Im here to tell you about maggots.
The man behind the podium never seemed to stand still. His manner was animated, alive; which was ironic since this mans profession was theanalysis of insect activity after death.
He looked into the auditorium at the university students that comprised his audience. The Forensic Entomologist was a guest speaker whose subject was forensic science.
He started the story. The flies were the first to find the body.
He noticed with satisfaction that many students leaned forward in
their seats. The man continued. Just minutes ago, the body had been
dumped in the forest.
Now she lay, still and silent, on top of brown, decaying leaves. The
summer sun was just beginning to rise, but its light did not yet penetrate
through the forest canopy overhead. The dead woman was hidden in the
His eyes traveled over the students who were watching him intently in
return. No one had discovered the body yet. No one knew she was dead,
except for the killer. But the flies knew.
Landing upon natural openings on the body, the flies immediately
began laying eggs in the nose, mouth, and eyes. In another hour, the flesh
Now, flesh flies, he told them, bear live maggots.
Within eight hours, the body was stiffening with rigor mortis.
Within thirteen hours, the entire corpse was rigid. The dead woman lay on
her back, facing the sun, which now shined overhead. Half-open eyes
revealed clouded corneas that stared without sight through the bushes.
Within twenty hours, the blow fly eggs began to hatch. The blow fly
began to consume the moist, soft tissues of the body.
The Forensic Entomologist stopped speaking because there was movement
in the audience. He watched with interest as a few students, ashen-faced,
made their way towards the exits. When those students left, the man faced
those who remained.
Within thirty-six hours, the body was once again limp and pliable as
rigor mortis reversed and the stiffening of the limbs disappeared. The
gasses escaped and the bloating withdrew. By the seventh day that the body
was lying on the ground in the summer heat, the dead woman was decomposed
and appeared unidentifiable.
When this woman was found, nobody could determine the time of her
death. But the insects could.
A hand rose from the audience. Dr. Mason, a young student said, Im Sheila Watts, and Ive read your book. Youve explained that insects
are very predictable in their behavior. Could you talk about that
I could, if we werent out of time, Dr. Mason said. See you all
next week, and now, Ill turn the class back to your professor.
Mason packed up his paperwork and walked out of the classroom. But
he hadnt gotten very far down the hallway when he heard his name called.
Turning around, Mason saw the person calling his name was the same student
that had asked about insect predictability.
Class is dismissed, Mason said with a smile.
I know, Sheila said. But I really want to know more. Is there
any way I could come and see your lab
My time is limited, he told her.
Here, take my number and call me when you have time. Any time.
Ill come to your lab.
Mason took the card, but made no promises. Well see, he said.
But he was thinking, There is no way I am going to invite a woman to be
alone with me in my lab. That could be suicide.
And so he left the college, and made his way home alone.
On the drive back to his house, Mason remembered things he had done
in his past. And that night he had a nightmare, the same one he had been
having a lot, as of late.
He dreamed of maggots; squirming through dead flesh, and they were eating their way into a bloated state and then molting. After the molting,
the maggots were larger, and able to consume even more of the putrid flesh of the cadaver. The remaining flesh of the body sank into the skeleton and
even those remains began to disappear into the digestive system of the white worms.
Always at this point Mason would awaken, the sweat streaming down his
forehead and soaking his underarms. He didnt know why he had the same
dream over and over again; and understood even less why he should feel a
sense of dread when he woke from it. Insects, in all of their stages, were
creatures that he respected and even admired. Why should he dream
nightmares about them?
Flies and their offspring were the recyclers of the world. Without
flies, the world would be overcome with rotting corpses and animal
excrement. Flies were a necessary mechanism of the worlds ecosystem.
Simply put, flies cleaned up messes in every stage of their development,
but especially when they were maggots.
He stopped thinking about the dream. His thought drifted to the
pretty young college student whose business card he knew he still had in
his wallet. Should he call her?
Against his better judgment, Masons barrier broke. He knew it was
crazy to have an attraction for a college student half his age because it
could land him in big trouble.
And then he thought, I may be a P.H.D., but Im also a man. A very
human man. Lord help me, because I am about to commit professional
suicide. I am going to call Sheila Watts and invite her into my lab.
He decided he would keep it professional and talk about insects.
No you wont, a voice whispered in his head.
Yes I will, he stubbornly told the voice.
And so he rifled through his wallet until he found Sheila Watts
phone number, and called her. As Mason expected, she was happy to hear
from him and delighted to come to his lab.
Mason knew that the last time he had invited a young woman into his
lab, things had become complicated, and he had almost gotten in trouble.
But he also believed that he had learned from his mistake, and would not
repeat it ever again.
So he felt buoyant; confident. He opened the door to his lab and let
the young college student inside, and greeted her with a smile.
Would you like to sit down he asked, drawing them both a chair. What exactly is it you want to know about insects
When she sat, Sheila said, Im doing a college thesis on insect behavior. Im particularly interested in maggots.
She looked at him oddly. Youre the first person that Ive ever known to call fly larvae wonderful.
They are valuable creatures in so many ways, Mason said.
Unfortunately their reputation does not live up to their usefulness in the
Sheila asked, What do maggots do to a dead body
Ill tell you, Mason said. The cone shaped fly larva uses its specialized mouth parts, including hooks, to pierce the skin. Then it uses saliva to digest flesh and to suck up the liquid, just as adult flies do. When the skin decays and ruptures and body fluids permeate the surrounding area, maggots will finally move off the body. The end result
to a dead body left outside is not much.
How do you know all of this she asked.
Im an expert, he told her. Ive seen it happen.
While he was talking to her, Mason watched her expression carefully.
He could tell she was impressed by his knowledge, and obviously admired
him. Was she sexually attracted to him?
Dont find out, the inner voice whispered. Leave her alone.
I cant leave her alone, Masons mind answered the voice.
You know, he said, I could mentor you.
You would do that?
He studied her, deciding. He was encouraged to see that she appeared eager and hopeful. Her eyes were big and her expression was wistful,
wanting wanting what? Wanting him?
But suddenly Sheila changed the subject. Whats behind that inside
door over there, next to the insect cabinet
He felt irritated. It had been going so well. Just one of my
Oh! she exclaimed. Can I see
She looked deflated. Oh.
Now Mason felt angry. Obviously she wasnt what he had hoped for.
He decided he had no time for her. I think you should leave now.
She looked at him in surprise. What? Wait, I thought you said you
wanted to mentor me.
Youre not worthy. Now, please leave my lab.
Suddenly Sheila looked just as angry as he was. How dare you call
me not worthy! Who the hell do you think you are
And she jumped up from her chair, and ran to the door by the cabinet.
Before Mason could react, Sheila grabbed the door handle and pulled it
open. Mason finally rose from his chair, but too late to stop her. She
swung the door wide and looked past the door into the next room.
And just as suddenly, she turned back around to face Mason with a
look of horror on her face.
You should have left when you had the chance, Mason told her.
I can leave now, please, Sheila said. I wont tell anybody, I
swear. Please, just let me leave. I wont tell a soul.
I already explained that you had your chance. Now you have no
Sheila made a run for the front door, a burst for escape, but Mason
caught her as she went by. She struggled in his grasp, fighting and
kicking. She started to scream and he shoved his hand roughly over her
mouth to silence her. She bit his hand and he cursed with pain, removing
his hand. She started to scream again and he started to punch her face to
shut her up.
But she was a wildcat, and Mason became aware of the difference in
their years. Sheila was young and strong, and he was middle aged and
winded from cigarette abuse. He couldnt seem to keep his grip on her; she
was almost elastic, and kept slipping out of his grasp.
Suddenly she pulled away from him. In desperation, Mason tried to
grab her once again. He only managed to get a handful of her shirt, and he
could hear the material rip as she escaped.
He lunged after her, but she was quick, so quick, she reached the
front door ahead of just out of his reach. He knew when she pulled it
open, he had lost her.
And so he stopped, standing in place; watching her run down the
walkway outside to her freedom.
He was resigned to his fate. He knew she would go to the police and
now it would be all over for him.
But he wanted one more look at his maggots first.
Mason walked across the floor to the door next to the cabinet that
Sheila had left wide open. He stood there, gazing fondly into the next
He had been working with maggots for a long time, and had become very
fond of them. It was almost as if they had become pets to him.
And so he stood in the inside doorway, watching the white worms
squirm in and out of the body of the last woman he had let into his lab.
She, too, had been alone with him in the lab, and now she resided in a
bathtub, being devoured; being recycled. She was food for his maggots.
His maggots had to eat, didnt they?
But now it was all over. He understood what he had to do next.
And so Mason would get his gun, drive out to the country, hide his
car, then walk, far into the woods.
And when he found an elusive area where he knew he wouldnt be
discovered for a long, long time, he would shoot himself.
He would become food for his beloved maggots.