A u g u s t   2 0 0 2

Guest Writer


A tiny smudge of impurity
Death on four legs
by Ryan Douglas

t was a late-June Sunday, the sky was clear. The heat, searing and unrelenting, came from nowhere and had persisted for days.

I was sweating and folding laundry when I felt something funny on my leg: a splash, like the first raindrop on a humid day. It was not quite an itching sensation, not quite a painful one.

Upon closer examination, I noticed something strange. The irritant was a tiny little black speck. When I attempted to remove the infinitesimal bit of painful dirt, it quickly evaded my reach. In horror and disbelief, I watched the tiny smudge of impurity as it bounded across my kitchen floor and into my bedroom where it vanished into the darkness.

The terrible reality quickly set in: I'd been visited by a flea.

Was this a chance visitation, a butterfly in the night? Or was it an ominous foreshadowing of a darkness that would linger until its debilitating oppression had strangled all traces of sanguine humor from my door?

I quietly dismissed the instance as the former, a chance meeting of two star-crossed occupants of the world. I had, after all, just moved into a new apartment.

Surely my new landlord would have bombed for fleas. Surely he had taken any and all appropriate steps to eliminate any such problems prior to turning the residence over to a new, cash-paying occupant.

This, after all, is the greatest nation in the world. How could anyone, any red-blooded American, merely ignore the existence of such an unwelcome houseguest? I dismissed all notions of infestation and quickly fell into a neurotic sleep.

In my dream, the fleas had grown to the size of small dogs and taken over my apartment. They squeezed the toothpaste from the middle of the tube and finished off the last of the snack crackers without replacing them. They left tiny notes in broken English and taped them on the doorknob. They erased my messages from the answering machine and lost the TV remote. They left the half-and-half out on the sink overnight.

They required my constant attention and fed on my hot blood nine times each day, leaving me too weak even to deal with the mounting piles of laundry. In the end, the apartment was nothing more than giant heaps of unsorted laundry topped with hordes of fleas. They were watching overdue videos while I lie, white and bloodless, on a pile of socks.

Fleas are the vilest of all the blood-sucking insects. Like the unholy and the undead, they feed on the blood of the living and parasitically infest the dark corners of the home, neighborhood or animal on which they choose to reside.

Fleas are transmitters of disease, plague and typhus. They are predatory beasts with sharp, piercing mouths that open the skin of their victims so that they may drink of the rich river of blood that lies beneath. The blood of the prey gorges the flea, who then, drunk with blood, lays eggs in your carpet, mattress or favorite sweater.

The only thing I hate more than a flea is two fleas.

When I awoke the next morning, it was with the determination that my life could not continue with fleas, and that I would spend every waking minute of my life ending theirs.

I bought four cans of flea bomb and laid down a pea-green blanket of death on my tiny one-bedroom basement apartment. Four hours later, when I returned to the killing fields, the air was still with the rank stench of death.

I felt like I was returning to a crime scene to destroy evidence.

With steady precision I opened the doors and windows and began to happily vacuum up the lifeless flea carcasses peppering the floor, the walls and even the ceiling. With a hot cloth and soapy water, I wiped away death from the table, chairs and countertops. I mopped the carnage from the kitchen floor, and, when it was all gone, I turned on the TV and watched a hilarious episode of "Mork and Mindy," remote in my hand and a smile on my face.

Days later, the fleas returned. Their arrival was unannounced – no flourish, no fanfare. It was a defiant demonstration of flea tenacity and resolve.

To celebrate the flea fortitude, on the Fourth of July, I declared independence from fleas by killing them by the thousands. I bought concentrated flea spray and used twice the legal limit. With Carthaginian resolve, I sewed salt into the carpet to render it sterile. No natural-born flea could possibly survive this onslaught. But that was not enough; to make matters worse for the fleas, I talked to my cat's doctor, the veterinarian.

"Fleas! You've got fleas!" He maniacally rubbed his withered hands together. The sound they made was unpleasant, like scratching sandpaper.

Then I watched as the look on his face shifted to the left as if his soul had temporarily left him. The rosy hue in his cheeks faded sharply and his pallor took on a hard and sickly hue. He furrowed his eyebrows. Quickly they gathered on his brow into an impossible arc of evil.

Then he giddily yelped, "I'll tell you how you can get rid of your flea problem." He started twitching uncontrollably as he told a story about how fleas had nearly forced him into ruin. The fleas had overrun his home and dealing with them took up all of his time.

Then he handed me a crumpled piece of paper on which he had scratched: "death on four legs." Below this were cryptic instructions and a crude drawing of a pussycat with sharp, pointy teeth.

According to the vet, the pussycat is the ultimate flea-killing machine. Contrary to the pre-conceived notions of most sane and rational humans, the pussycat is man's best friend when it comes to flea genocide. By medicating the cat with simple drugs available at any animal hospital, you can bring a hasty end to the lives of even the most inconsiderate fleas.

The medicine makes dogs and cats toxic to fleas, which are naturally drawn to the animal's relatively high skin temperature. Now, when kitty walks through the house, the fleas greedily pounce on her and suck her poison blood. Then they die a slow and horrible death.

Oh, what satisfaction! My own flea-killing machine! Without hesitation, I medicated kitty and loosed her on the fleas.

Now, kitty kills fleas all day and all night. Even while she sleeps, she brings death to the doorsteps of flea towns and villages in the farthest reaches of my apartment. When she goes into the litter box, she brings death with her. Down on the corner, out in the street, death is coming to every flea she meets.

And now, aside from the occasional and uncontrollable twitch, it is with pleasure that I declare an official Pax Pulicis: "The peace of the fleas."


E-mail Ryan at ryonie@hotmail.com, and see more in our archives.



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