HAZARD PAY • by Matthew Cherry

It is Texas summer. My delivery zone is peppered with luxury townhouse apartments whose aluminum entry gates wait for Euclidean entry codes known only to God and pizza delivery drivers. Their foundations have only recently been cut from the primeval deciduous wilderness of the Lake Travis hill country, which means two things. The first is that the apartments are all surrounded by swathes of picturesque forest directly out of a Thomas Kinkade calendar. The second is that the spider- and insect-per-square-foot population in the area is equivalent to that of the Brazilian rainforest.

Mushroom-and-pepperoni in hand, I arrive at Ridgecrest Estates number 213. I knock and then immediately notice a grasshopper roughly the size of a three-week-old kitten clinging to the door. It is bottle green and covered in ridges of thorny spines, and its eyes, dime-sized yellow discs in which swim pupils red as the devil’s front door, regard me with hungry insouciance. I stare back with mild but growing alarm. I am waiting for it to hiss like a Komodo or perhaps leap off the door in a buzzsaw of pincer claws and Michael Bay sound effects and latch onto my face when Mr. 213 pulls open the door. He smiles, greets me, and leans forward to take the pizza. This motion puts Mothra Jr. some eight inches from his naked cheek and neck. My gaze dances back and forth between the beast and 213, who neither notices my own terror nor realizes that he is within poisonous-grasshopper-tongue-strike range of something that escaped from Jurassic Park. I ponder the philosophic implications of such blissful situational ignorance while fearing for my life. 213 gives me money. I relinquish the pepperoni. He shuts the door. The beast and I are alone again.

Time slows. Grassasaurus Rex does one of those midnight-owl one-eighty head turns and pierces me with its Miltonic stare. I did not eat him, its fiery gaze seems to say, but you saw that I could have. Go now. Take your little mortal life and remember that I spared you.

Matthew Cherry is a graduate student of English Creative Studies and a Teaching Assistant at the University of Central Oklahoma, and a veteran in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. His fiction has been published in Calliope magazine. His true loves include Chimay Blue and any English word with all five vowels in alphabetical order. Give up yet? ‘Facetious.’

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