The Feel of Little Legs Crawling on the Back of Your Neck

“What’s the matter, Mr. Pratt? Bugs got your tongue?”

And with that, the horror of Creepshow overtakes us. We’re already on edge watching the cockroaches skitter through Mr. Pratt’s immaculate home. They pop out and dart into the light. It’s unnerving.

Moments before Mr. Pratt is overcome with cockroaches, before they pour from his mouth and burst out of his split skin, we are already imagining it. Bugs. On his tongue. In his mouth.

Imagine them crawling around in there, their spiky little legs scraping against your teeth.

If you are shuddering by now, Creepshow had its desired effect, and so have I.

Cockroaches are inescapable. They are in your house, despite your best efforts. They gather in sheds and woodpiles. You are surrounded.  Their darting movements are unsettling to many and terrifying for others.  Cockroaches fly, you say, and other will nod in horror.  But they are also quite beautiful.

Handsome is as handsome does.

Up close, American cockroaches are a glossy, tea brown. Their body is covered in delicate, rigid hairs that look sculpted. Their wings are an intricate network of veins and paper-thin membrane.  There’s rich story there, in the dichotomy of beauty and alienness.

Cockroaches, and other insects, invoke non-visual senses, since they often exist outside what a character can see.

Characters hear the scritching of crickets in the dark, something that can be comforting on a summer night or maddening in a basement. They hear wings scraping against one another as a swarm of locusts moves through an area, setting their teeth on edge.  They hear the thump of a moth bumping against a window, and it startles them, making them look outside, into the darkness.

Insects exude smells that can fill a scene, from rotten, maggot-infested heaps to heady sweetness emanating from trees where honey bees nest.

Insects sting, bite, and brush against characters like feathers tickling their skin. Imagine a character passing through a forest in winter, running their hands over the trunks.  They slide their hand across a writhing mass of insects sheltering between the lichens. The insects begin to stir.  What happens next?

And what if the roles were reversed, and insects happened upon a character who was small and trying to hide in the trees?  Great, segmented mouthparts would examine them, and the buzzing whine of wings would thunder through their world.

 

A Death’s-head Hawkmoth, Clarice

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