Stranger Than Fiction

V. J. L. Hallstrom


It's that sudden itch—that zap from out of nowhere. You reach down, expecting to swat a
fly, but there is nothing there. Bugs are fast. Lightening fast. By the time you feel anything that
bug is long gone.

At least that's how it is with me, Parma Pembleton. I can't say how it is for other people.
It's like, when your eye itches in the corner, and you take your glasses off, and rub and rub, then
you get a little yellow crusty crumb on the tip of your finger. That's the part—the shell they want
you to find, because while you are looking at that hard bit, that little bug has made his way over
to your hairline, and crawled around to the back of your head, laid about a thousand eggs, and
flown off of the end of a strand of hair.

I have been studying on this and I know that this is what we humans are, our purpose.
Perhaps this is the elusive meaning of life, our part in the cosmic wheel, the great circle of life!
I'll be damned if it don't still freak me out though. About knowing where all of the bugs come
from. I suppose its no different than finding out where babies come from...

I remember coming in the kitchen, and seeing my mamma half bleeding to death. She
was hunched over, and clawing at her belly, like a rabid thing. "Child, don't be afraid, just bring
mamma the phone, Hurry!" I ran off to get the cordless from the den while she lay there—in all
that blood...

"Oh, that's not what I got to tell you about," Parma said audibly, now, though no one else
turned to look at her. "My point is, I've been studying on this and I know you might not believe
me at first, but just listen, Okay? Now, the nose, that is the double by-way, bug super highway.
About anything can come outta there and does. From an inch-worm to a hornet—there's not
many of 'em that don't love the nose. I mean, you can't see the end of your nose. Air is rushing
in and out all the time. The tiniest things you pay no mind to. Larger things, like hornets, are
birthed in a sneeze. So, what you got all over your hands is after-birth—and a little water. The
little baby hornet buzzed right past you while you had your eyes closed. " Here her voice trailed
off, yet she continued her inner dialogue.

I know, it could be just me, with bugs coming out of me. I can't say for sure if it's
anybody else. We don't ever study each other that closely, do we? Nobody's gonna let old
Parma get a close enough look at you to tell. Plus, I might have to look a good, long time, right
up on you to know for sure. I'd have to stare real long, and quiet, and close. I aint go time, and
you aint got time. We are conditioned not to look at each other too closely. "Don't look too
long. You won't like what your see. That's what I always say. That has gotten me through a lot
of tough times, believe you me."

By the time I did see you scratching your head or at the back of your knee, that bug
would be long gone. If I was lucky enough to see a bug come from outta you, somewhere, and
take off, you would only argue that it had come from somewhere else, landed on you, then
taken off again. From where else? You think bugs grow on trees?

"Noses and Eyes aint all, you know." Parma continued in muttering tones. "Ever see
somebody's face covered in acne? Ever wonder why all those expensive zit creams don't work?
'Cause it aint pesticide—that's why!" Parma snickered at her own joke and turned to gaze out the
window, while her one-way conversation continued in her mind. They say, don't scratch those
things, but you can't help it. It's instinctual. You do what you gotta do to help those critters crawl
free from your pregnant face. What??? You know fleas live on dogs and cats; you think they're
so unique. You think mosquitoes can drink your blood and just be fine? What happens if they
give you the wrong blood type at the hospital? You die, right. Same with them. The mosquito
don't die, cause that's his blood; he's nursing. You know why flies like shit? Because they come
from your intestines. You know I'm right. You take a dump, and you wipe, and suddenly, you
get an itch there. You keep wiping and wiping, and all the while a couple of dozen flies are
crawling out of there—only real small ones.

Still don't believe me? Not convinced, huh? "Ever get a centipede in your shoe? A bee in
your bonnet?" How come, all the worst itches you get are in places you can't see and can't reach
too well? Between the shoulder blades? This is where grasshoppers scratch and climb out
through your skin. Deep in your ear? Roaches and earwigs roam around in there, looking for an
exit. Every time you go walking down the street, bugs fly outta you by the hundreds. Most too
small to feel. Most barely brush your skin as they take off.

See, I've been knowing this for a long time. I suspected it long ago, way back thirty years
or so, when I was hanging out with those, uh, what you would call hy-gen-ic-ally chal-leng-ed
hippies. Man, I was something, back then... long flowing skirts and long wavy hair. Braless, you
know. Free and blowin' on the breeze. I gave all that up long ago. Too much hunger. Too much
sleepin' wherever, and makin' it with whoever. Some people can live like that forever; others
just outgrow it, I guess. But, It was Darrel, sitting there cross-legged on the floor, who got me
wise to this thing about bugs. Darrel had long brown hair, and one thin braid went down the side
of his face. His braid was wrapped up with a piece of colorful cloth. Darrel had these sexy
droopy eyes, and he sat, nearly everyday, slapping on his bongos. "So many roaches; so little
time!" he would say. That was when I realized: there were a lot of roaches...everywhere. I kept
wondering about this, then one night I saw them moving under my skin. I watched all night as
the bugs crawled up and down my arms and across my feet. I didn't put it all together right
away. It has taken me years to understand.

"You look a little uncomfortable," Parma addressed the stranger in the seat opposite hers.

"You got the itches? eh? You need a doctor like mine," she explained. "I got the world's only
honest doctor—Dr. Oreman—I'm going uptown to see him, now. He did tests when all the other
doctors just tried to push pills at me and make me forget all about bugs, and other things...lottsa
things. Dr. Oreman, he knows I can handle this secret. He's gonna give me them test results
today, then maybe all these little itches can stop, --eh?" At this Parma started coughing, slowly
at first, then shaking violently in her seat. As her coughing subsided, she turned and quietly
stared out her window.

At her stop, she got off and made her way, slowly up the block to her Doctor's office,
scratching at herself, and swatting at the air around her.


"Oh, that must've come in from outside," observed the receptionists, as Parma flicked an
Asian Beetle off of her leg. "Those are so bad this year." Fran, according to her name-tag,
rushed to scoop the bug into a tissue. "Let me see if you got anymore on you..." She said,
spinning Parma for a better look. When she was satisfied that her office was safe, she pushed the
glass door open and flung the bug outside. "Dr. Oreman's ready to see you, Ms. Pembleton."
She said, returning to her desk.


"We have those test results, Missus Pembleton," said a young man who thought he
looked good in a white coat, and only wished he could get his teeth to match. "Oh, your
daughter's not here, I was hoping a family member could hear these results...You see, we now
know what has been causing all of your symptoms. No matter, you signed the forms, we can call
her later with the results.


"Anyhoo, what's been troubling you is a little pest. It's a parasite—like a tiny worm. It
has been nibbling away at your brain. We need to start you on medication right away. This is a
relatively safe drug—very few side effects. You may experience a little flushing of the skin,
some itching, at least until the parasite is out of your system. After that, you should feel much
better. Do you have any questions?"


"Could I see those lab results?" Parma asked, and he handed her the top two pages from
his clipboard.


"Those are your copies," He explained.


Parma's eyes glistened as she quietly read through the documents. "Finally," she thought,
"real evidence."

Euphemism Campus Box 4240 Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61790-4240