By Janis Hutchinson
My mother arrived by car from Los Angeles on a balmy evening in June, greeted by crickets that rhythmically announced the ninety-five degree temperature. It was her first visit to my home on the Utah/Nevada border.
I waved my arms enthusiastically. It had been a long trip for her across the barren, Nevada desert—seven hundred miles to be exact—but this determined and astute woman in her seventies could handle anything.
She stepped out of the car. After fleeing the clamor and hubbub of city life she marveled at the tranquil silence, and stared in awe at the orange and yellow sunset spreading its colors across the landscape and reflecting in the waters of our local lake. The ecstatic look on her face said it all. She had found her Walden Pond.
I got her settled, and we went to bed.
It was about midnight when I heard her terrified screams.
Yikes, I forgot to warn her!
Throwing my legs over the side of the bed I leaped out, forgetting normal precautions, and headed for the shrieks coming from the bathroom.
There she was, perched atop the commode, her bare feet planted on opposite sides of the toilet seat, her toes curled up—even the hairs on her legs were standing straight out. Both hands clutched her nightgown, which she had yanked to mini-skirt level.
Hoarsely, she gasped, “I turned the light on—there are hundreds of them!”
I felt terrible. “Oh, yeah—I forgot to tell you. They come out at night. You have to . . . uh. . . use a flashlight when you get up.”
I then guided her trembling body back to bed.
I knew from childhood that like most fearless mothers she could confront almost any kind of creepy-crawly thing—spiders, snakes, caterpillars, worms and slugs. But now she had come face to face with a species she had never encountered before . . . the c-o-c-k-r-o-a-c-h!
Now, I’m not talking about the kind that look like miniature grasshoppers, but the ones called water bugs, palmetto bugs, roaches, granddaddies—in other words, the B-I-G, UGLY ONES!
From the Blattidae family, they have large, flattened oval bodies, antennae that function as a nose, and a head with mandibles for chewing and grinding. They lived 300 million years ago and predated the dinosaurs by 150 million years. Out of the 4,500 species that exist today, some are large enough to weigh as much as two sparrows. They have six, long hairy legs with jagged spines on them, five to each leg which enables them to climb walls. And they have eighteen knees that allow them to run twelve feet per second. Now, that’s FAST!
In my opinion, to live with these formidable creatures is the ultimate Jurassic Park experience. I believe the Cockroachasaurus (as I have named it) or, more correctly, "Periplaneta Americana" for the American species, can be placed on a par with any fifty-ton Brocheosaurus or carnivorous Tyrannosaurus Rex. This is because roaches are omnivores, meaning they eat anything—animal, vegetable, food, paper, clothing, books, shoes, bones, dead insects―with pregnant females particularly going after anything that smacks of protein.
After co-existing with them in Texas for six years, I moved 3,000 miles to the Utah desert, believing I had left them behind for good. But I soon found out that these smug creatures are common to all warm and humid locales. And it makes no difference if you keep a clean house.
Their fiendish strategy to hide during the day because they want you to feel secure. Cunning and crafty, they secrete themselves under kitchen sinks, around leaky toilets, inside the caulk around bathtubs, in water drains and floorboards. But at night, like a sinister band of cat burglars, they creep from their secret sites.
Silently mobilizing across the floors, they head for my soap, toilet tissue, closets, dresser drawers, kitchen cabinets, and know the exact location of my Fruit-loops and Wheaties. Often I have poured my “Breakfast of Champions” into a bowl and for one elated moment thought General Mills had added some extra goodies. The egg-cases of the female cockroach resemble wheat berries, and the adult bodies look like dates. One must always be on guard. If you have any dates in your cupboard, before eating them you must carefully inspect them for signs of legs or antennae.
The only thing that will deter them is light (never put one foot out of bed at night without first turning on the light). Then, faster than electrons in a bubble chamber, they scatter in all directions and disappear . . . which brings me back to my mother. I was sure that by morning she would be okay.
I was mistaken.
She didn’t speak to me until noon—then she let me have it.
“Why didn't you warn me!” she screamed. “I could have squished one in my bare feet!”
I tried to explain that they really didn't squish—it was a cross between a crack and a pop. I read up on them,” I began, “and they’re actually quite fascinating. The reason they crack and pop instead of squish is that unlike humans their muscles are inside their skeletons, so when you step on one what happens is . . .” I could see she wasn’t interested.
“They’re really quite harmless,” I pushed on, as I nonchalantly opened a kitchen cupboard. A black body slid down the inside of the cabinet door and landed with a thud on the kitchen floor.
“Oh,” I hysterically laughed, “it's only a little one . . . sorta.”
Horrified, she watched as I grabbed the broom and hammered it to death until there was no recognizable body left. With twenty-five paper towels, I wiped the huge smear up, waiting proudly for her comment on how I had bravely diminished the enemy’s forces by one.
For a long time, she just stared and said nothing. Then, quietly packing her belongings she headed back for Los Angeles.
It was then I had a long talk with God.
First, I did what was proper. I genuflected and crossed myself, got down on my knees and then bowed my head and positioned my hands in the usual palm-to-palm manner. Having studied psychology, I knew it was always good strategy to start out with the positives before lowering the boom.
I first expressed my appreciation for his creating the world, and thanked him for his humility in recognizing his blunder by eliminating the dinosaurs. I also told him I could understand why he had allowed bugs of all kinds to exist for millions of years like the mosquitoes, gnats and worms―after all, birds do have to eat—but there was absolutely no rhyme nor reason for the cockroach.
“They contaminate my food,” I explained, making a helpless gesture toward the ceiling. “They voraciously ingest the bindings of my favorite books; frolic in my clothes hamper, eat holes in my unmentionables, drop on me from unsuspecting places, and are embarrassing when company comes. To top it all off . . . I might never see my mother again!
After two days with no answer from above, I’d had it. I insightfully concluded that God’s sole purpose for the cockroach was to test the human race. Well, I would meet the challenge!
Armed with ten Save the Earth bags, I burst through the door of the local supermarket and charged down the main aisle.
Locating the pesticide section, I wildly began pulling cans of multi-bug killers, beetle bombs, insect sprays, nest-bait and roach motels. I even grabbed five packages of mousetraps. (Like I said, these cockroaches are BIG). Loaded with eighty-nine dollars’ worth of weaponry I dashed home, launched my diabolical plan, and then waited.
Suffice it to say, nothing worked.
Mystified, I went to the library. My research uncovered amazing facts about why they’re so indestructible. In fact, I read that the growing consensus among scientists, even theologians, is that it will be the cockroaches that “inherit the earth.” This is because they can outlast a nuclear war. They have a higher tolerance to radiation resistance than vertebrates, and can tolerate six to fifteen times than that for humans. Further, roaches can remain active for a month without food; can go without air for forty-five minutes; and can recover from being submerged under water for half an hour―longer, if they keep resurfacing periodically for air, which is probably why they survived Noah’s flood.
They also have six brains, one in their head and the other five in their legs, and can live without a head for as long as a week to a month. If headless, they will eventually die due to having no mouth to drink water. Now, admittedly, slicing off their heads would be the solution to my problem, but I decided that performing this feat would be a tad difficult, not to mention gross.
After absorbing all these facts, I knew when I was beaten. Therefore, my only alternative was to fall back on the old adage, “If you can’t fight ‘em, join ‘em.” This meant I was left with no choice but to modify my life style so as to successfully co-exist with them.
Late one afternoon, resting in my new indoor hammock, strung from the ceiling for obvious reasons, I was fantasizing about how I could contact Steven Spielberg and arrange for him to come and suck up all these obnoxious, multiple-brained creatures with a huge vacuum and transport them to his Jurassic Park.
While musing on this possibility, I happened to look down. I spied a female emerging from beneath a hall door. Following her in single file, I counted twenty tiny offspring. As I gazed at her new brood, for one senseless moment I forgot myself.
“Oh,” I exclaimed, “isn’t that cute . . . babies!”
My eyes suddenly glazed over, and I gasped in unspeakable horror at my acquiescence. What on earth was I saying! Shocked at myself, I continued peering wide-eyed over the edge of the hammock as a few more followed . . . then more. Why were they coming out in broad daylight? Something inexplicable was going on here. But what?
It took only a few seconds for me to realize that something exceptional was taking place . . . because they did something I had never witnessed before.
They brazenly began to march around the entire room, joined by hundreds of other roaches that materialized out of the woodwork. I watched them goose-step in amazing military precision to their stridulating sounds. Twirling their feelers in a kind of baton-like strut they began a foot-stomping march worthy only of John Phillip Souza.
Then, I noticed something that proved even more frightening. They had acquired a zombie-like look on their faces, as if under some hypnotic spell—like some entity had taken over each cockroach’s six brains.
But who? What? I sensed something sinister evolving, but had no answer. Flexing my brain, I could think of nothing . . . unless . . . unless.
I remembered an article I read. It was either in the Scientific American or the National Enquirer. Whichever one is irrelevant, as both are backed up with impressive sources and references. Could it be, as the article suggested, that the latent DNA of these cockroaches’ prehistoric ancestors was rising up within their subterranean consciousness in order to facilitate the re-emergence of their mammoth species?
Fear etched its way across my face. I pictured giant, primordial roaches resuscitating their dormant genes and activating them through the long-buried circuitry of the cockroach’s ventral pallidum of their prefrontal cortex―the area below the conscious brain, formerly called the reptilian brain. Next, would come the birth of huge, mutant babies, longer and wider in body, and instead of being confined to small recesses beneath floorboards, drains and pipes, now with bigger claws on their legs they could boldly climb to heights no cockroach had gone before. With apologies to Captain Kirk, the final frontier for man would not be to seek out new life forms in space, but to face right here on planet earth this new, horrendous threat against the human race.
Being omnivores, they love to chew and grind their food, and I had read reports of cockroaches biting humans, especially children who have more tender skins. The females in particular would find humans the best source of protein to ingest as nutrients for their young. I shuddered as I pictured it. Once these mammoth species bit and grabbed hold, the eoplantulae, the sticky structures on their legs, would prevent the strongest person from escaping their clutches.
Call it revelation or inspiration if you will, but suddenly in my mind I heard these prophetic words: “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls . . . it tolls for thee.”
I gulped. “Me?”
My mouth went dry as the full realization of the diabolical evolutionary plan slowly shifted up my jugular. It would only be a matter of time before these prehistoric roaches would rampage the continent—soon, the world. There would be no stopping them. My mind rolled into panic. Mankind would be involved in a battle of survival of the fittest!
My impulse was to scream—to scream and keep on screaming—to give release to the fear that ricocheted through every ligament of my body. My heart pounded so violently, I thought it would pop a valve. Yes, I admit it. For the first time in my life I was terrified, and rightly so. The ramifications of this were far worse than anticipating a face-to-face encounter with one of Spielberg’s saliva-dripping tyrannosaurus rexes. But, I consoled myself—at least his monsters were confined to an island. Then, I stopped dead in my mental tracks. Cockroaches had to be on that island, too—and they can fly! I learned that in Texas. They would soon evolve to the size of pterodactyls.
I clung to the edge of the hammock, still staring down at them as they marched around and hissed like undaunted conquerors. There was no doubt in my mind this same scenario was taking place all over the world. Breathless, a new panic took over. I needed to escape. But how?
If I jumped from my hammock and tried to make it to the door with no shoes, I’d squish—whoops, crack or pop—hundreds of their bodies with my bare feet. The house would sound like a giant bowl of Rice Krispies. Would the neighbors hear and rescue me? But, being in a desert town, my closest one was half a mile away! A cold sweat broke out across my forehead.
I took a deep breath and calmed myself. I wisely decided I would bide my time until they crept back into their sanctuaries. Surely, at some point, they would have to sleep. I would figure out then what to do.
I continued listening to their chirring and hissing, wondering what they were saying to each other, when something unexpected happened.
I cocked my head and listened as their hiss and clicking sounds raised an octave higher . . . then higher. Suddenly, I began to receive thoughts and images in my head. They were communicating with me by some kind of telepathy!
The hairs on my arms stiffened as I listened to the Jurassic roar of their antediluvian predecessors giving me the final word. Their message was chilling.
“We’re back . . . and this time we’re here to stay!”
It was a breath-stopping moment. I felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. But, suddenly, providential insight came to my aid.
A surge of something like spiritual adrenalin shot up from deep inside me and I heard the dormant genes of my own ancestors rise up in a shouting response. “No—our species will survive! We did it once, and we can do it again!”
Spurred on by this epiphany, I determined not to let the roaches conquer me—I’d show them by warning everyone. I would accept the mission impossible—I would be the Peter Graves of my day—and accepted the challenge without reservation. I would get the word out, or die trying. We would be ready. With the precise thinking and calculations of First Officer, Spock, I laid out my plan.
I waited until the roaches retired back into the walls, leaped out of the hammock, ran to my mobile phone and set my thumbs into motion. I texted to all the phone apps, then hurried to my computer and typed out the alarm on Bing, Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, Excite, Hotbot, Lycos, WebCrawler and other search engines. I posted special alerts on Linkedin, Facebook, Dig, StumbleUpon, Dogpile and Pinterest; then all the social media websites and blogs I could think of. I sent it to newspapers, magazines, and waited breathlessly to receive word back that they would help spread the word.
Of course, I had to prepare myself for some degree of disappointment. I knew I would get some die-hard unbelievers; yet, I was honestly shocked when the Saturday Evening Post, Readers Digest, and Atlantic Monthly, and a few other prestigious magazines, totally ignored me. . . a couple actually taking the time to email me insulting remarks. I thought for sure the Biblical Archaeological Review would sit up and take notice, but they weren't interested either. Also among the skeptics were the recipe websites. Surely I thought they would post pictures to warn the homemakers of America, but most recipe sites lacked the courtesy to even respond. The few that did, explained it presented a conflict of interest.
As a last resort, I contacted the televangelists thinking that, like Moses did with the gnats and frogs, they could invoke some kind of miracle and instantly rid the whole planet of them. Not one of them personally responded except to send me an envelope asking for a donation.
Frustration hit hard. Many wouldn’t listen. Yet, I knew in my spirit that I was "called." Was I doomed to fail in my mission? But when the mantle has been placed on your shoulders, and near the point of losing all hope, providence, destiny, fate, or whatever you choose to call it, oftentimes comes to the rescue. And it did.
You can't imagine how thrilled I was when one of the most widely-read prestigious newspapers of the times contacted me out of the blue—the National Enquirer! With its huge circulation, the word would surely get out—people could be warned. Other supermarket tabloids soon followed. What better place to warn people than in the supermarket. Progress was being made. But, I thought, it's still not enough. I must do more!
My one last effort rests with you. Yes. . .you who are reading this! Our species must survive. Do what you can to help spread the word. Your survival and that of your children are at stake!
Let me know you’re with me!
This may be my last opportunity to reach out!
About The Author
Janis Hutchinson is an award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction, graduated Summa Cum Laude with B.th and M.A. degrees in Theology, and was awarded “Writer of the Year” (2008) by the American Christian Writers Association. A former (very active), member of the mainline Mormon Church for 35 years and 2 years in Mormon Fundamentalist organizations, she is in demand as a speaker on Christian radio and TV, and lives near Seattle, Washington.