Wasp and the Fig
by Lauren Scharhag
Mia, was already in her pajamas when Karim went to her room with sensors, tape and adhesive.
Snapping on a pair of rubber gloves, he explained, “I have to attach all these sensors
to you. During the sleep study, we record your brain waves, the oxygen level in your blood,
breathing, heart rate, and eye and leg movements. Okay?”
Karim had her sit in the chair as he set to work. Attaching the sensors could take upwards
of fifteen minutes. The ones on the head always took the longest, as they had to be glued
to the scalp. Karim didn’t mind. He always chatted with the patients to help put
them at ease. “Do you go to school?”
for a semester then had to quit. The sleep problems got
“What will you study?”
“I’m not sure yet.” Then, she
asked him the question all Americans asked, “Where’re
She laughed. “So you talk like an Egyptian?”
He gave her
a puzzled smile. “Arabic.”
“I know, it was a joke. You know the song, ‘Walk
Like an Egyptian’? Talk like an Egyptian? Never mind.” She sobered. “When
did you come here?”
“When I was ten. You heard what happened in my country?”
was a revolution. The journalists used Twitter to report
“That must’ve been scary.”
got us out before things got bad.”
Karim’s great uncle, Omar, had died in the 1952 Revolution.
Karim’s father had no wish to watch history repeat itself, so they’d left. Karim
had grown up hearing all about Great Uncle Omar, fiery, romantic, a diehard fan of Umm
Kulthum. Karim’s grandfather still had Omar’s old record collection. His grandfather’s
house, with the tile floor and the fig tree in the yard. His grandfather had told him about how fig trees
need wasps for pollination, and how the wasps die inside the fruit. When you eat a fig,
you are eating the absorbed bodies of a wasp and her male brood. His grandfather had said,
"Sometimes, you're the wasp, and sometimes, you’re the fig."
entirely understood. Was it a lucky thing to be a fig?
To have a wasp crawl inside you and die? Karim supposed sometimes, something sacrificed
itself to nourish you, like a goat or a sheep. But sometimes, it seemed to him, that the
wasp could represent a corrupting influence. If he'd raised such an opinion with his grandfather,
his grandfather would've slapped him on the back and said not to overthink it. Just eat
When Karim finished gluing the sensors to Mia’s head,
he rolled up her sleeve to do the arm sensors and paused. She was covered in cuts. Some
looked as if she’d been clawed; others looked as if she’d been cut with a blade.
Mia shifted uneasily. “I do it to myself. When I’m asleep.”
“I’ve heard of that-- sleep-related scratching. Do
you also sleepwalk?”
“Yes, it started about a year ago. At first, we thought
it was just the stress of school, but now…”
He patted her
arm. “Well, hopefully the doctors can figure out how to help you.”
Besides Mia, there were four other patients at the clinic
that evening. When Karim was done getting them all ready for their studies, he went back
to the monitoring station, with its bank of screens and an intercom system. It was a lonely
job—being by himself, watching people sleep. But Karim had his schoolwork to occupy
him. He was taking classes at the community college to become a physical therapist. Once
everyone was asleep, he could hit the books.
Mia was the last one to turn off
the lights. She read until 10:30, then switched off
the bedside lamp with an air of trepidation. She tossed and turned as much as she could
with the equipment strapped to her body. An hour went by, then two. Finally, she stilled.
Once or twice, Karim thought he heard something—the sound of
the intercom clicking on and something that sounded like whispering, too fast and too low
for him to hear, before clicking off again. Frowning, he looked up from his book.
A figure had appeared on the monitor.
It was only Mia. He hadn’t seen her move, but somehow,
there she was, gazing into the camera. He’d seen plenty of sleepwalkers. You had
to watch them-- they could hurt themselves, especially in the unfamiliar
surroundings. They could get tangled up in the wires and fall, they bump into things. But
Mia was just standing there, her arms at her sides. Her eyes were open, yet her expression
was not like that of a sleeper. It was focused and… malevolent. There was
no other word for it.
She’s just sleepwalking,
he told himself. Karim knew how to deal with sleepwalkers. You just guided them back to
their bed, touching them as little as possible in case they lashed out. He went to her
room, intending to do just that, but when he got there, she was already under the blankets.
He blinked. He had no idea how she’d gotten back into bed so
quickly. It was like she’d never moved at all.
came again. He could almost swear that it was in Arabic. Which was silly—he still
couldn’t make out any words, but the cadence did not sound like English. And of course,
there was no way that Midwestern Mia spoke Arabic.
And she was asleep. Deeply asleep.
Shaking his head, he returned to the monitors. There, he saw
that she had gotten up again—just as before, standing in the center of the room.
As he watched, she raised her arms. Rips appeared in her nightclothes, slashing the skin
underneath, the wounds like gaping mouths. Something black leaked out of them—not
blood. It rose into the air like smoke. There was a strange feedback sound—strange,
and yet familiar. Karim could hear a record turning somewhere on an old turntable. Then
a haunting, unmistakable contralto singing, “I am a fluttering heart in a world
His Great Uncle Omar’s favorite
The blackness continued to rise. It coalesced into a humanoid figure
floating above and before Mia, eclipsing her. It had buzzing insect wings and glowing red
eyes-- what Grandfather would have called a jinn. And it was singing in Umm Kulthum’s
voice, the voice of the old records from Karim’s childhood.
the creature said in a crooning falsetto, switching
to English. “Karim, come with us. Your grandpa is waiting under the fig tree with
Then it lunged, filling the monitor with darkness.
backwards and fell flat on his back. He tried to crawl away, but the creature kept coming,
oozing through the screen into his cramped workspace. Everything went black and red, the
air filled with a diabolical, insect whine.
When he came to, he was still on the floor. His co-worker,
Jamie, was crouched beside him. “Are you okay?”
“I think so.” Karim sat up and winced.
look at you. What happened?” Jamie nodded to Karim’s body—his
clothes ripped in several places, the skin underneath bleeding.
Mia was gone. She’d left a note on the bed, written in Arabic:
Now, you are the fig.
Lauren Scharhag (she/her) is an associate editor
for GLEAM: Journal of the Cadralor, and the author of thirteen books, including Our
Miss Engel and The Order of the Four Sons series (with Coyote
Kishpaugh). Her work has appeared in over 150 literary venues around the world. She is
the recipient of multiple awards, including the Seamus Burns Creative Writing Prize
and a fellowship from Rockhurst University for fiction. Her work has also been
nominated for multiple Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prizes. She lives in Kansas City, MO.
To learn more about her work, visit: www.laurenscharhag.blogspot.com