What a perfect day for a bike ride on the wooded trail! The sun was shining, the autumn leaves were in full bloom, and the air was crisp and cool. As Chug set out with his two pals, Tealeaf and Carbo, he looked forward to a glorious trip through a pristine autumn wonderland free of stress and rage.
For a while, it seemed he would get just what he expected. His bicycle tires crackled through the leaf litter on the crushed limestone trail. Chipmunks darted past and squeaked from the underbrush. A river ran along the course of the trail, sparkling in the midday sun. Chug, Tealeaf, and Carbo drank in the scenery, talked about life, and ribbed each other for their faults, like Tealeaf’s propensity for dropping the f-bomb every other word no matter where he was and Carbo’s habit of telling strangers too much about himself, right down to the nitty gritty.
Then, it started. Chug noticed something landing on the sleeve of his navy blue windbreaker. It was a tiny red beetle with black spots, a ladybug. He should’ve known better, but he killed it, crushing it between his fingers. Then, he kept riding, thinking nothing of it, forgetting that killing a ladybug was supposed to be bad luck.
Soon, Chug found another on the other sleeve. Another two or three on the legs of his sweatpants. For every one he brushed off, two more landed somewhere else on his body. They flew at him from all directions.
Tealeaf and Carbo noticed them, too. They laughed about it at first, flicking the ladybugs at each other and yukking it up. But then, the ladybugs landed in greater numbers. Soon, there were dozens on each of the three guys. They attacked like kamikaze fighter planes, swooping down at their eyes and into their mouths and ears. Pretty soon, the joke wasn’t funny anymore.
Covered with ladybugs, Carbo slammed his bike into a slab of exposed bedrock. Tealeaf tried to avoid hitting him and ended up barreling down the steep bank into the river, screaming. And then it was Chug’s turn.
Skidding to a stop on the dusty trail, Chug leaped off his bike and ran in circles, flinging the ladybugs off his body. They just kept circling back, though, and finding new landing spots. Crawling all over his face and neck and arms, skittering down his back and chest, filling up his clothes.
Screeching and hopping up and down like he was on fire, Chug fought to rid himself of bugs, but it was too late. They had started to burrow into his every orifice. He fell to his hands and knees in the dust, weeping, wishing oh so fervently that he’d never killed that first ladybug between his fingers.
And that was when he heard something scuffling from a cave in the bedrock. Something chittering and chirping in the darkness. Clicking and scrabbling with malevolence.
He barely saw it as his eyes filled up with bugs: an enormous ladybug, queen of all ladybugs, creeping from the mouth of the cave. Polka-dotted red shell gleaming in the autumn sun, cold and pitiless as the winter snows. Mandibles clacking, she advanced in his direction.