Flash Fiction. The B Word, by Stephen Newland. Image: a silhouette of a chalkboard with an anatomical drawing of a bluebottle fly. On the left of the image, a swarm of flies.

The B Word

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They found the dead badger on the side of a country lane. Miss Breeze coughed and called the field class to order.

‘The life cycle of Calliphora Vomitoria,‘ she said, gesturing with her arms, ‘commonly known as the bluebottle fly, revolves around a corpse.’

The class gawped.

‘Take a closer peek. What do you see?’ 

Out of the corner of one eye she caught Billy Peach, leering at her dark legs. His hormones were clearly unsettling him. He wasn’t the first to show interest. Shaking her head indifferently, she called on Tracey Blower, the class swot.

‘Grey eggs, Miss,’ she said. ‘And maggots.’

The class flinched, mouths open, hypnotised by a display of soft white bodies writhing inside the decomposing body. 

Larvae,’ corrected Miss Breeze.  ‘Cute little darlings, and quite hungry too. See how they enjoy the delicious rotting flesh. Don’t feel sorry for the badger; he is part of the life cycle. Given half a chance, he would have them for breakfast.’

The class gasped.

Miss Breeze smiled, pleased by the reaction. ‘Larvae hatch from eggs, and where do the eggs come from?’

‘The buzz,’ grinned Billy Peach.

The class sniggered.

Miss Breeze bristled. She disliked the word, the way it sounded, intimating frantic sexual desire. She educated appropriately. ‘The phrase is “hill topping”.’ 

Billy rubbed his hands, unperturbed.

She wrinkled her nose and continued. ‘The young males gather on the highest part of a tree to vibrate their wings and flash their abdomens. This attracts the eye of passing females. There follows a brief courtship dance before they mate. I am sure you do not need me to draw you a picture?’

The class murmured.

‘Following this, the lucky lady will seek to lay her eggs on a suitable host.’

Tracey Blower cut in: ‘Does it have to be a badger?’

‘Usually small animals suffice,’ smiled Miss Breeze. ‘But any reasonable-sized putrefying body will do. Something that smells. Even a human.’

The class giggled.

‘She will lay up to two hundred eggs. Within twelve hours, the larvae will emerge and dine on the carcass before the pupae stage. A short life cycle of six weeks encourages her to keep going and she will produce up to three clutches or more before death.’

Billy lifted his nose, inhaling a sweet meadow scent.

Miss Breeze coughed. Time closing in. ‘That’s enough for today.’

The class dispersed amid a frisson of excitement. The air became alive with the din of bluebottles. Miss Breeze smiled – how they seemed to get younger every semester – and peered down affectionately into the badger’s open cavity. A sudden vibration disturbed her thoughts. Billy stood there, youthful, strong, virile, exposing a handsome metallic blue abdomen. He was a fusion of strength and beauty, captivating her senses. It was impossible to take her eyes from him. A tremor of excitement invigorated her body.

‘Chase me,’ she buzzed.

So the dance unfolded. A tragic ballet: pursuit and passion. Her final performance and his first.

Stephen Newland

Stephen Newland lives on the edge of atmospheric Dartmoor with his beautiful wife Heather. He enjoys all aspects of short story writing and over the years worked briefly as a reporter in Dorset before finding his feet in Graphic Design for a local newspaper. In his time he has created several comic strips. He is a member of the Tavistock Writers Group.

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