Skunkblog

Thanks for visiting! Just for you, here’s a sneak peek at my upcoming book, The Bug Queen:

Bug Queen by Jen Ponce
Things only get weirder from here.

Vedalia Kirkaldy studied the directions on the insecticide, understanding in the deepest part of her she was only putting off the inevitable. Four trips to the grocery store for supplies. A break for lunch. A chat with her sister that led to another trip to the store for white cheese popcorn because her sister couldn’t stop talking about it. All that and not once had she worked up the nerve to go into the house.

Okay, she’d gone in once, made it a whole foot inside the door before she got a face full of cobweb and a bug crawling up the back of her leg. Thankfully no one saw her scream like a child and run into the yard, stomping and brushing until she hyperventilated.

She hated bugs. And spiders. And any living creature with antennae. Even butterflies were kind of creepy, “like little sociopaths in evening wear, hoping you’ll be fooled by their elegance so you won’t notice them eating your soul.” Her sister had laughed at her for that one and then flicked a ladybug on her. Vedalia had screamed herself hoarse.

“Damn it.” Why couldn’t Uncle Joe have had the place fumigated before he died? If only people had a month’s warning of their approaching deaths. As it was, he had passed on before Vedalia could get there.

The sharp bite of grief had her staring hard at the weed-strewn lawn, fighting back her tears. She’d cried enough and she knew Joe would’ve chided her for it. She still remembered asking him what happened to people when they died, after Gramma Jean passed away. “It’s different for everyone. Me? I’m gunna hear Porky Pig stutter, ‘Th-th-that’s all folks. Then lights out.’ He’d ruffled her hair, which she hated, then given her one of his bear hugs, which she loved.

Focus on the house, and she forced herself to look at it. Really look.

It had a wrap-around porch and a porch swing. She could almost imaging sitting there on a balmy summer night, a glass of lemonade sweating on the table beside her.

A beautiful oak grew in the front yard along with some raggedy elms. The lilacs were in bloom and the sweet scent beckoned. The iris in front were overcrowded and long overdue for thinning, but the velvety purples made her want to stick her nose deep inside the petals and inhale.

She made herself walk toward the house. Put her foot on the porch. Walk toward the open door. Oh yeah. She hadn’t even bothered pulling it shut when she raced out of the nightmare.

In the sepulchral gloom of the dark interior she could hear the insects. It made her skin crawl knowing that there had to be millions of them for her to be able to hear them skittering around. She pulled her cell from her pocket and swiped open the flashlight app. The bright beam cut through the shadows and she saw that the few pieces of furniture left behind had been covered with sheets that may have been white once upon a time.

An inch long bug crawled into sight, pausing as if to taunt her. She held out the can, intending to blast the creepy thing but it skittered away before she could depress the trigger.

The insecticide was a joke, anyway. She’d need a gallon drum of the stuff before she could even start to feel okay about being there. She turned, chucked it out the door, and then told herself, “Get in, get out.”

The voice of the lawyer droned in her head. He’d kept referring to her uncle as ‘the deceased’ as if Joe had never lived, breathed, told dirty jokes, and made the best fudge in the universe. ‘The deceased also notes that you will find something of value in the upper room of the home he’s bequeathed to you.’ The lawyer had looked over the paperwork at her, his bushy brows fascinating in their unkempt, furry glory. ‘Because Mister Thomas’ estate is valued at over one hundred thousand dollars, you are obligated to include any valuables in the inventory for the IRS.’

As if, fluffy face. She did a little bounce test on the floor boards and they didn’t so much as creak under her weight. She supposed she should have had an inspector come over to assess the place for safety, but she’d been impatient to find out what the ‘something of value’ was and hoped it was something cool like Uncle Joe’s diaries.

That was a long shot, since she’d never seen him writing in a journal or anything, but a girl could dream.

The staircase looked sturdy and she stuck close to the wall and she climbed, testing each riser before putting trusting her weight to it. Halfway up a bug dropped into her hair. She made breathless, panicked noises as she tried to get the damned thing out without squishing it, because ohmygod she so didn’t want squished bug in her hair.

Hand shaking, she freed it, flinging it over the carved wooden balustrade into the gloom below. “Screw being careful. Get in, get out,” she told herself again and took the rest of the stairs two at a time.

Chest heaving she gazed down the hall to either side of her. Great. Just great. She’d have to search each room, not knowing what she was looking for while being bombarded by suicidal bugs.

“If this is a joke, Uncle Joe,” she muttered.

She opened the first door to her left and let out a tiny, relieved sigh. It was empty. So was the room beside it and those across. Right then. She didn’t find anything until the fourth room. A master suite with double doors—also carved wood and heavy—that opened into the room.

An old four poster stood against the back wall, in the middle of two bay windows covered with heavy fabric. Under normal circumstances she might have oohed and ahhed over the room but her eyes went to the mattress and stayed there.

Was that a body?

Surely not.

Her phone’s light was aimed at the far right corner, illuminating an old wardrobe with scuffed sides, and a rusted hanger on the floor, half under the furniture. It shined away the shadows in the corner and juddered because her hands were shaking, wasn’t the thing on the bed moving?

Her previous, terror-filled bolt must have been an anomaly in her flight or fight behavior—she couldn’t even make herself move in either direction: toward the bed or better yet, down the stairs and out the door.

Uncle Joe wouldn’t have sent you someplace dangerous, her mind told her in her mother’s voice.

But he hadn’t been here in a long time.

Whatever it was on the bed moved again. She moved her phone, inch by excruciating inch until the edge of the light touched the bed. Another inch.

Something writhed there. Not a person. Except.

She dropped her phone then jerked down to pick it back up when the room plunged into darkness. “Shit.” And shit again. Her imagination had the writhing thing sliding off the bed toward her, its maw opening like a snake’s mouth, jaws unhinging, making room …

Light speared the shadows once again.

The thing was gone.

It its place, or perhaps uncovered when it disappeared—

Slithered

away, was a lacquered black box with a rounded decoration of some sort on its top.

It took Vedalia a ridiculously long time to work up the courage to stiff-leg it over to the bed. And actually, she dropped to her knees first to shine her light under it to make sure nothing was lurking there, waiting to grab her ankles.

She was pretty sure she’d pee her shorts if something grabbed her but the bed was boogieman free. The dust bunnies had been multiplying but she could handle those.

“Get in, get out.” She grabbed the box and clutched it to her chest as she scooted from the room, only getting the barest glimpse of the object on its lid.

Some sort of multi-colored beetle.

Yeah, a bug. Figured.

She didn’t breath easy until she was sitting in her car with the windows rolled up and the doors locked, despite the heat.

The box sat on the seat next to her and she refused to look at it as she breathed away the panic and willed her heart to calm. She’d almost gotten out of stroke range when someone rapped sharply on her window.

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