Five quarter-turns of the hot knob and one of the cold always rendered the correct temperature. There was no need to do a quick test with the hand, so his chest made first contact with the water. It rolled over his shoulders and splashed under his chin. That first moment under the flow was pleasant, serene, cleansing. He savored it, as he did every morning. A simple ritual. Bound for a good day.
Then a gnat flew directly into his eye.
A curious thing. Very unlikely, he thought, that a bug so small, with virtually no purpose, found it’s way into his shower, fluttered around for God-knows-how-long, then wasted no time kamikaze-ing into his sclera. What nerve! What gall!
Annoyance quickly gave way to another possibility—What if it was an accident?
What if this poor gnat did not intentionally crash into his eye ball, but rather veered off its flight path and attempted a heroic emergency landing, not knowing that the alien terrain would lead to most certain (nay, instant!) death?
He mourned the gnat tragedy.
A new narrative emerged.
The gnat was not a ship lost at sea or a tsunami washing away a low-lying city.
This was murder, and he, the murderer. My eye is a trap, he thought, a man-made, always-ready act of guerilla warfare, and he waited to fire until the gnat saw the whites of his eyes. Or, worse yet, it wasn’t a defensive maneuver, but an offensive attack! To the miniscule bug, his casual step under the shower head would appear a blitzkrieg, an all-out, full-speed charge at the enemy, his vessel a planet-sized torpedo moving at terminal velocity. A man bomb.
Either way, he was a gnat slayer. No one could stop him, not even himself, and there was no telling what he was capable of.
In a shower full of gnats—a billion gnats!—he would feel no fear, the power of his massive frame capable of destroying them all without the use of his gargantuan hands or powerful jaw. He could simply use his open eyes, staring them down, allowing them to
collect on the whites, turn his corneas from icy blue to living gray, blot out his vision by eclipsing the iris, until, in a fraction of a second, he blinked.
He did just that in the shower, just after the gnat’s landing. It was a reflex. The training of a solider. Shoot first, ask questions later. A war machine.
When his eyelids reopened the gnat was gone. Perhaps popped out and fallen to the tile, washed down the drain or caught in some leg hair. But he, the killer, knew the truth. The micro-insect had been sucked back into his ocular cavity, drowning in whatever fluids keep the operation running back there. He and the gnat were now one contiguous beast. He had absorbed its life into his, harvesting whatever finite strength and nutrients it possessed with the literal blink of an eye.
It was momentous, and yet all of this—all of this murder and fusion, the God-like power and the will to vanquish all gnats that flew in his way—could not change the fact that before he spun the knobs and allowed the temperature-perfect water to wet his chest, he had forgotten to bring in a fresh bar of soap.
He washed his armpits with shampoo.
t.j. peters is a humorist and screenwriter living in Southern California. His writing has appeared in Rattle, THOSE PEOPLE, UCLA's Journal of the Arts, and others. More of his work can be found at tjpeterswriting.com, or by howling his name into the wind and patiently waiting for a response.