Hexapoda by Jeanelle Arpa
It started a little over a year ago. Small, winged insects with compound eyes buzzed around fruit, bread, cups of tea and standing water. I shooed them away and crushed them with newspapers when I couldn’t. It never really did anything, but then again there weren’t many of them to begin with. Until there were. I found them in my rice, crawling through new packets of flour, floating in the oil, gnawing through the fabric of my clothes. They were in the bathroom, in the bedroom, the shed, the kitchen, the lounge. Then there came a profound shift in psyche once discovered in my hair. I used to have a lot of it. The insects would get tangled and struggle for a while, before deciding they quite liked it there. They crawled over my scalp with perversely bristled legs, laying their eggs and shedding their skins and leaving behind viscid clumps buried in their own excrement. I washed my hair so frequently my scalp ached sore from a chemical fire. It helped for a while, but never for long. I tore at my head with fevered panic every second of every day, trying to get the damned things out; trying to relieve an itch that never ever went away. At night I lay awake in fit of abrasion, rubbing my head against the pillow, trying to smother them and stop them from settling into my eyebrows and lashes. Their wings hummed, their mouths clicked, their feet tick, tick, ticked far too loudly in the darkness, far too close for comfort. I could not sleep, and instead fell sporadically in and out of consciousness, each moment plagued by inescapable delirium. Eventually my hair dried up, each strand a shrivelled husk. Then it fell out in clumps, and finally- relief. I shaved off what was left. I pulled out all my lashes. I did not leave a single follicle on my body.
The relief was short-lived. In summer, the bugs stuck to my body, drawn by the sickly sweet smell of clothes and sheets and skin drenched in sweat that staled and dried and reappeared as reliably as I would breathe. I tried to swat them away but they pinched and bit in retaliation, leaving behind small red lumps. They itched even worse than my scalp had. I tried to resist, but I couldn’t. I scratched until the bites bled, infected, scabbed over, and were re-opened by my nails or by the bugs themselves. Then they started burrowing. I couldn’t stop them, not even when I dug them out with scalpels. More and more would appear, and soon I had larvae crawling out in hideous, purulent, writhing knots. Dousing the holes in bleach would get rid of them for a few days. But they always came back.
Now I sit in water. My tub is filled to the brim and I crouch below the waterline. If I did not have to breathe I would submerge myself completely, and at times I consider doing it anyway. The water is the only thing that keeps them away you see, though not for lack of trying. The surface is choked with little corpses who, in their final moments, were compelled by the septic contents lying within. I cannot remember how long I’ve been here. For all my planning, I forgot to bring a watch. The radio plays the same song over and over again but does not announce the date. I have littered the bathroom tiles with food wrappers. I had food with me, but now I have run out. Maybe it has been very long, and I don’t remember. The water has turned dark, and it is for the best. I cannot see my legs, or my stomach, or my chest, and I do not want to. They throb and slough and I move them reluctantly only to jolt them awake from their buzzing coma. But it’s better than the itching; anything is better than the itching. Bloated flesh and festered wounds aside, I know little else of my physical state. Despite my mirror, I can see nothing of my reflection. The insects are attracted to the bleak ultraviolet light of the lamp and have swarmed it in hordes. All I see is the quivering mass of six-limbed bodies, apparently content to snap at, step over, and copulate with each other in no particular order of preference. I look at them sometimes, but mostly I don’t. I like to keep my eyes shut. It keeps the insects off.
But now they are open, because I hear someone coming. I crane my neck and look out through the window. Distorted figures yell at my house, their heads obscured by thick swarms of flies. More come out of a van and break down my door. I had spent long days meticulously sealing every gap in my home with tape, and now it’s been destroyed. It was useless anyway. The flies came in regardless; they crawled through the cracks, flowed through the taps, bled from the sockets in the walls. Does it really matter if more come in through the door?
They are looking for me downstairs, room by room, and I wonder why they’ve come. I expect it’s an overdue bill for one thing or another. I don’t remember where I’ve put my money, and I’m not sure I have any left after all. The people still call my name. I don’t understand how they open their mouths so freely. They don’t sound cross, not at all, but they have searched the first floor and are coming up the stairs. Something heavy drags across the carpet, and the noise scares me. I did not lock the bathroom door, and they can hear the music. I scratch my skin in panic, but I feel nothing more than a blunt tickle. I forgot: my nails fell out a week ago.
The invaders finally burst through the doorway. I open my eyes, vision clouded by frantic flies disturbed from rest. The people ignore them. They are speaking to me, slowly and with exaggerated movements. The flies settle on their skin, crawl through their noses and fill their mouths. They remain calm, pulling in a stretcher behind them. I want to scream but cannot stand the acrid taste of ingested hexapods. I don’t understand their words. One of them leans forward and puts a gloved hand on my back. He is speaking and I see his lips move, but no sound comes out except the buzzing, the humming, and the clicking. I search his face and see nothing. The others are approaching too, and they are dressed in white. I feel more hands on my skin, and then a prickle. After so many insect bites I would have missed it had it not been followed by a strong injection of sedative. The room sways and I slump forward, directly into waiting arms. A fog starts to creep over my thoughts. As if by contradiction, my vision slowly clears, the insects dissipate, the buzzing deadens. My eyes grow heavy, and I have just enough time to read a nametag pinned to a pristine uniform:
St. John’s Psychiatry Clinic
About the Author: Jeanelle is a biomedical engineer, artist and writer with a particular love for chinchillas, cake, and dark humour. She is currently reading for a PhD with the department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering to develop implantable electrodes.