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The Wasp and the Fig: Fiction by Lauren Scharhag
It's Out There: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
After the Fire: Fiction by Mark Jabaut
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No Place Like Home
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Lauren Scharhag: The Wasp and the Fig

Art by Sean O'Keefe 2022

The Wasp and the Fig

by Lauren Scharhag


The patient, 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?”

Mia nodded. 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?”

“I went for a semester then had to quit. The sleep problems got too bad.”

“What will you study?”

“I’m not sure yet.” Then, she asked him the question all Americans asked, “Where’re you from?”


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?”

“There was a revolution. The journalists used Twitter to report on it.”

“That’s right.”

“That must’ve been scary.”

“My father 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."

Karim hadn’t 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 your figs. 

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.”

He nodded. “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.

Karim jumped. 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.

 The whispering 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 of longings…

His Great Uncle Omar’s favorite song.

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.

“Karim,” the creature said in a crooning falsetto, switching to English. “Karim, come with us. Your grandpa is waiting under the fig tree with Uncle Omar.”

Then it lunged, filling the monitor with darkness.

Karim stumbled 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.

“Jesus, 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

Sean O’Keefe is an artist and writer living in Roselle Park, NJ. Sean attended Syracuse University where he earned his BFA in Illustration. After graduation, Sean moved to New York City where he spent time working in restaurants and galleries while pursuing various artistic opportunities. After the birth of his children, Sean and family move to Roselle Park in 2015. He actively participates in exhibitions and art fairs around  New Jersey, and is continuing to develop his voice as a writer. His work can be found online at www.justseanart.com and @justseanart on Instagram.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022