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The Bug

Colonel Nasser was a striking man. Tall and dark he stood with perfect posture in a spotless military tunic. The multitude of shining medals only served to underscore the authority conveyed by his dark, unblinking eyes that sat under the shadow of the brim cast by his military cap. His polished leather boots gave him the extra height so that he was always looking down at whoever he was talking to, his eyes locking with theirs allowing him to assert his will with a sharp gaze. His meteoric rise in the army and his ability to rally a widespread and effective opposition wasn't much of a surprise to those who had met and spoke to the colonel in person, but those advantages had run themselves out. In his last few days, the colonel was holding up in a bunker situated beneath no less than 25 feet of earth. Its windowless cinder block walls, single light, and bolted steel door made it resemble a prison cell. Besides a twin bed, a television, and a wooden chair the drab concrete space was mostly barren. In his mind, it was the only place left he could hide.

He was being hunted by a seemingly omnipotent enemy. Its unblinking eyes were spread across the sky, hovering among the clouds, or staring down from space floating around the very throne of God himself, but what freighted the Colonel far more than all the ways they could find him were all the ways they could kill him. The people after him had been doing this for a long time, and they had developed very creative solutions over the years. Death could come suddenly shrieking from the sky on the front of a missile, from down the barrel of a hi-tech assault rifle wielded by a faceless special ops soldier, or even at the hands of a trusted confidant. One thing about disloyalty, it wouldn't mean a thing if its victims could always see it coming; however, the Colonel was sure of one thing. It was only a matter of time before they found him, and there was nothing he could do to save his own life.

This inescapable fate was the reason he spent most of his time locked away in the small, dimly lit, sparsely furnished subterranean vault. The room only had one door, he didn't want death to catch him by surprise. If it had a face, he wanted to see it. He sat on the bed staring at the door, and when he wasn't staring at the door, he was desiccating his unblinking pupils in the U.V. glow of the TV. He watched the news cycle roll over again and again until he became familiar with its routine. He knew who would mention him and when. He would see pictures of himself and his family displayed like they were wanted fugitives, and when he saw those pictures he understood the message. They used words like tyrant, war criminal, and genocide. He knew those words were tantamount to a death sentence in the court of international opinion. Somber looking broadcasters displayed images of people scarred by war, photos of maimed children, limbless women, and stacks of bodies made their way across the cables every hour and the talking heads around them would shriek for “justice.” As far as the electronic eyes of the world we’re concerned he had been the sole cause of every ounce of human suffering in this war. It reminded the colonel that they not only held his life in their hands but it would be them who would carefully carve his memory for their purposes.

Sleep became a rare break from waiting for death. As the time clicked by the narrow world of the room shrank away with it. He rarely spoke anymore, he couldn't eat, and sleep was little more than the occasional blackout from exhaustion, but each time he would be jerked awake, cold beads of sweat running from his forehead all the way down to the collar of his shirt and his panicking mind would inject another dose of adrenaline into his blood.

Everything about him had all but crumbled and faded away. His once imposing eyes had become wondering and distant sunken into the dark rings that stood out against his now pale and waxy skin. His once immaculate uniform was unwashed and unbuttoned. He no longer walked with statesmanlike posture but instead was usually hunched over, his hand on his chin as his racing mind caused him to pace ceaselessly around the stifling room. His subordinates growing ever more concerned with his rapidly deteriorating state were trying everything they could to reverse the course, and they were growing desperate.

Captain Adid was one of the Colonel’s closest confidants. He served as an excellent functionary to the Colonel becoming something of a barrier between him and the world. Everything that was to reach him passed through Captain Adid first. As Nasser’s mental state began its rapid deterioration much of the military staff began to look to Captain Adid for some kind of semblance of leadership and normalcy. The captain accepted his new responsibilities with reluctance. His only idea was bringing Nasser's beloved wife to stay with him in his headquarters.

Alia had been married to Colonel Nasser for almost ten years. She was a quiet and beautiful woman. She had flawless olive skin and dark oval eyes. With silky black hair that flowed around her shoulders. She dropped her bags and ran over to embrace him. He seemed oblivious to her presence and to her touch. Even as she wrapped her arms around him, his eyes stayed fixed on the blaring TV. She wanted to do everything she could to protect her husband. Maybe because she just loved him that much or because she naively believed he had a chance of making it out of this alive, but it didn't matter. She didn't know it, but she had brought them to him. No one in the room could see it, but what was going to kill the Colonel was crawling out of her clothes. A terrifying new micro weapon, unlike anything the world had ever seen.

Officially it was called a micro neural infiltration unit, but to its users, it was simply known as the bug. It was small, maybe the size of an ordinary housefly. It had a clear tubular body. When the light hit it just right you could see its circuits running through it like veins. Using its four insect-like legs it quickly crawled up the concrete wall and settled on the ceiling looking down at its victims below, but its eyes were not its own. In a remote location, thousands of miles away others were looking through Nasser's eyes. American Air Force Lieutenants Roberts and Johnson were watching the live feed of the frightened colonel and his wife in their own dark, windowless room on three flat-screen monitors.

"That’s him!" A wide-eyed Roberts exclaimed. Johnson studied the screen for a moment "Yeah," Johnson replied with a grin. ”Yeah, I think so." Roberts switched on his telecom link headset. "Target identified. Awaiting orders," he chirped into the little microphone. He sat silently for a moment and said "Roger," he turned to Johnson. "We got the green light to deploy." "Fuck yeah. I've been itching to try this thing," Johnson said excitedly clutching the controls. "We gotta wait till he’s asleep!" laughed Roberts. Johnson shook his head and sighed.

For a while, all she could do was cry as her husband paced up and down the small bedroom that had become his prison. The whole time he ranted, raved, made threats, and plead with God and he did it with a ferocity and desperation that convinced his wife the stress was going to kill him at any minute, he had worn down. His voice became hoarse and his shook with exhaustion. “You shouldn’t have come here,” he said to her. “We don’t have any radar stations left their planes could be over our heads right now.” She stayed silent tears welling in her eyes. He stopped pacing and silently glared at her. “Don’t you get it the bomb could be falling on us right now”! He screamed at her, but still, she remained silent; a silence that was long and painful and seemed to hold time in place. Finally, she spoke. “Should I go?” she asked in a soft voice. “What?” Nasser snapped. “If you don’t want me to be here then I will go,” she said slowly standing up. He said nothing just watched her slowly shuffle over to the door looking down at the floor the whole time. As she reached for the handle “wait!” he said sharply, and her hand instantly stopped. “Come back,” he said with a newfound sense of calm. He held out his hand. She hurried into his embrace resting her head against his chest. “I’m sorry” he whispered to her “but there’s something I have to tell you” She looked up at him. Her eyes wet with tears and wide with curiosity. “I don’t want to die alone.” They were silent again, and her eyes met his. “Alright,” she said quietly “I will die with you.”

As she said those words, Roberts and Johnson slid forward in their seats their tense bodies moving their unblinking eyes ever closer to the hypnotic glow of the screen

“Holy shit,” Johnson exclaimed with a smile that stretched from ear to ear.

“This shit could be on TV,” Roberts replied.

The little unfolding drama the bug was broadcasting became a bit more morbid when Alia fell to her knees and began begging God to spare their lives. She repeated this desperate plea again and again before crying herself to sleep. Johnson’s jaw dropped, and he turned and stared at Roberts.

“Holy fuck,” Johnson said in disbelief. Roberts simply nodded.

At least 3 hours went by before the couple finally collapsed from exhaustion. The viewing weapons specialists had watched the couple race through the seven stages of coping with death. After Nasser passed out in the bed, Adid turned off the lights and the television. Finally, for the first time in days, the room was still and dark. The darkness was total in the windowless room, but the bug’s eyes quickly adjusted making an almost instantaneous switch to the thermal view. It turned the figures of the Colonel and his wife into nothing but vibrant multicolored blobs.

“Fuck, I was hoping we could take a quickly crawl down her shirt first,” said Johnson.

. There, that’s our insertion point,” Roberts said, pointing up at the screen ignoring Johnson’s comment.

With a few clicks of a mouse and some key commands, the bug began injecting the site on Nasser’s spine with a local anesthetic. Nasser never felt it burrowing through his flesh and swimming into his bloodstream.

Roberts and Johnson watched anxiously and with diminishing patients as they navigated the bug through the confusing neural highway of the Colonel’s nervous system, occasionally addressing a neural biology guide as a sort of map.

“Ah, where the fuck is it?” Johnson blurted out with more than a little frustration in his voice.

“It's close,” Roberts replied calmly

“Wait,” Roberts said excitedly, causing Johnson to perk back up. Roberts looked down at the book and back at the screen. “Yep that’s it,” he said, sounding sure of himself. “Alright, let’s do this,” Johnson said emphasizing his excitement with a loud clap of his hands. Roberts' eyes stayed fixed on the screen. “Alright,” he muttered. “Attaching to nervous system…now.” They began feverishly punching in their individual commands into the system and in less than a minute the bug had latched onto Nasser’s nervous system and began to take control. The middle and far right monitors suddenly clicked off for a second before turning back again this time with a display of the Colonel’s vital signs on the far right monitor and a birds-eye view of the room situated almost like a security camera. The bug had planted it there when after it had crawled up the ceiling, only the size of a contact lens.

“Damn, this guy’s pulse is like he’s running a race,” Johnson said.

“Hmm, maybe it’s a bad dream.”

Roberts hadn’t been too far off. The Colonel was asleep, but he was not at rest. His dreaming mind was haunted by specters from his past, ghosts dug up by his sub-conscience we’re now wreaking havoc on his mind. His dreams were a tapestry of violence sewn together with the fragments of countless bloody memories. The places, names, and faces all blended into a single cabal of blood inside his mind. The images of bodies mangled and torn flashed through his mind’s eye in a montage of carnage. They were a choir of screams in his head accompanied by a symphony of gunfire. Without warning the sights and sounds began to spin around in his mind-melting together in a vortex that became its own piercing screech that grew louder and louder then suddenly it just dropped off into silence accompanied by boundless darkness. Nasser felt his hands clawing at the dirt. After a moment he could see the first rays of light piercing the darkness, and he began to dig faster and faster. That’s when he could hear a voice calling out to him. “Nasser.” He listened, and it called for him again. “Nasser.” This time it was closer.

Overwhelmed by fear he began to claw through the dirt faster and faster. His fingernails started breaking off from their beds of skin. He felt warm blood running down his hands. As the voice kept drawing closer and closer, he became more and more frantic. The light slowly grew brighter and broader it looked like he was getting close. He could hear the quickening pace of footsteps that we’re now accompanying the voice. “You can never leave here,” it called. “You’ve always known you would be here forever.” Nasser continued his desperate dig towards the salvation of the light. His body froze when he felt a hand grip his leg and begin to pull him back. “Look at me,” it demanded. Nasser writhed in its grip “Look!” it said sharply. The Colonel looked back and saw the figure dragging him from the light. His face was the only thing illuminated in the black void a mysterious light outlined its horrific features. His flesh was decaying, and his left eye was an empty socket. His jaw was missing making his mouth little more than a roof with a tongue that flickered about as it shouted its threats. “It’s time you paid you are here forever,” it shouted. Nasser could feel his entire body convulse with fear and his heart go wild, and he suddenly lost control as he began to flail around in a vain attempt to escape.

As Nasser was living out one reality inside his mind, his wife was currently viewing another. She stood pounding her fist against the iron door screaming while she watched her suddenly panic-stricken and unresponsive husband fall to the floor and began clawing at the concrete wall. His fingers nails broke against the surface and blood was trickling from his hands. “Nasser Nasser!” she screamed trying to get him to stop but to no avail. His attention seemed to suddenly shift to her as he shot up from the floor, wrapped his hands around her throat, and slammed her back against the wall. Her head smashed against the concrete. Her knees instantly gave out from under her, and her body went limp. Nasser held her throat, his hands tightening their grip around her neck sending a burning pressure pulsating through her face. They fell to the floor, and he pinned her down. They were face to face, and their eyes met. Her once soft dark eyes now bulging red orbs clouded with the red of bursting blood vessels.

Captain Adid bursts through the door accompanied by two guards. They stopped dead in their tracks when they saw the sight of Nasser choking his wife to death. After a second the guard to his right took aim with his rifle, but Adid slapped the barrel down. “What do we do?” the shaken soldier fired back. Adid was silent, and they stared each other down for a second, but their struggle of will abruptly ended when Nasser let go of his wife’s neck letting her body drop to the concrete floor with as much carelessness as a child who had suddenly lost interest in a toy. He sat for a second seemingly bewildered. His body became rigid as Nassar let out a scream. Jumping to his feet fast enough to startle Adid and the confused guards he leaned down and ran head first into the wall. The impact was punctuated by the sound of flesh tearing, bone fracturing, and blood splattering against the cement. Seemingly unfazed he picked himself up and did it again and again. Blood began to pool under him, and each time he repeated the motion he left more fragments of his skull scattered in increasingly chaotic patterns of black, white, and crimson on the wall, and his men could do little but look on in confusion and abject terror.

Johnson and Roberts couldn't have been more ecstatic. Each time The Colonel picked himself back up, they would slide forward in their seats, bodies, and faces locked in anticipation as they waited for the next blow to come and each time it did it was received with the same mixture of cheers and humorous disgust.

“Holy shit. I can’t imagine what he’s gotta be seeing,” Johnson said.

“Well we shot so many chemicals into his system his mind was probably gone in just a few minutes,” replied Roberts.

“Wow,” Johnson said with a tone of unmistakable amazement.

“Imagine that one minute you’re normal and the next… and the next well you’re strangling your wife to death and smashing your own head into the wall.”

They both laughed.

“It doesn't look like he’s moving.”

The monitor displaying the Colonel’s vitals suddenly flashed and let out a long high pitched beep signaling the flat-lining of the Nasser’s heartbeat. “Yep he’s done,” said Johnson. “I’ll let command know.” As Johnson began relaying the information to their superiors, Roberts couldn't help but just stare at the image of the dead Colonel. Johnson had been right. They were dealing with a truly amazing and terrifying weapon. They now not only had the ability to take the life of any given individual but they now had the power to instantly strip him of his mind and humanity. He had expected death and had even hoped to face it, but he had never seen it in its new form. It had come swiftly, silently, and from within. He had never looked his killers in his eyes; he had never had any last words. Even before his suicide, he was gone. The bug had turned him into little more than a machine that operated on a chaotic array of violent impulses. It left no capacity for emotions, fear, or even thought. Those who were around him would never really know what happened to them. They would say he was insane they would say he was taken by a sickness, but they would never fully understand the underlying condition what kind of mass and profound disorder the bug was a symptom of.

This story was published by the Crooked Cat Publishing in their 2012 anthology called "Fear: A Modern Anthology of Horror and Terror Vol 1" Here you will find a collection of stories that will creep in your subconscious and weave together your nightmare.


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