In the hottest August in living memory, the ladybugs came out. No, we didn’t go to Rhyl because it was new or exciting, it was just the cheapest bit of coast that mom could afford. So soon after the divorce, she figured her two boys needed something to take her mind off the change of atmosphere.
Honestly, Philip and I were just pleased that there would be no more shouting matches. The chance to play arcade machines and walk the beach were just bonuses of a bad situation.
Until the ladybugs came. Locals told us there was an annual explosion of the little devils. The warm air and an abundance of food made them multiply worse than rabbits. They lay as thick as red snow upon the ground and I felt so bad of how a single footsteps would crush dozens, I started staying in the little hut more and more.
I didn’t like their raisin sized red shells, bulging painted white eyes and twitching mini -jaws.
Mom kicked me out. She hadn’t paid £42.50 for the weekend for me to stay in and play video games. I’d better get some sun on me before we headed home! I don’t remember exactly when the screaming started. On the beach, children grabbed handfuls of scuttling ladybugs and threw them at one another for devilment, drains overfilled with the things and in an already losing war; pest controllers walked the streets with leaf blower like things blasting the things back to the sea.
I daren’t buy an ice cream for fear 100 of them would stick to it, attracted by the sweet smell of sugar. We had to cover our mouths with scarves to stop breathing them in when they fell like blood rain. A great breeze collected them as easy as rust coloured leaves and threw them at us for spite.
It began at 5 o’clock. That’s when I noticed the stabbing pain in my leg. They were not my favourite thing in the world, but I’d never been scared of bugs — that was strictly a girlie thing. Phil and I had stuff to do and no army of aphid eaters was going to get in our way. They were harmless. In all of history as many people had died from ladybugs as meteorites. As long as we covered our mouths while we walked, things were fine.
Until one of the devils bit me. It felt like a small dog had sank its fangs into my shin. I yanked my trouser legs up and saw an angry red bump appear like a contained outbreak of chickenpox.
Philip laughed at my pettiness, thinking it a ploy to attract some passing pleasant looking girls. Then he screamed too when two of the things nipped his ear lobe, dangling there like strange jewellery and we ran for the nearest building like fire was falling from the sky.
Old men were as effective as crushing the things with their walking sticks as a fool draining the ocean with a bucket. Some had heart attacks and others dived for the water. The bugs waited on the water like red oil freed from a canister and entered their ears and mouths when their small heads broke the surface like a flesh coloured island.
“How can small teeth hurt so bad?” Phil moaned, throwing off his shirt as we staggered drunk on ladybug poison into the arcade. His back was as bright red as his favourite football shirt. He looked like he’d fallen asleep on the beach and been badly burned by the sun.
The things had lost their laziness now and didn’t just let the wind flutter them down to the ground. They flapped their wings and followed the scent of flesh. They covered men and omen from head to toe, going for the softest part of the body. The eyes.
“We gotta lock the doors,” the arcade manager said. He didn’t have to ask twice for volunteers.
“There’s people still out there,” I said but he didn’t care. To make doubly sure, he snapped the key off in the lock when the doors sealed shut.
“Not for long,” the manager mourned and thankfully he was right. The screams did not last long.
“Hell of a holiday,” Phil said beside me as for the first time since we were very little we held hands.
And watched the ladybugs fall like raisins from the sky.
©2014 Matthew Wilson