Short Story: Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches

“You know me and my love of Madagascan hissing cockroaches.” Fabian was right, I did, he had told me about it in depth. He didn’t tell me about his seventy-eight sibilant pets when I answered the ad for a room to rent, he must have hidden the glass cage when I had a viewing. It was only as I was carrying boxes in from the taxi that I heard the noise: a frantic hissing, I assumed he had stuck the kettle on for a welcome coffee, but then he said,

“Don’t worry about that. That’s just my Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches, seventy-eight of them! I counted this morning. Of course, the numbers change as they breed. Or eat each other.” I’ve been alive a while, I’ve perfected the nervous smile, and I used it then. I’ve used it many times since I moved in with Fabian.

I liked Fabian from the moment I met him; he moved liked an uncoordinated child, jerky, lumbering movements topped with too much curly hair and a shy smile. I thought he was delightful. Then he started to grate a little. Like a vicar’s sermon dragging all topics back to Jesus, Fabian would return all conversation to cockroaches, hissing ones. A few days after I moved in, my aunt died. He explained to me that he knew just how that felt because his favourite roach had hissed its last,

“I knew it was him, because I put a little blob of red paint on his back. It’s obviously just a really bad day for death.” He said.

“Hmm,” I replied.

I’d never met anyone quite like Fabian before. Filth and muddle seemed to spill out from him. Crumbs scattered from his jumper and mud from his boots. I discovered the erratic lurch was because one of his feet was a size 6 the other a size nine, but his problems went way beyond his feet. His mind  was always adrift elsewhere, thinking through facts and figures that he would share with the world just when the time was wrong. Usually when I was trying to concentrate, or when the phone rang.

Once he clomped into our lounge and thumped himself down on the sofa with the elegance of a walrus, not noticing that I was already sitting in that same spot. I yelped; it took a few moments for him to work out he had to move, then he shuffled awkwardly into a chair, huffing, already telling me that Madagascan hissing cockroaches liked to bury their dead, with a little ritual,

“They only eat each other when they need to assert dominance,” he said, “I read that in my new book,” he said, while I rubbed my bruised legs pointedly.

But those roaches, I knew they’d be trouble. It was only a few weeks later, I was sitting on my bed, reading, and I heard the distinctive hissing sound. I dropped my phone in panic and ran from the room calling Fabian’s name, pointing wildly to my door.

“Oh you’ve got one have you? Just giving them an airing. It’s important for Madagascan hissing cockroaches to get out and about sometimes.”

Still, I liked my new home, I was settling nicely into my new town. Learning where the best shops were, visiting the local park. And it wasn’t long before I got a job interview to work at the small accountancy firm in town. The interview was going well, I had impressed my potential employer, Gerry, with my knowledge of the company (Googled the night before), and with my friendly professional manner. It was all going well, when I heard, very quietly, that hissing sound. It came from just below my ear, I could feel the faint tickle under my collar. I tried to suppress the look of panic as Gerry looked up from his notes. I smiled politely as if all was normal.

“Now you say you can start anytime, is that right? No notice to work out?”

The tickling had become a scratching as small black legs climbed the few stubbly hairs on my neck, it wasn’t easy to keep my voice level.

“Yes, I could start tomorrow if you wanted,” I was trying to say it with a light chuckle, but it came out a little more like a supressed shriek. Gerry gave a nervous laugh of his own and looked down at his notes, saying,

“Now we’ve got both your references, haven’t-” he looked up as he was speaking and stopped, eyes wide beneath furrowed brow and I knew what was wrong. I could feel it, the sharp scrambling as the Madagascan hissing cockroach clambered out of the neck of my shirt, hissing frantically.

18 thoughts on “Short Story: Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches

  1. Literally, and metaphorically, spine-tingling. Not been to Madagascar, nor known anyone with a predilection for these creatures, but I’ve encountered quite a few of the common or garden roaches when I lived in Hong Kong — usually sitting on the edge of the toilet bowl waving their feelers when I went to the loo in the night. Delightful. Not. All brought back by this shudderfest. 🙂

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    1. Glad to have entertained, although sorry for the bad memories! I have to confront many non-Madagascan roaches in my job, the lovable critters! It’s a love-hate relationship 🙂

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  2. The moment I heard the term “hissing cockroaches” I’d be out the door. I can handle rodents (would actually love a pet rat). I can deal wit snakes (they’re kind of cute). I could even tolerate tarantulas, but I’d have to draw the line. Your protagonist is definitely very calm under pressure, because I would’ve tossed the phone and rolled on the ground screaming lol.

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    1. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable reaction! I’m alright with normal roaches, but I spent a few days with the hissing buggers (in a cage (I mean they were in a cage and I was not!)) and I was not comfortable. Hissing things are never good! I hope you get that rat one day tho 🙂

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      1. Ah you’re better than me! I can’t stand those guys at all lol. They’re just so icky. I could never live in the American South for lots of reasons, but one is definitely the palmetto bugs, which are essentially gigantic, flying cockroaches. I found out this year that when it gets humid, roaches will fly. I kind of knew they had wings, but didn’t realize they could use them D: Horrifying. I’m not afraid of all bugs. I’m okay with ants, ladybugs, and some spiders (which I know aren’t technically bugs, but…), but I’m a wuss puss when it comes to large ones.

        I could deal with snakes actually! I have snake lover friends who love their little noodles, so I’m starting to see the appeal 🙂

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      2. Palmetto bugs sound pretty bad. I’m scared to goole image. My opinion of roaches goes down massively when they fly, that isn’t fair at all!
        Now ants, I don’t like them at all – too smart, too many and too organised.
        Never heard a snake called a little noodle before! Delightful! 🙂

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      3. I can’t even look at images of bugs like that. It feels like they’re crawling on my skin. I don’t know what it is about them that terrifies me. Maybe because they look so odd/alien. Like other animals have easily recognizable faces, but insects are just so strange. I feel a little weirded out by crabs and lobsters, too, but then they’re in the same family so that makes sense. It’s funny because whiskers like cats have are pretty much the same thing as antennae, but whiskers are adorable, but antennae are creepy!

        I wouldn’t want an ant infestation, but I can deal with seeing or touching them. Like if an ant were crawling on me, I wouldn’t throw a fit lol.

        It’s like the best nickname ever ♥

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  3. Heh, I think it’s the alien faces that makes me like them 😉 but I get why people wouldn’t. I’ve been working with and around butterflies all week and they’re starting to creep me out a bit.

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