“Are you fricking kidding me?” Terriana said. She watched the space-giraffe fly away with her bag, and thus her school tablet (compete with actually finished homework), and dropped her head back into the mud.
Around her, the jungle of New-New-NewAmsterdam came back to life. The small animals that lived on the ground began to come out of their emergency burrows in the mud, roots and leaves. The birds and bird-like things shook off their shock and got back to screaming. The trees stayed quiet. It was too early for the trees to be awake.
The mud was oozing around the curve of her face and starting to inch into her nose. Terriana decided that while getting up was hard, it was less hard then having mud up her nose. She pulled herself out of the muck and into a sitting position.
She didn’t lean against the tree behind her, because she hadn’t had a chance to check it for fire-beetle-ants and she didn’t want to add that to her list of ‘things that went wahooni1 shaped this morning.’
Instead, she leaned forward on her knees and watched the mud fill in the space her face had left. She wiped her cheek and forehead, which only spread the mud more evenly.
Of course, if she’d still had her bag…
Terriana sighed. Something was crawling on her ankle. She looked down.
It was, of course, New-New-NewAmsterdam’s native HorrorPest: The fire-beetle-ant. A large one, almost the size of her thumb nail, carefully navigating the wrinkles of her sock. It had a long, glimmering red string of silk behind it. Leaving a trail for its co-dependents.
Terriana stopped breathing.
The most important thing was to never, ever startle them.
Terriana leaned over her foot, keeping her shadow off of the insect. It had long, thin foreparts, with huge, crooked antenna and large compound eyes that seemed to glimmer red in the morning sun. Thin, arched legs. A thick, heavy shelled butt, marked in orange and black. The silk came out of two spinnerets below the shell. It was damp, gathering moisture from the air, and looked almost like a string of dark blood.
Terriana unlaced and unfolded her shoe and lifted it away from her foot at glacial speeds. Then she grabbed her thick sock by the toe and eased it downward. The beetle continued to navigate upward through the wrinkles in the thick fabric, unperturbed. She kept her foot as close to the muddy leaves below her as possible without getting it dirty. Then she pulled the sock off. The top of the sock hit the earth and the beetle paused.
Terriana almost flung the sock. She stopped herself just in time. After a momentary, terrifying pause the beetle continued moving. It trundled off of the sock and on to the leaves. Terriana stood on one foot and moved around perpendicular to it. The beetle kept walking.
The tree (she was facing it now) was covered in a writhing red mass.
Terriana let go of a long breath and flipped the sock over and shook it. The silk hadn’t had much time bond to with the artificial material, and it came away after a few hard shakes. Pleased, Terriana put her sock back on, put her shoe back on, and took a wide stride away from the tree.
The mud was drying into cakes on her face, and it was beginning to itch.
Of course it was.
She’d known it was going to be a bad day when she’d woken up early, to the unhappy realization that no, it wasn’t a dream, and yes, she had forgotten a piece of the project due today, and yes Mr. Carloni would flunk her if she didn’t bring it in.
Then she’d realized she’d started her period, and there was blood all over her thighs and an impressive amount of sheet. And then they’d been out of soap. And then the milk had been bad, but of course she hadn’t noticed until she’d put it in the last of the cereal.
She’d spilled the last of the coffee on her last clean pants, burned herself right on her scab from the fight on fifths-day, broken mom’s best vase in her frantic dash for cold water, accidentally triggered the house-bot to call emergency services, failed to cancel the call fast enough, and then had had to explain to the operator that it had been an accident and no, really, everyone was fine (which of course was when Henrikus started screaming about how hungry he was), and then, of course, she still had to find something for breakfast.
Which ended up being left over sweet potato parmigiana, which she just detested. Because Henrikus had taken the ham.
She ate it with the tiny amount of coffee still in the house (decaf, much to her chagrin), while tapping frantically on her school tablet, trying to get the program they were required to use for calibrating material strengths to load.
And, because all of that wasn’t enough, PootPoot had decided to sit on her, which would have been nice, only it took him ten minutes to settle and he insisted on sticking all three of his tails in her face and digging his claws into her burn; just when he’d begun to purr his buurr-ribbit purr, her “Get Up NOW!” alarm had started to go off. From the bedroom.
“House! HOUSE! House, turn off the alarm!” But it couldn’t hear her over the noise.
And that was before she’d even gotten her shoes on.
Terriana was tempted to just lay back down in the mud and hope she died before they started looking for her. Her face-print was still oozing out. It would be like one of those fancy pillows that remembered you.
1Credit for this word goes to Sir Terry Pratchett.