Infestation, a short story by William Beeker

It was tax season, and I was rifling through papers on my desk looking for an important receipt, when I remembered that I had recently thrown it away. I stood over the wastebasket in my bedroom, internally debating the importance of the receipt. There were crumpled napkins, rotting banana peels, and clumps of wet coffee grounds lying on top of the collected trash heap. As I peered into it, I noticed little things shifting around in there like grains of sand sliding and falling. One of the grains suddenly leapt to the rim, then the wall, and drifted lazily up to my face. It was a fruit fly. The bin was filled with them, and the longer I looked, the more I saw. I recoiled, stepping backwards toward my closet and noticed them in my hanging shirts.

I immediately drew the red bands around the rim of the trash bag to cinch it shut and carried it to the street. The flies seemed to disappear, but after a few days the trash can was filled up once again, and once again the tiny, slow flies descended. It occurred to me that they had never left; they had only hid in wait for more food. Perhaps hid is too much. They had probably scattered into the carpet and the curtains, making them difficult to spot, me having not expected them to survive anywhere but a trash heap.

Killing them individually was easy but tedious. They were slow, gorged on my offerings, and I could extend an open hand and snatch them out of the air. But there were too many, and they were too difficult to see to exterminate absolutely. Always, it seemed, there remained at least one male and one female who immediately repopulated the flock, and so no matter how many I killed, they would reappear in greater numbers, more evolved, learning my ways through legends from their elders, communicated in silent buzzing and the rubbing of legs together. I realized there was no way for me to get rid of them as long as there was trash for them to eat, so I stopped feeding them.

In general I starved myself, but when I did splurge my appetite on an apple or banana, I made sure not to leave any waste. I ate the cores and chewed the peels. Initially I would gag on the rubbery peels, tart from pesticides, but I started grilling them with salt. I’d coat peach pits in oil and suck on them like jawbreakers until they were soft enough to chew. I’d crush up eggshells and sprinkle them in my coffee. I ate like an Indian, leaving absolutely nothing to waste. This way of eating was disgusting to me, so more often than not I would eat foods that left no edible waste: packaged foods, artificial foods. But I grew sick of these substitutes and opted more and more for starving myself.

They started dropping like flies do, and I swept their corpses from my desk with a light flick of my wrist. Dozens, then hundreds died off in starvation. I towered over their bodies, my lean frame and angular face swaying slightly under the dizzying influence of malnourishment. Eventually they all died off, and I brushed their many bodies into the trashcan they had once lived in. But I couldn’t collect all of them. There were too many, and they were too small to get every last one.

A day or two after I started eating again, cockroaches crawled out of the walls and up from under the carpet to feast on the dead fruit flies. They’d crawl in groups out of corners where the walling didn’t quite come together or out from drains or simply from under the carpet, beneath which I now realized lived an entire colony of scuttling black roaches busy with the tasks of survival. By killing off the flies, I had supplied them with a week’s worth of food. Their colony could grow and expand because of this unexpected surplus, and they grew comfortable in my room. There were no overhead lights, only a feeble lamp at the corner of my desk. They grew audacious, crawling freely over my bare feet, burrowing in my dirty clothes, and biting me in my sleep. They brought in disease and made me sick. I went to work with red bumps all over my face and hands. My boss told me to stop coming to work until I could properly maintain my hygiene. I stopped paying my rent, furious at the landlord for allowing such an infestation to persist. He sent someone to spray my apartment with roach-killer, but the man insisted that I rearrange my entire apartment for his sake. He demanded that every piece of furniture be moved three feet from every wall. Every utensil in the kitchen should be saran-wrapped and placed on a table at least three feet from every wall. All blankets, sheets, clothes should be placed in sealed boxes and the boxes placed at least three feet from every wall. I had neither saran-wrap nor sealable boxes, and I threw up my hands in exasperation at the exterminator. He told me to reschedule the appointment when this was done. I slammed the door in his face and fumed over his demands. I would never reschedule with him. Never. What kind of world is this, I asked myself, where so many petty conditions and rules can prevent someone from being pulled up out of the shit? I refused to pay rent but could not communicate to the landlord why the exterminator was of no help. He threatened me with eviction, so I grew used to the cockroaches. I no longer panicked in the shower when they’d come up from the drain. I casually shook them out of my dirty clothes when I‘d get dressed. If they crawled over my food, I no longer threw it out. I resigned to my fate. At around this time I had started eating again and leaving food waste in the trashcan, which allowed the fruit flies to return. The more flies that came, the more the roaches proliferated. The flies fed on my waste, and the roaches fed on my flies. There was no way out of this loop, I assure you.

Then the IRS audited me for failing to provide an important receipt. I didn’t fight them. Before they could seize my belongings, I was evicted by that tetchy landlord and sent out on the street. I left my belongings for the IRS to take. Let them see the conditions I survived under. Let them take my roaches and my flies. Let them be caught in my horrible loop. I’ll be laughing outside their windows, a vagrant, no longer defending humanity from infestation. I am on the streets now, but I will survive here because I learned to eat trash when I still had a home.



Will Beeker is a screenwriter from Michigan now living in Los Angeles. Formerly a contributing editor at VVV Magazine, he is a Columbia College of Chicago alumnus where he graduated with a B.A. in Film & Video. He was a finalist for the Nicholl’s Fellowship and reads scripts for the BlueCat Screenplay Competition. He currently works in the comedy department at Brillstein Entertainment Partners.

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