We had so many great cover essays for this year's Advent Calendar that we're extending it this time around to include the Octave of Christmas (Christmas Day through New Year's Day). We'll also continue publishing cover essays into the next year, so if you've got an idea, pitch us (email Will or Ander, or ping us on twitter). Happy Holidays! —Will and Ander
- My legs were barely beneath me. I was running, but in Big Blue. For those unfamiliar, Big Blue was my car. Insistent on going, I left half a jalapenõ burger and some puddling vinegar on the duvet. I kissed each person in my family and speed-walked out their two-bed hotel, looping elastic bands around my ears and re-pinching the nose on my mask.
Big Blue slept in the converted barn, a preserved structure from the original owners. Pig farmers who sold to horse breeders who sold to my parents. A house so soured by their astringent divorce, I became its only visitor.
Three days I flung myself at walls. I think, round-offs over tennis nets. Maybe sketching grass spiders eerily still and spotlit by my headlamp. On the fourth day, I went limp.
In the long recharge I was forced to use my Sunday morning senses. In the bathroom, I smelled an emergency. A putrid, rotten, carcass smell. I pulled the ripcord and set the fan blades going, quickly aerating and filling the entire room with the stench. I leaned closer to the smell. My calves trembled maintaining a proper crouch, I hovered over a hill of dirty shirts and ladybugs with shells faded to a meek gray-orange. Digging until I uncovered a puck-bin lined in a CVS bag wet with brown spots. On top was a shriveled lobster sandwich, gifted as a graduation lunch from my school in Maine. The sandwich was wrapped in parchment paper and through that translucent brown covering I saw something crawl.
- Musca domestica. I had no clue maggots were one pitstop in a life cycle. Turns out a maggot is the larval stage of a housefly.
From formation a maggot feeds on whatever it was laid in. Its body looks greasy and when a maggot moves it’s like a shockwave ripples from anus to mouth hooks. Despite their unpleasant appearance living with maggots causes no adverse effects to humans.
However, eating maggots excrete ammonia. Humans find this smell unpleasant and similar to urine, and I simply would not allow my bathroom to smell like pee.
- I held the rancid bin with an oven mitt and kept it as far as possible from my nostrils. Back in my blue surgical mask, I slowmolassased down the gravel road, picking pebbles from my slippers. Toward the turtle pond to kill my bag of life.
On the rickety dock, I pulled the leaking CVS bag out of the bin. A few creamy maggots flopped out of the bottom. The hungriest ones must have chewed through the plastic, even though there was still bread and shellfish. Smallmouth bass swam close, obscured mostly by the sun’s glint on pond skin, they were betrayed by their turning tails.
- Can I be so bold as to say we humans don’t like to be eaten?
The fresh cadaver is a feast for every stage of a housefly. They lay eggs in the nostrils, mouth, and eyes. Maggots move as a mass tearing through soft tissue and secreting enzymes to break down proteins. Striped of moisture, the cadaver feels creamy. Maggots keep eating until they remove all flesh. In the summer, maggots can strip a body to bone in twenty-one days.
The modern American burial is toxic. Funeral preservation causes embalming fluid to leak into groundwater. Cremation facilities pump carbon dioxide and mercury into the air. Not to mention the tremendous amount of fertilizers and water used to maintain cemeteries.
- I shook the bag upside-down. Their wingless bodies flailed and blooped in the water; soon swallowed by bass. Seeing something as rare as a wild animal eating made my apathy shrivel. Empty-bagged, I chased electricity.
I found a fallen twig to scrape maggots clung by their mouthooks to the dock. Poking, they moved not. Madder, harder, I pushed the twig until it splintered. I thought, how well adapted maggots were to cruelty.
In the twilight of passion I left. Telling myself green frogs would gobble the final fittest maggots.
- Maggots offer tremendous ecological benefits. In one week, a modest colony of house flies can turn a ton of organic waste into one-hundred pounds of protein and four-hundred pounds of compost. One acre of fly larvae produces more protein than three-thousand acres of cattle.
Maggots eat people, but more honestly, they eat flesh. The human is like the deer, the rat, and the dog. We are raw material and once a mind says the long goodnight, the body is meant to be consumed.
- I’ve found it easiest to ignore mortality by living recklessly. I groped my jacket for a pill or a cone-shaped tobacco leaf; stepping on orange hawkweeds and wondering if the beef had spoiled.
Spencer Wilkins is an MFA candidate at the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program. His writing is published or awaits publication in The Southeast Review, Rainy Day Magazine, and The Foundationalist.