“How long’s it been there?” asked Shirley, her flabby arms akimbo.
Tina, seventeen, scrawny and wearing too much eye make-up, was jabbing at the dead creature with a broom handle. Her face was contorted in disgust. “Well how am I supposed to know?”
“You’re supposed to know because you’re supposed to clean that popcorn machine every night,” said Shirley, her brow heavy over eyes narrowed by fat, puffy cheeks.
“We do clean it every night but not back there,” snapped Tina, chewing a piece of gum that had long since lost its flavour. “It’s joined to the glass. Ewwww it must have got melted on.”
She gave the dead creature a few more jabs and succeeded in dislodging it.
“You’ve left a bit on the glass,” Shirley noticed, pointing to a small ring of flesh.
Tina sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes. She reached behind the popcorn machine with an old rag in her hand and scraped the last traces of the dead creature from the back of the popcorn machine.
“What was that?” Shirley asked, leaning in to get a better look.
Tina jumped back. “What?” she shrieked. “Is there another one?”
Shirley frowned. “No you twit. Something fell out of its…its butt and landed in the popcorn.”
Both women brought their faces up to the glass and examined the inside of the glass cabinet.
“It’s drilled a hole through the glass,” Tina observed.
“There it is,” said Shirley, ignoring Tina’s statement of the obvious. “What is it? It looks kinda like, like an egg.”
“Look there’s more of them,” said Tina. “Yuk Shirl! How long has that thing been laying eggs in the popcorn?”
Shirley’s face turned a pale shade of white – not because of any concern for the cinema going public but because she been rather fond of picking at the popcorn when no-one was watching. Tina wore a matching expression of horror. The problem was that there was no way of telling how many eggs each of them had ingested since the eggs themselves looked remarkably like pieces of popped corn.
Shirley tried not to think about what may be lurking in her intestines but the harder she tried to push the thought from her mind, the more vivid the images became. But as they do, one thought led to another and soon she was imagining what might have been growing inside the eggs, growing inside her at this very moment! A wave of nausea swept like a tsunami over her, giving only the shortest warning of what would happen next. With her mouth stretched wide she leant forward and a stream of popcorn vomit sprayed the glass cabinet and the floor beneath. Tina, who had a weak stomach at the best of times, caught only a whiff of it and started throwing up herself.
Even when she arrived home, the stench of vomit still strong in her nostrils, Shirley could not get the creature and its eggs out of her mind. She hurried into the bathroom, turned on the bath tap and while she waited for it to run she brushed her teeth.
The warm water flowed around her bulk as she settled into the bath. She rested her head back against the end of the bath and closed her eyes. A long sigh slid from her lips.
As visions of the dead bug stole into her consciousness she pushed them away, replacing them with more mundane thoughts. What did she feel like for dinner? Remember to buy some sponges for work. They had used the last two cleaning up the vomit. Keep the receipt.
While her mind was occupied on blocking out all memory of her nightmare discovery at work her fingers were kept busy scratching an itch on her leg and then another one on her belly.
Buy more milk. Did she need cat food? She’d have to check.
The itchiness persisted; her thigh this time, and just above her left breast. Another itch just above her hip demanded her attention. Only then did she realise how itchy her whole body had all of a sudden become. It also happened that at that precise moment the itchiness turned into pin pricks of burning white heat.
Panic radiated from her eyes. Splashes of water jumped the side of the bath and flooded the tiled floor as she struggled to alleviate the pain.
Then her wide eyes became wider still as a tiny head, all tiny, jagged teeth and throat, punctured the flesh of her stomach. She screamed and started slapping the worm-like intruder with the palm of her hand. It disappeared back below the skin while another of its kind appeared above her left breast and another on her thigh. Tears streamed from her eyes as more and more of the toothy worms ate their way through her vast stores of flesh. Rivulets of blood poured from each wound, staining the water a pale red.
She scrambled to her feet nearly slipping but saving herself from falling by landing against the wall, pressing her bulk against it as the worms bit back into her flesh, tunnelling through it, eating flesh, muscle and nerve, and growing at an alarmingly exorbitant rate. Her naked body was streaked red. Her vision started to blur. The worms were now tearing meat from her bones, attacking each other beneath her skin. By the time Shirley fell, splitting her head open on the side of the bath, the largest of the worms were making their way up the tiled walls to the cornices.
By first light the following morning the worms had cocooned themselves in the space where the wall met the ceiling, stuck there by a mesh of thick, grey silk. Shirley’s body was cold and purple, riddled with holes turned black by congealed blood; her eyes open, staring into forever.
Within two days Shirley’s body was swarming with blowflies. Already maggots wriggled and slithered inside her slowly rotting carcass. Yet the buzzing and wriggling wasn’t the only movement in the small room. The cocoons were pulsing with new life. Hour after hour the silken sheaths swelled and ebbed as the creatures within strengthened themselves, preparing for life beyond the bathroom.
By dusk the flies had deserted the body and the bathroom was filled with tearing sounds as tiny teeth bit through the silk casings; then clicking sounds of communication as the fledgling creatures stretched their gossamer wings and flexed their giant mandibles. The abdomens of the females throbbed, a pinkish hue behind pale skin which attracted the attention of the males.
Weak but driven by an unstoppable urge to breed the males climbed onto the females and fertilised them. By instinct or by some other sense the females thanked their mates by turning on them and devouring them. As new life grew already within them they feasted on the flesh of the males, much needed nutrients for the long flight ahead.
Night fell. Electric light from the street lamps outside filtered in through the frosted glass of Shirley’s bathroom window. Sensing it was time, one of the creatures flew into the glass, creating a cobweb of cracks. Another of the creatures flew into the glass and the cracks grew longer, larger. Then another and another flew at the window until the tinkling of glass falling out onto the concrete footpath below signalled departure time.
The creatures sped into the night sky, their senses honed to detect the slightest traces of hot butter and salt, for that’s where they would find the popcorn that would camouflage their eggs and the popcorn machines that would incubate them. As they flew their razor sharp teeth bit into any of their number that they encountered. A vicious breed, it was sure that only the strongest and most voracious would survive to breed.
At The Astor cinema Margaret who was both the owner and manager slammed the phone down.
“I can believe it of Tina but not of Shirley,” she ranted to her husband. “I always though Shirley was dependable. She always calls me if she can’t come in.” She shook her head mournfully, her silver-grey ponytail scraping across her back. “Well, pull your sleeves up, baby. We’re going to have to do this shift. You go and open the doors and I’ll add some more popcorn. It doesn’t look like I put enough in.”
Margaret counted the money in the cash register as her husband unlocked the double doors of the small cinema, dropping the keys in the process.
“Damn it!” he cursed, bending down to retrieve them and not noticing the two insect-like creatures flying into the cinema.
Margaret had her head in a cupboard as the two intruders found a narrow gap behind the popcorn machine and set to work drilling a small circle of glass out of the window. Fuelled with the meat of their mates, the creatures made light work of the glass; pushing their ovipositors through and then falling into a trance-like state. By the time Margaret had found the bag of popping kernels the creatures were already pumping eggs into the popcorn that was already there.
She had no time to refill the machine.
“Can I help you?” she asked, brushing her fringe away from a sweaty forehead.
“Two tickets to “Small Mercies”, please,” said the woman. “Oh, and a jumbo popcorn.”
Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes horror short stories and horror flash fiction. The online magazine publishes dark and gritty content from professional horror writers, Bram Stoker award nominated horror authors, along with talented newcomers of the horror writing craft. Deadman’s Tome features chilling, terrifying horror shorts ranging from ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, monster horror, and even horror erotica. Deadman’s Tome is one of the best online horror zines to publish horror short stories, horror flash fiction, and dark flash fiction. The darker the tale the better. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the horror authors.