|'Come in for a cuppa.' Madge invited with the sweetest of smiles. 'I made a seed cake.' Dave wriggled uncomfortably.
'I'm on a special diet.' He reminded her.
'Oh, surely that's all cleared up now?' Madge laid a wrinkled hand on his sleeve. 'Now, stop fussing. Just one little slice of cake. It never did you any harm before all this diagnostics nonsense.' Dave stifled a groan, having to go gluten free was because he was coeliac, an auto-immune problem. It would never 'clear up' and one small slice would do hidden damage, a big slice would give him the gripes all night. And more damage. On top of all the damage that happened before his diagnosis.
He was not a happy Dave. He sat on the edge of Madge's sofa, tea in a bone china cup, trying not to slop it into the saucer balanced on his knee. Madge had cut a wodge of her dry, crumbly cake and placed it, on a matching plate, on the cushion beside him. Glancing at it, he was not too sure whether it really was caraway seeds speckling the insides or mouse droppings. Either way, it was going in his pocket and not his stomach, bit by bit, so the old bat thought he was eating it.
His first sip of tea made him gag. It was a hundred times worse than the thick brown liquid that came out of the office tea machine. Builder's brew* on steroids. It coated his tongue with bitter varnish, barely scraped off by milk that was just on the turn. Another cup would have little white lumps of curds floating in it.
'Do you take sugar?' Madge had noticed his reaction. He nodded, hoping that she would disappear into the kitchen to fetch some, then he could shove some of that black-flecked concrete in his pocket. No such luck. She held out a glass dish with white sugar cubes and tongs balanced on top. He took three lumps and stirred them in. Miraculously, the spoon did not melt. Nor did it stand upright in the cup. He sipped again. This time he managed to control the gag reflex. How soon could he escape?
'More tea, dear?' Dave started to refuse, then, glancing down at his cup, he saw that it was empty. 'And another, wee, bitty of cake?' There was only crumbs on the plate. Without thinking, he put his hand in his pocket. Empty. How could he escape? Easy. He rose to his feet.
'That was lovely, Madge. Best be off. Errands to run.' He was tall and standing up was a long way up. And up. And up. His head touched the ceiling. Where were his feet? They seemed to be the usual distance downwards from his nose. It was just that they were floating above the carpet. Tipping his head down had moved the ceiling to the back of his neck. With delicious slowness, his torso rose until his spine was jammed against the plasterboard. His legs still dangled down, a pair of grey-cased wobbly things with brown brogues flapping on the ends. First one, then the other, floated up until he was pinned flat. Through the fog that was thickening his brain cells, three words formed. Could he escape?
Below him, the entire room was spread like a landscape. The sofa, the armchairs were mountains, crowned with snowy white, lacy, antimacassars* The mirror over the mantlepiece was a sparkling waterfall, under it, in the grate, a volcano fire burned red. Green, ochre, brown, Prussian blue rag rugs lay like scattered fields across a plateau of floorboards. A huge landscape. So far from wall to wall to wall to door. And so confusing, in multiple images. He wiped his eyes with his forelegs.
He. Wiped. His. Eyes. With. His. Forelegs. ?
Dave tried to bend his neck to look at his body. His head wobbled from side to side, the crazy honeycomb multiple-vision making him nauseous. He stopped. He had an all-round view. In front, and to both sides, a vast, dingy white, snowfield spread. Behind him, flat, irridescent, veined sheets lay over a black, hairy thing. An abdomen. Like a butterfly's. Scrap the butter. He. Was. A. Fly.
Startled, his feet unhooked from the ceiling. He tumbled over. His wings extended. Buzzing, he zipped in random straight lines, looking for... Escape? The open door. He made a bee-line, no, fly-line, for it. Bee lines are straight. Flies zig. They zag. They are distracted by food. Dave landed on a cake crumb. He extended his tongue. Digestive juices gushed down and puddled on the crumb. Then he sucked up the nutritious glop.
Movement flickered his vision. As he took flight, air pressure of a fly swat tumbled him over and over. Zip zig. Zip zag. Exhausted, he climbed, flipped over and attached himself to the ceiling. Below him, a tangled, grey thatch grew closer. With no thought, he dropped down onto Madge's head. Each hair was a thick, scaley rope, coated with flakes of grease, sheets of dandruff, pieces of grit. Creatures, with segmented legs and a banded, chitin abdomen lurked where hairs emerged from the scalp. Fleas. Madge had fleas. There were other things crawling between the follicules. Long, wormy things, dragging flaccid abdomens with six legs crammed together on a stunted thorax. Mites. Smaller than fleas.
Did it stink? It should do. He was almost grateful to be a fly. He had no olofactory sense. At least. Not that he recognised. But there were chemicals in the air. Strong, cloying scents, overwhelming whatever sense it was. Scrabbling, he scrambled up, perching for what would have been a heartbeat before casting himself to the wind. Zig. Zip. Zag. Zip. Escape. Rest.
What was that? He was next to an open window. He could detect something totally delicious out there. It pulled him out into the hot sunshine. A breeze wafted him sideways, he lost his way. Another waft and he was nearly gassed with temptation. It was there. Below him. On the lawn. Brown. Dave wanted to back away. Others, shimmering green, were dropping down onto the still warm heap. He needed to scream. His wings buzzed. No. No! NO! His body circled it. It drew him in. Lower. NO! A massive bluebottle dashed in for a landing, its swollen abdomen pulsing with eggs. Its ovipositor extended to insert eggs into the food mass.
Another gust blew him across the lawn, lifting him up, over the flower beds. It dropped him, whirling, on the yellow centre of a daisy. Around him, white petals made an arena for his pollen-strewn landing pad. Somewhere, in the convolutions of memory, he was sweating, shivering and trying not to be sick. In his reality, he was immobile, too immersed in his escape to notice a black shape touch down behind him.
He did not see the long, elegant legs. He did not see the iridescent eyes glittering at him. He did not see a long, tapered abdomen, shimmering blue on black, mobile. He did not see the wasp raising itself high enough to fold its abdomen under. He was unaware of the long, delicate spike of its ovipositor extending towards his juicy body. He knew when it touched him and slid into his body. But it was too late. He felt an alien egg lodge in his vitals. Groaning. It was not an option. Screaming. He had no way. He could not escape. He was paralysed.
In terms of days, it was not long. In terms of an egg hatching, a grub developing and eating the food it had been laid in, it was an eternity. In terms of lying helpless and barely alive as a pupa formed and hatched it was an eternity of hell. When the fully formed parasitic wasp chewed its way out of the husk that had been a fly, what had been Dave knew that at last, he had escaped.
It did not take long for the wasp to dry, to pump ichor into its wings, to let them harden for flight. Its eggs were ready to be fertilized. There were pheromones guiding her to a mate. She was almost ready to continue the hunting and preying cycle of her species.
In her head, Dave was sobbing.
*Builder's brew: exceptionally strong tea that has been left to brew for ages.
*antimacassar: traditionally, a lacy cloth laid over the backs of chairs to protect them from macassar hair oil.