• Published 22nd Mar 2022
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Don't Bug Me - Starscribe

Amie was prepared for a difficult season as a camp counselor. She wasn't prepared for her entire summer camp vanishing from Earth, and reappearing in a strange new world. Now they're bugs, in a world that seems to hate them. Survival not guaranteed.

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Chapter 1

Amie loved Adventure Camp. She loved camp so much that she pressured her little brother into going, even after she turned nineteen and could only stay as a counselor.

Her brother Wes didn’t enjoy being up in the mountains quite so much, didn’t enjoy the hiking and pioneering and paintball games in the woods. But he also didn’t have the guts to just outright tell her no. The season was mostly over now—another two days, and he would be headed home.

“Lame way to spend your last night.” She nudged her way into the large tent. Wes had no roommates—none of his nerd friends from back home had any interest in Adventure Camp. But that was okay, it meant it was less awkward for her to stop by and visit. There were no weird questions to be answered about camp protocol when she was only visiting a family member. “If the rain gets much worse, you’re going to get flooded out. We’re doing sketches in the multipurpose building. Should be fun.”

Wes looked up from his cot, placed right in the center of the tent. It was a big tent, military surplus style, situated on a wooden platform. The clear plastic windows gave them a steady view of the pouring rain outside. The rigid canvas kept out some of the wind, enough that the book in front of Wes didn’t flutter.

“Already have my stuff off the ground. Packed up, ready to go.” He pointed at the backpack sitting atop his bed. “If we get more than an inch of water out there, we have bigger problems.”

She rolled her eyes, then pulled over the camp chair, facing him. The sun wasn’t down yet, but the clouds were so thick that she couldn’t see it. There were only different shades of gray up there, thicker in some patches than others. And growing darker all the time. “Lots of other campers are talking about sleeping in there. Sure you don’t want to head up there?” She flicked her fingers against the electric lantern hanging from a hook over his bed. “We have real electricity in there, and company.”

He looked away, shifting uncomfortably in the cot. “Can’t you feel it, Amie?”

She rolled her eyes. Her brother had always been a little strange. But so was she, coming out here every summer to kayak down the canyons and hike back up again. He had barely done any adventuring, and already he was about to head home. “Feels like you should’ve made a few more friends, maybe. Is that it? I can do a sketch with you if you don’t have anyone. We could do the ice cream man one again. Almost nobody’s back from last year.”

He flipped his book closed, annoyed. “It’s not that. I could have someone to do sketches with if I wanted. But it doesn’t feel like we should be in there right now. There’s like… pressure. How can you not feel it?”

Amie couldn’t feel it, but she could hear laughter on the wind, carried all the way to her from the center of camp. They’d probably started by now.

Amie didn’t have her own group this year—instead, she was the “Pioneering” instructor, which meant she was out with different youth all the time, teaching knots, building things, or hiking with them to interesting places. Not children, thankfully—Adventure Camp only had teens.

“Last chance to change your mind.” She rose, straightening her short-shorts in preparation for getting them soaked again. Less cloth wouldn’t do much to keep her warm, but at least it meant less to dry. Just a few minutes in the tent had already started drying her out. “I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but they’ve got ice cream for after. Might even do a movie later.”

Wes avoided her eyes, fiddling with the book on his lap. She turned to go, but then his hand darted out, catching her by the wrist. She opened her mouth to reply, but her words were drowned out by a deafening peal of thunder. It was so loud it hurt, so loud that she should’ve gone completely blind from the lightning. Where was it?

“Wait,” he said, or she thought he said. “One more—” Then came the flash. It was so incredibly bright that Amie screamed, falling sideways to the floor in her vain attempt to shield her eyes. But it didn’t help, and the pain kept growing. Before she even realized what was happening, Amie was unconscious.

Amie woke slowly, to a body that was overwhelmed by sourceless pain. It was worse than simple pain—Amie couldn’t tell where she was, or how she had gotten there. It was damp, and dark, and cold. Worse still, she didn’t feel as though she were properly dressed. Her first thought was a nightmare, that she had somehow been separated, caught by herself, then…

But no. Nothing like that had ever happened at Adventure Camp, at least not this one. What was happening again? She opened her eyes, and found her head was on its side. Something dark obscured some of her vision, a black blob that extended slightly ahead.

She recognized the regular wooden pattern of the tent platforms, though that didn’t tell her much. There were dozens, maybe hundreds of completely identical tents just like this all over Adventure Camp. She didn’t use one of them anymore, now that she was a counselor. That must mean she was visiting her brother?

Something moved behind her, something that somehow responded to her realization. A contented buzzing, from… a pack of nearby dragonflies? It sounded a little like that, except much louder than any real insect had any right to be. “Deep breaths, Amie. We’re standing up.” Her hands felt wrong, her arms were totally out of shape. But she settled them against the ground under her, then tried to push herself into a sitting position.

But her arms didn’t move the way they should. Instead of flinging her upright, she rose onto her arms-and-legs, enough that she could wobble forward. She ought to be feeling so completely out of balance, but somehow her arms weren’t out of length with her legs.

Whatever was going on, the tent was particularly cold and wet. Standing on her hands and knees did little to alleviate just how oversized the place felt. At least her disorientation was fading. She remembered what she was doing here, visiting her brother, trying to encourage him to socialize with the other members of camp.

Her sight still gave her trouble, struggling to focus even on the objects right in front of her. It wasn’t the darkness—despite the absence of a lantern, the little trace of moonlight coming in from the window was more than enough for her. She must be adjusted to the light. But when she looked down at her arms, nothing she saw there made sense.

There was no smooth skin, with the slightest suggestions of muscle won through a season of great athletic effort. Instead what she saw was charcoal black, far more reflective than even the greasiest skin could possibly be. There were at least a few other marks, or dents—which made no sense from above. What happened to me?

Her disorientation was fading fast, or else she might’ve suspected hallucinogens. But she was still thinking clearly. Her brain was fine, it was her senses that didn’t work. “Wes!” she yelled, with the same volume she might’ve used to get the attention of campers who were wandering off. “Where are you?”

She stopped short after just a few seconds, eyes widening. Even her voice sounded strange, reverberating in her throat like she’d swallowed a piece of plastic. What was going on? Amie tried to stand again, lifting up into the air, and nearly managing it this time.

But her center of balance was completely off. Something moved on her back, buzzing again in a vain attempt to keep her upright. But a few seconds later and she flopped back onto the floor, landing with a strange click instead of the soft thump of flesh.

“Wrong… wrong… this is all wrong.” She hummed to herself, barely vocalizing the words. The more she saw and heard of her own body, the more she remembered Kafka. She needed to see what had happened to her, then look for help. Guess you were right, Wes. Something bad was coming.

She tried to stand a few more times, before giving up completely. Her body just couldn’t move that way, another painful detail she would have to cope with. She didn’t have arms anymore, but four legs, and both her hands and feet still seemed numb. Lifting one close enough to inspect confirmed what she could already feel along the ground. There was only a shiny black surface, with a softer, sensitive section under a tough ridge. More like a horse than an insect, despite the other details.

Finally she found what she was looking for—one of the polished metal tent-poles, shiny and chrome. It distorted her reflection almost as much as reality already had, stretching the alien face. Yet for all that, the features were distinct.

Opaque green eyes, much larger on the face than they had any right to be. But for their size, they were far too alien to seem innocent or friendly. If she looked closely, she could see many separate segments, like looking into the face of a fly.

The rest of the body didn’t look much better. There were holes in her arm, and sharp fangs emerging from her mouth. She already knew she was standing on her arms and legs, but her reflection showed her a body probably meant for it. Her back was a shiny, multijointed shell, one that opened on complex organic joints as she thought about it.

Wings emerged from underneath, clear and laced with thousands of intricate veins. Like little transparent snowflakes.

Amie squealed in surprise, retreating from the mirror. Her wings closed on their own, and now that she knew what she was sensing for, she could feel them distinctly. Protected against her back with a hard shell, but ready to emerge if she needed them. Absolutely disgusting.

Compared to that, the rest was basically what she expected. Frilled, insectlike features, with black, reflective tissues and green accents throughout, similar to her eyes. The only other strange detail were the holes.

Her legs and tail (which she had) looked like she’d lost a fight with a particularly aggressive holepunch. God only knew how that worked for the strength of her skeleton, if she even had one. But there was no blood and viscera leaking from inside. At least her torso or eyes didn’t have those openings.

Her clothes lay on the floor behind her, ripped right off, or just cast aside. But there was nothing left for them to cover on her chest, anyway. Horses kept all that somewhere else.

But I’m not a horse. I’m someone’s nightmare of a horse after a hundred Benadryl.

She searched around the room for something to use to cover herself, but quickly gave up. Her tank-top and shorts just wouldn’t serve any useful purpose here. Wes’s bag was still sitting on his bed, along with some more clothes. The jacket and sweats he’d been wearing. I’m not alone, am I?

Protecting herself was important, but she would have to make sure her brother was okay. Maybe they could face this together.

She poked her head nervously from the tent. The rain had stopped completely, along with the storm. The sky was clear, and filled with thousands of stars. Yet the familiar amber glow of camp lights still shone, directing her towards the center. She could hear voices that way too, many of them. The cheerful giggles of camp were gone, along with the energetic conversation she would expect from a night of fun. Did they change too?

Amie ignored them for now, scanning the mountainside around them for signs of her brother.

She could see nothing. Yet if she closed her eyes, she could feel the direction he had gone. He left a smell in the air, a faintly citrus aroma that reminded her of curiosity, twinged with the bitterness of fear. She knew instantly what those strange sensations meant, with the same certainty that she knew that she had to find her brother.

Wes is probably losing his mind right now. She might too, if she couldn’t find some purpose for herself. Before she could second guess, she darted out into the forest.

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