Jen found herself staring at a glass of milk around midnight. Surely a glass of milk can go down without a problem? She loved milk, and despite trying desperately to switch to plant-based milk, she couldn’t get cow’s milk off her diet.
Daring to take a sip, she did, and at first, no side effects. She looked around the room, half expecting Shirly to pop out and say it was a prank the whole time. When one was there to scream out “Surprise!”, Jen took a bigger gulp of milk, a more satisfying one, when the milk eventually came squirming. Much like the caterpillar before, Jen sensed something in her mouth now going down her throat. Before she had a chance to gag it out, one of the squirming culprits slipped down her gullet. She screamed while the stilling wriggling worms in her mouth fell out on her lap in a puddle of milk and saliva.
Never again would she be able to drink milk, her “dirty habit” was broken, and it brought literal tears to her eyes. The worms falling out of her mouth didn’t help, but at least she didn’t bite down on any of them. Her brain had initially read them as gummy worms, until they started moving about her mouth, and then she registered the warmth of their bodies.
She cried from hunger, she cried from frustration, she cried about the worms, she cried until her head ached from the tension.
Desperation seized her, and she was determined that she wasn’t losing her mind. Eyeing the almonds on the table, she wanted to take one more daring attempt at food. She gingerly picked up one almond, treating it like one would with a stained-glass masterpiece. She brought the almond close up to her eye for inspection; it seemed healthy and didn’t have any holes in it. Before tossing it in her mouth, she licked the side of it. There wasn’t anything unusual about it: it was an almond.
She took a deep breath and popped the almond in her mouth, but didn’t chew. First, she sucked on the almond, half worried it would transform into a fuzzy caterpillar. To her gratitude, it didn’t, so she took the next logical step and bit into it. With the very first crunch, she tasted something other than almond, and she could feel something other than the nut pieces in her mouth. She could feel a wide, flat wing unfold over her tongue like thin paper.
Opening her mouth, she reached inside and pulled out whatever she had mashed between her teeth that sprawled out on her tongue for every tastebud to get a sample from. The first thing she noticed was the bright blue of the wing strewn throughout a black background. The second thing she noticed was the yellow guts squirting out from the abdomen; it reminded Jen of raw sausage popping out of its casing.
Or rather, what was once a butterfly. One wing was still intact, but the remainder, save for the head and antennae, was yellow-white mush mixed in with black and bloodied body parts.
Jen had enough; it was time for bed.
“Come on, Jen,” Shirly insisted. “Just one sip of soup. It’s water-based so you should be ok, right? Just give it a try for today.”
Jen sat at the table staring at the bowl of soup. She was still hungry, her stomach was still growling, and she felt dizzy every time she stood up. To appease Jen and her own sense of hope, she decided to try a spoonful. It ended with gagging and dry-heaving until she puked up cricket parts, from large legs to heads with still moving mouthpieces.
Jen kept an apple by her bedside, staring at it while she lay down on her bed, trying to ignore her stomach pains. Late that evening, she had to do more than stare at the red surface of the fruit. It was going bad soon, so she felt compelled to do something about it. She looked the apple over for holes or any signs of damage. In a moment of desperation, she brought the apple to her lips, felt the give of the apple’s skin beneath her teeth, and bit down.
The juice of the apple quenched her palate and ran down her lips. She felt relieved when she tasted apple on her tongue, but the skin startled her when she first swallowed. Then she realized the roughness of the skin was still present, that’s when she felt the crunch between her teeth. On the left side of her mouth, she bit down on something crunchy, while on the right side she bit down on something that popped and released a warm liquid throughout her mouth; it was bloody and had substance to it, she could taste it on her tongue.
Straggling to the kitchen sink as quickly as she could without tripping over her weak feet, she grabbed a glass and ran the tap for water. Rinsing out her mouth, she spit the contents into the sink; she wanted to see what it was that may have been within the apple.
It was hard to tell among the body parts buts given the number of legs present, she guessed she had bitten into a couple of spiders. She rinsed her mouth out again, and again, never sure if she really got all of the pieces out of her mouth.
Drinking some of the water, she cries. There’s nothing left to try, maybe she can be one of those people that live off of insects all the time and learn to like it. After all, people that ate insects swore by their nutrient levels and loved how easy they are to raise and harvest.
Days had gone by with water being the only thing she could keep down. Too weak to do much other than sleep, that’s what she did. She dreamt of her skin itchy and red, with small red bumps found all over her arms, legs, torso, and back. Even her bum was itchy with red bumps; it seemed few areas hadn’t been affected by this affliction. Curious, she poked at one of the bumps on her arm, its firm node-like form not reacting to her pressure.
Then the bump wiggled.
It shuttered under her skin, giving her goose-bumps and a racing heart. It tickled at first until a small group of them all shivered at the same time. The movement caused the nearest bumps to join in on the dancing underneath Jen’s skin. Soon her entire arm was jingling with bumps shaking every second in unison. The skin stretched tightly around the bumps, making any light touch of the skin feel like excruciating pain.
Then she felt a wiggle on her other arm. Panicking, she looked over her other arm for the source of the movement. She found it behind her elbow. One of the large, red bumps on the back of her arm started to wiggle.
“Please, God, no,” she begged. The bump wouldn’t listen and soon the bumps next to it started to join in until both her arms had moving bodies beneath the skin. The movement reminded Jen of a time during her youth when she ran into a thicket of brush riding her bicycle. She had considered herself a master on a bike, doing all sorts of cool tricks the kids in the neighborhood ooh’d and aah’d at for hours on the weekends.
One time, she got too cocky, doing a wheelie directly into a thorny pile of vines and sharp things that grab at your skin and don’t let go. She tried to be free of the plants, but they clung to her, insisting that she stay in the underbrush with them. Don’t go. They begged, pricker bushes poking holes through her clothes and her skin. The more she fought, the deeper the thorns and needles dug into her flesh.
That memory came forth and invaded her dreams, reminding her of that horrible, painful time, all the while she was suffering from unknown bumps that moved under her skin. It felt like that time again, except she couldn’t pull thorns and prickers from her body this time; there was nothing to pull out. The wiggled, red bumps had made their home under Jen’s skin.
She screamed as thousands of insects came bursting through her bumps at the same time, covering her from head to toe in a sea of blackened bodies and creepy crawlies.
Jen woke to the sound of intermittent beeping and the smell of bleach and something else that reminded her of the dentist’s office. The lights were bright, hurting her eyes, and the smell of a hospital was so overwhelming she coughed.
Blinking and coming to, she realized she was in a hospital, hooked up to IV’s and all. Her baby blue gown smelled like it had just come out of the box from the factory. She wanted to get up to take it off and find her own clothing but when she tried, she was only able to prop herself up in bed before she was too exhausted to move. She realized the IV’s must have been feeding her this whole time.
“Good morning!” a perky voice said. A nurse rounded the bend with a glass of water. “It’s so good to see you awake! Your friends and family have been worried sick about you and you’re…” she paused to find the right word. “…condition. But they’ll be relieved to see you up and awake now! Why don’t you try drinking some water?” She set a glass down at the bedside.
Jen had lots of questions to ask, like how she got there, how long she had been there, but more importantly, have they been feeding her? She felt starved, and her stomach grumbled in agreement.
“Oh, I bet you’re hungry!” The nurse made her way towards the door and left for only a moment before returning with a tray of food. It was meatloaf, potatoes, and broccoli, and it looked delicious.
Jen glanced at the water, picking the sweating glass up.
“I think I’ll stick to water for now,” she said.
“Oh, but you’ve been fed through IV’s for so long now, it would be wise to try just one bite if you can manage. Some solid food will really help you recover faster.”
The nurse set down the tray in front of Jen, insistent. Jen could only stare at the food before her, desperately wanting to take a bite. The meatloaf had a handful of a helping for whatever was layered on top and it made Jen’s mouth water. The mini mountain of potatoes had a dollop of butter in the center that was halfway melted, as did the broccoli; there were little salt and pepper packs on the side.
“Now you take your time, but do your best to take a bite, and be sure to really chew your food well and slowly,” she said as she walked out the door, leaving Jen alone with food.
It seemed odd that someone apparently suffering from anorexia would be treated as though there was no issue with food, but Jen appreciated the normality for the time being.
Staring down at her food, she eyed the IV’s in her arm. She wanted to opt for the liquid diet, since it was currently working; she would just avoid sleeping while on her IV diet. She had lost track of how many days without food had gone by at this point. There was a time that came when the hunger pangs went away and she was just tired all of the time, but the pain soon returned. Whenever the slightest scent of food hit her nostrils, the pain was excruciating. It was like being car sick, having morning sickness, and suffering from a migraine all at the same time, and that memory was enough for Jen to try again.
She had made it this far, and the liquid diet didn’t give her anything in her mouth that she wasn’t expecting. The worst that could happen is a bug would appear, and she was slowly coming to accept the reality of life as an insect-eater.
Taking the knife and fork in hands, she brought herself to cut a small portion of meatloaf. She was sure to choose the piece with the most topping sauce, hoping the strong flavor would drown out whatever may come.
Bringing the fork to her lips, she paused. She licked the sauce. It tasted amazing. No ants, no crickets, no worms, nothing but some delicious cooking sauce she suspected was a variant of someone’s homemade barbeque sauce. It had the perfect kick of spice, heat, and brown sugar, and it made her put the rest of the fork contents into her mouth.
The meatloaf was warm, the sauce warmer. It wasn’t hot enough to burn her mouth, it was just right. She bit down on her piece of dinner and crunched into something hard and bloody. Slowly, she opened her mouth. She reached in to grab the blob of food she had tried to eat, feeling fur in the process. Pieces of body were falling out of whatever it was, landing on her tongue, warm and bloody. As she pulled the mass from her mouth, she felt what she thought was thick string brush against her tongue, gliding from the very back of her throat to the tip of her tongue as she brought it out of her mouth. She spat out what was once meatloaf, and realized that it was now a mouse.
She had bitten down on the skull of a mouse.
She cried at the sad realization that each time she ate, the animal it turned into kept getting bigger.