By Todd Mayhew
Every now and again, I burst into bugs. There will be a dry pop sound and all that will be left where I stood will be a small curl of smoke that smells like sulfur. By the ceiling there’ll be a black swirling cloud of flies and gnats and mosquitoes, and the ground will be covered by an undulating carpet of beetles and ants.
I never know when this is going to happen, and it’s taken its toll on my social life. I’ve gone out with a total of three girls, and all of the relationships have ended when I burst into bugs at inappropriate times. Tonight, I have a blind date and I’m not expecting it to go well.
The first time I burst into bugs, I was thirteen, in the shower of the boys’ locker room. I always waited till last when the other kids were done and at their lockers drying, or putting on deodorant with towels wrapped around their waists. Then I would sneak in so no one could watch me—I had a bit of a belly then and was afraid of being made fun of.
That day, after rinsing off, I made my way to the edge of the shower where there was a dryer. Like a hand dryer from a bathroom, but mounted high so you could get your hair and body. I hit the big silver button with my palm and right as the hot air began to rush out—pop! I burst into bugs. The air from the blower sent me in a black swarm out into the locker room. I watched through my thousands of eyes as the other boys, in a panic, stomped with bare feet and swatted with towels and ran half-dressed out onto the gym floor.
I woke up in my bed, my mom by my side. “Today you are a man,” she said proudly placing a hand on my shoulder. When I asked what she meant, she explained that when girls reach my age they begin having their monthly cycles. “This,” she said, “must be the equivalent for boys.”
That didn’t seem right then, and still doesn’t to this day.
I can’t keep friends, because I burst into bugs. Once, I was at the zoo with a group of friends from a club I belonged to that discussed and researched grizzly bears. I don’t know why I was so obsessed with bears at the time—in my whole life, I have only once burst into bears—but there we were.
As we left the grizzly exhibit, my friend Adam said, “Hey, we should go to the insectarium and break the glass with a fire extinguisher!”
“That sounds fun,” I said, completely forgetting that I sometimes turn into insects.
When Adam struck the glass, a crack began to form and spread into a spider web. Then at once all the shards fell. I turned to the security guard, giving him two middle fingers, when again, pop! My bugs swarmed in, mixing with the zoo bugs. I woke up in the hospital having gained 75 pounds and requiring surgery to remove the glass shards from my stomach.
I make my way up the apartment stairs to my blind date. My dad set me up with her—a girl from work with a lazy eye but a strong work ethic. She opens the door, one green eye meeting mine, the other staring off to the side somewhere.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” I say.
We’ve been dating for six months. I finally tell her about my situation. I stand up, ready to be asked to leave, but her face brightens and she smiles my favorite smile that makes her look a little like a horse and takes my hand.
She leads me to the roof of her building, into a summer night so humid it seems like I’m breathing through a wet wash cloth, and takes her clothes off, leaving on only a blue tank top and white cotton underwear.
Throwing back her head, she whispers, “Do it.”
“You don’t understand,” I say, “I can’t control it. It just happens when it wants to.”
From this point she becomes obsessed. Every night, she brings me to the roof and stands there in her underwear, arms spread, fingers splayed, chin in the air. For six months, in the smoggiest of days, in the rainiest and the snowiest, until it finally happens—pop! I burst into bugs.
“Bite me! Bite me now! Eat me!” She cries.
I circle and circle her—a black tornado moving ever closer, until every part of her is covered with me. I bite and chew and suck her arms and face and hands and toes and anywhere I can find bare flesh. She screams in agony and delight as crimson dots began to form all over her.
This time, when I wake up in the hospital, I am upright in a chair. She is lying in bed, a clear oxygen tube under her nose. Her arms and face are swollen beyond recognition. Shiny red lumps the size of grapefruit cover every inch of her. Her eyelids are mostly swollen shut—only a bit of her lazy green eye peeks through.
I jump up. “You’re allergic? How could you not know you were allergic?” I shout.
“I knew,” she says softly. “I knew.”
“Then why? Why would you let me bite you?”
She pauses and thinks. Eventually, she exhales. “I lied to you before. When your dad set us up, I knew you. Or at least knew who you were. You dated my sister years ago and she told me what happens to you. She was afraid, but I had to meet you. To see it. To have you bite and chew and devour me.”
“But why would you want me to bite you if you’re allergic? What if you die?”
She pauses again, then sighs. “I will. I know I will—it’s what I want. I’ve never fit in. No matter how much I’ve tried. I didn’t fit in in Girl Scouts, or the swim team, or softball, or the chess club. It’s all I’ve ever wanted—to be part of something and now I am—I’m part of you. My flesh is in you. In your stomach and guts and nails and between your teeth. I will die being part of something and I am so, so happy and grateful. I love you. I love your bugs.”
I put my hand on her forehead and stroke her hair. For hours I sit at the edge of the bed until her equipment beeps and a doctor bursts in, pronouncing her dead. I walk away, down a long white hall, into the elevator, and then out into the night.
Halfway home, I burst into bugs.