she didn’t like. When she tried to say so at last night’s meeting, pushy Susan shut her up with one sharply pointed sentence about its brilliance and a sideways sneer and that was that. It was a sour space now. A place she didn’t want to be.
This morning, she tried to ignore the fact that the coffee in her favorite coffee mug was burnt and tried to focus on her work. Her manager dropped another pile of orders to be processed on the desk next to her without a word and walked off. Nothing was sitting right. Her chair pitched forward in an uncomfortable way it hadn’t before and it squeaked each time she shifted in it. Her suit would not button shut while she sat, a new development.
On the way home that evening, Alice saw cylinders of webbed netting hanging from those straggly trees. The sun setting behind them made them look ominous and promising in a way that made her stomach contract. She walked on, but after passing the fifth cylinder, the line of sentries made her shiver. It was wrong to be afraid of inanimate objects, so she stopped, turned and approached one. They smelled of something sweet and tart, pulling her--something she couldn’t quite reach. She prodded a finger forward, touching the cylinder, which swayed harmlessly, losing its persistence of form. It was doubtless some sort of bug catcher. She was annoyed with herself for letting them intimidate her.
She poked it again. It bobbed. She reached her hand up to where the side of the cylinder met its lid and pulled it back suddenly, it was cold. Her hand was wet, with a jellylike substance. She rubbed her fingers together feeling its viscosity. Afraid that it was poison, she wiped her hand on the tree, an impractical move, then on her suit skirt, a stupid move.
By midnight they came. Moths batting at the kitchen window as she put the empty glass from her warm milk into the sink. She was surprised by their insistence. She turned out the light, thinking that was what drew them.
The next day, a few followed her to market, fluttering behind, a little shy, perhaps. She felt peculiar, both wary and hopeful.
The following day a small flock, white, brown flecked and yellow formed a cloud that trailed her all the way to work. People stopped on the street to look at her. She was embarrassed at first, then a little proud. Out of her very particular life, she had pulled a hat trick.
When she got to the front door of her office building, the guard stood, one hand up. Halt. His florid, fleshy hand grasped the door handle, as if Alice were a danger. He made a call on his walkie talkie. Alice thought she heard the word bugs.
Her boss wouldn’t let her in, claiming reasons of hygiene.
By the time she got home, the small cloud of moths had grown to the hundreds. Only a few made it through her screen door, but they hurled their bodies at her kitchen window and the accumulation of their plocks and thunks became a din. She couldn’t take the sight of their bodies mounding in lumpy piles on her porch, stunned, some dead, some writhing.
Alice got her purse from the table behind the sofa and stepped outside without her shoes, locking the door behind her. The cloud of moths pulsated and billowed as she walked onto the sidewalk and into the street, hitching up her tender feet from the grains of asphalt that stuck to her soles. She crossed the street, the cloud eddying around her, consuming her as she stepped into the field across the way. She walked toward the woods, feeling, for the first time in years, the spring of the moist grass beneath her feet.
Kate Maruyama's novel HARROWGATE was published by 47North and her short work has appeared in Arcadia, Stoneboat, Whistling Shade and on Duende, the Rumpus and Salon among other journals and is anthologized in Phantasma: Stories and Winter Horror Days. She writes, teaches, cooks and eats in Los Angeles where she lives with her family.