's 2020 Horror Write-off:

Heard a Buzz

Submitted by Charred Newt

The light-bulb was old and it flooded the small bathroom with a greenish tinge, making the cold feel even more intense on that December night. Ash scrubbed his hands vigorously under the open faucet, hoping that the movement would make the water feel even just a tiny bit warmer; he gave up quickly on that. He tried melting the icicles that had taken the place of his fingers by crossing his arms and shoving both hands under the armpits. “F-f-fuck” he stuttered and the sound of his voice lost itself on the dust-glazed tiles covering the walls. No answers, no noises: he was alone and the heating was dead. Well, what else could have been expected from an abandoned house? Even one that had been empty for just a week was doomed to become an ice-box in those dreary and short days. “Count your blessings, Ash, you got yourself a roof for the night” he muttered while pulling his gloves back on again. Even empty walls were better than the nothing outside, and that little nutshell of a home even had a bed and some heavy blankets left.

All the windows had been nailed shut, the backdoor he had used to sneak in was closed and safe: there was no danger in using the little bit of electricity the house had gifted him, at least. No warmth, but light was something. The buzzing of the dinky lamp spoke of life, even if maybe past. It was a comforting sound, he thought, despite it being so artificial and, well... shrill?

He cocked his head to focus on the noise: nothing that he could see was moving in the bathroom except for the faint puffs of his breath, and yet he felt that it was getting louder. Discomfort crawling on his back like a slug, he turned around and around, and then looked up: it was a small room, but the ceiling was just high enough to escape the pale disc of the light-bulb. Its corners were deep lost in the dusty shadows cast by the rim of the lamp holder.

Could the sound be just from the old electrical system? A faulty cable, a worn down socket somewhere behind the cabinets?

Squinting was not gonna cut it. Ash turned on the light in his phone and swooped it across the whole ceiling.

And there it was. A bug, a big one, almost as long as his pinky finger and intensely brown against the tiling. Ash could not help but recoil a bit: insects didn’t really bother him that much, he just had not expected to see anything like that. It was not a cricket, of that he could be sure, and it didn’t look like any kind of cicada he knew of: no wings visible, more of a flattened cockroach shape... But it was the source of the noise, even though he could not figure out how that was possible, not without getting closer than he felt safe to.

There was something else that was bothering him, something to do with its shadow: when the bug jerked suddenly Ash almost jumped backwards, but it made him see the invisible strands holding it from the ceiling. It was caught in a spiderweb! A strong one, he noted in his mind, it had to be to have caught such a beast of a prey. And now its prisoner dangled uselessly, only a couple of legs moving in weak arcs. Hang on baby, hang on, a day is long and even bugs gotta rest sometimes…

Still, it hadn’t stopped buzzing. Was it even a buzz, Ash wondered, could it even be called that when it was so high-pitched, so desperate… He didn’t know much about animals in general and insects in particular, but that felt like distress. Like screams in a dark and lonely night.

Ash stomped his feet trying to get some warmth in them as he left the bathroom and closed its door behind: as long as that bug was safely stuck there he could keep his worries focused on the important stuff, like if there was any way to heat up the small sandwiches squished in his backpack. Maybe that thing was harmless, maybe it would not sting or bite or burrow or anything, but not having to think about that would make for a better night in any case.

And that was true, for a while.

He rummaged through the house for blankets and comfort, managed to eat something, to rest his legs for a bit. He moved cautious through the bones of an old life left in that empty house, not giving much thought to the shrill vibrations reverberating from the closed door.

But then came the time to sleep. He lied on the old sofa, feeling that it would be in some way unpolite to simply steal the old owner’s place on the bed, tucked tight between two quilts and his own road-proven clothing; the air felt chill and sharp around his exposed nose, the darkness pressed on the eyes drew ghosts of colorful shapes as he tried to slip into unconsciousness. It was not the cold, it was not his stomach or the worry of being found out that was keeping him awake: it was the shrill ringing in his ears that pierced his head side to side. With nothing else left to blur them away, the bug’s screams were inescapable; Ash tossed and turned in search of a position that would block it out. How was it even getting that loud? Because it was, in spite of the closed door and any possible explanation he knew of. A night’s sleep was too precious a thing to waste. As much as Ash did not want to get up, the obvious solution was just a few steps away.

He entered the bathroom brandishing an old napkin he had found lying around. “Alright, buddy, you win” he said to the screeching shape up in the corner, his eyes still adjusting to the dim light. “No funny business, I’ll let you down and you cut that noise. Deal?”

No way to expect an insect to understand the details, but if it could scream without a voice box then it didn’t feel that dumb to try. It was high up, Ash had to climb on top of the closed toilet to be within reach without risking a jump: as he approached the strident noise became, if it was even possible, louder. The bug’s struggle to escape made its shadow revolve at the end of the invisible string. “Calm down, won’t squash you, promised!” Ash muttered as he closed the napkin on the bug as softly as he could: he felt its legs wriggle under the cloth. Now it was a matter of letting it outside.

It was with great surprise that he found out, when he tried to retract his arm, that he was stuck. He shook it just to realize that a tangle of webs was keeping it in place. His blood run cold. Feet slipping on the old ceramic cover, he fought against that yielding grip as a much bigger, much quieter shape crept off another corner of the ceiling.

When the spider’s shadow fell upon him, Ash began to scream.