Entomology is a peculiar hobby of mine. I’ve always had a fascination for the macabre, and an eye for beauty. Starting my 2nd senior year in college, I was determined to make that semester my last one. I needed one more elective to graduate, with my choices being Biochem with Dr. Kalam, or Invertebrate Zoology with Dr. Allard; neither of which spoke to me, but classes with Dr. Kalam were borderline wretched. I signed up for Invertebrate, and reluctantly filled out the paperwork needed to graduate, and my scholarships needed to pay for this seemingly drab course.

That class opened up an entire new world for me.

Our final project consisted of catching and identifying 100 different invertebrates found locally, 25 of which had to be pinned and spread. This meant catching and “neutralizing” the specimen and setting its corpse out in an unnatural pose for the entire world to marvel at the natural beauty. Initially it was hard to cope with the idea of murdering a helpless creature, but people get paid to kill these things, and I figured the whole beauty preservation idea was a way to justify this. Regardless, I still needed to pass that course.

My first insect that I caught was an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, and that sparked my interest into creatures that fly. Collecting that insect satisfied a primal urge that was unbeknownst to reside in me. I felt power surge through my veins. Millions, no billions, of years of evolution led to this point. I had to collect and catalog every insect I could. Over the course of the semester I had garnered close to 250 specimens, 90 percent of which flew, but one insect in particular caught my eye.

The Eastern Dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus. This massive insect tops out close to 7 inches, the males have mandibles to 2 inches long, spends its majority of its life in water, eventually develops wings and is capable of flight. I was going to hit up this old lean-to shack that was a bug haven when I notched this beautiful female specimen, sun bathing on the side of a gnarled Oak tree and quickly snatched up this curious creature. I carefully transferred her into my neutralizing container, dropped in some ethyl acetate, and sat at the base of this tree and proceeded to watch this creature pass peacefully. It had a beautiful orange X embossed in its wings. At this point, I had caught hundreds of specimens, but this one was something different. Usually it takes no longer than 30 seconds, and a minute or two of watching this animal flutter, I decided I couldn’t torture this beautiful bug anymore. I opened the lid, and its wings stopped fluttering. “Maybe it died as soon as I opened the lid,” I thought to myself. I stuck my finger into the container, poking and prodding, checking for any vitals. This creature turned around faster than I could comprehend and took a clean chunk out of my finger.

“Oh, you son of a….” I closed the lid tighter than before and reveled in the idea that I was in control and I was going to end this miserable creature’s life. Making sure this thing wasn’t going to latch onto me again, I shoved the jar into my lunchbox, as an extra precaution to make sure this thing would die. I then jammed the lunchbox into my backpack and cursed the bug. I brought my now throbbing finger to my mouth, and when I pressed my tongue against my finger, the most disgusting, putrid taste that has ever graced my tongue managed to ooze out and cover my entire tongue. I instantly threw up.

“Great, it’s got venom too.”

Later that night, I had the most wild and disturbing night terrors. I don’t remember much, but what sticks out most in my mind, is an Oak tree. The same gnarled tree that I had visited earlier in the day. A faint audible buzz permeated my head into the early morning, but I HAD to get to sleep. I had an important midterm that next morning, and 8:00 a.m. came early.

I managed to force myself through the day. My head was pounding, my muscles tense, and my mouth was so dry, I thought my tongue was about to split in two. I made my way to our campus infirmary and described yesterday’s encounter with the dobsonfly to the nurse. They filled me full of Benadryl and called Dr. Allard for any information regarding venom. I overheard during the phone call, Dr. Allard specifically mentioned that dobsonflies found locally don’t carry venom. Realizing that I never had taken the jar out of my lunchbox.

“I still have the insect in my bag if you guys want to make sure that’s what bit me.” I swing my bag around. Meander through the maze of zippers, whip out my lunch box. I reach in, search around, find my neutralizing jar and calmly take it out. The nurse sits there in a state of confusing staring at the jar in my hand. “Yeah it’s strange looking, but this X REALLY drawn me to capture it.” I glance down and notice that the dobsonfly is not in there anymore.

“If this is some cruel prank or a stunt to get medicated, I will not hesitate to call the dean!” the nurse exclaimed.

“No, no, no, no, no.” I said hastily. “I had it in here yesterday. I’m collecting them for Doc’s invertebrate course. I guess I took it out last night and forgot.”

I know that it’s not possible that I took the jar out of my lunchbox, because I was mad at myself for letting it get ahold and I had Dr. Allard the next day, so it was the perfect opportunity to count this bug towards my final project. We make amends, and they send me out with a paper sack full of crispy M&Ms, 2 miniature bottles of water and 4 more Benadryl.

On my way back to my car, I see a glint of light flutter past me. I stop in my tracks. My heart sinks, and all I can hear around me is blood rushing through my head.

It’s the same Dobsonfly that I had caught before. I know this because the X that had caught my attention in the first place caught my eye. I shrugged it off as a hallucination from the medicine they gave me and proceeded to venture back home. There seemed to be more insects out than usual. I attributed the perfect weather we had during the week as the culprit. As I continue back to my car, something else catches my eye, fire ants. I live in the south, where fire ants are notoriously common. It was a typical congregation of ants on a sidewalk, but this was different. At first, I thought they had spelled out the letter X, but it was just my paranoia getting to me. What I did notice though is that every ant was standing still, facing me as I passed by them. Watching me.

“Not sleeping really messed with your head man. This isn’t happening, I’m sure that that thing is in the other jar on the bar, right next to the pinning board.”

I start my car, travelling down the same lonesome highway I do 5 days a week. Travelling through my random Spotify playlist, Bullet with Butterfly Wings, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Ants Marching, Between Angels, Don’t Fear the Reaper. But what really got to me was the song Maggot Brain.

Okay something is seriously going on. ALL the songs are centered around insects or death. I speed home, knowing the only way to fix this is to witness that bug die. I look to my radio to turn it off, press the knob to mute the station, and I head a thud. I look up, and in awe witness a swarm of huge, massive flying drones of insect ramming themselves into my windshield. There must be thousands.

I panic. I reach for the knob to activate my windshield wipers and when I grab the knob, I feel something soft, soft like a cotton ball. This huge spider scurries across my hand, up my arm. All I can think about is it’s two piercing fangs digging into my flesh. I instantly convulse, throwing this insect into the, now covered windshield.

I freeze. It has the same X as the Dobsonfly.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

I manage to pull over, I kick my car door open, and bolt for the nearest shelter I see. Fighting off an overwhelming swarm of beetles, I reach the shack. As reach for the door, hundreds of roaches pour out between the door frame and the door. I feel them crawling all over me. They’re in my hair, they’re in my clothes, and I feel them start to pervade my mouth. I chomp down, severing what seems like 20 roaches in half. I kick the door open, trip, tumble and fall into this decrepit shack.

It all stops. The endless onslaught of beetles halts immediately, the nasty roaches leave my body in a synchronized, almost militarized movement.

As I lay there in awe, unable to comprehend what is happening, I realize that the ground is red. At first, I thought the ground was moving, but it’s not. I pick myself up and I start to feel myself get lightheaded when I realize that I’m now standing on a single, solitary red X. I lose my breath, my hands go numb, and I’m on the verge of blacking out when I feel a sharp sting on my finger. I look down only to find the would the dobsonfly left on my is now bleeding. Its bleeding so profusely, there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I wrap my hand in my shirt and try to make a makeshift tourniquet from my belt. It doesn’t work, I continue to bleed profusely.

“This is how I die. This is it.”

I fall to the ground, somewhat consciously, and struggle to move. I look to my left and I see it.

That damn dobsonfly again.

The dobsonfly raises its back wings, the orange X now dripping blood, and then from the dark despair behind it, thousands of dobsonflies emerge. I try to yell out for help, but again the roaches swarm my mouth keeping me from making a noise. They’re so nauseatingly sour, I lurch forward vomiting them out. It doesn’t work, even more fill my mouth and I start to feel a sharp pain in my lungs. They’re eating their way out.

The dobsonflies March forward and I start to feel their nasty mouthparts chew and gnaw on my face. I hear the sickly sound, and they slowly gorge themselves on my body. I feel the ant surge themselves up my legs and feast in unison.

As my head falls to the ground, I notice a window. A peaceful Oak tree stands in e the distance. Serenity envelops me when I realize there’s nothing I can do. The hunter has become the hunted.