Stories

Vignettes from the Insect Hotel – Ryan Lambert

“Dream of mosquito fornication.” Of all the four-word phrases to be sloppily grafted on the reverse end of an exclusive line of family reunion t-shirts, this one stakes a claim to take the cake for most abnormal. Then again, this is no normal bloodbound clan of common ancestry: these men, women, and children are The Flying Fosters, a fraternal assembly of acrobats, court jesters, and silver-medal gymnasts, plus lean muscle-bound bruisers to form the base of their award-winning, against-the-grain formation: not a pyramid, that glorified unit of basic geometry worn out by varsity cheer squads and secret societies alike, but instead an esoteric symbol of power within Hindu culture, known in modern parlance as a swastika.

The year is [REDACTED], and The Flying Fosters gather for the first time in half a decade to explore an experiential museum exhibit titled Bugville: How the Other Half Screws—two-dozen square miles of tiny dioramas, famed locales from the business of sucking and fucking, strip clubs and toy stores and exotic mansion sex parties shrunk down and populated with every major species of insect chronicled by the scientific establishment. Step inside and see crickets gyrating their hips to hyperpop, fleas product-testing fleshlights shaped like the orifice of a silkworm, hornets spitting in the mouths of spiders, centipedes totally cucking millipedes, and a team of cockroaches gangbanging a monarch butterfly while she’s half-stuck in her cocoon.

WORRIED ABOUT TITILLATING MEMBERS OF YOUR VISITING PARTY? RESERVE A DELUXE PACKAGE AND RECEIVE ACCESS TO A LOUNGE OF PRIVATE STALLS FOR INTERMITTENT MASTURBATION TO WORK OFF ALL THAT CREEPY-CRAWLY STEAM. TWO PASSES PER PERSON PER DAY TERMS AND CONDITIONS MAY APPLY PLEASE ASK YOUR PARENT’S PERMISSION BEFORE GOING ONLINE. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP AND LOAD UP ON BUGCUM, OUR PROPRIETARY BRAND OF ORGANIC LUBE CULLED FROM THE ACTUAL PESTS ON DISPLAY

On the vintage television is an annual award show to determine who can give the most thanks, to the most people, the hardest. Previous winners included a single mother of five—two from marriage, two from drifters, one from the stoop—who enlisted her progeny as the crew of a steam-powered dirigible in order to scatter pamphlets listing her legal assets citywide; a polyamorous triad dedicated to spreading the gospel of state-sanctioned infidelity while stroking their pointer fingers in shame towards those with dissenting opinions; and a propagandist paid in lump sums of social capital—redeemable like coal miner’s scrip only in The Company store—in exchange for tagging, with shining red spray paint, the incorrect pronouns over the back entrances of small businesses, mainly mom-‘n’-pop shops, across the ancestral township so that imperial soldiers might spare the firstborn employee of each establishment, generating a formal holiday known in layman’s terms as The Walkonbye—commemorated and celebrated with an official musical number of the same name.

This year’s contestants rank as the largest turnout in the history of the game, no small feat as past editions were legion, greater than the grains of sand found on all the artificial beaches in human zoos throughout the land. Early favorites appear to be a terminal patient with aims to redistribute brain parasites more fairly to members of the underclass; his doctor, living for the same goal in what will surely be a climactic conflict of interest; and Three Blind Mites, a developmentally-disabled girl group who perform showtunes while dressed as brown, minute arachnids, striving to raise awareness for their corporate sponsor, a fresh podcast sharing social network for bugs called TickTalk.

The Flying Fosters threaten to shatter my right shin if I jaywalk on their turf once more. A younger man might be tempted to scoff, but I have the life experience to know better —plus I’ve seen Them drop a guy thirteen stories in front of his screaming girlfriend. She mouthed off, he turned into a bloody paste, she became a concubine, he stopped short of a memory. I’m fretting over what will happen when They find out I cross streets wherever I please under the cover of eternal night. Ominous graffiti tags spell out a fate worse than death: “if you only knew the plans They have for us . . .”

Barbara is bugging out again, a thin needling sensation around my left forearm. She grows angry when I skip sessions, and the absence yesterday marks three in a row, like tic-tac-toe. She sees through the clever trickster shtick, and is paid handsomely for it. Can women be paid “handsomely”? Should women be paid at all? My love interest brings me a protein bar, Chocolate Carapace in flavor, citing economic misogyny as a downstream consequence of hunger pangs. I crunch through the sugarcoated bug meat with both sets of molars and whisper “I fucking love science” as a token of gratitude within the oral tradition. Maybe I can find that slogan printed on a graphic tee alongside a dripped-’n’-swagged Albert Einstein with oversized hip-hop necklace and blackface. If Black Israelites lay claim to the honorific of God’s Chosen People, perhaps the OG Hebrews should seize the titles and benefits of African-Americans. I tell Barbara that absence makes the heart grow fonder and she upcharges me for empty flirtation.