M. E. Murray is a fiction and nonfiction writer with a masters degree in entomology, who enjoys writing and reading suspenseful stories for all ages. The author was raised in South Texas, but North Texas is currently her home. She lives with her husband, two mischievous, quasi-feral cats, and an energetic foxhound. When not writing, she helps her husband operate an antique business. Besides, reading and writing, the author enjoys listening to music from the 60s to the 80s, and searching for that rare find in flea markets, estate sales, auctions, and garage sales.
When the name Mortimer Steele comes up in conversation, people shrug and say they don’t know what got into him. One minute he was eating in the school cafeteria; the next he was swatting at himself and screaming, “Somebody help me! Get these things off me!” But there was nothing there to get off him.
Everyone supposed that stress brought on by school work had contributed to Mortimer’s ‘blowing a gasket’. Truth is only one person knew why it happened. To find out who and why, you need to hear a story about Danny Carter.
Danny was a kid who attracted bullies like a magnet attracts iron filings. To protect him from bullies, his parents enrolled him in a private school when he was nine years old. Regrettably, Danny’s folks did not realize that bullies existed everywhere. On the first school day five kids approached Danny. Their leader, Mortimer Steele, yanked Danny's glasses off his face and slammed them on the ground.
“Let's see what you're going to do about this,” Mortimer said, stomping on the glasses. When Danny didn't do anything, Mortimer and the kids laughed, then sauntered away.
Danny wanted to beat them up, all five of them. But starting a fight was out of the question and downright stupid; he was outnumbered. Besides, the kids looked like junior linebackers. With slumped shoulders he stared at the shattered glass and the crooked frame, wondering what to tell his parents, especially his mother. Telling her would be a challenge. And it was. First thing she said when he got home was, “Danny, where are your glasses?”
Danny couldn’t tell her that he was being bullied. After all, this was the reason his parents had enrolled him in a private school. He swallowed hard and took the only route available to him. “I lost them.”
“Lost them?” She shook her head. “Danny, you have to learn to be more responsible. I suppose the only way you will learn this is by paying for your glasses. Your next pair is coming out of deductions from your allowance and getting paid for doing odd jobs for your neighbors. Come to think of it, pet-sitting wouldn’t be a bad idea either!”
Eight days later Danny got his new glasses, but the following day Mortimer and his cohorts broke them. After the third broken pair, Danny decided it would be a good idea not to wear glasses at school except when he was in class. At least that way he could see what the teacher wrote on the blackboard and the images on a projector screen.
The days zipped by without any more bullying incidents, so Danny assumed Mortimer had quit harassing him. However, one morning as he returned to the schoolyard after a trip to the boy’s room, Mortimer and his buddies confronted him.
“Shrimpy Danny! Let's see if shrimpy Danny's ‘pee-pee’ is as shrimpy as he is,” Mortimer shouted.
This is not good! Danny thought. So far, the boys had only messed with his glasses not his body parts. Terrified, he ran and sought refuge under a stairwell. If I roll myself up as tight as an armadillo, they can't hurt me. They can't get to my privates.
Sneaker-covered feet pummeled him, but the attack ended when the school bell rang. “This is not over,” Mortimer yelled as he and the other kids skedaddled.
Danny slowly uncurled. Feeling like a well-used punching bag, he got up slowly and joined the kids running to their classrooms. As he hobbled to his classroom, he thought, Mortimer and his friends will not be able to hurt me again if I am always around people.
The next day, bruised and sore, Danny made sure that teachers and other adults could see him during recess and other times when he was not in class. But later in the week, nature called during recess. Going to the boy's room alone to pee was not a good idea; Mortimer and his friends might attack him there. Getting excused when class started was a better option.
The bell rang. As students and teachers returned to their classrooms, Danny’s bladder was about to pop, so he asked the teacher to be excused. But there was something Danny didn’t know. Some of his classmates had fooled the teacher into letting them out of the classroom by asking her the same question. Consequently, he was really surprised when the teacher responded, “Danny, I wasn't born yesterday. You just came in from recess. The answer is no. You can't go to the restroom.”
Regrettably, Danny ended up peeing in his pants that day and almost every day. The teacher thought he had a bladder problem and got in touch with his parents who took him to a urologist. But the doctor couldn’t find an explanation for Danny’s condition.
Although Danny knew what the problem was, he wasn't about to tell. Besides, whom would he tell? His parents? No way! Friends? He didn't have any. Word had gotten around that he was a wimp. Since nobody wanted to be friends with a wimpy, reeking-of-urine guy, books (particularly those dealing with math, computers, and science) not only became his friends but also got him interested in going to medical school. And even though Mortimer and his associates continued to bully him throughout his school years, and he didn’t have any friends, Danny graduated from high school with honors.
When Danny left town to go to college, he was elated because Mortimer wouldn’t be around to harass him. But that euphoric feeling didn’t last very long. Two rows ahead during freshman orientation, Danny spotted the back of a familiar head--Mortimer’s. The guy that had bullied him throughout his life had registered at the same school! Danny couldn’t possibly face Mortimer and his antics again. No way! Danny had to put an end to Mortimer’s bullying. If he didn’t, his chances of going to medical school might be jeopardized.
Freshman orientation was far from being over, but Danny couldn’t remain there. He gathered his stuff and left. He walked and walked. The aimless trip took him to an unknown street and eventually to a small antique store. Thinking the shop would keep his mind off Mortimer for a while, he went inside and discovered a bookcase full of old books.
Perusing the shelves, Danny found a book on witchcraft. Thinking it might be an interesting read, he bought it. That evening while his roommate slept, Danny started reading the book. It contained information on how to inflict all sorts of punishment, including death, on deserving people. Wondering if the book could help him stop Mortimer’s bullying, Danny continued to read. Most of the spells called for hair from the intended subject. Yeah sure, Danny thought. How was he going to get Mortimer’s hair? Realizing that feat was pretty much impossible, Danny searched the book for other possibilities.
Indeed, there were other spells. All had weird names. Finally, he settled on an incantation with simple instructions and only a few ingredients. Would it work? Danny didn’t think so. Nonetheless, for about a week, when he had some time off school work, he looked for the ingredients at local herbal stores. Since nobody had heard of Worus redicus, Pepera satoa, Karotop vinera, and Livicus natura, Danny searched the Internet for the products. Luckily, he found them on some creepy websites and ordered them. In 2 to 3 weeks the powdered products, packaged in 1 ounce plastic bags, began to be delivered to his private mailbox.
Concealing the goods was not difficult. Whenever Danny received a bag, he stuck it under the top mattress of his bed. No one was going to discover his stash since there was only a floor manager who came around once a week to make sure the students’ rooms were reasonably clean and that there was no mold in the shower stalls.
Finally, one weekend Danny had an opportunity to try the incantation. His roommate was going out of town, so Danny had the room to himself. After consulting the incantation book, Danny took out the bags he’d stashed under the mattress, opened them, and emptied their powdered contents into a mortar he’d sneakily borrowed from the chemistry department. The spell also called for a tablespoon of tea tree oil. Danny added it to the powdered mixture, then ground the herbs into a paste with a pestle. Following the incantation’s instructions, he set the ingredients on fire with a match. Golden flames rose past the lip of the mortar. The room suddenly smelled of tea tree oil and foul odors. As the ingredients burned, he repeatedly chanted, “Arise, arise, arise” until the flames completely went out.
Danny had meticulously followed the instructions, but nothing happened. There was no big cloud of smoke. There were no shaking vessels. The mortar didn’t rise. The windows didn’t rattle. As a matter of fact nothing strange occurred to indicate that the incantation had been successful.
Discouraged, Danny opened a window to get rid of the foul smells, then crawled into bed to get some shut-eye. Sleep didn’t come, thanks to freshman biology lab. Word around the campus was that the biology professor teaching the class, believed in performing experiments with live animals. The students had already looked at amoebas, dissected a preserved earthworm, and tomorrow, according to the class syllabus, the students were supposed to dissect a live cockroach and prepare slides from its internal organs--a project that would take several days to complete.
Danny was terribly afraid of roaches. He couldn’t possibly kill one. If he did, the creature’s buddies would probably avenge their departed friend. He imagined the dreadful insects would feast on his body while he slept. And then they would deposit egg cases in his torn, bleeding flesh so more roaches could emerge to continue eating away at him until only his bones were left.
The following afternoon in biology lab, Danny’s clammy hands trembled as he listened to the lab assistant’s detailed instructions. The young man finished with, “If you have any questions, just ask me.”
Yes. I have a question. Can you dissect the roach for me? Danny thought. But that was a stupid question. The lab assistant couldn’t and wouldn’t oblige him. Paralyzed with anxiety, Danny remained seated at his lab station while students grabbed specimens from an aquarium half-filled with humongous American cockroaches crawling over each other.
Smiling wickedly at Danny, Mortimer stuck his hand in the aquarium and retrieved a cockroach. Waving it at him, he said, “Did you get yours, Danny?”
The huge cockroaches terrified Danny, but he couldn’t let fear dominate him. He couldn’t give Mortimer the satisfaction of embarrassing him because he couldn’t grab a cockroach. Danny took a deep breath then went for a cockroach. But the darn thing ran up his arm with its prickly legs. Horrified, he peeled off his lab coat as though it were on fire and shook it at arm's length.
As the insect dropped to the floor and scurried away, Mortimer guffawed cold-heartedly. Collecting himself, he said, “What’s the matter, Danny? Don't tell me you're afraid of roaches.”
Danny, infuriated, answered through clenched teeth, “I don’t like the way they feel on my skin.”
Fueled by a combination of fear and anger, Danny grabbed a cockroach with sweat-covered hands and pinned it to a petri dish. Eyes closed, he pretended to examine the specimen via the eyepieces of the dissecting scope and thought about Mortimer. Danny had tolerated Mortimer’s demeaning tactics throughout grammar school, middle school, and high school. He wasn’t about to put up with Mortimer in college. He had to graduate with honors and go to medical school. He had to stop Mortimer’s bullying. He just didn’t know how to do it.
For the time being, Danny had to dissect the cockroach. I don’t think I can do this. The roach’s pals are going to avenge their friend’s death if I kill him.
The dreaded insect’s chums would come in hordes to devour him. Danny opened his eyes. The cockroach wiggled on the petri dish. The cornered creature seemed to be begging him for his life. Danny could almost hear the creature hollering, “Don’t kill me! Please! Please don’t kill me!”
But Danny needed to ace this course. It was part of the requirements for his degree program. He had to kill the roach. Stomach churning, nerves on high alert, beads of sweat rolling down his forehead, he steadied his hands, then with a sharp scalpel incised the sternum. Carefully prying the roach apart, he removed the internal organs and dropped them in vials of alcohol to preserve them.
It won’t be long before the roach’s buddies come after me, Danny thought as he cleaned his lab station. With frayed nerves and a queasy stomach, Danny glared at the vials. He needed a beer or something stronger to calm down before going to the cafeteria for dinner.
As Danny hustled to the dorm, a lovely brunette stopped him. “Hi, I’m in your biology class.”
Danny wondered why a good-looking stranger had bothered to talk to him. Caught off guard, he didn’t answer.
The young lady smiled. “Hi, I’m Amy. I just wanted to tell you that I didn’t think that guy was very nice to you. I think he was trying to make fun of you.” She paused. “And I’m glad he didn’t see me trying to grab a roach because he would’ve made fun of me too.” She laughed. “I’m really afraid of the creepy, crawly things!”
Danny nodded then walked away.
“Wait! I didn’t catch your name.”
“It’s Danny. Danny Carter.”
Danny hurried to his dorm room, thinking about the brunette. She was the first potential friend he had made after so many years. Friend? Well, she was not really a ‘friend’. The word nowadays meant somebody who liked you on Facebook or followed you on social media. Anyway, they had just met.
That underage students often smuggled beer and stronger brews of liquor into the dorms was no big secret. Traumatized by killing the cockroach, Danny got a beer from a student who participated in the beer and liquor smuggling program. He took the beer to his room and drank it greedily.
Feeling somewhat better, Danny strolled to the cafeteria for supper and spotted Amy sitting at a table. She waved at him. “Danny! There’s room in here for another person.”
Hoping that Amy could become a real friend, Danny quickened his step. Sadly, Mortimer and his friends were sitting at a nearby table.
“Hi.” Danny placed his tray on Amy’s table. He sat down, hoping Mortimer would not say or do anything to embarrass him in front of his newly-found friend.
But his wishes disappeared when Mortimer told Amy, “Don’t you think you deserve better than this shrimp?”
Amy and Danny glared at Mortimer but did not respond.
Mortimer continued. “You know, he’s a mama’s boy. Why don’t you consider a real man?”
That’s it! Danny got up and lunged at Mortimer, fully intending to clobber him, but he was no match for the muscle-bound guy. Mortimer knocked him to the floor with a right hook and pummeled him with his fists.
“Stop it! Stop it!” Amy yelled. When Mortimer didn’t quit, she seized a tray and whacked him on the head and back several times.
Mortimer quit pummeling Danny and stood, feeling his head. Blood stained his fingers as he checked his scalp.
Amy dropped the tray. She quickly grabbed some napkins and knelt beside Danny to wipe the blood off his face. Glowering at Mortimer, she yelled, “You’re going to pay for this!”
Almost immediately after the scuffle, a campus cop came over. “Mind telling me what happened?”
Tasting blood in his mouth, Danny swallowed then said, “We were just having a friendly squabble over football.”
The officer’s brows gathered. “Friendly squabble? I don’t think so.” He paused. “I need to see your IDs. Driver’s license or student I.D. cards would be fine.”
Danny and Mortimer showed him their I.D. cards. After scrutinizing them, the officer said, “Who started the fight?”
“I did,” Danny answered.
The officer returned their cards, first to Mortimer then to Danny. “I will let this one go by, but I don’t want to see a repeat.”
As the officer left, Danny thought he should have told him that Mortimer was responsible, but that would have only served to augment Mortimer’s bullying.
Amy wiped her hands with a napkin, but they were still covered with blood. “This is not working, Danny. I need to go to the ladies room to wash my hands. And you need to go to the hospital and have somebody over there check you.”
“What about supper?”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll find something to eat, and I’m sure you will, too,” Amy said. “But you need to get yourself to the university hospital.”
“I’m okay,” Danny answered coolly, “but thanks for clobbering Mortimer.”
“You’re welcome. But you need to go to the hospital to get your bleeding face checked out.” Amy paused. “I insist,” she added, strolling to the ladies room.
On Amy’s insistence, Danny went to the university hospital. After a long wait, a nurse finally saw him. “My! What happened to you?”
“I fell down the stairs in the library.”
The nurse got some supplies and wiped Danny’s face with a substance that stung. Danny grimaced. The treatment was worse than Mortimer’s beating. When she finished, Danny returned to his dorm room, sporting bruises and butterfly bandages on his face. He was hungry, but this time of day the cafeteria was closed, so he helped himself to a can of soda pop and a sandwich from the dorm’s vending machine.
The next day after a full day of classes, Danny contemplated asking Amy out. Dinner and a movie sounded great. He would ask her when he went for supper at the cafeteria. Anticipating talking to Amy, he rushed over there.
Mortimer and his friends were already at the cafeteria, eating and chatting loudly. Taking a gab break, Mortimer took a sizable bite out of a hefty bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich and chewed with gusto. All of a sudden, Mortimer felt something spiny moving about in his mouth. He grimaced, then spit. A cockroach coated with pieces of bread, mayonnaise, tomato, and lettuce landed on the floor.
Horrified, Mortimer dropped the sandwich and backed away from the table. “Damn! Who did this?!”
“What's the matter?” a friend asked.
Mortimer didn't answer. The cockroach had his undivided attention. It had parked beside the sandwich to groom its antennae. Damn roach wasn't afraid of him, but Mortimer had to show the blasted insect that it shouldn’t have gotten into his sandwich. He stepped on it.
As white stuff oozed from the cockroach, another roach appeared and scurried toward Mortimer; he stomped it. Another roach showed up, and another one, and another one until countless roaches were traveling up his legs to his neck, face, and arms.
Mortimer swatted at the roaches. “Somebody help me! Get these things off me!”
“What things?!” someone yelled.
“The roaches! They’re all over me!”
Bystanders, including Danny, didn’t see the roaches. All they saw was Mortimer screaming, swatting, and twisting. In different circumstances, one would have thought he was imitating
a rock star. Finally, someone called 911. The EMTs came, but Mortimer did not go willingly. He made a mess of the cafeteria as he fought off invisible roaches and real EMTs.
Once things calmed down, Danny found a secluded spot and sat down to eat. As he cut into a juicy hamburger steak, Danny spotted a roach scampering to a wall. Interestingly enough, instead of being frightened by the creature, Danny remembered his mom’s saying at the dinner table: “We can’t have these things around while we’re eating. They carry so many diseases!”
So, Danny got up, stomped the roach, and returned to his meal to think about Amy and the possibility that she could become a real friend. He ate slowly hoping that she would show up and join him for dinner. But he didn’t see her that evening.
Danny didn’t see Amy the following day and for several days thereafter. Worried, he asked his classmates if they had seen her. But the students, especially those in biology lab, looked at him as though he were crazy and told him that there had never been a brunette in the class. One guy emphatically said, “Danny, there are only four girls in this class. Three blondes and one redhead.”
But Danny didn’t believe them. He continued searching for Amy. He even went to the university’s registration department to see if he could find any information. But they couldn’t help him. They needed her name. Danny only had her first name. And there was no sense in going to the police with only a first name. They wouldn’t be able to help either. As the days streamed by, Danny’s anxiety intensified since Amy had vanished without a trace.
Not finding answers, Danny relied on his common sense to figure out why Amy had disappeared so suddenly. When was the first time that he had seen her? She had introduced herself after biology lab. That was the day after he had performed the spell in his dorm room. When Mortimer pummeled him in the evening, she came to his rescue. Danny recalled her wiping the blood off his face and yelling at Mortimer, “You will pay for this!”
At the time Danny hadn’t paid much attention to her comment; it was something anybody would have said under the same circumstances. However, the following day when Mortimer had his meltdown and the EMTs took him, Danny didn’t see Amy. As a matter of fact, he hadn’t seen her since Mortimer had pummeled him in the cafeteria. Additionally, the evening Mortimer “went bonkers”, Danny had killed a roach, and the action hadn’t bothered him. He no longer feared roaches. What had caused the drastic change?
Suddenly goose bumps covered his neck and arms as he began to realize that the spell he had performed in his dorm room was responsible. He hadn’t noticed any visible signs that the spell had worked, but there had been a sign. Amy was the sign. The person that he had talked to and had eaten with was a supernatural being that he had created. Yes! Amy was his creation! And she had transferred Danny’s fear of roaches to Mortimer! His incantation was responsible for Mortimer going bananas!
Troubled by what he had done, Danny told his parents, friends, doctors, and anybody who would listen that he was responsible for Mortimer’s breakdown. But nobody believed his story or that he was capable of ruining somebody’s life.
Overcome with remorse Danny quit going to school. He roamed the streets talking to himself, never bathed or shaved, and never sought refuge in a shelter or his folk’s home. Eventually, he became a nuisance and was committed to a mental institution.
Meanwhile, after several psychiatric evaluations, Mortimer landed in a padded cell in the same institution. Years later, he was still in the same chamber, screaming “Get these things off me!” and struggling to get out of a straitjacket.
On days when Danny exhibited some lucidity, he was allowed to get out of his room. So, he would mosey down the hall to see Mortimer. Through a reinforced glass pane on a locked steel door, he watched Mortimer squirming, screaming, and fighting invisible cockroaches. That horrible sight always sent Danny back to his room, thinking, I did this, but nobody believes me!
To this day, the gossip about Mortimer Steele going ‘looney tunes’ continues, but so does the chatter about Danny Carter. When his name comes up, people wonder why such a brilliant mind ended up in a funny farm. But you and I know what happened to Danny Carter, and we also know that he was the only person who knew what really happened to Mortimer Steele.