Another month, another short story. Here are the prior installments if you’d like to catch up:
December 2015: The Research Assistant
January 2016: Eadwig Espinosa, Ealdorman of Daud
February 2016: Fleming And The Food Fluffers
As in prior months, the story is inspired by using a random word generator that provides me with four cornerstone words. Here’s what I started with:
And here’s where that took my imagination . . .
By J. Eric Smith, Copyright 2016
“Veronica Bugdoctor,” that’s what we call her. She cares for the insects who live on our block.
She’s a dumpy old lady who shuffles around the neighborhood in her dumpy old lady dress, with flowers and stains all over it, looking for all the spiders and beetles and praying mantises and other bugs and making sure that they’re doing okay. She picks up wooly bears and worms off the sidewalk and puts them in the grass so they don’t get squished. If there’s too many beetles in one flower and not enough in another, she’ll move them around so they all get their fair share. She puts out pop cans for the yellow jackets, which is nice because then they don’t come after us so much. Kevin is allergic.
Sometimes Veronica Bugdoctor rescues flies from spider webs and sets them free, and sometimes she puts flies into other webs to help the spiders. That’s how nature works, you see, so it’s natural and that’s okay, although we all feel sorry for the flies that have to be the food. There’s a bee hive in one of her trees, and they really seem to like it that Veronica Bugdoctor doesn’t cut her grass, so there’s lots of clover flowers for them. If you stand in just the right spot and look up, you can see the honey combs inside the tree. We sometimes talk about climbing it to see if we can get some of the honey, but then we think that Veronica wouldn’t like that, so we don’t want to interfere with her work or cause the baby bees to go hungry. Plus, like I said, Kevin is allergic. Also to peanuts.
Ramona thinks that Veronica Bugdoctor has crickets living in her curly old lady grey hair because when you get close to her it sounds like they are singing in there, but I haven’t seen them myself. Just heard them. Mom says she’s from France. Dad says she’s simple. She might be both, I guess, since she doesn’t talk much or pay people much mind, just shuffles around muttering to herself while she does her bugdoctor work. Mom and Dad both say her house is an eyesore, and that her messy yard hurts their proper T values, but none of us really know what they mean by that. It looks fine to us. Sort of natural, and that’s okay.
Veronica has curtains in her windows with flowers on them like the ones on her dress (fewer stains, though), so we don’t really know what the Bughouse looks like inside, the way you can see into other people’s houses on the block, especially at night. We saw Mrs Grayson getting undressed one time in the room in her house with the blue sofa and the painting of a big red flower over the fireplace. Me and Jimmy and Kevin and Dale wanted to watch more, but Ramona said she’d tell on us if we didn’t leave right away, so we did, because she’s the oldest, and also a girl. I still think about that sometimes.
You know how animals do the mating on television where one gets on top of the other one like going for a ride? Well, bugs do the mating by getting stuck together at their butts, and sometimes they fly around like that. One day we saw Veronica following some dragonflies that had their butts connected all around her yard. Kevin said she was perverted for watching the mating the way, but Jimmy thought that maybe Veronica had helped them to get together like on the television dating shows. Did you notice that mating and dating rhyme with each other? That’s funny. I just noticed it myself.
Me and Jimmy and Kevin live on this side of her house (not together, but in different houses, all on this side), and Ramona and Dale live on the other side (they do live together, since they’re brother and sister), so we are always cutting through Veronica Bugdoctor’s yard when we are going to one place or the other. We see her there in her yard a lot, of course, but also sometimes in other yards. “Hello, Veronica Bugdoctor,” we always say, very polite, and she always looks at us and mutters but she seems to like the nice way we address her. One time Ramona tripped over a root in her front yard and skinned her knees up bad and was crying and Veronica brought her a pop and stood there and watched her until she was done crying. So that was nice of her. We teased Ramona afterwards that Veronica must have thought she was a bug, and so it’s a good thing she didn’t get fed to the spiders instead.
Since Veronica Bugdoctor is an old lady and all of us are in elementary school (Ramona is in fifth grade, Dale is in third grade, me and Jimmy and Kevin are all in fourth, which is the average of us all), she has been here on the block doing her bugdoctoring for as long as any of us can remember, and probably for even longer. She is just one of the things that make our neighborhood feel like our neighborhood, just like the swings do, or the little alley between Dale and Ramona’s house and the church that you can climb by putting your hands and feet on each side and pressing yourself up, or the paths in the woods between here and school. Those things never change, they’re just always there, always the same.
So that’s why my ears perked up one night when Dad said he had seen Veronica Bugdoctor going through our recycling bin and taking a bunch of newspapers and magazines back to her Bughouse. (Even Mom and Dad called her that, but I don’t know if they learned it from us or if we learned it from them). Veronica didn’t seem like much of a reader, and she also didn’t seem like much of a trash picker (well, I guess her dress looked like it could have been trash picked), so Dad telling that story seemed like a weird thing to me, and I told Ramona and Dale and Kevin and Jimmy about it, just because it was different. Like a news report. Flash!
A few days later, we were on the swings and we saw Veronica coming down the street, and do you know what? She had some newspaper sheets in her hands, and a couple rolled up under her arm, headed back toward her house. We pumped our swings up high and jumped off as far as we could (Jimmy went the furthest), acting like we were just playing and going to get back on the swings, but then we followed Veronica Bugdoctor from a little ways behind, and saw her take the newspapers up the back steps into what looked like a mud room at the back of the house.
Very interesting, we all thought, and then we decided that we would be spies and keep a very careful eye on Veronica Bugdoctor to crack the case of the stolen recycling bin newspapers. A few days after that, the case expanded when we discovered that Veronica was also behind the case of the stolen trash can magazines, and the case of the stolen cardboard boxes from outside the church office, too. Also the case of the stolen trash that blew up against the fence around the park where the swings were. It was a full crime spree!
The only mystery that remained to be solved was for us to figure out what Vernonica Bugdoctor was doing with all of her loot. It took us a few days more to work up the courage, but the next time we saw her return with a hot load (this time it was from the case of the stolen shoe box next to the dumpster), we waited until she had gone into her mudroom and crept up very, very slowly and quietly to see if we could peek into the Bughouse and see what was going on. There was a little space in the flowery curtains on one of the windows, so Kevin got in close and put his hands on the sill to lift himself up to peek in and give us the report.
A minute later it happened. He threw his hands up and let out a yell and fell backwards away from the window. Jimmy and Ramona and Dale took off like lightning grease and I started to run, too, but then I heard Kevin say “It stung me!” There had been a yellow jacket on the window sill, and it had got Kevin good! And Kevin was allergic!
I ran to try to get Kevin up so we could get him back to his house so his mom could jab him with the Peppy Pen that cured the allergic, but he was already moaning and crying and wheezing and I couldn’t get him to move. I thought about running to his house and then running back, but I didn’t know how much time I would have before the Peppy Pen wouldn’t do the job, and I decided that I needed a grownup’s help to do the right thing, so I just ran up and banged on Veronica Bugdoctor’s back door, and then ran back to Kevin and told him “Hang in there, buddy!” and “We’ll get through this, pal!” and “It’s only a scratch, chum!” and other things to cheer him up and make him pay attention.
When I looked up the next time, Veronica Bugdoctor was on her way down the back stairs. She walked over to where Kevin was laying on the grass and she bent down and picked him up, very gently, like a gramma who didn’t want to hurt her back, or hurt the person she was carrying. She looked at me and muttered something, and then she carried Kevin up the back stairs of the Bughouse. I followed of course, still saying “It’ll be okay, Kevin!” and “Chin up, lad, Veronica’s here to help you!”
We walked through the mudroom area and a messy kitchen and into the living room of the Bughouse. There was no furniture in it at all, just piles of shredded newspaper and cardboard and magazines spread from wall to wall to wall, with bigger piles in three of the four corners of the room. Veronica Bugdoctor carried Kevin to the fourth corner, where the pile wasn’t so big, and she gently set him down there. He was very pale, and moaning a lot.
Veronica stepped back from where Kevin was laying, and then she reached down with both hands and she lifted up her frumpy old lady dress with the flowers and stains on it. Underneath the dress, she had six skinny, hairy legs and six little feet, each one wearing a clunky black child-sized corrective shoe, like the ones Dale had to wear when we were younger because of his club foot.
I didn’t start screaming, though, until the jiggly green eggs began dropping out of her.