A Bug's Life
John D Ashton
Another bill dropped through Andrew Gibson's letterbox alongside the annoyingly familiar local junk mail that he loathed. It was the fifth bill to arrive in the last two days. Andrew released a long, despondent sigh as he stared down at the payment figure that was due, then filed it with the others in the recycling bin.
'Waste of paper,' he muttered under his breath, dragging his feet along the linoleum of the kitchen floor as he headed for the living room.
He opened the door and stepped in, flicking on the light switch by his side. The room was only small, yet was extremely untidy. Dirty clothes were strewn over the carpet, a mass of empty beer bottles stacked on the table, as well as a considerable amount of litter that was sporadically lying around. A stale, musty smell loitered in the air. Neat and tidy had never been Andrew's strong points, but he had really sunk to a new low since his wife had left him five day's ago. Nine years of living together – almost five of those as husband and wife – over in the blink of an eye for no apparent reason. Angela had always been the one who had kept everything, including Andrew, in line, but since her sudden departure things had taken a turn for the worse.
His job had been the next thing to slip away from him, just days after Angela had walked out. He'd worked for the junior school as a caretaker for over fifteen years, having never missed a single day in those long years of service, but the school had recently undergone a drastic alteration in personnel. Those now in power were eager to make changes, and when Andrew had failed to report into work on the day that Angela had left him, they had terminated his contract immediately without even arranging a formal meeting with him. Explaining his unfortunate situation the following day had fallen on deaf ears; several of the so-called committee team had appeared to be smirking at his sad tale. He received no sympathy, no support and no second chance. It was over. Fifteen years down the drain, counting for absolutely nothing. He'd left the school premises that day with a weight around his neck that he'd never felt before, as though he was gradually being dragged down to the one place where eternal damnation awaited him.
Now, he stood in the centre of the living room, staring around at the mess, the clutter, the things that belonged to his absent wife. Angered, he kicked over a half-empty bottle of beer, sending it hurtling across the room where it crashed into a leg of the TV stand, making a loud pinging noise, but not breaking. The remains of the flat beer poured out onto the carpet, leaving a dark, wet patch on the crimson material.
He chuckled half-heartedly and scratched at his developing almond-tinted beard. He normally shaved daily, yet had not bothered to since Angela had walked out. In fact, he'd not bothered to do much of anything, other than sit in the dark all alone with his thoughts while working his way through several bottles of expensive whiskey and a crate full of craft beers.
The image of himself in the long mirror above the fireplace stared back at him, cold and emotionless. What the hell are you looking at? Nothing to see here except for one sad, lonely guy. Well, stare as much as you like, he won't be here for much longer.
His eyes began to wander around the room, freezing on the glass cabinet in the corner which contained over a dozen trophies from amateur golf competitions. What's the point in having this stuff in here? It's only going to end up in a hole in the ground with nobody caring.
He drew in a deep, shuddering breath. 'Just like me.' He stared back at his reflection, noting his tired and unkempt appearance. So what? Who even cares? I don't, so why the hell would anyone else? They don't care, I know they don't. They won't even care when I'm gone. Gone and forgotten, that'll be the case, without a shadow of a doubt.
Grabbing a bottle of beer from on top of the cluttered mantelpiece, he guzzled the contents in a matter of seconds. He released a guttural burp before tossing the empty bottle across the room, oblivious that it flew straight into a wedding picture. This time, the bottle did break, knocking the picture frame over and cracking the glass straight down the middle between the image of Angela and himself; a perfect visual representation of their broken relationship.
A small handgun caught this attention, nestled between two unused scented candles on the mantel. He frowned, unsure of how it had got there. When did I put that there? Did Angela put it there? No, no, of course not, and besides, I'd have seen it before now. He'd kept the weapon as a reminder of his years as a mercenary, but his days as a solider of fortune had brought him anything but a fortune, and the nightmares that followed had lead him to pursue the quiet life. He stared wide-eyed at the gun for a full minute, unable to take his gaze away from the weapon as memories of his past came flooding back. He then paced around the room several times, staring down at his feet as he walked, before going back to the mantelpiece and staring at the gun once more. He picked it up and checked the barrel, somewhat unsurprised to find that it was fully loaded. Man, I must have been seriously wasted last night to get this thing out. On the edge... right on the edge.
'Still am,' he said, his voice sounding deflated, much like his recent overall demeanour. He got a chill as though somebody was walking over his grave. He ran his other hand slowly over the gun with the gentleness of a lover's touch, smiling as he did so. It was the solution to his problems and he knew it. 'Well, may as well man up and complete what I'd started.'
Walking across to the window, he pulled back the curtains, allowing the morning light to penetrate the living room for the first time in days. Squinting, he cast his gaze down to the gun in his hand. He sighed and swallowed the lump in his throat, feeling his heartbeat begin to quicken, pounding against the inside of his chest. The adrenaline began to course through his body, just it like it used to do every single time he took up a mission in his younger days with his group of elite mercenaries. How things had changed.
Come on, get it done. Maybe someone will walk on by and see you blowing your brains out. There's no cause left worth fighting for now. The ride is over.
He raised his arm. The barrel of the gun nestled underneath his chin. It felt cold against his skin, making the tiny hairs on the nape of his neck stand up in unison. Small beads of sweat began to form on his forehead. His body was trembling.
Nothing really matters in the end.
Tears began to stream down his hot cheeks.
This is the end.
His finger began to gradually squeeze on the trigger.
This is the—
Then he saw a cricket caught in a spiders web, trapped in the top corner of the outside of the window frame.
He released his finger from the trigger, but kept the gun pressed firmly under his chin. He watched in fascination through watery eyes as the cricket frantically kicked its powerful back legs in a desperate attempt to free itself.
Then the spider appeared.
It's huge! No, no, it's not just huge, it's like a bloody beached whale!
The enormous black spider loomed in the corner of its intricate web as it watched the cricket continue to struggle in vain, causing the entire web to vibrate violently. The urge to open the window and free the cricket was strong, yet Andrew did nothing, continuing to watch on with morbid fascination, captivated by the murder that was about to take place.
He leaned a little closer to the window, staring at the large black blob as it slowly began to creep towards its unsuspecting prey. A cold shiver shot down his spine like a lightning bolt, making him jump on the spot.
Does it really matter? He frowned at the cricket, seeing that it was clearly becoming jaded. It's nature's way, but I can change that. It can still go on and have a life.
The spider was now mere inches away from securing its meal.
I can't let this happen. I have a chance to free a life. It should live!
Without hesitating, Andrew flung the window open and reached into the cobweb, ripping it to pieces and pulling the cricket to safety. The spider immediately scuttled away, back into a dark hole in the brickwork at the side of the window frame.
Opening his hand, he saw that the cricket was almost free of its bonds. Using his little finger, he delicately pulled away the strands of webbing from the tiny insect until it was completely clean of them. He smiled as it rubbed its wings together, creating a chirping sound.
'You're welcome,' he said, and beamed at the cricket.
The insect turned on his palm so that it was facing him and repeated the noise.
'Well, go on then,' Andrew said, extending his arm outside as far as he could reach. 'You're free now. Go live your life...' He held his breath at his comment, then swallowed the lump in his throat. 'Life's for living.'
The cricket jumped from his hand and disappeared among the sea of blades of grass on the garden lawn. He stared at the grass for several moments hoping to see the cricket one last time, but it never appeared again. A sense of relief and elation came washing over him. He relaxed his other hand, allowing the gun to drop to the floor with a dull thud. He glanced down at the weapon, scowling.
'Life is for living,' he whispered.
Andrew Gibson walked out into the hallway, grabbed his jacket from the coat rack and slipped it on before venturing outside, a smile stretched across his face, radiating as much as the early morning sun.
John D. Ashton is the author of fantasy novel Crystal Castle. His second novel, Hunter, a dark drama/thriller story with a supernatural element, came out in December 2017. He is currently working on his third novel and an anthology of short stories.