by Simon McHardy
“Take a look at this one, Karla.”
Chad Burns swivelled the monitor to face Karla McLeod who was sitting at the desk beside him. The two of them had been brought in as contractors to convert all of Kexo Pharmaceutical’s paper records into electronic. The records were stored in an old warehouse that served as a research laboratory and a testing facility. The upper level of the warehouse was empty except for a few storage containers. Five hundred and seven boxes of records, dated from 1956 to 1992, had been crammed into the foreman’s office for them, where the air-conditioner made a brrrrr sound to remind them there was only one temperature and that was brrrrr cold.
Today was their last day of work. It wasn’t so boring as far as records jobs go. Chad had had worse. There was some interesting stuff here. Some of the boxes contained classified information, drug trials gone wrong. There had been some real doozies too; pessaries used to treat yeast infections that caused vaginas to foam like rabid dogs for days on end, the bacterial eye drops that gave you acid tears (one viewing of Beaches and you were blind for life), or the hemorrhoid cream that did nothing to shrink nethergrapes but super glued your anus shut until it was surgically reopened. How the hell did any of these drugs make it out of animal testing? If the FDA ever found out about this, Kexo would be shut down in a heartbeat.
Rabbits running around with their arse holes vacuum sealed was one thing. But humans?! It seemed that they had been saving the best for last though. Karla leaned forward, her breath smelt of the Tic-Tacs she sucked on to disguise the vodka and orange, which had accompanied her lunch.
Test subject, Cathy Edwards, diagnosed with chronic atopic eczema. She was injected with Dipsterastin, a toxin found in cattle flies that numbs the flesh of its host so that the fly may lay its eggs undetected beneath the host’s skin where they hatch and eat their way to the surface. Dipsterastin successfully reduced irritation of eczema for a period of six weeks before another injection was administered. Regular injections were prescribed at six weekly intervals until the subject advised that she was pregnant. Edwards had signed the declaration warning that no testing had been done on pregnant rats in the animal testing phase and therefore pregnancy was to be avoided until further trials established that the drug was safe for use during gestation. Injections of the drug were ceased immediately. Patient contained in medical section due to abnormal x-rays of foetus.
Caesarean delivery performed in week thirty-four as patient’s body was displaying severe signs of stress. Child, female, weight 14.4 pounds delivered at 0300, 14 May 1977. No limbs, head disproportionately small, approximately fifty percent reduced circumference. Appearance, resembling fly larva. Advanced dental development equivalent to two-year-old child. Subject retained for further testing. Mother, Cathy Edwards, deceased, cause of death, myocardial infarction.
“Oh God, it’s disgusting, a maggot baby, the ugly little fuck!” Karla stared at a picture of a bloody newborn with a distended milky white torso, limbless and with a shrunken head that was adorned with a shock of black hair slicked to her face like a teddy boy from the 1950s.
Chad repeated shaking his head at her choice of language. He wondered how someone like Karla had ever become a records officer. Records officers were usually the quiet, bookish types who talked like school teachers. Karla was anything but this stereotype. Kexo had put them up in a motel for six months, a few blocks away from the warehouse, while they did the conversion. There was nothing to do in the evenings but watch bad, cable TV and drink. On the third night Karla suggested they add fucking to pass the time.
Recently they had even taken to fucking on the foreman’s desk during their breaks with Chad peering down into the warehouse below making sure their boss, Brian, wasn’t worming his way up the steel staircase to the office while Karla groaned beneath him. This was the sort of data entry he would never get tired of. He knew nothing would become of their relationship, Karla was just using him, he was okay with that but one day it would be nice to settle down with a girl, someone with a bit more meat on her bones and a tad more sensitivity.
“Yip, poor little girl, wonder what became of her?” Chad said genuinely concerned.
“One of those special orphanages but who would want her, she’s probably still there now, squirming her way down the corridor whenever the doorbell rings in the vain hope someone will take her home.”
“You’re bad Karla.” Chad’s cell rang, a traditional ring tone that reminded him of sleepovers at Grandma’s house. Chad answered, distracted by flashes of memory; staying with Grandma after his mother died and his daddy was away working in the mines, the rustle of chocolate wrappers in the black night, Grandma coming back to bed, rolling towards her as the mattress sank under her enormous weight, snuggling into the folds of her skin, cocooned from the world in her fat rolls breathing in the sour milk odour of her skin. He “Yessed,” his way through the phone conversation.
“What did he want?” Karla guessed it was Brian checking up on them.
“He was just wondering if we were done and said he would be in at five to collect our security passes; he has something to show us too.”
“He didn’t say.”
“He’s such a bore it’s probably going to be a box of unopened paper clips he was saving for a special occasion.”
They spent the rest of the day leisurely getting through the few remaining records and imagining what the trail of Kexo workers were like who resembled ants scuttling across the vast warehouse floor to the door that led to the laboratories and testing rooms below.
“See that one with the limp in the back of that far group?” Karla said. “Bet I know how he got it.”
“His boyfriend left him in a sex sling for the weekend and he’s still got pins and needles in his left leg.”
“What about that one?” Chad pointed to a short, fat man in a short sleeve shirt and dress shorts whose bare legs and arms had a sheen to them as if oiled.
“Oh him, he wakes up at 5am each morning so his mama can spend an hour shaving him top to bottom before work each day. On the weekend he lets it grow and by Sunday he looks like a sheepdog.”
“And the lady in the pants suit just coming in?”
“That’s his mama.”
Chad laughed, then noticed Brian walking the opposite way, cutting across the warehouse floor to the foreman’s office. Karla saw him too. Brian Fleckenstein, the yellow man as Karla called him due to his sweat-stained shirt collars and underarms, with the pasted-on nicotine smile. It looked like he drank too much too, and his liver was on the way out, either that or he had hep B, the whites of his eyes and skin were straw yellow.
“Better look like we are just finishing,” Karla said. “So we get paid right up until five.”
They had completed documents open and were tapping away when Brian entered the office. The dusty, hot air from the warehouse followed him and mingled with the smell of stale cigarette smoke.
He stood there as he watched them for a moment, an unhealthy wheeze in his chest. “Finished?” he asked.
“And done.” Karla swiveled to face him.
“Yep,” said Chad.
“Good, there’s something you need to see.” He didn’t wait for them but turned and headed back down the stairs. Chad and Karla got up from their chairs, stiff from their idle afternoon. They didn’t speak as they crossed the warehouse floor, they knew Brian didn’t do small talk and humorous jibes would be lost on him. At the panel to the laboratory entrance, Brian flashed a security card that was hanging from a key chain on his belt.
They walked down a white corridor that echoed with muffled voices from behind the closed doors and stopped at a service lift. Chad had noted Brian’s cigarette-stained finger as he poked at the lift’s call button. The lift took them to the sub-basement where the corridors were stone grey and silent. The air was damp and stale. If Brian were bringing them down here to show them a stack of records Chad didn’t think they would be in very good shape.
“In here,” Brian said opening the door of a dark room and holding it ajar for them. “I’ll get the light, just go inside.” Chad stepped in first, something squelched under his feet. Karla followed, a hand resting on his back. The door closed, and the lock clicked.
“Brian,” Karla said. But the only sound was Brian’s footsteps in the corridor. “Where’s the light?” She sounded on the verge of panic.
Chad tried the door, it was locked. He began to feel along the wall for a light switch, the floor sucking at his feet with each step.
Karla had the same idea, he could hear her feet sticking as she felt her way along the opposite wall.
“What sort of fucking sick joke is this…Brian you’re a prick,” Karla yelled. Their hands met in the middle of the back wall, recoiling from the touch at first then clasping at each other.
“I don’t think this room has a light switch,” Chad said.
“No shit,” Karla replied. “Did you ever think Brian was this sort of arse hole?”
“Nope, and when I get out I’m going to punch him in the face.” The comment surprised Chad, he never talked like this, but locking someone in a pitch-black room with God knows what on the floor and wandering off to have a good chuckle about it was a punchable offence as far as he was concerned. A mewing sound cut his thoughts short, it was raspy like a kitten with throat cancer.
“What was that?” Karla asked.
“I don’t know, but it’s coming from inside the room.” His own words gave him goose bumps. Something big started sliding across the floor towards them, stopping every few seconds to mew. They shrank away from the sound, pressing themselves flat against the wall. They could feel the empty space in front of them fill with a mass, the mewing became more urgent, desperate. Chad slowly reached out a trembling arm to prod the darkness, his other hand still held Karla’s. He touched something spongy and ran his hand along a vast expanse of smooth flesh.
“Maggot Baby,” he whispered. “This is where it ended up. Brian’s locked us down here so it can feed on us and ensure Kexo’s dirty little secrets don’t ever get out.”
As soon as Chad had spoken the words he regretted them, Karla let out a terrified moan and bolted, she didn’t reckon on how huge the thing was and ran straight into it bouncing back against the wall with a thud. It flopped over her, engulfing her. The air escaped from Karla with an oomph as she was pinned under a ton of maggot. The wind had been knocked out of her, so she couldn’t even scream.
Chad kicked viciously at the behemoth, but he may as well have been booting a whale for all the effect it had.
Karla was gasping for breath now the pressure on her chest overwhelming, the maggot’s soft flesh slowly smothering her.
Chad groped at the moist layers, seized Karla’s protruding arm and started pulling hard, he heard a pop and a strangled cry as her shoulder dislocated, he couldn’t move her an inch.
“Karla, I’m so sorry I can’t do anything.” She squeezed his hand tightly as Chad started to cry. When he had finished, Karla’s hand was limp and lifeless in his.
When Karla McLeod started to get a bit whiffy the maggot began to eat her.
Chad was skulking in one of the corners out of his mind with thirst and terror. The sound of the maggot feeding in the dark was maddening, the endless slurping and sucking. What part of Karla was being eaten now; her rotten guts or were her brains being sucked out of her mouth? How much of her was left? It was going to be his turn soon; the maggot would smother him then wait until he was plump with rot before it began its grizzly banquet.
Grandma got back into bed, she wasn’t careful, she lay on top of him, her flesh enveloping him, her smell rancid like sour milk, it was okay though, it was so cold, and something had frightened him, he couldn’t remember. Grandma was warm, and she made Chad feel safe.
About the Author
Simon McHardy is an Australian archivist and historian. He has published numerous fantasy and horror short stories which have appeared in such publications as Aphotic Realm, Jitter, Kzine, Devolution Z, Five on the Fifth and 9Tales Told in the Dark. He is currently working on a short story compendium which will be completed in 2018.