It had been months since I opened a window. The temperature outside was in single figures. Rufus was working on the rig, so it was just me in that big old house. Then one day, the scuttling in the walls began again.
The last infestation was in August. I’d caught it early, and we were lucky, the pest guy had said, because you wouldn’t believe the damage they do, if you ignore them. They were the Indian kind, and they send out some kind of signal once they get in. Insect Morse code, if you like. Come on down, girls, they were tapping. Here’s where the party’s at.
He drilled holes, applied chemicals, just like before. I shut the door. Probably just a couple of stragglers, he told me. Twenty-four hours, you’ll be in the clear.
When I unlocked the door the next day, I expected to see two dozen carcasses scattered around the window frames. Instead, every surface of the room was coated with ladybirds, all walking very slowly, in no particular direction. It gave the impression that the entire room was quivering, like a mirage. The space released a noise like the sound of a wet mouth opening and closing, but louder, more like a hundred mouths at once, and the smell was a curious mix of urine and pear drops.
In opening the door I had inadvertently swept a patch of carpet clear; while I absorbed the scene before me, the creatures slowly covered it, the way children enter a classroom before an arithmetic test. When I pulled the door shut, a handful of insects deposited themselves in the hallway. I heard a crunch against the door frame and shivered.
I went to fetch the dustpan and brush from the kitchen. I was beginning to feel that unpleasantness again, under my skin. How had they managed to enter in such numbers? Were they resistant to the insecticide? My lips were set in a snarl of revulsion.
Back in the hall, I kneeled down to sweep away the stowaways. Where – hang on – weren’t they right here, just a second ago? They had been as obvious as chicken pox on pale skin; little pustules the colour of scabs. I paused there, completely still, and that subtle tick-tick-tick sound returned. Every minute, it was getting louder…