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Prompt No. 5

A wasp called the tarantula hawk reproduces by paralyzing tarantulas and laying its eggs into their bodies. When the larvae hatch, they devour the still living spider from the inside out. Isn’t that fucked up? Write a short story about how fucked up that is.

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I knew my Beauty had a thousand Darts,
But knew not they cou’d strike so quick and home.

— Aphra Behn

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It is the curse of the motherless, to tell blind the story of our birth. I believe that this story is true. It must be. If it isn’t, then nothing else can be.

My mother is alive, although she is not here to raise me. Some day, I will find her, and learn the story of her life before me. But for now, I have only her lover, my other mother, my home.

My name is Formosa. It means beauty, from the Latin. Perhaps this means my mother is a scholar. I like to think so. It gives me a place to begin my search. We have so few scholars in the desert. They are rare as rain, and smell as sweetly.

My mother is also called Formosa, and she is also beautiful. My Tia has told me many times the story of how they met.

“Little Formosa,” she says, "when I saw your mother, I knew I should be careful. In the desert, bright colors are a warning, not meant to attract. If you ever see Las Vegas, you’ll know what I mean.

“But your mother was so bold! When she found me, I was huddled underground like a woman afraid of her shadow. I would only leave my home to look for food, and only at night. And she took me to the surface in the middle of the day, and showed me the sky and the sand and the sun, and the earth was so bright it seemed all the stars had fallen to the earth to worship at her feet.

“Your mother whispered, ‘My darling, what can you be afraid of in a world as beautiful as this?’”

“And I said, ‘It is the beauty itself that frightens me.’

“Little Formosa, you have no idea what it’s like to be a spider, to fear the things that creep and things that fly. You fear only those that run. Your beauty protects you from the rest. I have no such blessing. I am black and hairy, with arms instead of wings. But from the first instant that your mother brushed her legs against my own, I felt that I could fly.

“Entomologists will tell you that it was your mother’s poison that left me paralyzed. But they’re wrong. It was love—love that bound my limbs as she lapped at the liquids of my body, love that held me prone as she pulled us back to my burrow. Love so fierce my abdomen nearly ripped in two with joy to find she’d left you here with me.”

I hatched in the comfort of my Tia’s still embrace. Her breath was the first sound I knew; her hair kept me warm; her voice roused me from slumber and lulled me to sleep.

I loved her back in the only way that I was able. Love must find its pair, you understand, and the only match to a love as generous as my Tia’s was the ravenous love of a child. She tried to teach me better ways, I know. Although she was not as educated as my mother, she was wise, and had a gift for foresight. When I began to suck her insides out, she warned me that my feeding habits were not sustainable.

“Little Formosa,” she said, “we should not destroy each other. Look, I will raise you, and then we will look for your mother together.”

But I could not contain my appetite for her flesh. Perhaps that was what had drawn my mother to her, so long ago: the warm, sweet tang of her fluids. It was like feeding on sunlight.

She weakened quickly. Her many eyes reflected oceans that a desert creature never sees. “I’m killing you,” I said in horror.

“Sacrifices must be made,” she replied.

What should I have sacrificed for her, my other mother, my home? It was my life or my way of life, and I could not choose.

I kept her alive for as long as I was able. I avoided her organs until they were all that she had left. When I was forced to eat her vital parts, I ate cautiously: her liver before her lungs, her lungs before her heart. You can survive longer without a liver than without a heart. Still, I kept telling myself, we might both make it. My mother might yet come home.

When my Tia finally died, I ate what remained rather quickly. I’m sure my manners would have appalled her, but I loathed the thought of extending my time in that cave, trapped with the disintegrating carcass of the only friend I’d ever known. I stripped her exoskeleton and fled.

If you’ve spent your entire childhood underground, the desert comes as a shock. The sky was so bright it seemed to quiver, and all I had to compare to its beauty was the little shake my Tia gave as she surrendered.

Thinking of my Tia, I looked back to the hole I’d crawled from, and suddenly realized, with horror, what she must have known all along: that my mother had buried her alive. Our burrow had never been a home. It was a grave, and my mother had never intended to return.

I no longer eat the flesh of other creatures. My life is bloody enough as it is. These days, I prefer fruit. It gladdens me to find a piece that has gone bad; a little stumbling is a small price to pay for the temporary peace of mind its alcohol provides.

Sometimes I wonder, if I had discovered fruit earlier, would my Tia still be here with me, sharing my quest for my mother? I wish I could say that I would not have eaten her, but I am not a liar. It is her flesh I taste in every bite.