There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…
The laboratory was sweltering. The greenhouse-glazed windows were sealed, and an extractor fan from the fume-cupboard was not meant to double as an air-conditioning unit.
‘Go on, open the window.’
‘Not a chance. If there’s a leakage or anything, then we’re fucked.’
‘What can go wrong?’
‘I don’t know. Why don’t you open it?’
‘I can’t reach. Go on, help me out here. I’m a woman, for God’s sake.
Helpless and defenceless…’
‘Hah! There’s nothing helpless about you. God help any man who crosses your path on a Friday night.’
‘Go on… I’ll go out with you this Friday. I promise…you can reach the latch.’
‘Oh… okay then.’
The window slid up and a brief blast of cool air relieved the oppressive heat.
‘See…. isn’t that better?’
‘Are we still on for Friday?’
‘It’s a date, lover boy.’
He stretched out in the chair, pushing it back onto two legs. The
chair legs slid back with a screech and man and chair fell backwards
with a crash. The shattering of broken glass echoed an instant later.
‘What the fuck….’
‘You clumsy idiot! Better not do that on Friday.’
‘What was in that jar? The one on the bench?’
‘Don’t know. Just a couple of flies.’
‘Thank God for that.’
The housefly’s life cycle can last as little as ten days. In a year, a single pair of Musca domestica can breed ten generations, over a trillion insects if the full breeding potential is realised. The male mounts the female from
behind and they fuck for a few seconds.
There was thunder in the air. She opened the living-room window to clear the stifling air. A couple of flies buzzed lazily into the room.
There wasn’t a newspaper lying around. ‘Shit!’ She trudged into the
kitchen in search of insecticide spray, reaching under the kitchen
sink. A rusty can was wedged towards the back. She shook it as she
walked back into the living room, listening to the liquid slosh
inside. Then her mouth plopped open.
The living room was full of flies. They circled and buzzed in a
sandstorm swirl, in the centre of the room. Then they swooped on her.
Daylight was blotted out in an instant as swarming blackness engulfed her, seeking moist caverns and flesh, bristly legs probing into nostrils and a gagging flood of crackling blackness forced its way into her mouth and gullet, coating her tongue with a dusty insect putrescence.
‘Gaa…..gaggg..’ Bile rose in her throat and met a sea of chitin
crawling downwards as she choked. Her hands flailed blindly and she staggered around in a frantic daze, grainy forms scraping her eyeballs as they sought the delicate pink tissues at the corner of her eyes, crawling into her ears and filling her brain with a dull drone.
The small forms were crushed and crunched as she stumbled out of the house and into the street, retching and choking, trailing a cloud of flies behind her black-swarmed face and hair. She collapsed to the ground and, as blows shook her body and the flies departed, daylight returned just to fade into darkness once more as numbing shock overtook her mind.
The voices crept in through the haze of sedation.
‘She’s dehydrated and in shock. Other than that, she’s okay.’
‘How old is she?’
‘Bloody hell. She looks seventy.’
‘That’s no surprise after what she went through.’
‘What caused the swarm of flies?’
‘We’re not sure. Possibly an electromagnetic disturbance, because of the thunderstorm, or maybe the heat. The entomologists at the
university are looking into it. They’ve got an ongoing research
‘What injuries did she suffer?’
‘It was mainly shock, dehydration and asphyxiation. Some neighbours beat at her with towels, like they were putting out a fire, and that seemed to drive the insects away. She’s got abrasions to the soft tissues in her mouth, nostrils and throat, and on her corneas. We had to irrigate the cavities to wash out the dead insects and eggs, so there will be some lingering swelling, maxillofacial pain and tinnitus.’
‘Eggs? They laid eggs in her?’
‘That’s what they do. But they normally wait until the host is dead.
You can sometimes see them in the corners of the eyes of corpses, like creamy clusters.’
‘Were they cleaned out as well? The eggs?’
‘Yes.’ A pause. ‘There’s only so far you can go, down the oesophagus.
Peristalsis will carry any residual matter down to the stomach, for
‘Yuk.’ Laughter. ‘Fly eggs for lunch.’
‘Very funny. It’s time to go. There’s a group of students due shortly.’
Each female fly can lay around 500 eggs, in batches of up to 150.
Within a day, these will hatch into maggots, between 3mm and 9mm in length. The maggots live for at least a week and feed on organic material.
She didn’t feel well.
‘Are you not eating today, Mrs Brooks?’ The auxiliary nurse looked at her with concern. ‘You need to get your strength back if you’re being discharged tomorrow.’
‘No,’ muttered Mrs Brooks. ‘I really don’t feel up to it.’ The tray
lay untouched on the bed’s swing-table.
‘What’s the matter?’ Nurse Yeboah’s rich African accent, warm smile and formal manner were usually reassuring. ‘I can call for the sister, or a doctor, if you wish.’ She pulled back the curtain with a brisk swish.
‘I don’t know…’ She couldn’t explain it, but waves of nausea were
pulsing from her stomach, abdomen and all through her body, behind her eyes, up her spine and into the base of her skull. Flecks fluttered in front of her vision and her tongue was thick with mucus.
Suddenly she convulsed and heaved, jerking on the bed, her mouth wide open in a retching grimace, the tendons in her red-flushed neck stretched to breaking point as she grabbed the side-rail of the bed.
Nurse Yeboah reached for the emergency call button, but froze in horror.
Floods of bloody maggots spewed from Mrs Brooks’s mouth. They writhed frantically in the dark-red soup of bloodclots, bile, and pus. The woman heaved and retched, but there was no end to the flow and they burst across the bed and spread across the ward floor in a sea of larval gore. Mrs Brooks collapsed like a string-cut puppet and slumped forward across the bed, sighing with what was either relief or a death-rattle. A crimson fountain soaked the bedsheets in a bloody wash, flooding onto the floor and around the writhing maggots.
Nurse Yeboah’s mouth hung open in a silent scream. She leaned forward to turn over Mrs Brooks, gagging at the sour-copper stench of blood and bile. Then she screamed out loud, as the other patients on the ward stared across in horror.
The face of Mrs Brooks was swollen beyond recognition. Frantic maggots crawled from the corners of her eyes, one after the other, plopping onto the blood-washed floor. They slid eagerly from her nostrils, and dropped from her ears, large creamy maggots oozing lazily from between her gore-flecked lips. Then, in a sudden spasm, she jerked back into life, heaving retching with a growing wail of agony.
But the sound was insect, not human. A flow of glossy pupal fragments was followed by a swarm of buzzing flies, freshly hatched from their flesh-warm confinement. The dull buzz grew to a roar as the cloud burst into the still air of the hospital ward. Hundreds of black forms darted around the ward, seeking shocked-open mouths, terrified eyes and moist nostrils, to begin the cycle all over again.
By Iain Paton