We have a bird’s eye view of a crowded coastal American city, bustling with citizens the size of the proverbial ants. As our view becomes progressively more focused, we find ourselves watching someone darting through an alleyway, apparently trying to get out of the rain that has just begun to fall. The person is shorter than the average and is wearing ill-fitting, baggy clothing, not for the fashion of it, but because he has not gotten enough to eat in the past few months.
The young man rushes down the alley before trying, in vain, to lodge himself into the menial shelter of a corner formed by an abandoned warehouse’s cement wall to one side and a particularly smelly dumpster on the other. We notice that the dilapidated side door to the warehouse is slowly creaking open. The boy is not alone.
A gruff voice that immediately files itself into the young man’s mind as ‘untrustworthy’ calls out to him.
Mildly amused, the young man turns to face the shadows, squinting in an attempt to make out the speaker shrouded in the darkness.
"Yeah?" he says.
"Get over here! What d'you think you're waiting for?"
For a moment, he entertains the thought of ignoring the man. Only a moment. He smiles and, mentally shrugging, he strides into the shadows, following the figure through the door.
What is life but an adventure?
It sounds like a quote, though he can't remember where from.
The instant he steps through the doorway into the gloom of the warehouse’s interior, a claw-like hand firmly grasps his arm and whirls him around. An astonishingly old face comes nose to nose with him before shoving him away. The old man to whom the face belongs growls under his breath. “You're not one of Rat Face’s. Who sent you?”
“Nobody sent me,” the young man says. “I wanted out of the rain.” He shrugs and surveys the large, crate filled room. His eyes slowly adjust to the dimness while the pungent odor of mouse urine, dust and mold make them water.
“Well,” says the old man, “D’you wanna job?”
“What kind of job?” says the young man’s naturally suspicious turn of mind without any interference from his consciously thinking self.
“Heavy lifting,” is the prompt answer.
“Heavy lifting of what?” It must say something about the youth that he had learned long ago to ask these sorts of questions.
“Undoubtedly illegal artifacts.”
“Oh. Well, that’s all right then.”
The old man sticks out a hand and they shake on the deal, then the young man is led deeper into the warehouse, past large piles of looming crates which are probably filled with ‘undoubtedly illegal artifacts’.
“So, kid, what’s your name?”
Even as he says it, he has no idea as to why he’s given the man a fake name. It isn’t even the nickname he usually goes by. Some deeply embedded sense of self preservation had made him give a fake name, and while his conscious remained blissfully unaware, his subconscious was setting up defenses for whatever bad thing it knew would be coming next
The old man isn’t having any of it. “No it ain't. You ain't any crow-boy. Your scent’s different, and you don’t have black hair. What's your name?”
“You're right, it’s Finch.” Another completely random name.
“Finch, huh? Yeah, you’ll do. Call me Mr. D. My assistant you’ll be meeting in a moment goes by the name Spider.”
Such interesting pseudonyms we all have today, thinks the boy temporarily known as Finch.
Mr. D. stops walking and holds up a hand to indicate that Finch should do likewise. Finch obliges.
“All right then. Now, Spider.”
The boy now known as Finch feels a very sharp pain in the back of his head. With as little fuss as possible, he folds in on himself with a sigh. The last coherent thought he has before the world sinks into a murky, ill-defined darkness is; I really should have seen that coming.
* * * * *
The boy currently known as Finch’s brief stay in unconsciousness lasts long enough for the old man called Mr. D. and his associate, one Mr. Spider, to; carry him away to a different and more secluded portion of the warehouse, tie him thoroughly to a chair, and to gag him.
When Finch wakes up, he is dimly aware of voices around him.
“Mr. D. are you sure he’s worth enough?” The voice belongs to a vibrantly red haired young man of about twenty-five or so who is at the moment examining Finch as though he were a bug under a microscope.
“Should be. Says he’s finch, but I don’t smell any finch blood in him. Don’t worry, I'm sure he’s enough for what we’ve got planned.”
Blinking himself awake, Finch realizes that the chair he is bound to is in the center of a large circle engraved into the cement floor. The circle is inside the rounded end of a large half-oval that connects to the plain wall directly in front of him. On the wall there are more engraved circles and another half-oval pattern that aligns perfectly with the one on the ground. Amidst the arcane designs on the floor and wall are many more, smaller chalk drawn ones both inside and outside of the circles. Black candles are placed at seemingly random intervals.
The man known as Spider nonchalantly tosses a knife back and forth between his hands.
“Spider!” shouts the old man. “Quit harassing it and light the rest of those candles.”
It, thinks Finch. I'm an it now.
Blearily he watches as the two men shuffle back and forth, setting up candles and re-chalking outlines. Once everything is to Mr. D’s satisfaction, the old man steps behind the circle and stands behind a podium directly behind Finch and thus, out of his field of vision. Spider side-steps out of the circle and crosses his arms.
The old man begins to chant.
Finch assumes he must be reading it from a book; the old man’s voice has the same uncertainty of an inexperienced public speaker relying solely on a malfunctioning teleprompter. He falters and stumbles over word after word. Eventually he pauses and asks Spider to make sure Finch is properly bound.
Finch knows down in his suspicious core what was about to happen, and he would have warned Spider if he could, but Spider, with an idiotic sense of faith in his employer, strides confidently into the circle and tightens the ropes holding Finch. When the he tries to leave, he runs into an invisible wall.
Spider rubs his sore nose. “Yo, Mr. D," he says. "I'm stuck.”
Mr. D. smiles and resumes chanting.
Pounding a wall that isn’t really there, Spider shouts out; “Mr. D, I'm stuck! Mr. D?” Finch can hear the mounting terror in the man’s voice. “Mr. D, let me out!”
The old man continues his chant. Gone now are the stuttered words and faltering pauses, his voice is cool and controlled, the words of an unidentifiable and no doubt extinct language reverberate around the room. The very air seems heavy and thick with the unadulterated force of them, and Finch feels his head droop under the weight of it all.
Realization finally rears its ugly head in Spider’s stubborn mind. “You bastard! Let me out! Let me out you son of a-”
Mr. D. just chants louder.
Finch turns his head towards Spider. He’s hoping that Spider has enough sense to simply rub out the chalk markings on the floor beneath them. He is certain that doing so will either ruin the spell or disrupt it.
At least untie me, you idiot! he thinks.
Finch isn’t particularly surprised at his own level-headedness, his kind had survived the eons by keeping calm in dire situations, and thousands of years worth of intuition were crashing down on the boy currently known as Finch, telling him to stay still and calm.
Up ahead, the blank ovular space on the wall begins to glow with a pulsating black light. The wall is being transformed from the light gray of the cement into a blackness that looks almost liquid. Despite all physical and logical evidence to the contrary, the glowing blackness begins to dim and the patterns on the walls and floors began illuminating a bright purple. A twenty foot creature oozes out of the wall as though it were simply stepping out of a tunnel.
Mr. D. laughs.
The creature is long, its body is separated into segments. It has two legs on each segment, and although it had not yet finished exiting the portal, Finch assumes it must have at least fifty legs already. Each leg is covered with large, spiny hairs and the body segments shone with a mottled mix of eye-searingly bright reds and browns. Finch had never seen bright brown before, but this creature had it in excess. The monstrous vermin reminded the boy bound to the chair strongly of a centipede and a Chinese-dragon hybrid, with great pincers on the front of its head and large, kaleidoscopic eyes that seem to see too much. The creature arches its back, lifts its head and front torso into the air and gives off a mighty roar.
The chanting grows louder as the creature realizes it cannot exit the oval through the side, as do Spider's incoherent screams. Tearing his eyes away from the monstrosity before him, Finch turns his head to see Spider trying to crawl away from the beast. His back is as far along as the force field would allow him to go, and he is sitting on the ground, trying to kick his way backwards. The expression on his face is one of pure, unsightly terror. For a second , Finch’s eyes cross and he sees not only the red haired man but also a specter of an enormous spider overlapping him. Spider the person is there, but he is overshadowed by the phantom of spider the arachnid.
For the first time, the creature notices the two frightened pieces of meat in front of it. Lost and disoriented, it runs on its many legs towards them and bellows another, much louder roar. Spider completely loses his head and begins to run around in circles, screaming madly and cursing.
As Spider begins beating at the unseen walls containing him, Finch has an epiphany. In a sudden onslaught of clarity, he knows that the enormous behemoth will, with a predator’s natural instinct, go for the one that moving. He closes his eyes in sorrow and fear and waits.
It is a wise decision. The fiery, centipede-like creature sweeps down and clasps the struggling Spider between its giant pincers and smoothly snaps him in two. Mr. D. watches with interest as the struggling shade of an arachnid and the altogether human form of Spider meld once more in to one, (or two, he thinks with a snicker) as the bottom half of Spider falls to the ground with a sickening splat. The large knife the man had been playing with earlier clatters along the ground and skids away from the bloody remains of Spider’s corpse.
The top half of Spider is quickly devoured by the creature, still screaming. Mr. D. laughs heartily, as though it is the funniest thing he has ever seen.
The dragon-bug, now no longer hungry and much calmer than it had been before, examines the prone form of Finch with the sharp eyes of a creature that is just barley intelligent enough to be curious. Once more it raises itself up, but this time instead of a roar, it releases a burst of flame on the young man.
The force of the blaze knocks over Finch’s chair. Even through the agonizing pain, he has enough presence of mind to try and rub his head against the chalked lines he’s landed on. His bonds are burned away almost immediately and he rolls bodily out of the chair. The torrent of fire still pours over him as he slowly reaches out an arm, blindly sliding the hand back and forth across the stone ground in the hopes of erasing some lines. Tears of pain well up in his eyes and are instantaneously evaporated from the heat, he doesn’t bother screaming because he knows that opening his mouth or his eyes will only dry out his head and kill him that much quicker. His straying fingers meet the blade of Spider’s knife. Desperately sliding his hand along the side of the blade, he finally manages to grasp the knife’s handle.
The fire bug has stopped spewing fire and is now watching the crawling piece of meat with interest. Normally the things it blasts just sit still and smoke for a bit before it decided to eat them The fact that this one was still wriggling intrigues it.
Mr. D. has stopped laughing and is now watching Finch with the same fascination as the dragon-bug. How the hell is he still alive? he thinks.
The young man currently known as Finch has only one goal in his life now, and that is to raise his hand. He lifts his arm unsteadily and internally cringes at the sound of the baked flesh crunching at his elbow. With the last ounce of strength in his battered body, he hurls down the impossibly sharp blade into the crack of an engraved rune. He feels the jerk of the knife and the telltale crack of the cement, telling him that the knife has pierced the masonry. A contented sigh escapes his lips as Finch’s head falls and he sinks back into the murky bliss of unconsciousness for the second time that day.
A stone drops in Mr. D’s stomach and he fights to keep down the bile rising in his throat. His eyes widen and he backs away from the podium as he feels the last tenuous hold on the spell slip from his miserly grasp.
The Beast feels it too, and turns itself towards the small meat-being who has summoned it here, away from its own world, where the competitions for choosing mates is going on right now. With literal fire in its heart and rage in its dull eyes, the beast skitters its many legs across the floor and heads straight for Mr. D.
The old man is frozen with fear, and only the grasp of one thought stops his mind from melting into a puddle.
“You! You're no finch!”
It was ridiculous, but it was the only thought Mr. D. could hold onto as he ran behind a large stack of crates. He points a shaking finger at the boy, who has just woken up and is currently on all fours, coughing up what seems to be most of his lungs.
The beast finds Mr. D’s hiding spot and begins chasing him around the room in an almost comedic manner. The fire-bug is large and fast, but Mr. D. has spent a lifetime of running away from his messes and is quite good at it. As he darts behind another stack of crates, he shouts; “No finch could’ve lived through that. What’s your name? Who are you?” The old man is desperate. His entire life had been dedicated towards gaining knowledge and power, and here this kid had simply managed to walk into both.
The young man who is obviously not a finch shakily rises to his feet, leaning against the toppled chair for support. Already his skin has gone from the charred black to the oozy red of healing, his brown hair is unscathed, and his clothes are only barely singed. Unsteadily, he makes his way towards the podium, towards the spell book. He knows that though the beast may be after Mr. D. now, it will eventually notice the other edible person in the room.
Mr. D. sees what he is doing. “It’s on the last page,” he says. “A loose leaf paper. Hurry!” The monster-pede roars as the old man deftly escapes from its grasp.
Finch finds the page and mouths the words silently, getting the feel of them correct.
“Hey, don’t just stand there, do something.”
Calmly and coldly, the boy who was not a finch looks at the old man who was hiding behind another crate. “No. You almost killed me. You did kill Spider. I'm going to wait and see who wins.”
The old man’s eyes widen and he runs towards the boy with the beast hot on his trail. He will lead it to the boy or die trying. If he is going down, so is the kid.
The boy previously known as Finch sighs and reads the spell aloud. The monster stops and looks directly at the reader, as though it knows what is about to happen. With one great roar and a silent puff of black smoke, the beast is warped away back to its home world, where it will no doubt be enjoying itself immensely.
Closing the book, the young man realizes he can hear sirens in the distance. It is only now that he notices that the entire building has caught fire from either the beast’s torrent or the spilled candles. A righteous fury fills him as the old man strides up to him with the indignant rage of those who have caused trouble but are determined it is someone else’s fault.
“Do you realize what you’ve done?” says the old man. ”Do you realize how much work I had to put into that? Do you know how hard it will be to find another assistant-“
His sentence is cut off with a sharp intake of breath as the boy kicks him to the ground.
“You,” says the boy icily, “are going to stay here. You are going to take responsibility for the mess you've made, and-“
Faint voices echo out from somewhere near the front of the warehouse. “Anyone in there?”
“And you are going to have to explain to those nice officers and firemen what you were up to. Trust me, that’s something I would love to see, you explaining that.” He points to Spider’s half corpse and the remains of the arcane signs on the walls and floors. Hefting up the spell book, he continues. “I don’t trust you with this. I don’t know how you managed to get your grubby hands on it in the first place, but I bet it was illegally. I'm taking it. It’s mine.” He looks at the old man groveling on the floor and for a moment sees not only the old man, but also an enormous dragonfly shadowed over him.
“Please!” screams the old man, down to his last strenuous tether to sanity. "What are you? Who are you?”
The boy straightens up. "My name, you sick son of a bitch, is Gregory Sampson. But everyone I know calls me Roach." He grins at the old dragonfly’s expression.
"Roach? The great beast was beaten by a roach? I was bested by a cockroach? How? I am complex, I am evolved, I am. . .” he trailed off and began giggling to himself.
“You know, the thing about roaches is, we're amazingly hard to kill.”
With a wave and a smile, Gregory Sampson exits through a back entrance he knew would be nearby, leaving the demented old man to explain half a corpse, a lot of blood, a large fire, and what looked to be some sort of satanic mumbo jumbo to the kind gentlemen from the police department.
* * * * *
It has said that roaches are vermin. It is common knowledge that cockroaches have been around since the dawn of evolution, skittering quietly around the edges of history. They were here long before the dinosaurs, and as with the dinosaurs, they will be around long after humanity has annihilated itself.
So relax, because the roaches know they will inherit the earth, and they are doing their best to ensure that it’s an earth worth inheriting.