Art doesn’t so much mimic reality as morph, stretch, and bewitch it. The so-called rabbit holes, the night thoughts, the stray bits we dismiss, the teeming multiplicity of various “realities” – in the coming months, the Action Books Strange Fiction Series will showcase texts that delve into such zones. The world is always waiting to be more haunted.

James Pate






Beloved of Flies


They cut him in half and filled his body with flies. He had no pain although he was conscious the whole time. Some method of hypnotic anesthesia must have been employed to mimic a dream and force him to comply. Attaching his severed halves, their seamless suturing knit his body cavities closed and whole as he lay stunned in the black hum. By the end of it, he appeared unchanged to the naked eye despite the horde of flies sealed inside.

He felt at once astir with their restless twitching antennae, legs, and whatever one called a fly’s searching tongue. Proboscis maybe, he thought. His thoracic cavity whirred with the busy gyrations of interrupted flight. Trapped wings in constant motion thwarted the flow of oxygen to his lungs. Once his panic subsided and he realized he was not drowning, he began to enjoy the new sensation crawling through each teeming breath. Found the shaky, throttling work of it a comforting task.

Colonized, he felt strangely safe. No longer one, he was many.

He tried to explain what had happened, but his mother didn’t understand. His voice came out hoarse, changed by the fitful resonance of the captive horde. They reproduced and roiled in his diaphragm. His pelvic cavity squirmed with new larvae.

She told him to do his chores. She repeated herself when he couldn’t hear over the humming from his chest and throat. Flies whirred in his sinuses and behind his eyes. They made a crackling sound in his hollow ear canals.

He wondered if they would burst through every pore in an effort to escape. The pressure within him grew as they bred. Hidden movements made him dizzy and sick; less an impairment to him and more a pleasant reminder he was no longer alone but occupied and something bigger than a simple, single boy.

“I need you to clean your room before dinner. This has gone on long enough.” His mother enunciated louder than normal, head half turned over her shoulder. In the corner, she swept up black specks from a crevice where the baseboards didn’t square.

He opened his mouth to argue and snapped it shut when he realized he’d release more flies. He didn’t want to make her job harder. She already seemed annoyed.

My room, he repeated, testing the idea. It felt false, a contradiction to his new experience as a collective entity. Sluggish with the burden of moving a multitude, he also puzzled over the concept of “clean.” Flies ever-writhing flitted through his cranial cavity, sticking and tingling beneath the hard shell of his skull. Black specks of thought flashed by unidentified. The names of objects seemed meaningless and interchangeable: shirt, hockey stick, headphones.

Dead things were in the room. If some tissues inside him rotted from the damage of feeding maggots, that same rot soon bloomed fecund with abundant life. Unlike the inanimate tokens scattered around him, he became. He multiplied as the flies mated, laid eggs, hatched, fed, molted, pupated, and matured. His body grew hungry.

Hungry with the fullness of a god who ravenously tethers souls both past and present to bring together the squirming and explosive evolution of those belonging in his fold, stars strung deep into the history of an impenetrable galaxy. Stars glinted omniscient at the black edges of his corrupted vision. Generations begged for fulfillment.

His stomach was full and alive. As he pawed the wall away from his room and crept down the hallway, his gut overflowed. Hard brown egg sacs and soft white pupae dribbled from between his lips. A black swarm rose above his back.

“What on earth are you doing?” his mother said.

She had seen him stumble naked into the kitchen, smash open a ceramic canister, and dive onto the floor to lap up spilled granules of sugar, bloodying his tongue on the broken shards.

She said, “Put your clothes on.” Calmly, with a mother’s practice, as if it were a normal thing to say in a normal situation; but her eyes locked on him, wide. She backed across the room as he arose, her tall naked son, peppered with sugar and blood, surrounded by a revolving halo of flies.

His ears abuzz with breeding, he tried to pantomime the black exam capsule where they cut him in half. The scar that would confer evidence of his bisection elusively teased away from his fingertips: the faint line between his eyebrows, the gentle dent in the cartilage in tip off his nose. He traced the bony dip at the base of his throat, the hard strip of his sternum, the symmetrical path down the knot of his belly button, and the tiny seam at the tip of his glans.

The scar hovered invisible above his skin and suddenly he realized he had no way to know if the other half they’d attached was the same one he’d started with.

If this other half were not his original half, where was he? Did he think for both with a bisected brain? Was he in two places at once, or alive in one and dead in the other?

His thoughts were here and then gone, flicking between blackness and omniscience. In the instant he saw he was nowhere, the hunger that moved him exploded into an engulfing black swarm shaped like a tidal wave. He leapt at the trembling woman across the room with his teeth and clawed fingers bared.

They caught him in midair. They cut him in half again. Crudely, for they hadn’t prepared for this. He endured death with every life pried from his flesh as they extracted the embedded generations of eggs, larvae, pupae, and flies. They cut away the beloved until he was only a fragment of mind.

From his hands and knees, he looked up when it was done. He wanted to cry out but he couldn’t vocalize with his newly repaired tongue. His mother hooked her elbow under his arm and put her full strength into lifting him. She maneuvered him through spilled sugar and ceramic shards back to bed. His brain replaced by scar tissue, he had no choice but to rest.

She pulled up a blanket to cover him and brushed bloody sugar granules off his chin with her thumb. “You’re not yourself since the accident. The room can wait.”

The silence ached. He longed for the restless chorus of the horde piling onto a fresh feeding site, the hungry maggots moving their mouths, fondling him in a frenzy of eager delight. Exalting in their thousand joyous gulps of connective tissue, of epithelial lining and nerve; weakening with their heightened ecstasy as they ingested strong filaments of his willing muscle and singing as one with the voices of a thousand shiny wings seeking flight.

Empty of all memory of those who fed upon the god, for they had only existed in the cracked temples of his wounds, on his side, silence so loud, his ear against the pillow. Inside the pillow, a crackling sound. Through the hollows in his ear canal, it transmitted a consistent and rhythmic buzz. A murmur not of downy feathers or shifting bedsheets but of insect wings.

He, beloved of flies, pressed his ear to the pillow, willing survivors to find passage and lay eggs. A fertile breeding ground driven by the torrent of a million devouring lives.

His mother’s thumb lay on his chin less than half an inch from his mouth. Her face flushed when he started sucking. He pulled her deep inside his mouth and closed his eyes. She didn’t resist as he slobbered in silent gratitude that she finally acknowledged what she had surely understood within the black hum yet pretended to fear all along. Then he bit down and kept biting until they were many and one.






Joe Koch writes literary horror and surrealist trash. Joe is a Shirley Jackson Award finalist and the author of The Wingspan of Severed HandsThe Couvade, and Convulsive. They’ve had over fifty short stories published in books and journals like Vastarien, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, and The Queer Book of Saints. Find Joe online at and on Twitter @horrorsong