By Steve Ashton
It began as a dare.
“Your trouble is that you love no one but yourself,” Dora said.
Benjamin Fullalove continued to read the sport section.
“You never leave the house,” she persisted. “You never want to see anyone. You spend more time gazing in the mirror than at me.”
Benjamin slapped down the paper and gave his wife a withering stare. “You could lock me in the cellar with a stack of magazines, a case of beer, and food for a fortnight, and I’d be happy as Larry.”
And so, as a dare, that is precisely what she did.
Late on the third evening of his confinement, Benjamin was lying in his sleeping bag on the camp bed, reading an article about liver transplants in the Reader’s Digest, when an earwig crawled across the page. He froze. Most creatures he could cope with – he could cup spiders and moths in his hand and set them free – but earwigs filled him with dread.
He snapped the pages shut and squeezed. But earwigs are resilient creatures and it squirmed out unharmed.
Benjamin flung the magazine into the far corner, then drew his knees to his chest and waited. What if it came back? Reluctantly, he emerged from his sleeping bag.
He found it scurrying across the floor and whacked it with his slipper. The sight of yellow-green gunge on the heel revolted him, but at least it was dead.
What if there were more? The cellar was bare but for an old Hoover. A thorough search revealed nothing more than a few husks of dead spiders.
Satisfied that the earwig was a lone intruder, he lay down again and switched off the flashlight. He must be brave.
Benjamin woke with an itch in his left ear. It was a common feeling. Since turning 70, it seemed all the hair that once grew on his head was now sprouting from his orifices. He wriggled his little finger into his ear and felt something pinch the tip. What the hell! He tipped his head on one side and dribbled beer into his ear. When he shook the liquid out, he saw an earwig swimming drunkenly in the shallow pool.
Enough of this. He climbed the ladder and thumped the hatch. So what if Dora called him a wimp.
But Dora had locked the cellar from the outside and had gone to her sister’s for the duration. All part of the dare.
Benjamin fought back the rising tide of panic and returned to his bed. He must not succumb to irrational fears. This was a time for practicalities. He prised the lid from a pickle jar and stuffed gherkins into his ears. That would keep the little buggers out! Just as well Dora couldn’t see him.
Later that night, he felt his nose twitch. When he sneezed, he saw an earwig in the damp tissue. Sweating with terror, he peeled the cellophane from a pack of cocktail sausages and plugged his nostrils. Then he shoved a satsuma in his mouth and waited.
After a few moments, he realised there was one orifice left. With some discomfort, he forced a banana halfway up his backside.
But still he couldn’t rest without knowing where they were coming from.
He’d already searched the cellar, and there was no sign of them in his clothes or the cooler box. They must be nesting in his sleeping bag. He slashed at the fabric with a kitchen knife until slithery filaments covered the floor. Nothing.
Now he felt the urge to pee. He stood over the bucket and felt excruciating pain. Far worse than when he had passed a large kidney stone. Was there blood? He got the flashlight and looked at the tip. There, he saw the swaying feelers of an emerging earwig. He snatched at the head but it wriggled back inside.
Now he knew the source. They were breeding inside him. He switched on the Hoover, tugged off the brush, and shoved the tube over the end of his penis. He could feel scratching inside his skull, his brain. Maybe this would suck them all out. He turned up the Hoover to full and passed out.
Dora begged the paramedics not to tell anyone how her husband had died, but the news got out anyway. Somehow, video footage from a cell phone found its way onto YouTube and received 6 million hits in two days. The evidence was there for all to see in clinical detail: the gherkins, the cocktail sausages, the Hoover tube, the Satsuma, the banana. Benjamin Fullalove – the narcissistic recluse who needed no one and valued his privacy above all else – had achieved worldwide notoriety as the perverted pensioner who had loved himself to death.