“Something in the insect seems to be alien to the habits, morals, and psychology of this world, as if it had come from some other planet: more monstrous, more energetic, more insensate, more atrocious, more infernal than our own.”
-Maurice Maeterlinck (Awarded the 1911 Nobel Prize in Literature, 1862–1949)
“Did you know that the entire insect population represents over 90% of the life forms on the planet?”
Gladys Murphy sighed. Her son, Jeremy was always spouting off facts about insects. Or he was playing with them. He was 12 years old and still playing with insects. When other boys his age were playing sports or even video games, Jeremy would be in the back yard with his jars and boxes and nets collecting insects. Playing with them. Touching them.
His obsession with insects was unnerving and in her opinion wasn’t very healthy either. On many occasions Gladys had gone into his room to put away his clothes only to find him playing with his insects like they were Hot Wheels or little plastic soldiers. Sometimes she’d find a battalion of ants parading across his bedroom floor. Running across the occasional spider or cockroach could be expected in anywhere but it was routine in her household. Beetles and spiders would battle to the death in his collection of old mason jars and fish tanks. His walls were lined with window boxes full of the pin-stuck carcasses of dead insects.
One time she caught him playing with a wasp’s nests that clung to the rafters in the attic. She hated going up to the attic. Even with the lights on and flashlight in hand, hot, brackish shadows seemed to cling to every corner of the room and she always experienced a slight feeling of trepidation every time she had to go up there. But there was Jeremy, standing in front of the lone window in the attic, playing with the wasp’s nest without a care in the world of being stung. It seemed like dozens of them were flying around him like tiny helicopters and Jeremy was their air traffic controller.
Like cold, invisible fingers, an involuntary shiver traced down her spine just recalling the event.
“Mom, did you know that entomology is the study of insects?”
“Yes, Jeremy. You’ve told me a thousand times,” she replied, the patience slipping from her voice.
“Mom, did you know that in Latin, ‘insect’ means ‘cut into pieces’?”
“Yes, Jeremy.” She glanced at the clock and noticed it was time to go to Dr. Mendenhall’s office. “Jeremy, go upstairs and put your good clothes on because we have to go the doctor’s office now.”
Gladys hoped that Dr. Mendenhall could help Jeremy. And maybe in the process get some help herself. Lately she’d become a little frightened of Jeremy. It was something she’d been struggling with ever since her husband, Lou had died six years ago.
She had been so stupid. One night after work, she stopped at the bar up the street to have a drink before returning home. She’d had several more drinks than she had intended and ended up leaving with one of the less offensive patrons. Lou wouldn’t be home for hours so she took the guy home. She’d never done anything like it before or since. She never even got his name and couldn’t even remember the guy’s face but there was no denying that it was the best sex she had ever had before and since. Even now, that whole episode was a blur and each time she tried to recall even the slightest detail about that strange man at the bar with the blurry face, she came up blank. But she could recall that magnificent afterglow.
Shortly after Jeremy was born Lou dropped subtle hints at how Jeremy didn’t look like him at all. He’d noticed how different Jeremy was from the other kids. How he never showed any interest in sports, how Jeremy basically ignored Lou altogether. Always playing with those damn bugs. Even now she could recall hearing Jeremy correcting him by saying that they were ‘insects’, not bugs and that there was a big difference. Lou would get pissed and go out drinking, staying out all night.
She’d never told Lou about the affair. But she was certain that Lou suspected he wasn’t the boy’s real father.
Then one night he never came home. When the police knocked on her door at 3AM and told her that Lou had driven his car off the Downtown Bridge, she fell to pieces. The policemen were condolatory and stayed with her while she did her best to compose herself for the trip to the morgue to identify his remains.
Sitting in the back seat of the police cruiser Jeremy had never once questioned her about her crying. In fact he’d seemed almost eager to go. She recalled the slight smile he wore and how it had chilled her blood to think that he might have known what happened to Lou and that he was secretly happy about the outcome.
Later at the morgue, when the medical examiner pulled back the sheet to reveal Lou’s twisted and broken body, Jeremy had said, “Did you know that the Nematomorph hairworm is a parasite that can make its host commit suicide?”
The medical examiner, a chubby, gnome of man with huge ears mounted on a balding head had knelt down next to Jeremy. For brief moment neither spoke; the coroner and the freak regarded each other solemnly.
Finally, the medical examiner tousled Jeremy’s hair and smiled at him in genuine admiration. “That’s right, little man. How’d you know that?”
“The Nematomorph hairworm lives in swampy water. It lays its eggs in the water too. And when a small enough creature like a grasshopper drinks the water, it drinks the worm eggs.”
Gladys had been disgusted to hear her son prattle on with yet more insect trivia.
“Incredible,” the ME had remarked as Jeremy continued. Only this time he had turned and pinned Gladys with a cold stare devoid of emotion.
“The eggs hatch inside the grasshopper’s belly and swim up to his brain. The baby worms make the grasshopper so sick that it wants to go back for another drink of water to get better only now it is so sick that it can’t get out of the water and it drowns. Then the baby worms wiggle out of the grasshopper’s body and swim back into the water as bigger worms.”
Then Jeremy smiled and few things should be more precious than a smiling child but when Jeremy smiled it was like watching a hungry spider waiting patiently in its web.
Gladys was racked by an involuntary shudder.
That was really when it hit her – that Jeremy was different; much different. And thinking about how truly different he was always tended to start her speculating about the affair she’d had and who that strange man really was.
After she had signed all of the papers and was about to leave the morgue, the medical examiner had pulled her aside in the waiting area and spoke to her in a hushed voice.
“I didn’t want to say anything in front of the policeman or with your son being present but Mrs. Murphy, I’ve got to tell you,” he had looked over his shoulder nervously before continuing. “I found these on your husband’s body.”
Gladys looked at the liquid-filled jar that the medical examiner had placed in her hand. It was similar in size to the jars at the super market that contained peanut butter or mayonnaise and there was a ropy substance floating in the bluish liquid.
“They were inside his shirt.”
“W-what are these?” she asked.
Once again, the medical examiner looked over his shoulder and around the corner before proceeding. “They’re Spinochordodes tellinii, Mrs. Murphy. They are also called gordian worms or horsehair worms. The same worms your son spoke of earlier.”
Gladys felt her knees begin to give way. “B-b-but h-how…?”
“I haven’t the foggiest, Mrs. Murphy. Really I don’t. But it has been the weirdest evening of my professional life and I’m going home now.” He put a gently hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said walking back to the morgue.
Gladys had thought about that conversation every day for the last six years. She thought about how foolish she had been and about how utterly perplexing and unnerving it was when dealing with Jeremy.
And of course there were the nightmares.
Every night. For six years. Insects. Crawling, biting, flying, jumping, stinging, eating, spawning, growing.
In the car, Jeremy was furtive and withdrawn. Gladys never allowed him to ride up front with her anymore because more times that not, wherever Jeremy was, insects were sure to follow. She regarded him in the rearview mirror.
“You don’t have any insects back there, do you? No ants or bees in a jar or anything?” she asked.
Jeremy never met her gaze in the mirror but he did shake his head in the negative.
Looking generally pathetic, even for Jeremy, her son shrugged his shoulders dejectedly. He could have been hiding any number of creatures in his clothes or in his pockets or even in his hair but he seemed so miserable that she let his vacillating response go without further punctuation.
In the waiting room at the doctor’s office, he was even more despondent. While the other children read the obligatory, Highlights magazines or colored or played with various toys, Jeremy slouched on the far end of his chair as if to create as much space between himself and his mother as the chair would allow. Gladys was envious of the other mothers; despite the fact that they were in the waiting room of a child psychologist, all of the children seemed much better adjusted than Jeremy. Even though she didn’t know what their problems might be, there was still a sense of innocence about the other children, a sense of normalcy that she could not project upon her own son.
Still scrunched in the far corner of his chair and looking pathetic and uncomfortable not so much with the furniture but more so by the present company, Jeremy flinched at every outburst by one the other children.
Finally the receptionist came to take them back to the doctor’s office. Gladys was looking forward to whatever progress might be made while she was sure that Jeremy was dreading the coming exchange. He shuffled along behind her with his head down and his hands stuffed in his pockets looking like the most pathetic member of the Lollypop Guild.
With the two of them seated in identical chairs in front of the doctor’s large, oak desk, Gladys couldn’t help but feel as if she and Jeremy had just been sent to the principal’s office. She knew Dr. Mendehall by reputation only and he was not what she expected at all. He was a well-dressed man, very GQ, unexpectedly tall with sharp, prominent eyebrows over penetrating eyes. With fingers steepled beneath his chin, he regarded them solemnly through the faintest whips of smoke from a recently extinguished cigar. He did not look at all happy to see them.
Normally devoid of any emotion in social situations, Jeremy appeared uncomfortable under the man’s heavy gaze. Gladys was about to second-guess her decision to schedule the appointment when the doctor spoke to her in a deep, soothing voice.
“Ms. Murphy, thank you for coming in today and for bringing your adorable son, Jeremy. It is a pleasure to meet you both.”
“That you for seeing us, Doctor. Jeremy, please say hello to Dr. Mendenhall.”
“Hello, Doctor,” Jeremy said in a choked whisper. He didn’t look at the doctor but spoke to his shoes.
The doctor held Jeremy pinned with his steely gaze. Jeremy always had trouble looking people in the eye and even Gladys was a little intimidated by the doctor’s uncompromising glare.
“I’ve reviewed the notes from the consultation interview, Ms. Murphy and I believe I can help you and Jeremy.”
Gladys smiled all the way down to her toes and was immediately excited about the quick turn of events.
After thirty minutes of questions from Dr. Mendenhall and reluctant answers from both Jeremy and his mother, the doctor finally said, “This is really a classic case believe it or not.”
Dr. Mendenhall lit another cigar and eased himself back into his cushy leather chair before continuing. “You see, Gladys, can I call you Gladys?” The doctor continued with out waiting for her acknowledgement. “Although you may find Jeremy’s obsession,” the doctor used his fingers to indicate imaginary quotation marks, “with insects strange, it is actually quite normal for children of Jeremy’s age to become fascinated with insects.
“Children play outside more so than adults and insects and bugs are everywhere where children play. Adults don’t climb trees or play in streams or lift up rocks and logs because we have more productive activities to engage in while children of Jeremy’s age do not.
“In many ways, insects provide a source of entertainment for children much like puppets or cartoons because they are brightly colored and exhibit strange and sometimes fascinating behavior. Who among us hasn’t silently marveled at the brilliant butterfly? Who hasn’t wondered just how fast a dragon fly can fly? And who isn’t fascinated by the collective efforts of an ant colony as it hauls its latest kill back to its hole in the ground?
“They can even be quite cathartic for some children, especially for introverted children like Jeremy. Insects do not talk back or judge or speak in an intimating or condescending manner. They are merely there to listen as a child speaks of things that he or she would not normally speak about to either friends or family.”
The doctor winked knowing at Jeremy. “Sometimes secret things.”
At this, Jeremy sat up in his chair and like straight razor being flicked open, a crooked smiled sliced across his features.
“What’s more, Gladys, is that entomologists, should Jeremy continue to show an interest in insects and bugs, make a very good living. Some work for state or federal crime labs, medical and pharmacological research firms and even the agricultural industry. And let’s not forget about museums. Many museums have an entomology staff of at least twenty people including research assistants. In fact, entomology majors are more likely to find a job in their field than even doctors or lawyers.”
Gladys shook her head in amazement. “So you mean this whole thing could just blow itself out or become a real career opportunity for Jeremy? A respectable career where he’d be like a doctor or something?”
“Quite possibly. But that is up to Jeremy.” The doctor blew smoke rings that lingered above his head and then faded into a haze near the tiled ceiling. “Of course Jeremy has to realize that there is a time and a place for his hobby. Bringing bugs and insects to the dinner table is unacceptable. And much like his insects, if Jeremy expects to be treated like a grown up, he must shed the skin of these bad habits and embrace some new behaviors in order to grow.”
He glanced at Jeremy who shook his head in understanding. To Gladys he said, “And as long as you are tolerant and understanding of Jeremy’s hobby, the two of you should be on the path to a better relationship.”
Still chewing on his cigar, the doctor rose and pressed a red button on his desk. A moment later, the same receptionist came back to escort them out and spoke to Gladys about the billing process.
As Jeremy was leaving the doctor’s office, he shoved his hand deep into his pocket then took it out again and reached behind the bust of Sigmund Freud that sat on the book case by the door. Many of the doctor’s younger patients were fascinated by the big sculpture and gazed at it on their way out of his office as if that stern, granite countenance was the physical symbol of their final warning to change their behavior. At the time, Dr. Mendenhall didn’t think anything of Jeremy’s actions.
A short time later when the next patient and her parents arrived, the doctor became aware of a persistent buzzing sound that kept intruding on his thoughts. Finally when it seemed that everyone in the room could tell that there was an unaccountable noise threatening the serenity of their session, Dr. Mendenhall got up from his desk and sought out the disturbance. The noise was coming from near his office door and he began rummaging through the bric-a-brac on the book shelves.
When at last he moved the bust of Freud, he saw the unmistakable form of a wood pulp nest and squirming within its combs were the larvae of some kind of wasp. Inside the combs, the white larvae sacks where humming and vibrating at a fantastic rate.
The doctor grabbed a copy of Psychology Today, intent on smashing the nest. His patient had crawled up into the lap of her father who scowled disapprovingly. The doctor smiled awkwardly and tried to illicit their understanding. Jeremy, he thought. How could that little shit do something like this? He raised the magazine and was about to crush the nest when the vibrating combs burst open all at once as if fired from a shot gun. A dozen black and yellow wasps exploded into his face, stinging his eyes, lips, nose and mouth.
Dr. Mendenhall dropped his makeshift weapon and tried to swat the wasps from his already swelling face but they were too quick. Several wasps quickly found the moist membranes of his mouth and nose and set about stinging him repeatedly.
The family in the lounge area screamed collectively and in a huddled group backed away from the fracas. The receptionist came rushing into the office but the doctor was already on the floor writhing and twitching in the throes of anaphylactic shock. He gagged on the crunchy insects and tried to eject them from his nose and mouth with weak and pitiful coughs but their collective stings were overpowering. Within moments he lay still on the floor; his head and face swollen to almost twice its normal size; it resembled a purple basketball about to burst.
Two months had gone by since their visit with Dr. Mendenhall and in that time both Jeremy and Gladys had fallen into a routine of mutual acceptance. Gladys worked at accepting Jeremy’s morbid fascination and did not overtly criticize or demean his unorthodox interests. Jeremy’s behavior was relatively unchanged although he managed to keep his collection confined to his room and in their assigned enclosures.
Gladys was reading the morning paper and enjoying a cup of coffee when an uneasy feeling crawled through her. She put the paper down on the table and behind it, Jeremy stood as still as a statue.
“Insects have to shed their skin so they can grow bigger,” he said.
Gladys stared at Jeremy. He stood on the other side of the table and although he did not blink or turn away, his head was tilted downward in an expression that resembled a quizzical puppy. Maybe this was a breakthrough. Maybe this was his way of coming to grips with the situation.
“Yes, Jeremy. It is called molting. Many insects will take in large amounts of air and water to increase their blood pressure in order to expand their exoskeleton so they can eventually break out of it and into a larger body.” She had done some reading too.
Jeremy’s head immediately popped up in interest and his smile was the warmest, most genuine emotion she had ever seen him exhibit.
“Like cicadas?” he said tentatively.
“Or butterflies or even spiders. All living things have to grow to survive, Jeremy.”
“I know, mom. I know.” He turned and started to walk away but then he stopped and looked back at her. “Thanks mom,” he said and then he ran upstairs to his room.
Gladys thought she might cry. Things were looking up. Dr. Mendenhall was right after all.
After several hours without hearing from him, Gladys decided to see what Jeremy was up to. She’d ask if he wanted to go to the movies or to Burger King. Anything to get out of the house and to foster some of the changes she’d witnessed in him earlier. She went upstairs and knocked on his bedroom door.
“Jeremy? Can I come in?”
There was no answer. No sound.
She knocked again. “Jeremy? You want to go out for dinner tonight? Jeremy?”
She did not want to betray the trust that they had begun building together and she was reluctant to enter his room uninvited but it wasn’t like Jeremy not to respond like this.
“Jeremy, I’m coming in OK?” She turned the door knob and entered his bedroom cautiously. Jeremy wasn’t in sight. But his room was immaculate. Nothing was out of order. Everything was put away in its place. Everything was clean.
And there were no insects anywhere to be seen. All of his specimen jars and fish tanks were empty. There was nothing in his trash can. Nothing under his bed. Even his closet was as orderly and neat.
“Jeremy where are you?” she croaked, worry starting to worm its way through her bowels. “Jeremy?”
Gladys ran to the window and looked out over the front lawn. Then she ran to the other window that overlooked the back yard. There was no sign of Jeremy.
She rushed out of the room and pulled down the steps to the attic. She unfolded them without caring that the hard wood floor was scuffed in the process. She climbed the rickety stairs with reckless abandon, her fears of the attic forgotten in the face of her child’s safety.
“Jeremy, are you up here?” she yelled, her voice cracked with barely concealed panic.
At the top of the steps she bumped her head on the low ceiling. She pushed the dusty boxes of Christmas decorations out of her way as she traversed the attic walkway passing old suit carriers stuffed with dated clothing and cardboard boxes overflowing with barely used toys and stuffed animals. Particles of dust and fiberglass insulation stung her throat as she searched among the heaps of discarded items. But there was no sign of him.
“Jeremy!” she screamed.
After the police had come and gone and had searched the house from top to bottom, Gladys was back at the kitchen table. Her coffee had gone cold. Her paper lay untouched from where she’d dropped it hours before.
The policemen were very patient with her as she’d explained what had happened. She’d told them that she and Jeremy were getting along better than they ever had and until she realized that her son was missing, it had been one of the happiest days of her life. Now the shock was setting in. Her whole body was leaden with despair and the thought of doing anything not connected with finding her son was too exhausting.
The police would issue an Amber Alert and she was certain that they were even now combing the woods for her son. Neighbors that she had seldom spoken with called and offered their sympathy. Her responses were wooden and without emotion. She dreaded watching TV for fear that she would see pictures of Jeremy and begin to realize that the hope of his safe return dwindled with each passing hour.
Secretly she knew that something like this would happen. She had no other family. No support. And with Lou gone these last six years, how could she be expected to raise their son alone? Who could expect her to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table and to provide a safe, nurturing environment when they were both so alone?
She wept into her hands, shaking and crying and moaning until she fell asleep, slumped in a broken heap at kitchen table.
In the ensuing two days, the police had returned accompanied by more neighbors. They’d done everything they could. Checked and re-checked the house. Blood hounds had scoured the woods. Volunteer search teams had trekked to the ends of the county and back. Every basement, every storage shed, every garage, every distressed property was checked. They’d even dragged the two ponds out on The Barber’s property.
There was no sign of Jeremy. No missing shoes. No scraps of clothing. No scent for the dogs.
Christmas was in two days. The thought of being utterly alone on Christmas made her nauseous but a small seed of hope took root. Maybe she hadn’t tried hard enough. Maybe she’d been too stern all those years and Jeremy had simply run away. Maybe he was out in the woods watching her through the kitchen windows right now. Maybe he’d come back. What if the weather got too cold or what if it started raining? Maybe he would come back after all. Maybe if she pretended that he was still here and maybe if she put up the Christmas decorations…
That was it! She would just pretend that he was still there and that they were going to celebrate Christmas together; just the two of them.
Somewhere inside her was the ethereal sound of breaking glass but she paid no attention to those shattered, crystalline pillars.
Hope bloomed within her chest, misguided and neurotic though it may have been, it spurred her to action. She put on her coat, grabbed her purse and rushed out the door to her car and drove into town. She wiped back her tears and smiled and sang along with the Christmas carols on the radio.
She stopped at the grocery store and bought a turkey, stuffing mix, cranberry sauce and green beans. Jeremy liked green beans. She would make the best green bean casserole ever. He’d love it.
She also picked up two bottles of cheap white wine. It was the holiday season after all.
After the grocery store, she stopped at Wal-Mart and did some Christmas shopping. Jeremy could use a new microscope so she bought the most expense one they had. Everywhere she went, people would offer her their sympathies and condolences and she would smile and thank them for their kind words and wish them each a very, Merry Christmas. She was oblivious to their stares and to their looks of concern; she just went about her business of making this the best Christmas ever.
She pulled into the parking lot of the old 7-11 and bought the largest tree that the local Lion’s Club had to offer from their makeshift stand. It was for a good cause so the Lion’s Club folks tied her tree to the top of her car and silently wished her well.
With her Christmas tree, the presents in the trunk and the back seat full of holiday goodies, Gladys drove off singing the lyrics to ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ And of course, no one could.
Christmas morning found her sitting in the living room enjoying a cup of warm apple cider. Carols piped merrily through the radio on the end table. The tree was decorated with a lifetime of collected ornaments and strung with twinkling electric lights and glittering tinsel. Brightly wrapped presents nestled beneath the tree branches.
Outside it was a White Christmas. A dusting of snow covered everything and glistened like diamonds in the morning sun. Above the music, birds chirped and children laughed and played in the snow.
Now if Lou would just get here with that sleigh, it would be a perfect Christmas morning.
She got up to make some breakfast when she thought she heard a noise upstairs. She stood perfectly still, her ears straining. Then she heard it again. Something upstairs. Gladys cinched up her robe and hurried up the stairs.
Could it be? Was it really Jeremy? Had he finally come home?
She was halfway up the stairs when she heard it again; a light knocking sound, muffled and indistinct. Definitely coming from somewhere upstairs.
Emotion welled within her chest and tears leaked uncontrollably from her blood-shot eyes as she took the rest of the stairs two at a time. At the second floor landing she heard it again only louder, more real.
More urgent. But it wasn’t coming from anywhere on the second floor.
It was coming from the attic.
She yanked on the chain and the attic stairs unfolded to the floor in a dusty crash making yet another scuff mark on the polished wood. Expecting to be assaulted by a cold, draft, she was instead bathed in a warm rush of air. There was no heating unit in the attic and with the snow outside, the change in air temperature sent mental alarm bells clamoring in her mind. Before she could step onto the ladder, that odd feeling of trepidation returned and insinuated itself deep into the roiling pit of her stomach.
Suddenly she didn’t know if she wanted to go up those stairs into that black, gaping maw. The bare bulb was only a few steps up the ladder but it seemed like a million miles through teeming shadows.
The noise came again and whether it was through sheer force of will or some primordial, maternal calling, Gladys climbed the rickety stairs and entered the attic.
At the top of the stairs she pulled on lanyard attached to the light bulb but nothing happened. The light coming from the second floor did little to dispel the swirling black void and she had not thought to bring a flashlight in her frantic rush upstairs. Even that octagonal window, caked with a summer of grime and now faintly dusted with snow was merely a grayish blotch against the attic’s Stygian depths.
With her arms groping for solid purchase and the attic floor boards groaning beneath her, Gladys shuffled towards the diffused light.
“J-J-Jeremy? Are you up here?”
Sweat broke out on her forehead and formed beads on her upper lip. Every step was vertiginous; every heartbeat was a painful gong against her ribcage. The indistinct outline of everything on either side of the thin walkway held the possibility of menace; every dusty box, every toy, every lump or shape was steeped in sinister intent.
As she neared the window and the end of the walkway, she was again struck by how humid the attic was for such a cold day and that it should even be warm at all. Finally she reached the dull light of the window. She had traversed the entire length of the attic but there was no sign of Jeremy.
Gladys was about to call out to the darkness again when she heard the sound again. But this time is was coming from right behind her; it was a cracking sound like splitting plaster or snapping tree limbs in a heavy snow storm but on a purely psychological level it was like a scalpel slicing through her bowels. She turned to face the noise despite her instinct to curl into a ball and shiver herself into oblivion.
The dull glow of the shimmering moon sent just enough light through the attic window for her to discern that there was something attached to the rafters behind her. She took a shaky step in its direction. Blood rushed through her ears like a blizzard and each massive beat of her heart threatened to throw her from the wooden planks under her feet.
Nestled in between the ceiling beams was large shape that was covered in a fine, hair-like webbing. Beneath the webbing was a sickly, yellow sack that throbbed and pulsed wetly beneath the webs; every so often it would shake violently as if irritated by some unknown force. When Gladys peered at it, the first thing that came to mind was a cocoon but it was much larger than any cocoon she’d ever heard about and it was easily the size of child.
That’s when the thought struck her like a hammer blow. This had something to do with Jeremy. Could one of his insects have done this to him? How long could he survive in that thing? Those two questions gave birth to some very dark and unwholesome churnings at the very core of her psyche and as much as she wanted to bury them deep within the depths of her mind, those same demented depths spurred her to action. With animal-like fury, she tore at the sticky webbing covering the suspended pod.
“I’m coming Jeremy,” she cooed through gritted teeth. “Momma’s coming.”
The pod was wedged tightly between the wooden beams and pulling at the webbing that anchored it there was like tearing at fishing line; it made cuts and gashes in her fingers as she worked. But Gladys didn’t care; with her hands a bloody mess, she worked until the large pod was free. Still undulating beneath its jaundiced surface, she set it down gingerly on the dusty planks.
She was about to begin tearing at the outer layer when a large crack appeared on its segmented surface. She cried out in surprise and fell back into the pink fiberglass foam. A greenish fluid foamed through the crack and dribbled rivulets onto the planks. Frenzied movement from within caused the crack to grow and splinter until a spider web of foaming cracks covered its surface. Finally the pod broke apart in a violent splatter of green gore. Gladys yelped as she was pelted by the slimy debris.
The pod was now nothing but yellow-green scraps that lay quivering and steaming in plies on the floor and dripping from the rafters. That was when the stench hit her. It was like a physical force that immediately ripped the hot bile from her stomach and dragged it into the back of her throat.
But what stood in front of her was much, much worse. Even as her mind sheered away from the awful image, it tried to categorize it, to classify it. To justify its very existence.
There were no words to adequately describe what she beheld. Still dripping its viscous afterbirth, the thing before her was an unholy combination of several things; part insect, part human but all nightmare.
On all fours, Gladys scampered away from it until she was beneath the window. She was too afraid to look away from it. The thing turned and watched her with its countless eyes.
Every hair on her body stood on end, every muscle quivered in horror. The bile from her throat bubbled over her lips and her heart jerked wildly within her chest. As a terrible screeching sound filled her ears she was only dimly aware that it was the sound of her own screaming.
“Merry Christmas, Mommy,” the thing chittered.
That was what finally sent Gladys Murphy over the edge, what finally shattered the termite-damaged remains of her gossamer-like sanity.
With absolutely no hesitation whatsoever, Gladys Murphy stood up and jumped out of the attic window in a hail of shattering glass, falling snow and dripping blood.
Oddly enough she did not scream as she fell. At that point, she welcomed death. She welcomed it because facing her own death was much easier than facing the reality of what it really was that she had slept with those many years ago, of what it had done to her own body and what it was that she had given birth to. As the sidewalk pavement rushed up to meet her, Gladys could still hear those words, words spoken from the clicking mandibles of something that should not be able to form words at all; her son.
“Merry Christmas, Mommy.”