top of page

Tiny Monsters

            “Mommy, there’s a bug in my milk.”

            Robbie was sitting at the tiny dining room table. In fact, it wasn’t even a dining room, and the creaky wooden table was barely larger than a card table. But the table she’d gotten at a yard sale and its three mismatched chairs were the only furniture that would fit in the nook on the other side of the kitchen counter in their small apartment. It was really all they needed. It was just Linda and Robbie at their dinner table, and rarely anyone else.

            Linda stepped away from the stove where the hamburger was almost browned and went into the dining nook. Robbie was sitting in the plastic booster seat she had bungee-corded to the wooden chair, since he was too big for a high chair and too small for a grownup chair.

            There was a cockroach struggling in the milk.

            Her gorge rose and her whole body lumped up in gooseflesh. Any appetite she might have had vanished instantly.

            She snatched the cup away from Robbie, startling him. He looked up at her with wide eyes, and she immediately smiled so that his gaze would soften. “I’ll get you a new drink, sweetie.”

            She carried the cup back into the kitchen and dumped the milk. The roach was small, only about a half inch and thank God it wasn’t one of those shot glass-sized ones, but it tried to scramble up the side of the sink. She hit it with the edge of the plastic green cup from Tupperware and then turned on the water as hard and hot as it would go, washing the disgusting corpse down the drain. Drown, motherfucker.

            Linda kept shuddering, her stomach turning over and over. She rinsed the cup again and again, dumping liquid dish soap into it and scrubbing it with a sponge, then rinsing it again with water so hot it made her skin sting and redden.

            She was still at the sink, running water through the cup and wondering if she should throw away the sponge, when she smelled the acrid stench of something burning.

            Linda turned around, and saw that the hamburger was much too dark. “Shit,” she muttered, and moved it off the heat.

            “I heard that.”

            “Shush, kid,” she said with as cheerful a voice as she could manage. She stirred up the hamburger meat, scraping the bottom to keep it from burning further. It wasn’t beyond salvaging, at least not with the culinary masterpiece that was Hamburger Helper.

            She returned the pan to the burner and poured in water and milk. The instructions on the back of the box said two cups milk to one cup water, but Linda added two cups water and one cup milk. Milk was expensive, and Robbie drank a lot of it.

            With or without roaches. She shuddered again – it seemed that wave of revulsion crawling up and down her back would never stop. She couldn’t help scanning the counters for more of them, the floors and corners between the stove and the fridge. She opened a cabinet to pull out a measuring cup and braced herself to see one inside. In the dark. Behind the walls. Everywhere.

            She’d complained to the landlord when they moved in, and he sent an exterminator. She had been instructed to remove all their dishes and food from the cabinets, so she spent half a Saturday packing up what she’d just unpacked, and then the silent, unsmiling exterminator had sprayed some foul-smelling liquid into the cabinets and told her not to put anything away for 24 to 48 hours. She’d withdrawn a precious $20 bill and taken Robbie to McDonald’s for a meal and a romp in the children’s play area, which he considered to be a grand adventure.

            But after the exterminator’s treatment, it was worse than ever. It was like the roaches were driven out of the walls and into the apartment. Counters, sinks, cabinets. She never made the mistake of calling the landlord again, and instead fought back with traps and expensive anti-egg thingies from the hardware store.

They weren’t just disgusting and disease carriers. It wasn’t just that they were so fast, scuttling about on their repulsive legs and vanishing before she could kill them.

            Each time she saw one of those horrid little beasts crawling about the apartment, she felt its awful condemnation: This is what you have done. This is what you are giving your child. This ramshackle, freezing-cold place infested with vermin. This is the best you can do, with all your potential that they always said you had in high school, the voice said. Get knocked up by the wrong guy, and you’re on your own with an innocent hostage to fortune. You’re not enough, never going to be enough for him. All you can give him is this, and he will grow up surrounded by tiny monsters.

            She stirred the laughable food, the best way she’d found to stretch a pound of hamburger into something that had the potential to feed them both. She alternated it with Tuna Helper, because a can of tuna was much cheaper than hamburger and if she dumped in a can of peas, she could sneak a vegetable into him.

            “Mommy, milk?”

            Linda nodded. “Okay, sweetie.” She stepped away from the stove for a second and went to the cup cabinet. She braced herself to open in, afraid of what she might see crawling around. But when the light shone inside, nothing moved.

            She found the yellow Tupperware cup – the whole set had been at the yard sale for a dollar, sans the sippy tops, but Robbie was getting big enough that he didn’t really need them. She checked it inside and out at least three times, then took it over to the sink and ran the hot water over it just in case.

            Her hand shook pouring the milk in, as though she would uncap the plastic jug and a river of cockroaches would boil out instead of smooth white milk. She spilled just a little on the counter, and caught it with a paper towel before putting the milk away. She was stringent about keeping the counters clean, to discourage the evil bastards.

            She took the cup over to Robbie, and he grabbed it and gulped it right away. No horrors for him. She was glad, in one sense – she didn’t want him developing phobias and neuroses, their little family unit was full up on those. On the other hand, did that mean he was so comfortable around filth and vermin that it didn’t even faze him?

            That crawling shudder went up and down her spine again, and she fled back around the counter into the kitchen to stir their dinner. It smelled almost like food now, overcooked beef or not, and she knew he would wolf it down like he did just about everything she cooked. The boy had an appetite that could rival a teenage wrestler. Linda herself still had little appetite, as she kept seeing that disgusting, squirming roach in the milk.

            She turned off the burner and finished stirring the goop. She pulled out two plates – checking them again for possible infestation, but nothing was there – and loaded up his plate with plenty of noodles and beef, just a scoop for herself.

            Out of the corner of her eye, she spied movement.

            That shudder was all over her back and down her arms now, wound tight in the small of her back. She peered down at the corner of the floor where the stove met the side cabinet, her sneakered foot poised and ready.

            Tucked under the corner, she saw a small spider busily spinning a tiny web. It crawled under the stove and back out again, a gossamer thread adding to its odd little home.

            Linda prepared to stomp anyway, but at the last moment she paused. She had a mental image of the horrid cockroaches getting caught in Charlotte the spider’s web, and of Charlotte busily eating them until the rest went to someone else’s apartment.

            “Bon appetit,” she muttered, stilling another shudder, and carried the plates over to their small table.

Elizabeth Donald_edited.jpg

Elizabeth Donald

Elizabeth Donald is a writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is the recipient of the Mimi Zanger Literary Award and three Darrell Awards among other awards. She is founder and zookeeper of the Literary Underworld small-press cooperative, president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists, a freelance writer and is pursuing an MFA at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville while teaching writing and journalism at SIUE and St. Louis University. Her horror, science fiction and fantasy books include the Blackfire and Nocturne dark fantasy series, and her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary magazines. She lives with her husband in a haunted house in Illinois. In her spare time, she has no spare time. 

bottom of page