Third place (fiction) winner in the Honi Soit Writing Competition 2019

An abstract background of red, black, grey and blue, with triangles, lines and crescents. The main text says "Mother!"

This entry was awarded third place in the fiction section of the Honi Soit Writing Competition 2019, judged by award-winning author Roanna Gonsalves.

When she awoke from unconsciousness, she found that she had given birth to a maggot. On the hay-stained tiles, the horizontal cracks between them filled with moss and grime, laid a fat, coiling creature. Translucent. Its body compiled of strangely the most even distribution of curves. Rounded, and full. The thinnest of string-like rings carved into a uniform around the gummed base. The maggot’s breathing created an air lump from the inside that propelled it forward. It slid slowly, in a strange rhythm. Leaving a trail of bloody discharge on the apartment floor. The thing was as large the flickering table lamp that was illuminating it, grappling with coming death.

It did not really come as a surprise, given the circumstances of its consummation, that the child would’ve been born something so hideous. The mother, in illuminous pain, had now sat forward. In full view of her newborn child, her face melted into an alignment of both fondness and disgust. She has yet to notice the blood that was spouting from the cord that hung from her still-swollen belly. The maggot has bitten it off as swiftly as it’d left.

By this time, the ugly thing had made its way onto the dining table. The red dot at its tail flickered excitedly, as it’d discovered a half-eaten banana that lay rotten in a fruit bowl. Struck with hunger, it slithered forward with resolute purpose. Clumsily. Bypassing the aggregation of fruit flies that looked on at it with vilifying judgment. When it had made its way near to the soft flesh-like centre, a tiny hole on its noseless face began to widen. Inside the hole, tiny pincers arose from sticky white gums. Mouth widened, it took a great leap forward. But before it reached the brown, yellowish flesh, it found that a sudden force had dragged its body upwards. The mother had turned it unto herself. And now stationed sideways, against what seems like a rocking bed, it could now smell a sweet, plush something that was near to the opening of its mouth. It searched for it, and in the most natural of ways — found. As she fed it. Weakly. Her body became a dripping plank filled with nothing but a painful tenderness.

Outside, heavy traffic roused. The city had tuned awake, and the morning sky wallowed in new factory fumes. From the window escaped a beam of light that exposed the rotating flickers of dust. Amidst the rows of cement that sat atop of each other, all a home to the gentle cockroaches and office workers, were a melody of grunts as the annoying morning trucks hustled by. The city cars screamed to be noticed, while inner-suburbs children waked in unkempt laughter. As if awoken by a whistle, the mother hurried to put on a colourless uniform stained with grease. She laid the maggot down onto a makeshift crib out of milk crates and blankets. Comfortable, its body curled and hardened as she kissed it goodbye. She checked herself at the mirror, face dimmed in great exhaustion and fatigue. And yet still, she hastened outwards. Like the rest of the horde that poured out onto the streets at the ring of each morning’s alarm. It was work day in the workingmen’s suburb. It was time for a mother to go.

When she reached the factory, the tiny television in the breakroom was broadcasting the morning news.

There has been an outbreak of birth defects found in newborn babies.

Factory workers have been discovered to make up for the majority of these cases.

Some experts have attributed this to their daily exposure to particulate matter.

Others have dismissed these claims, criticising them as pushing for an agenda with no empirical evidence.

The true cause is still yet—

The television suddenly shut off. Holding the remote was Pa, the team manager. A large woman in her mid-50’s with slapdash hair that unfurled like light streaks of the sun.

“No time for shit. Let’s get to work yeah?”

They walked through the mounting polystyrene doors as the whistle sounded. Stood waiting like tired statues, were duplicates of herself in different positions around a spanning machine. The cool room’s intercom alarmed the workers of the machines’ process that would begin in 10 minutes. The mother got into her daily position. Hair tied in a translucent net, she wriggled both hands into tight rubber gloves. White. Ready. It suddenly came to her attention that her partner, usually on the other side of her machine, was not there. Pa seemed to have noticed this, as she writhed her way down to where the mother was. The team manager apologised for the inconvenience in that she’d have to do a double of her load for the time being. When asked about what has happened to her work partner, Pa said,

“She gave birth to one of those defects last night. Couldn’t take it, tried to kill the baby and herself. Slit her fuckin’ wrist or something—I don’t know. Didn’t even know she was pregnant.”

When the sun set in red rays, the factory ejected its people like burned-out ashes. Again, she walked through the narrow streets, gleaming with happiness and a great hunger as the night befell. She came home into the small apartment. Messy and sheltered by the thick cement. A faint cry could be heard coming from the milk crate next to the bedroom door. She bolted towards it. It was then that she realised the maggot has crystallised itself. Its body now lay stiffly in the crate, completely enfolded in a hardened, net-like cocoon. Poking at it was to no avail. At some point, she even thought it to be dead. And yet, she could still hear a faint crying; a flapping squeak. The mother picked up the cocoon carefully, and raised it towards her ear. The clear sound slowly distinguished itself; light wing flutters and a whisper that seemed to scream “Mother!”.

Over the next few days, her routines came back into their habitual rhythm. She would wake up at four, go to work, and return by evening to check on the cocoon. In some sense, it was a lucky thing for the child of a factory worker to remain completely idle in a crystallised state. There was no need to feed, or pay much attention to the child. Though, the mother still found herself constantly around, awaiting the time for it to emerge. For a week now she’d been reading to it. Every night before bed. In the hopes that it would rise being able to speak, or at least possess some form of intelligence. She did not want the child to be vulnerable, she wanted it to be better than just a sorry creature from the defects of birth. A better vermin, a good man. She took books thrown to the sidewalks of streets, from the houses of previous intellectuals. Books she did not understand herself and yet read lovingly to the ever-still creature during each night. It was when she was trying to give it a name that she questioned whether she’d grown to love it. Renat, she called. A name that she’d taken from a book. She liked how it sounded, pronounced quietly under the faint gleam of the moon. The name became a part of her returning routine. When the door opened at each evening, “Renat!” she’d call, greeting her little creature.

On a frozen evening, a certain phenomenon took course. Deafening vibrations of thousands of wings overtook the city, devouring any structure obtusing their path. In a rapid, they flew. A monstrous swarm that painted the night sky black, merging at every corner with a new group of giant flying moths. Some say their eyes were red as blood. A little man on the television announced it as an attack on humanity, on all of progress of our civilisation that had taken centuries to build. They attacked churches and terrorised homes, overtaking the streets as tanks and helicopters shot at them to an unending beat. Many of them were fallen, and yet they stuck together in a strict unity of will, tearing off the heads of their enemies as they glided by with sharp pincers. They would not cease to move, to continue their flight. Nobody knew where they were heading, or what it is that they wanted. Only, that they’d now declared a war, a dirty revolt against their state. It didn’t take long before the government ordered for open-fires against the giant moth swarm. The city became shuttered dark as citizens hurried home to guard their doors against the horror. Suburban children no longer laughed, while all eyes were fronted to the house TV, awaiting for the next move.

As the revolution grew louder, a single woman could be seen scampering out onto the streets. “Renat!” she cried, as she stumbled against great winds caused by the insects’ gargantuan flaps. She called for her child, voice drowned by the necessities of gunshots and the shrieks of dying creatures. When she returned from work, the mother had found that her child’s cocoon was now empty and ripped open in a hideous state. At Renat’s disappearance, she had cried and cried as she looked for her desperately, an aching pain piercing in her chest. The child was nowhere to be found inside the home. It was then that she’d run blindly out into the midst of havoc, in a despairing bid to find her love.

As the woman continued to scream, the street turned scarlet from an amalgamation of blood and insects’ discharge. From the black sky, dead moths fell like an outpour of rain onto mucky pavements. It was then that a loud flap could be heard around the woman’s back. As she turned, the creature had fallen decrepitly onto the ground, on its tail a single red dot. It had received a blow to the chest, and staggered as it came towards her. The mother sheltered the moth. Now with full wings, it had grown to become beautiful vermin. Its eyes gleamed with hope, it was capable of all things that she wanted it to be. She held its rounded body, as the gunshots continued to blast tiredly in their repetitive beat. Caressing the creature, she stayed, attentively to wait until it had taken its last breath.

“The struggle is over now. The fire has ceased.”