nycmidnight story contest r1h29

Playing To The Beat Of A Different Coleoptra

Genre: Action/adventure, plot point: discovery of a new animal, character: pilot

When a famous drummer flees a drug deal gone wrong, in the jungles of Costa Rica, his only chance for escape lies with a local junkie covered in the creepiest bugs he has ever seen.

It was less than three hours until Gabe was set to take the stage at the biggest music festival in Costa Rica, but right now, with six thugs aiming handguns at him, playing boom, chick, a-boom-boom, crash, was the furthest thing from his mind.

“Give ‘em the money, Tommy,” Gabe urged his band’s manager, as sweat dripped down his sunken cheeks.

“Nah,” Tommy said, eyeing the goons that had led them to the beach promising the best hallucinogens on the planet. “Not until they put their guns away and I get a taste of the product.”

Gabe rolled his eyes and focused on the massive mountain that erupted from the jungle behind him and disappeared into the clouds above.

The founding member of the most popular rock band of the decade pointed a blistered finger at his manager. “Dude, I want to get my fix and still have time to explore the area before showtime.”

As if to prove Gabe’s point, a vibrant red and blue bird launched from some nearby palm trees and flew across the horizon, announcing its presence with sharp yet melodic whistling.

“I’m afraid I won’t be giving you anything,” said Ponzi, the only unarmed man among the dealers. A briefcase handcuffed to his arm, in theory, held the drugs. “Until you hand over the money.”

Just as he was about to tell the man off, Gabe felt a pinch on his arm. He slapped at a brown bug, with a rounded shell the size of a dime, crawling toward his elbow. “Seriously, do you know who the hell I am?”

Ponzi’s sneer disappeared. “Do you know how little my bullets give a shit who you are?”

On cue, six guns were cocked. The sterile click was a sharp contrast to the gentle cresting of the crystal-clear waves a few dozen feet away.

Dropping his gaze to hide the troubled expression blooming on his cheeks, Gabe saw a splotch of neon green on his forearm where the brown bug had been. Surrounding the unsettling goo were three more of the bugs.

Gabe swatted at the unknown creatures as he felt more pinches. “What the hell are these things, anyway?”

From behind the drummer a loud, wet bout of coughing erupted from a disheveled man in a yellowing t-shirt and a red bandana. The elderly man bent over until he got his respiratory problems back under control. He stood and spat out a green ball of slime.

“Please, Señor.” The dirty man said, his voice a hoarse whisper. “Leave my bugs alone.”

“If they’re yours, can you kindly get them off of me? I can’t stand bugs. They’re filthy.”

Slumping his shoulders, the man favored Gabe with a crooked smile missing more teeth than it boasted. “I beg you, sir. These bugs have saved my life.”

A few of the armed men began chuckling, but not until they had checked with Ponzi for permission first.

“Sick, he’s got those things crawling all over him,” Tommy said.

The briefcase man said, “Meet Torrio, my favorite customer. Come for your daily fix?”

As Torrio approached, Gabe realized, the filthy man was not only talking to the bugs but petting them as well.

“Seriously, let’s get out of here or I’m going to throw up,” Tommy said.

Ponzi took a step closer, “Nonsense, the drugs are good quality.”

“I swear,” Torrio said, raising his bushy white eyebrows, “I have the worst asthma, had it since I was a boy, but ever since I discovered these bugs, I haven’t coughed once.”

Torrio let a moment of silence linger, and then admitted, “Well, until just now. But that was his fault.” He pointed at Gabe, and continued, “As long as I treat ‘em good, they help my lungs. They say I can even fly again.”

This time the men laughed out loud, and were joined by Ponzi.

“Damn, he really is off his rocker,” Tommy said.

Gabe saw a few more bugs crawling around his shoe. He squished them under his well-worn boots as he turned to face the drug peddler again. “Come on man, we just want to see your supply before we go.”

“Go?” Ponzi asked. “No one leaves my beach until I say so.”

Ponzi pointed toward the Hummer that brought his customers and snapped his fingers.

A shot rang out and their driver, who Tommy had wrangled into bringing them here, fell onto the sand. The screams that erupted from Gabe and Tommy mixed with startled screeches and cries from various monkeys, birds and other animals in the area.

Gabe and Tommy looked toward the treeline.

“You don’t want to go off into that jungle, my friends,” Ponzi said. “Just hand over the money.”

Exchanging a knowing glance, the two American men dashed for the trees. Torrio also ran, stirring a cloud of the brown bugs into the air.

Shots rang out. Tommy let out an agonized grunt and fell to the ground. Gabe reached the thick jungle brush and kept hustling over vines, under branches, and away from any open areas that would provide the gunmen a clear sightline to shoot. Torrio kept up with him and, in fact, took the lead after a few minutes of rushing.

Gabe heard the men bulldozing their way through the jungle not far behind. Jumping over a snake and avoiding a sinkhole by inches, Gabe followed Torrio deeper into the unknown.

“Follow me, Señor.”

Huffing, puffing, and panicked, Gabe asked, “Wh-where?”

“To my plane. This way.”

Torrio veered right and disappeared behind a curtain of vines.

Gabe considered leaving the man, but when a gunshot whizzed past his ear, he jolted after Torrio. When he first crashed through the vines, a wave of panic flashed through the drummer, as he wasn’t sure which way Torrio had gone, but a loud bout of coughing informed Gabe where he needed to run. He ducked under a branch, rounded a tree and tripped over the sick man, who was squatting and breathing heavily.

Gabe let out a grunt, but before he could complain, Torrio held a rotting-fish scented hand over his fellow escapee’s mouth and placed an index finger over his own. Torrio buried his face into Gabe’s armpit and began coughing again.

Gabe felt a warm liquid oozing between his arm and his chest, but he wasn’t sure if that was Torrio’s sweat or more of the green-ish gob Torrio had spit out on the beach.

The drummer squirmed, but fell quiet when the sound of people rushing through the jungle came from the way the pair had run. Their pursuers were close, but Gabe realized they had fallen for Torrio’s ruse and continued straight ahead.

After a few moments, Torrio let out a breath and relaxed.

Still stunned and scared, Gabe just lay on the ground and focused on relaxing his heartbeat. When he finally did roll over to communicate with Torrio, he wished he hadn’t.

The balding man was digging in a puddle of mud and smearing it all over himself, or at least that’s what it looked like. When he took a closer look, and realized the mudpit was actually a nest of those same brown bugs, Gabe wanted to vomit.

“Are you insane?”

“I told you, these bugs save me.”

It was hard to understand the native junkie, because he couldn’t open his mouth wide enough to enunciate his words or the bugs would crawl inside. With each dip of Torrio’s hands into the nest, he added fifty more to explore his body.

“I stumbled upon these saviors a few days ago, and my breathing has improved ever since.”

As he spoke, Torrio lifted his full hands to his nose and breathed deep.

“Well, I’m scared to death of catching some disease from these things. I’m not letting some mutant bug come between me and playing tonight.”

Gabe stood and began stomping and swatting at the ones who buzzed around him. Within moments, there were dozens of tiny brown carcasses oozing bright green droplets.

“Please don’t,” Torrio said, coughing. He stopped digging and gestured Gabe to calm down. “I have an accord with these bugs. I promised to look after them.”

Gabe stopped, but not to appease Torrio. The lanky musician was convinced that Tommy had been right, this guy was crazy.

“Torrio, you weren’t lying about that plane, right?

“No Señor, it is that way.”

The man pointed where Gabe assumed was the west, but he was so turned around, he couldn’t be sure. “There’s a secluded field just long enough to get my Joan up in the air.”


“She’s named after my favorite author.” Torrio beamed.

“Is there something on the plane that I could use to call for help?”

Torrio nodded and threw a small metallic object at Gabe. The sun-burned musician caught a set of keys covered in bugs.

He smooshed the bugs and jerked a thumb in the direction Torrio had indicated. “This way?”

“Mind the bogs. If you veer north, you’ll stray right into a large swamp. I need just a few minutes to recharge and get enough bugs for the trip.”

“Go ahead and catch your breath, but leave those filthy things behind.”

“And then who will fly you out of here?”

Gabe took one last look at the man, shivered, and then darted for the plane. A stranger to anything more stressful than not having enough beer backstage, Gabe was not surprised to feel his body tense and as hard as he tried, the musician couldn’t keep the image of Tommy being gunned down out of his mind.

Distracted by that haunting memory, Gabe didn’t hear the heavy breathing coming from behind the next tree in his path. One of the goons from the beach leapt with arms outstretched, knocking Gabe to the ground. The rockstar screamed as he flailed into vegetation thick enough to prevent him from striking the ground full force.

Gabe turned and saw the goon was just a couple feet behind him. The armed man was conscious but visibly shaken. When his body followed the momentum of their collision, it had carried him right into a thick tree trunk and knocked him silly. Gabe watched as a dozen different emotions flashed across his baby face.

Just as the gangster began calling for backup, Gabe smashed a coconut into his temple. The man grunted and slumped sideways.

Gabe got up and shook his left hand, pausing a moment to breathe in the moist, warm air. The surrounding wildlife cackled loud enough to compete with the New Year’s Eve crowd Gabe’s band had played at CBGB’s a few years back. Gabe was too seasoned to promise that if he survived he’d never do drugs again, but the 27 year old who hadn’t been to church in a decade did look up and ask, “God, you around?”

Unsettled brush and leaves being shoved aside prevented any further discussions with deities. Gabe froze, unsure how far he could run before losing his way. He ducked behind a monstrous thorn bush covered in orange blossoms, pricking himself several times in the process, just as Torrio came into view. The pilot was rushing along with a lifetime supply of the brown bugs in tow.

Torrio was speaking to the bugs as he hustled. “You’ll love it where we’re going.”

Gabe cupped his hands around his dry mouth. “Psst.”

Torrio kept running, oblivious to the body he just missed stepping on and his unexpected partner’s calls.

Gabe fell in behind Torrio and was glad when the unkempt man acknowledged his presence without freaking out and making any loud noises. As they hustled, Torrio left behind a trail of the tiny brown bugs, but Gabe didn’t think the thugs could track them.

Fighting a stitch in his ribs, Gabe pushed aside a long-leafed branch to reveal a wide-open area. Just ahead sat a single-engine J3 Pipercub plane with a black lightening stripe running along its canary yellow and rust-colored body.

As a child of the 70’s, Gabe’s first thought was of Princess Leia saying, “You came in that thing?” the first time she laid eyes on the Millennium Falcon. Instead, he said, “She’s beautiful,” as he returned Torrio’s keys.

The musician kept watch as the elder man entered the plane and prepped Joan for takeoff. Just as the propeller revved to life, a gunshot rang out and Gabe saw a bullet end its life somewhere in the plane’s tail.

“Go. Go. Go!” Gabe’s voice was hysterical as he jumped into the backseat, but even at his loudest, the drummer’s screams were no match for the warming engine and bullets now flying en masse.

The plane began rolling forward, quickly gaining speed, and just before it smashed into the treeline, it lifted off, away from the jungle and the drug dealers.

Gabe and Torrio let out cries of joy as they flew beyond the reach of harm.

Still climbing higher, Torrio shouted, “I told you I could do it.”

“Damn straight,” Gabe echoed the pilot’s enthusiasm, unsure if Torrio was talking to him or the bugs. “Tonight, I’m treating you to the party of a lifetime.”

The drummer reached forward and tried to squeeze Torrio’s shoulders, but in doing so he smashed a couple dozen of the brown bugs. Startled, some of the bugs lifted off Torrio and flew up and at the drummer. They began biting him all over, so in turn, Gabe fought back.

Torrio tried to maneuver in his seat to avoid the uncontrolled hands of the American, but his motions just further antagonized the bugs to take flight. “Don’t, please, you fool.”

Between Gabe killing the bugs and the creepy creatures inadvertently killing themselves crashing into the walls, by the time Torrio could level off the plane the interior was covered in neon green liquid.

The drummer screamed, “Why aren’t they biting you?”

Wheezing heavily, Torrio pulled out a knife, and said, “I warned you, Señor. These are my friends.”

Squishing the bugs and yelling was providing such a rush that Gabe didn’t hear Torrio begin coughing until the man’s respiratory outburst had gotten so bad that blood sprayed from his lungs.

“You idiot.” Torrio said, as the brown bugs rushed into his mouth.

The pilot thrust the knife at Gabe, but managed only to bury it into his own seat. With that, Torrio fell unconscious.

The nose of the plane dipped sharply, throwing Gabe forward. When he looked out the windshield, all he saw was green.


The elder man was slumped, pancaking the flightstick to the instrument panel.


The drummer shook the now bug-less shoulders of the elder man and got no response. It was just two hours until showtime, and all Gabe could think about was the opening drum pattern he wanted to play: boom, chick, a-boom-boom…crash.

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