I found myself in darkness. My head was heavy and throbbing. It pulsed and ached, taking my vision with it, resulting in a speckled blur. When the darkness faded, light flooded my eyes. The blinding brightness dulled and revealed my kitchen: the overhead lights reflected off the white tiles and bench top. Somehow the lights felt brighter than normal. Why was I here?
Outside the window I saw a dark sky. What I couldn’t see was the dining set that was supposed to be there. The night was so dark it swallowed the outside world like a void.
I didn’t sleep well. My neck was stiff, my side throbbed. Come to think of it, I didn’t remember waking up in bed. I don’t know how I got here. There wasn’t a history of sleepwalking in my family.
I walked further into the kitchen; the tiles were cold against my bare feet, stinging the undersides. I blinked against the lights, the white marble countertops warped and shifted in my vision. They buckled and twisted, the straight edges turning loopy. It was like I was looking in a circus mirror. I struggled to focus.
The place was a wreck. A mound of colour spinning like a wheel-of-fortune: piles of bills on the bench, empty containers, old wrappers, takeaway boxes, plates with dried food stuck to them. The crumbs on the floor danced to a silent beat.
I’d strangle the bastard who let the kitchen get this messy.
Shame I lived alone.
I held my head and the room returned to normal. The ringing in my head subsided. I closed my eyes to think properly. I should go to bed. What was the time anyway? The clock beside the window pointed to ten-past-four. The long second hand was still, the ticking absent. The batteries must have died. I swore I only changed them the other week.
In the corner of my eye I saw something move. There were small blemishes on the tiles by the bin – too big to be dirt and crumbs. The last thing I wanted to do was get up close and personal with the germ-infested tiles, but they were moving.
I turned my nose up and crept closer. Keeping my distance, I knelt to inspect. Gross. Maggots. My gut dropped to the floor. I gagged. My throat tightened like I was in a choke-hold and I could taste the acid as my body threatened to bring up dinner.
I grabbed the disinfectant spray and paper towel from a cupboard. I aimed the nozzle and pulled the trigger. The infestation squirmed and coiled in the liquid, drowning as I kept pumping. I thought I could hear them sizzle and scream.
A shiver ran down my spine. My stomach twisted.
I wiped them up quickly with the paper towel, ready for it all to be over. They squished beneath the weight of my hand, dragging across the ground. Their little bodies flattened against the floor. They were soft, it almost felt like spreading jam on toast.
I stepped on the foot of the bin and discarded the paper towel. If I was smart I would have emptied it too.
I stepped back. A sickening squelch sent my body stiff. A gooey substance lined the underside of my foot. It was wet and warm. I turned around, my foot grinding up whatever was caught beneath my weight.
There was more of them. But where did they come from? They coated the kitchen like a carpet, wriggling slowly across the floor.
Why was I here? Who was doing all this? This isn’t funny. I must be dreaming. There’s no other explanation.
I looked to where I had left the spray and towel. Across the other side of the kitchen, blocked by a sea of white infestation. There was no way out of this.
I took a step. My heel rolled against the squirming maggots, making my foot wet and sticky. They wriggled between my toes. I gagged. I put a fist to my mouth, holding my breath. I took another step.
All I could think about was how nice a shower would be once I was done.
I closed my eyes. Don’t look down, don’t look down.
My stomach continued to hurt – I ignored it.
I finally reached the spray and paper towel. I unscrewed the top and looked at the liquid within. Pure maggot poison. I looked at the carpet of white surrounding me, and poured the rest of the spray onto the tiles. There wasn’t much left to spare, I had to make sure it covered the entirety of the floor.
The second the liquid hit the ground; I heard the screaming. Like a ringing tinnitus in my head, loud and ear piercing. I wanted to grab the sides of my head and squeeze to ease the pain. But I wanted these things gone.
I poured out the bottle until it was empty and tossed it aside. I took the paper towel in my hand. I didn’t want to. I watched them squirm and cry out for help. They wailed like children, a chorus of shrieking. I held my head.
The maggots squirmed, but as they did, the sea level started rising. More and more of them appeared. I couldn’t see the tiles beneath them anymore. They grew in number, rising higher. There was a pool of them. They pressed right up against my feet, rolling over the top of them.
My head tingled and stars crossed my vision.
I felt the pool of maggots cover my feet entirely, working its way up my ankles. I shut my eyes, keeping them closed tight enough that they hurt.
The screaming stopped.
I opened my eyes.
They were gone.
The tiles were bare again. Not one putrid maggot in sight. Though I could still feel the sensation of them climbing over the hills of my feet and squirming between my toes. I thought they were going to drown me.
I was going to be sick. I could feel my stomach squirm and wriggle, acid burnt the back of my throat. There was no stopping it. I threw up. I wiped my mouth and found what I had thrown up was a pool of squirming maggots. My heart thudded against my breastbone. My throated tightened at the sight of it. I wanted to be sick again.
I covered my mouth with my hand.
My stomach continued to squirm and gurgle. The pain grew. Sweat beaded on my brow and I could feel my body run hot and cold all over. It felt as though I was going to explode from the inside. I lifted my shirt. Beneath the skin I watched my insides move. I could feel my body go light. I tried to keep steady footing to stop myself from falling over.
My belly button moved. I watched as it twitched and something small, thin, and white push its way out.
Another one pushed out and fell to the floor.
In my side I felt an itch. A small hole had formed and maggots hung around the edge of the skin.
No, no, no, no, no, no.
I tried brushing them away. More maggots exited from the hole. Another stabbing pain came from my other side.
The hole was larger than the other, more maggots clung to the edges and I could see them in the hole.
My head went light and I fell to the floor. My head smacked against the tiles and the pain trickled down my whole body. My head throbbed from the impact. I reached up to hold it and found a slit in the skin. I could feel the little maggots pouring out of the split. I rolled one between my fingers and pinched it flat.
When I pulled up my shirt again, Maggots fell from the underside, scattering to the floor beneath me.
No, no, no. Somebody help me.
Beneath my shirt, my chest had fallen away to a large cavern, deep into my body. Squirming white maggots filled the hollowed-out space. I felt them move across my face. They approached my mouth and I kept my lips shut. I could see them move up my cheeks. So close to my pupil they looked large and monstrous. Pain held me back from shaking vigorously to throw them off me.
My vision blurred with the onslaught of tears as the maggots feasted their way through my lips. They filled my mouth and I felt them against my tongue. The maggots who crawled across my cheeks worked their way towards my eyes, sending me into a world of darkness.
Author: Ella Witney is a Brisbane-based writer and poet. Currently she is studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Creative Writing at Queensland University of Technology and works on the content team for ScratchThat magazine. As a third-generational member of Brisbane’s folk scene and an Irish Fiddler, Ella is inspired by traditions and lore, and is always on the look-out for what can be amended to better suit modern audiences. Her works include elements of fantasy, psychological, and horror, and explores the way mental health affects individuals.
Artist: Emma Bruce is a multi-disciplinary visual artist from Yugambeh country working out of Meanjin. Her work discusses the relationship modern society has with the environment through an archival style in hopes to preserve the experience of being in the natural world. Her work hopes to invite her audience to partake in activities that nurture native flora and fauna as well as create a sense of pride to be part of it.
Editors: Kelly Rouzbehi and Euri Glenn