Discussions Concerning the Ingestion
of Living Insects

Ronald Damien Malfi



Soon-Lee, amongst other things, reflected on flies. Mostly, he considered the way they congregated, purple and black and green, their voices like stinging spikes breaking the air. And he pictured them in a scuttle, like spawning salmon in too-shallow water, rumbling overtop one another like knotted turns in a rope. That was how they were in reality, and how he imagined them in the hours when he closed his eyes. These things, he would think, are most important. He ate them, ate several of them. He did this only after they became too fat and too lazy to escape him. With one hand, he was usually capable of grasping two or three, sometimes four at a time, and he’d rattle them around and feel them flutter against the flesh of his palm before shaking them into his mouth and biting down. Or swallowing them whole. Sometimes, he liked the way they felt. A living train, receding in lethargic contractions down the back of his throat.

They came in through cracks in the windows—through fissures in the walls and up through crevasses in the floorboards and tiles. Nights, he could hear them coming, working through the foundation of the building like an inevitable doom, building and building only to rupture and expel themselves into the air in a burst of wings and eyes.

And onto him.

And into him.

There was no repulsion associated with the acts—neither his nor theirs. It was simply rotation, simply cycle, the mere spinning of a wheel. And in his mind he could picture that wheel, forever in slow-motion, forty-five revolutions per minute, and he could make out the rutted sound of its churning. It was a grand wheel, aflame with a myriad of colored ribbons and diamond studs. With each turn, a brilliant new light reflected off his mind-face, and he could sense each oncoming color with the same clarity as he’d witnessed the passage of the old ones. All the same, he knew. It was all the same.

When a man dies, he thought, he leaves several things behind. But what will I leave behind? And will I really, truly even die?

Often, he laughed. He’d discovered a way outside the wheel, a way to beat the system after all. Eternal life. Immortality. Disenfranchised from the human race. And how many people before him had discovered the same thing? A hundred? A million? None?

Across from his bed and against the far wall hung a wall calendar. It claimed it was mid-October, but it was well beyond October. Like him, October was long forgotten. A filthy blackness had claimed one corner of the calendar—had withered it and curled it like a burnt leaf. He, too, had been burned…though the details, having grown much too unimportant, were now lost to him. Like many things.

"My name is Soon-Lee." He said this occasionally to remind himself, though he did not know why.

Burned. He remembered something about a fire: the acrid stink of charred wood and a great conflagration…yet nothing was clear. The conflagration, after too much time turning the half-memory over in his head, merely became the wheel itself, spinning colors out of control, powerful and all-knowing the way God is massive and unyielding. And what about God? What about that bullshit? Was there anything to fill that husk?

Soon-Lee laughed. His left eardrum was blown out, and the sound rattled like static in his head.

Between the miserable, segmented hours of his consciousness, Soon-Lee slept. It was a sleep corrupted by violent images and unrelenting waves of nausea. Sometimes, almost blessedly, he would dream of Kilfer and Mines and Tonya—blessed for these dreams, horrid and painful as they were, represented his last handhold on reality. The specifics of the dreams changed from time to time, but the core always remained the same: they were negotiating a series of narrow, subterranean tunnels beneath the village, walled in on either side, the stink of their sweat in the air. They could hear each other breathing, could hear the fabric of their khakis rubbing against their legs. And the sounds of screaming people, screaming children…

"You hear ’em?" Kilfer breathed. "All of ’em, up ahead somewhere?"

"Children, too," Tonya said.

Kilfer snorted in the darkness. "I don’t trust it down here. Let’s move topside."

"We’re almost to the end," Soon-Lee insisted. "Swab the fucking place."

"Kids," Mines stated to no one in particular, "is just the same." Soon-Lee didn’t know what that meant, but continued to listen nonetheless. "Goddamn fountain of youth, little sons-a-bitches. Christ, my head hurts."

Occasionally, the dream segued into the purely bizarre…

"You b’lieve in God, Soon-Lee?" Kilfer said.

"No," he answered, "and God don’t believe in me."

"Fuck God," snickered Mines. "What’d God ever do for any of us? Made Tonya here one ugly bastard, that’s about it." He laughed. "God can shine my Christing shoes, I’ll tell you what."

Kilfer sighed in the darkness. "That’s ignorant." He was only a few feet in front of Soon-Lee; he could smell Kilfer’s sweat fanning off him in moist waves. "Better yet, what you think about flies, Soon-Lee? You like ’em? They taste good?"

Soon-Lee froze, the hairs on the nape of his neck prickling up. "What you know about flies?"

"I know you been eating them to stay alive. You ever read Dracula?"

"I seen the movie once. What’s that got to do with me and flies? How’d you know about that?" Even in his dream, he was aware that the flies had not come yet, that Kilfer was talking out of order, that the flies wouldn’t become a part of the whole thing until after he was pulled from the tunnels and taken to the hospital, burned and forgotten.

"Don’t worry about it, Soon-Lee." It was Tonya, some distance behind him. "He’s just bustin’ your balls. Forget the flies. We’re all gonna die down here anyway."


"Shit, buddy, you know that, don’t you?"

"What’s going on? What are you guys talking about? This ain’t how it happened."

And he’d wake up, too exhausted to scream.

Night and day alternated without pause. After many days he lost count and assumed, from the coldness of the walls, that it was sometime in December now. Or maybe even January. Christ, had it been that long? Passing, in the blink of an eye…

He had no feet. The initial explosion had sheared them off at the ankles, the flames working their way up his shins, his thighs. The pain had been exquisite, but he only now remembered this because he remembered thinking this, and did not necessarily remember the pain itself. And even the events which led to his arrival at the hospital were fuzzy. Kilfer was there—something about Kilfer, something about Kilfer dying yet saving his life.

Sure, he thought. Anything you want, buddy. Anything at all.

"Soon-Lee," he moaned.

Eight of them had gone down into the darkness, yet only four of them had made it to the end. The other men—Soon-Lee couldn’t recall their names, though he’d been good friends with all of the Special Operations guys at one time—had split off into separate corridors communicating with equal darkness.

"Up ahead," Tonya repeated. "Trapped themselves down here like rats. And with their children, man. You hear that?" Tonya’s face was a roadmap of scars and burned tissue—the only medals he ever received during his tour of the islands. The expression on his face was always one of constant pain, even when he laughed, which was rare.

Soon-Lee shook his head. "How do you now about the flies?"

"Forget it, man," Kilfer said. There was exasperation in his voice. "I didn’t say nothin’ about no flies anyhow. You’re dreaming this, buddy. You got me?"

The screaming of the frightened and trapped grew louder.

Mid-October. Or December or January.

Soon-Lee opened his eyes wide and found himself staring at the calendar on the opposite wall. He wasn’t in the tunnels; he was here in the hospital. Alone. And there was no pain. Just immortality and flies. And the cracks in the ceiling. And the graffiti across the walls—CON DIED DEAD and BEG MORT and GOD SPARED ME BLADDER and I WEAR THE ROSE. Words of dead men, all of them. Forgotten, like him. Dead.

Not me, he thought. Never me.

"The only way to beat God is to never die," Mines said, creeping along the cinder walls. His booted feet crunched gravel or bone or both. The flame at the tip of his flamethrower passed briefly before his face, bringing his features into stark relief. He looked like a man who’d just been given a glimpse of his greatest achievements, all compiled into one singular, continuous reel. "Other than that, He gets us all in the end."

"All of us," Tonya agreed.

"All of us," chimed Kilfer.

But that wasn’t how it went down. There’d been no talk about God, and certainly no discussion concerning the ingestion of insects. In fact, there’d been no talking at all in the tunnels. Was that all really just in his head? Perhaps. But the people and the children and the explosion—those things were real, all right. There was no forgetting them. Not ever.

The only way to beat God is to never die, he heard Mines whisper in his head.

He looked down at his legs now. They were not legs. Two abbreviated stumps—a network of twisted, charred flesh and coagulated blood…of ruined muscle and tissue…a testament to God’s cruelty. His skin had gone a pale blue-gray all the way to his upper thighs now, nearing his genitals. They were numb, had no feeling. Looking at them, he felt nothing inside, which would have frightened a more mentally competent human being. Soon-Lee was not that human being; he’d retreated to the darkest recesses of his mind over the dripping passage of days and weeks and months. And was it really months? Could that be?

December? January?

His legs couldn’t move on their own. It took great effort to shift them, mostly with the muscles of his abdomen and his hands, and while they were being repositioned, they moved like one complete unit, leaving behind red-brown flakes of dried and bloodied skin along the mattress. He could only stare at them for so long until his mind receded again, forcing him to consider the wheel, the spinning cycle of life that he was in the middle of avoiding, that he was nearly mastering. Could he really be that intelligent, that ingenious?

Looking around the room, his eyes fell on scores of empty beds and gurneys. Some were still embossed with the imprint of their occupants, now long since departed. Empty and half-empty IV bags hung from racks or lay discarded on the green tile floor. A bundle of wet laundry lay just outside the doorway out in the hall. The cloying stink of ammonia and perspiration still hung in the air, just as strong as it had been on the day he arrived, screaming and writhing in pain. Even with his wrecked and ruined mind, he was able to remember the room when it had been bustling with people—nurses and doctors and, most of all, the pained and suffering. With surprising clarity, he recalled a young man by the name of Phillips as he was wheeled into the room and established beside Soon-Lee. He was really just a boy—hardly a man, hardly able to fight—and despite the fact that half his left arm had been torn free from the shoulder by a mortar, he remained silent and still, staring wide-eyed and lazy at the ceiling.

Those people in those tunnels, he thought now. All those children.

He blacked out for a moment. An image materialized in his subconscious—that of a wild-eyed man dissecting young women and stitching their bodies together to birth some horrific, patchwork monster. This was not a memory; rather, this was part of the insight people are granted into the minds and lives of other people when confronted with the sudden proximity of their own death.

Yet Soon-Lee did not die. Restless, he slept through the night.

And was back below the earth inside the tunnels again…

"What do you think they’re doing down here?" he asked Kilfer. "All these damn people?"

"Hiding. Some might be locked away, but they’re mostly hiding. Some of these villages get a whiff of a Special Ops team on the horizon, they start buryin’ their loved ones underground. Whole families."

"Kids," Soon-Lee said.

"That’s tragic," Tonya said from somewhere, though he didn’t sound too upset.

"Can’t trust the kids just like you can’t trust their parents," Kilfer continued. "They’ll blow up the whole regiment if they could. Pal of mine got killed when one of these island bastards tossed a grenade into his tent while he slept. Whole time he treated this kid nice, didn’t do nothin’ bad for him, even fed him when he was hungry, you know? Then the kid turns around and pulls a stunt like that. Imagine that, right? Some shit."

"Some shit," Soon-Lee agreed.

"Half of these fuckers still fight like it’s the Second World War, diggin’ these friggin’ trenches in the ground, crawlin’ around in ’em like rats. I trust no one."

Up ahead, Soon-Lee noticed small pinpoints of light piercing the darkness. The swell of the people’s cries grew. They knew they were trapped and knew they were about to be killed. Soon-Lee felt something banging inside his head. He couldn’t wait to get topside, to sit and breathe fresh air and maybe drink some goddamn water.

Tonya noticed the lights, too. "The hell is that?"

"It’s them," Kilfer whispered.

The cries grew louder, and soon it became evident that the four of them had arrived at the end of the tunnel, that nothing separated their unit from the rising swell of screaming children other than darkness and a few splintered slats of wood. Soon-Lee squinted, allowing his eyes time to adjust to the new light. He could see them behind the wooden slats, their arms a tangle of bony flesh, filthy and pale. Their cries rose and fell in unison, as if they were all individual parts of one complex beast. Soon-Lee shuddered. What sort of people hide with their children in prisons underground? Didn’t they know they wouldn’t be safe? Didn’t they know they couldn’t hide? There was no liberation in war. You had to track and fight, not run and hide. Cowards.

"Shut up, the lot of you!" Tonya barked. His face was alight with passion, hungry for destruction. His eyes were like two celestial bodies, full and glowing. "You filthy little pecks!"

Some of the islanders held torches, which was where the light was coming from. In their close quarters, the flames were either quickly doused or accidentally lit someone up.

Kilfer shook his head. "You see what sort of animals we’re dealing with here?"

"Light ’em up," Soon-Lee said, and ignited his own flamethrower. Kilfer and Tonya followed suit. The hot stink of sulfur filled the tunnel, stung Soon-Lee’s nose, forced his eyes to tear. The children were screaming louder now, the sound ripping through him like a white-hot charge of electricity. Packed behind the wooden slats like filthy, caged animals, the islanders began to struggle, desperate to break the boards apart and free themselves. There must have been fifty of them trapped in there. A hundred…two hundred…

Mines fired first, igniting the slats and scoring the flailing arms. Once the flames hit, the arms quickly retreated. Or tried to. The screams reached a crescendo, broke into a unified shriek, and then Tonya’s flamethrower fanned the entire length of the tunnel. The heat struck Soon-Lee like the collapse of a building. His own flamethrower jammed. He turned it over and pushed the muzzle into Tonya’s flame. The flamethrower burst to life and launched a fiery orange stream toward the screaming people trapped behind the burning wooden slats.

Mines was shouting something. Soon-Lee couldn’t make it out. Tonya was laughing. Kilfer worked with stern determination, his eyes set, his face expressionless.

And then the explosion hit.

The source was unexplained—perhaps there was a gas pipe down there. Or perhaps it was deliberate, an ambush set by the trapped islanders. Soon-Lee and the rest of the Special Operations unit would never know.

The explosion struck like the fist of God, and for an instant, Soon-Lee saw everything turn white. There was no sound. Then there was too much sound. Something fuzzed and rattled inside Soon-Lee’s head, and he felt the hot fluidity of his burst eardrum in his skull. His equilibrium spinning circles, he felt his body lose all touch with reality…and an instant later, he was lifted off his feet and flung into the air. There was no pain. In his mind, he felt the world tilt. It was then that he caught his first sight of the spinning wheel, and he acknowledged it with something akin to disinterest, as if he’d seen this wheel a hundred times before, or at least had known of its presence for some time now. It was the wheel that saved his life, for he did not feel the need to sit up immediately after striking the ground, just as the wall of flame shot through the tunnel. Eyes closed, he remained watching the wheel. He was faintly aware of a stinging sensation in his lower extremities. Then, in that second, the pain blossomed—exploded—detonated—erupted—and became something impossibly grandiose, something terrifically heartless and medieval.

And the rest was lost to him: a blur. Except for certain times, staring at the hospital ceiling in the dark, when he remembered that only Kilfer and he had survived, and that it was Kilfer whom had saved his life. Kilfer, dragging his bloodied body through the darkness of the tunnel, whispering to him the entire time just to keep him alive. His words were forgotten, but they were unimportant. It was Kilfer’s presence that saved him.

Alive, Soon-Lee thought now. I am alive. Yet Kilfer is dead.

He felt a stirring of pain at his waist and knew it was time for more Percocet. He kept the pills on the gurney beside him, and shook two into his hand, downed them. Closing his eyes, he eased his head back down on the pillow. He could feel a million stirrings in his ruined legs. He tried not to think about it.

Keep eating, he thought.

After some time, with the pain numbed to nothingness, he sat up and once again began to feast on the flies. To his delight—and his horror—there were more maggots. As sustenance, they were more fulfilling that the actual adult flies. However, something about their fleshy bodies wriggling within the devastated corruption of his legs disgusted him. He plucked them from his wounds one by one, examined them absently, and swallowed them whole. Process. All one big cycle, part of the same wheel. Turn-turn-turn.

Somehow, Kilfer had managed to drag him topside. There was commotion throughout the village. The explosion had burst through the ground and had set a collection of oil drums ablaze. Several people were killed or wounded. People came and went, rushed by like ghosts in white blurs.

"We done too many things to die right now, buddy," Kilfer whispered near his ear. A team of medics was approaching. "We ain’t had enough time to make good of ourselves, if you b’lieve in that sort of thing. You don’t b’lieve in God, do you, Soon-Lee?"

But he couldn’t answer. He was fading in and out of consciousness, trapped in some cartoon limbo where shapes refused to remain solid and colors bled too bright. His mind replayed the explosion, and several times he began to jerk and spasm, his brain teasing him with replay after replay after replay. What was real? Anything? Anything at all?

"You just hang on," Kilfer said. Then quieter, almost to himself: "Goddamn Mines and Tonya, those poor bastards. Never had a chance to make peace. Not a goddamn chance."

And that was just it. Evil people were afraid to die, afraid of what they had to face. Ideally, given the opportunity, they’d embrace immortality just to stave off the fiery hand of justice in the afterlife.

Poor bastards, Soon-Lee thought now, and almost laughed.

The medics carried him to the hospital. They gave him medication to pull him from his blackout, the shits, and all it did was make him acutely aware of the pain he was in. Screaming, clawing at their faces, he was carried into the island hospital very near death. Waves of unreality washed over him. Doctors came and went in the frantic tide of emergency, their voices muffled behind masks, their hands cold as ice, their stares as empty and frozen as the tundra. He retreated to peace in his mind, but all he could see was that spinning wheel of light and fire…and he could see that it was beginning to slow, that he was fading and his own time was almost up. Evil people are afraid to die, he remembered thinking.

So now—mid-October. Or January. Or maybe time didn’t matter; maybe months had ceased to exist. He adjusted himself on his bed, his body bruised and covered in sores, and strained his eyes to see through the darkness. There were a number of windows along the far side of the room, but all the shades had been pulled prior to the hospital’s evacuation. Only tiny slivers of moonlight found their way in. A single window above his head, cracked the slightest bit. The air was cold. He was grateful the flies still came. Not really hungry anymore, he forced himself to ingest the flies and their larvae once again, peeling them out of his rotting flesh. It was all part of the cycle, he continued to remind himself, all part of what needed to be done to avoid the destruction of the wheel.

The wheel had to keep spinning.

Thirsty, he managed to ease onto his side and remove the clay ashtray from the windowsill. It was partially filled with stagnant rainwater. He sipped some and saved the rest, uncertain when it would rain again. His throat burned. He began to tremble.

The hospital fell under attack three days after Soon-Lee had arrived. Though he’d been operated on twice and remained stitched and bandaged, the intensity of his pain kept him sedated almost to unconsciousness. When the bombs hit, he was only half awake. The floor emptied out, the nurses and doctors rushing for the exits. Soon-Lee felt the foundation shake. He saw smoke billowing in through some of the windows. How badly were they hit? Would troops move in? What had happened to the defense, the fucking barracks?

Most of the patients were able to leave on their own. Others tried and were trampled and crushed in the hallways and stairwells. A few compassionate nurses managed to gather the remaining few. Except for him. They’d left him. And perhaps it was only his imagination, but he was fairly certain that a young female nurse had paused at the foot of his own bed, had locked eyes with him, debating whether she could carry him or not…and then fled. The entire floor was empty in a matter of seconds; the entire hospital in a matter of minutes. And then the gunfire started outside. He could hear it through the walls, the cracked windows. Had they all been killed? Kilfer? Yes—he knew Kilfer was dead. He could feel it. And yet Kilfer returned to him several nights later.

He appeared as a shadow in a darkened corner of the room.

"Step out," Soon-Lee insisted.


"I want to see you."

"I won’t."

"Damn you, Kilfer." He bit his lower lip, drew blood. "What’s the matter with you? They killed you out there, didn’t they? They shot you."


"What is it? What do you want?"

Kilfer’s voice sounded very far away. "It’s bad where I am, buddy. Just like I said. I know you don’t b’lieve, but it’s bad. Real bad."

Soon-Lee started to shake. "The hell you talkin’ about? You tryin’ to drive me nuts?"

"I’m telling you."

"Fuck off."

"Fight it, buddy. Stay alive. Don’t die. Don’t ever die. It’s bad for guys like you and me. Very, very bad."

Soon-Lee’s mouth was dry. "The wheel…"

"Keep it spinning."


"Yes. Keep it spinning. Recycle the whole damned thing. You understand, buddy? You get me?"

He nodded. He was sweating and had a fever. "I do." He looked at his legs, disfigured and mummified within a roll of gauze bandages. A few bloodstains had surfaced on the gauze over the past few days and Soon-Lee had immediately noticed how quickly the flies in the room lit on him, sucked at the bloodied bandages. Frantically, he had swatted them away…but all the while, he’d been thinking in the back of his mind.

"Yes," Kilfer told him. "You know it."

So he unraveled the bandages and stared at his scarred, stitched-up legs. Gritting his teeth, he systematically popped the stitches and broke open the skin to become his own bait. He cried out countless times. And the flies came. For days…and weeks…and months. The more that came, the more he caught and ate…only to have more come again. They seemed to be the product of an infinite well, coming and coming and coming and never running dry. And the cycle was simple. They eat me, he thought, and then I eat them. This way, I never die. I remain.

I remain.

Mid-January, closer to February. He understood Kilfer’s apparition to be just that—a figment of his own imagination. However, Kilfer’s image did provide him with useful advice. Was it possible to beat the system, to beat God?

"My name is…" He paused. Considered. Looking down, he saw that the skin around his genitals had turned black and hard, and he could no longer feel his thighs. His abdomen was bloated and pasty. He could tell his body was wracked with fever.


But Kilfer had ceased appearing to him months ago.

What happens when the flies stop coming? said a voice in his head—a voice very much like his own. What will keep the wheel spinning when the flies stop coming?

"They’ll always come." His voice shook, trembled. "They’ll always be here."

Night and day continued to alternate.

I must have been here five months by now, he thought. Five months. Damn it all, that calendar is wrong!

He could hear screams echoing down the hospital corridor—the screams of the burned and dead islanders from the tunnels beneath the village. Did they know he was here? Were they coming for him?

"My name…"

He shuddered. His entire body had gone cold. There was no feeling in his fingers, in his face. He tried moving his tongue around his mouth and found that he couldn’t.

Six…seven months, easy…

He knew he had to keep eating. Even in the darkness he could see that there were plenty of flies on his legs, that there were plenty of wriggling grubs burrowing in his flesh, yet he could not bring himself to consider eating them. He couldn’t even move his hands to properly operate his fingers even if he’d wanted to do so. His body was slowly seizing up on him. The wheel, he knew, was beginning to slow.


Evil people, he reminded himself, are afraid to die.

He managed to maneuver his hands in the bloody pulp of his legs, to fish out the maggots…but there were only a few. He’d been wrong—there were hardly any at all. And even the fattest, slowest flies were faster than him.

Panicked, he looked around. Beside him, resting on the gurney with the Percocet, lay a number of hospital tools. Among them was a scalpel. Its blade glinted moonlight.

He didn’t need the flies. They were an inconvenient cog, the middle-man that needed to be cut. This was nothing he couldn’t continue on his own. Ingestion equaled digestion equaled regeneration. It made sense. He didn’t need the flies. He’d never needed the flies.

It took him several tries to finally grasp the scalpel. With much difficulty, he managed to bring the blade down into the soft, scored flesh of his ruined left knee. He cut a piece of himself—a piece big enough to require chewing—with effort, and it took several drawn-out moments for him to finally get the piece into his mouth.

It was October twenty-seven.

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