When I was a young girl, I believed in vampires, the creatures from folklore who roamed the nights looking for a long neck to pierce with their two sharp incisor teeth so they could suck the blood from a human. I also believed that you could repel vampires by wearing a necklace made from garlic cloves, that a vampire couldn’t see its reflection in a mirror, and the only sure-fire way of killing one was to pound a sharp stake through its heart. I’m not sure where I got all these crazy ideas. Perhaps I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and thought the book was a work of nonfiction instead of fiction, or maybe I saw an old movie. I can’t remember.
Today, I’m not scared of vampires, but I’m bothered by something real that sucks blood — a lot of blood. I’m referring to mosquitoes.
I am somewhat of a mosquito magnet. They are drawn to me. Within minutes of walking outside, they are hovering all around my bare flesh waiting for the opportune moment to light on my body and get to work. I would estimate that I’ve killed thousands of mosquitoes in my 56 years on earth, and that includes the ones I’ve slapped that already had a full tank of my blood, leaving a red smear on my fair skin.
Mosquitoes can ruin a pleasant afternoon on the porch, that’s for sure. I’ve purchased and placed citronella candles next to all the rocking chairs. Citronella helps, but it doesn’t deter the really persistent ones. And every year, I pick up a couple of spray cans of Off so I can douse myself in DEET on days when I have work to do in the woods.
As a child of the Sixties and Seventies, my friends and I spent our summers showcasing feet and legs polka dotted with numerous red, swollen welts where mosquitoes had feasted on our limbs as we played barefoot and barelegged in our yards. I remember scratching mosquito bites so much and so hard that I made my legs bleed a few times. The itch can make a sane person crazy.
Then one evening, a pack of neighborhood kids and I played Tag or Hide and Seek in our front yard when we witnessed a pickup truck come around the curve in the road where Steve Morgan lived. We stopped chasing each other and stood silently watching the truck roll slowly toward us — a foggy plume of something spraying out the back of the truck bed. It passed within thirty feet of where we stood and showered us with cool droplets of something. We stood there with our mouths wide open wondering what in the heck it was. We weren’t very bright back then.
“It’s spraying for mosquitoes,” my mother told me later. “They’ve been bad this year, and they are trying to knock down their population.”
My friends and I stood in the fumigation fog many summer evenings during my childhood, hands stretched toward the sky as if we were waiting for t h e rapturetopullusup into the heavens. We didn’t fear any future cancers or bizarre neurological side effects. Things like that just weren’t on our radars back then. Thankfully, we survived. The male mosquitoes don’t have the mouth parts for sucking blood, so the female mosquitoes are the true blood suckers. The female stabs two tubular shafts into the skin of her victims. With the first shaft, she injects an enzyme that inhibits blood from clotting so she can feed for a while. She uses the other shaft to suck up the blood like slurping a vanilla milkshake through a straw.
She uses the blood to nourish her eggs so she can incubate more little nuisance mosquitoes. Most female mosquitoes lay eggs in water. They hatch a few days later. I’ve seen them wriggling around in the water left in my wheelbarrow before — little monsters of nature. I pour them out and curse them.
I’ve heard it said that the mosquito is the deadliest creature on earth — responsible for carrying and transmitting the diseases that kill over a million people each year across the globe. They carry and propagate bad things like malaria, the West Nile virus, yellow fever, dengue, and encephalitis.
I’ve never feared catching a disease from a mosquito. To me, they are just irritants — something I’ve learned to live with in Georgia. But I can tell you this: nothing wakes me from a dead sleep faster than hearing the little high-pitched sound of a mosquito flying near my ear in the darkness. Nothing. It’s me against her, and I don’t rest until she’s dead, dead, dead.