To Hope is to Die
by Anoosha Laiani
It was the nameless hour between evening and night. Darkness was threatening to descend upon the frenzied market. Everyone walked with a purpose, but oblivious they were not to the creature that loomed high overhead—A vulture prepared to envelop the Earth under its deathly dark wings. Women held their purses close, and men hurried to sell their final products. Pickpockets trailed after careless
customers, stealing anything they could get their hands on, only to afford another meal for tomorrow. Shop stalls had already begun to light up with lanterns, oil lamps, and hanging light bulbs, warding away the threat that nightfall carried. Their gaudy glow attracted mosquitoes and other insects with beating wings. A melody of sharp buzzing could be clearly heard.
An old shopkeeper felt a feathery touch as one landed on the base of his wrist. The pulsing of his blue vein could be seen beneath the translucence of the man’s worn skin. A riverbank of blood and temptation had caught the bloodthirsty eye of the mini-beast. Agitated, the man cleanly swatted it away with the grace and speed of a predatory cat.
Getting back to work, he grunted as he lifted the elegant mahogany table from his donkey-drawn cart. His muscles tensed beneath the bleak, sweat-stained grey of his shirt. He did this every day, yet it never got any easier. In fact, he was getting older and his strength was beginning to leave him. He balanced the weight of the table precariously between his two arms, so carefully, that his knuckles were white from the pressure and his face twisted in eternal concentration. His knees shook agonizingly. He couldn’t drop this piece. It had taken him weeks to complete. The crisscrossing carpenter’s cuts patterned on the tapestry of his arms were a reminder of the many hours that had been spent in his workshop.
If this sold well, his family could have rice for a day. Fluffy, white, soft grains of rice. His tongue automatically licked the bottom of his chapped lips. Rice had become an expensive commodity— one his family could no longer afford. Instead, they had learned to survive on the plain flat bread that his wife so fondly kneaded.
A shrill whirr awoke him from his reverie. A loud falsetto that he had never heard from any insect before, met his ears. A single muscle in the man’s neck twitched as he twisted in movement. He tried to locate the source of the noise. Immediately, his eyes focused on the pests flying directly above his head. “Excuse me!”
The man quickly looked away from the insects and observed his company. He had come face to face with a younger man, almost twenty years his junior and a little older than a teenager. Dressed in black combat boots and the trademark camouflage uniform, the man immediately recognized him as a soldier. “Watch where you step!” the soldier yelled.
The man nodded, his arms shaking slightly as they grew tired of the table’s weight. He waited for a dismissal. “Go on! Move along!” the soldier bellowed.
The man rushed past him in a hurry, his elbow brushing the soldier’s. However, unlike his own, the soldier’s elbow melted away from the man’s touch. No longer solid. No longer there. A limb of nothingness. Before the man could stop to examine the oddity, the buzzing was back and with it, the insects.
They were flying out of the soldier— from every visible orifice: eyes, ears, mouth, nose. Skin and clothes shredded, the soldier had transformed into a hideous wave of black. Thousands of beetle-like creatures now occupied the space where the soldier had stood just seconds ago. A few of them landed upon the man’s arms. The man twitched, blinking his eyes unbelievingly.
The bugs came closer. They were so close that the man could see the strange limbs that connected to the creatures’ black-winged bodies. Arms, hands, legs, feet. Embedded in the creature’s long white faces were lips so red, they almost looked like they had been stained with human blood. The corners of a creature’s mouth lifted in an unkind smile, revealing pointed snowy fangs. The creature bit down into the man’s sinewy flesh, sinking its incisors deep into the wound that it had created. A continuous flow of warm blood congealed on the man’s arm.
He jerked in agony and the table crashed on to his feet with a crunch, crushing his tiny toe bones. His arms flailed wildly in a futile attempt to smack the creatures off his skin. As he did so, he fell back, hitting his head hard on the ground. Sharp bursts of pain erupted all over his body while more of the airborne creatures landed upon him. Paralyzed, the man’s eyes remained wide with fear. A creature leapt up to his face and slit his eyeballs out in one quick and angry motion. Crunching down on the milky globe in its pale hand, it giggled with odious pleasure while the man writhed on the floor like a worm trapped in a tube with no end. Powerless.
Tears of blood fell from the man’s empty sockets, drying up and crusting his face scarlet. The man opened his mouth and another creature dove straight into it,stifling what would have been a terrifying scream. The creature clawed at the old man’s throat and slashed the tubes that allowed him to breath. The man, in return, coughed bloody phlegm and bit down on the creature in his mouth. Acid scorched his lips.
Everything that he had done in an attempt to save himself had only provoked new tortures. Finally, he shut his empty eyelids. Giving up, he conjured memories of his two young daughters and his beautiful wife. They would be the last people he saw before death claimed him. Peacefully lost in thought, his lungs compressed and the last breath of air left him. A soulless carcass was now left in his place.