When the stranger
arrived she was sitting at the window watching the world dry up and blow
away. It had been an unusually hot
June. The asphalt road running past the dirt
driveway was sticky, the only shade available cast by the telephone poles,
where heavy black wire sagged between every bleached post. The peonies along the front of the house had
bloomed quickly, and just as quickly begun to wilt. All that seemed to be thriving was thorny and
caused rashes, or made her so congested her head ached, or tore her flesh,
biting and stinging. The weeds and insects were doing fine.
A plump bee, heat-drunk,
buzzed lazily on the window sill as the ’55 Dodge pulled up to the house and
stopped in a cloud of dust. The car door
opened and a man stepped out. He was
tall, thin, wearing a dark suit and hat.
Must be crazy to be wearing that in this heat, she thought. A preacher, perhaps? Now, why is a preacher driving around the
back roads in the middle of the week?
walked to the back of the car, opened the trunk, and pulled out a large leather
then. Not bibles, she thought. The case is too large. Encyclopedias? She glanced at her bookcase, where a complete
set of The World Book took up the bottom two shelves. You picked the wrong house, fella.
She walked to the door to
greet him, wincing as pain flared in her hip.
Nothing to be done about it, she thought. Everyone gets old.
“Good afternoon, ma’am,” the
salesman said, tugging the brim of his hat.
“And how are you on this fine, sunny day?”
“I’m well, thank you,” she
He produced the toothy,
slightly predatory grin that is the hallmark of his trade. “Wonderful, wonderful!” he said. “I certainly am enjoying this weather,
although it has been a little dry, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, it has.”
“And dusty. Why, I’ll bet you’ve been busy as a bug keeping
your lovely house clean these last few weeks.”
“Lord knows, it is a lovely
house. I was driving by, and I saw it
from the road, and I said to myself ‘now there is a lovely little house. I’ll bet it’s a lovely clean house.’ And now I can tell just by looking at you
that you are the type of person who appreciates a clean house.”
“Well, ma’am, my name is George
Logan, and right here in this case I happen to have something that will make it
much easier to keep your lovely house clean.
It’s a wonder of modern science.
It practically does the work for you.
It’s powerful, it’s efficient, it’s economical…”
She held one finger to her
lips, a trick she had learned during her thirty years of teaching. The salesman stopped speaking, his grin
faltering. For a very brief moment he
looked angry. Angry enough to spit, as
her mother used to say. Then it was
gone, and the grin was back.
“What is it you’re selling,
Mr. Logan?” she asked.
“Well, ma’am, my product is
cleanliness, but the tool I use to achieve it is a vacuum.”
ma’am. But not just any vacuum cleaner…”
She cut him
off, gently. “I’m sorry you’ve come out
all this way, Mr. Logan, but I have no need for a vacuum cleaner. I have hardwood floors, you see.” She moved aside to give the salesman a better
look at the polished oak boards which ran the breadth of the house.
“I see,” he
said. “Well then, I’ll be on my
way.” He paused, looking up at the
sky. The sun blazed. “Before I go, I wonder if I could trouble you
for a glass of water?”
“Of course!” she said,
embarrassed. Where were her manners? “No trouble at all. Please, come into the kitchen. It’s not much cooler, but I have iced tea
with lemon in the refrigerator.”
kitchen, the salesman removed his hat and sat down at the small wooden table
while she poured a glass of iced tea.
Placing the glass in front of him, she suddenly sneezed.
she said, reflexively.
you,” the salesman said. “A summer cold?”
not,” she replied. “Allergies”
unsettling grin widened. “Well, say,
that’s too bad. You know, dust, and
pollen, and spores, and all kinds of airborne irritants can be a real problem
this time of year. A real problem. You have your windows open to let in the
breeze, and before you know it they get in your furniture, your rugs, heck,
even your mattress. Especially your
mattress. Anything fabric that can’t be
thrown in the wash. But you don’t have
to suffer, you know.”
He sipped iced
you what,” he said, putting the glass down.
“Since you’ve been so kind to me, giving me a cold drink on a hot day
and all, and inviting me into your lovely house, how about I demonstrate this
amazing product here by doing a little cleaning for you.” He tapped the case at his feet.
rocked a little. There was a slight
rustling sound as its contents shifted.
really not necessary, Mr. Logan.”
“All right, I’ll tell you what else,” he said,
reaching into his jacket pocket. He
produced two silver dollars and placed them on the table. “I am so convinced that this cleaner can
change your life, and that once you see it in action you will agree, that I am
willing to pay you two dollars just to let me demonstrate it. No obligation. At the very worst, you have a dust-free
home,” he winked, “for a little while at least.”
She smiled in
spite of herself. “All right, Mr.
Logan. You certainly make a convincing
argument. I suppose you’ve earned
yourself a demonstration.”
wonderful!” the salesman said. “I can
assure you, you won’t be disappointed!”
down, opened the case, and removed the vacuum.
It was unlike any she had ever seen; four thin, segmented tubes, lined
with pink suction cups, and one large fat one, like an elephant’s trunk, all
black, connected to a glistening, wrinkled sac the size and shape of a large
eggplant. The salesman attached it to
himself like a parachute, using the thin tubes as shoulder-straps, letting that
fat one dangle, grazing the floor.
The sac began
to pulse faintly, like a weak heart.
with your mattress.”
past her and went upstairs.
“Mr. Logan, I
don’t feel it is appropriate for you to go into my bedroom!” she called after
him. There was no response.
she gingerly climbed the stairs, her hip burning. She reached the bedroom and the salesman was
there, pulling the bed sheets back, the comforter in a heap at the foot of the
“It’s a funny
thing, the way we treat the human body,” he said. “We cut our hair and throw it away. We do the same with our nails. Organic material, part of us, and we slice it
off and dispose of it like trash.” The
grin was gone. He was sneering now. “We throw it away and forget about it.”
She began to
put his hands in his pockets. The long
black tube rose up and slithered along the mattress. There was a familiar sound, like a child
sucking the last drops of milk through a straw.
She was very
dizzy now. “Please, Mr. Logan, oh my, I
think I need to lie down…”
The sac on
the salesman’s back swelled.
“A bed has a
long memory,” he said, ignoring her.
“Skin, menstrual blood, semen, sweat, saliva, mucous, all of it
collected and stored, waiting patiently to be useful again.”
dust mite,” he said. “Each night,
thousands are making their journey from egg to larva, to protonymph, to
tritonymph, to adult. It all happens in
the space of one month, did you know that?”
fell against the wall.
old,” he continued. “Hell, I’d bet
you’re seventy if you’re a day. Old
people shed skin the way the trees shed leaves as winter approaches,” he
chuckled. “Those cells, they just dry up
and drop off, become a feast for our little friends here,” he said. “They grow fat and happy.”
crept into the edge of her vision. The
pain in her hip faded to a dull throb.
“We like to think we’re top of the food
chain,” he was saying. “But there is no
top. Not really.” He raised a hand to
lovingly pat the writhing black trunk. “Do you know that old expression? Little bugs have bugs to bite ‘em, and on and
on, ad infinitum…”
paused, then slid off the bed and began to glide across the floor.
Simon Bradley lives in Toronto. His stories have
appeared in Postcard Shorts, Spark: A Creative Anthology Vol. II, and the
forthcoming Christmas horror anthology from Grinning Skull Press.