My Worst Nightmare

The human body is made up of about two-thirds liquid and when we decompose, this liquid has to go somewhere. In a scene designed to gross out the viewing audience in an episode of CSI, an investigator had a drop of body fluid drip onto their face from a corpse in the apartment above.

However, we heard this week about a real case where a lady sleeping on her couch was awoken by something dripping onto her face. At first Sylvia Pena thought the moisture was simply her drooling in her sleep but then the further droplets from the ceiling alerted her to something that is the stuff of nightmares.

In fact, the dripping liquid was the bodily fluids from the decomposing corpse of her neighbor in the apartment above who had died of an overdose. Like most of you reading this I was completely disgusted by this story but in my case, also because I was immediately transported back to one of my own worst maggot nightmares.

I have a thing about maggots. Those of you who have read SuperSense will know why this is the case. Despite my extreme aversion to these proto-flys, I had further maggot-related encounters that subsequently happened to me following that initial traumatizing event I had as a kid. Over the years, I have tried to forget them but Sylvia Pena’s nightmare reminded me of my own.

It happened when we used to live in a traditional New England wooden triplex house when I worked at Harvard. It was the basement apartment and not particularly airy but it had those lovely wooden floorboards and a musty smell of antiquity that made it irresistible to a foreigner like me.

Our neighbors above were an elderly couple who generally kept themselves to themselves, but the husband could be heard shuffling around his apartment as he walked with a stick and the repetitive thud alerted us to his movements. One week I noticed that this usually irritating racket was surprisingly absent so I assumed that the couple had simply gone away for a bit. It was on a balmy summer Saturday evening as I sat at the kitchen table listening to the BBC worldservice that my nightmare unfolded. 

spaghetti_fullI was working my way through a pesto pasta dish, sprinkled with fresh pine nuts, I had just made. As I was eating it, I noticed that some of the pine nuts and parmesan cheese looked unusually granular like rice. I proded the particles on my plate and thought something was not quite right. I even thought one moved.

However, my confusion was suddenly cast aside as something landed on my pate. A single maggot had dropped from above. I froze. The maggot wriggled and looked up at me as if it was slightly embarrassed to arrive so unannounced.

As I realized what it was, my stomach tightened as the involuntary wretch formed in my throat forcing me to gag and spit out the contents of my already aghast mouth.

But then I looked up at the kitchen ceiling. To this day, the sight above me has imprinted itself indelibly into my mind. The ceiling was alive with a swarm of writhing maggots that were dropping like a putrid brigade of marine commandos.

Reflexively, I leapt out of the way to the door to look for a way of escape, running my hands frantically through my hair and brushing my shoulders. The maggots were coming through the ceiling. In an instant I knew what must have happened. The old couple! Clearly they must have carried out a suicide pact or were murdered and they both lay there decomposing in the apartment above. The maggots invading from above must be coming from the bloated bodies.

As I was on my own, I made an international call to my wife who told me to relax. Was I sure? I had to go upstairs and knock on the door before I called the police.

It turned out that there was no suicide pact or double murder. The kindly old lady answered the door and yes, her husband was out of town and no, there were no dead pets in the apartment.

That instance of relief was immediately replaced by a new set of concerns. Why were there maggots on my kitchen ceiling? Where had they come from? I got the very long handled brush and swept the remaining maggot commandoes onto the floor of the kitchen and then into a dustpan to be emptied down the toilet. This in itself was a traumatizing experience.

But if the maggots did not come the apartment above then where? Like the inevitable twist in the slasher horror movie, when the audience thinks that killer is outside, it was then that I realized that the maggots were not coming from outside but rather from within the kitchen cupboards mounted on the wall.

 A flashlight into the cupboard revealed a stream of maggots working their way up the back wall of the cupboard to escape via the ceiling. And where were the maggots coming from? None other than the jumbo-sized packet of fresh pine nuts that I had just sprinkled all over the plate of pasta I had just eaten.

 It wasn’t bodily fluid from a decomposing corpse but still, just thinking about that plate of pasta makes me nauseous.


Filed under Weird Story of the Week

11 responses to “My Worst Nightmare

  1. And here I had just sat down to a plate of rice…

  2. That was hilarious ! Very well written ! Thanx.
    My wife has a funny story:
    My son was running around eating raisins–1 in the mouth, 5 on the floor. My wife was running around cleaning up after him and eating the raisins she picked up. On raisin had a very nasty flavor. She then discovered that our newborn daughter, who was laying on the floor on a blanket near some dropped raisins, had just lost her dried up black umbilical cord. Yuck !

  3. brucehood

    Sabio… I think you have just thrown down the gross-out gauntlet… Can anyone top this?

  4. Err…..


    Not even the dried mopani worms that No1 son got for me at Christmas can beat that one…. or the Brucey maggot-fest.

    Both are thouroughly diabolical; but I love the idea of having to track, stalk, catch and kill your own pine nuts with a flashlight and a broom.

  5. poietes

    Okay, after my recent post about gore and blood in horror movies, I thought that I could read pretty much anything that you threw at us, but I now have to admit that I was wrong.

    There. I said it. I was wrong (don’t tell my husband that I actually can say those three words).

    Bruce, you actually made me throw up a little bit in my mouth with that story. I absolutely cannot deal with maggots ever since I saw some horror movie as a child in which a corpse was covered with maggots and they were coming out of her . . . wait for it . . . eyes. Eye involvement and maggots. More than I could handle. Ensuing nightmares.

    I don’t even want to try to top this gross out fest. My life has been pretty tame: ants and the like. However, there was this one time when we were living in a townhouse in northern Virginia. The roaches were horrible. No matter what we did, we couldn’t get rid of them unless the entire row did something, and that was never going to happen. These babies were the size of small mice.

    One night, in my sleep, I felt something on my arm. I awoke to find a very, very large cockroach crawling across my arm. I was pregnant with my first child at the time, so I was hyper-emotional. I jumped up, screamed at my then husband, who did not share my dramatic horror at what had happened, and then began to wash my arm over and over like Lady Macbeth.

    That’s my addition.

  6. Haha… great story Bruce. but I’m not so sure about Sabio’s wife, doesn’t she know the 3 second rule for dropped food has been debunked?

    And yes, I could probably top the gross out factor with some Gimcrack stories about leaky old people but some of your readers may still be eating…… (obviously not anything with pasta or pine nuts)

  7. Julie

    Great! Just Great! Right as I finish gobbling down pasta and chicken, one mouthful had a slight “crunch” in it …. but I carried on eating regardless …. until I came and read this …. I feel very, very green all of a sudden!

    I think I’m going to be sick …..

  8. brucehood

    Sorry Julie… Just in case, I would also not read SuperSense pages 53 or 179-185 after a meal… actually come to think of it…. there are quite a few pages you might want to skip.

    Let me know if there were any diced carrots? – no matter what you eat and through up… there are always diced carrots – it’s a basic rule of the universe.


  9. Julie

    I was thinking that right after I had to run ….

    Why on earth are their ALWAYS carrots? Never quite been able to figure that one out …. Next time I shall inspect in greater detail!

  10. I will never eat pine nuts again.


    I also hate maggots in a serious way, seeing them anywhere will “put me off my feed for days.”

    My big food/bug thing is weevils. I grew up with parents who were, shall we say, “very good about conserving food resources”. My mother would find weevils in her dried goods and pick them out before cooking with them instead of throwing them out.

    As a result, today I use vacuum sealed containers for all my flour and dried goods and instantly toss out any goods that have evidence of weevils on the outside of the container, much less the inside. I simply can’t bring myself to use something with weevils on it or in it, or evidence that weevils have come near it or considered it as a spring break location. I even have trouble making myself eat certain cereals because their grains are suspiciously weevil like in shape.

    I am sure my mother was unaware she was nurturing quite this degree of obsessive behavior.

  11. poietes


    There are always carrots and a stray pea, even if you’ve been eating sushi. It must be some rule of the universe.


    I had forgotten about the weevils, actually had repressed that until you mentioned it. My mother also was not the best about expiration dates, an as a result, I once poured myself a bowl of Grape Nuts cereal,which is naturally crunchy. However, this particular bowl had a weird crunchiness to it. When I looked closely, I had poured myself a nice bowl of Grape Weevils.

    I, too, use sealed containers, sealed bags, etc., and if I am unfortunate enough to spot a wee devil, I immediately toss whatever it was in. Flour is not that expensive.

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