Life had always come to Taenia. Abundantly. Effortlessly. As if she were the center of all things, a god firmly anchored in the sea of totality. Jawless, spineless, when Taenia wished to eat, food bathed her. Every inch of her skin would illuminate with satisfaction. All Taenia had to do was grasp the wall and keep from being overwhelmed by the delicacies rushing into her body. Sometimes it was difficult. The meeting of so many wondrous flavors could trigger an almost orgasmic release, causing Taenia to lose her grip. For just a moment, before reclaiming a hold on the wall, she would join the food as it flowed through her universe.
It was only in those moments that Taenia was not the center. Everything felt as if it flowed elsewhere. Somewhere further than her. Such a thought was frightening to Taenia, however, as was the feeling of being swept along by a current over which she had no control. The panic of scrabbling for a hold on the universe was the polar opposite of the preceding pleasure. Overwhelming and transcendental, but terribly unnatural. Horrifying. The helplessness was something not even a nightmare could comprehend.
The rest of Taenia’s time was spent in creation. Life flowed into her, and life flowed out. When she was sated nutritionally, Taenia began to feel amorous. She loved the universe; she loved herself; she loved the food and the current and the wall. The urge to bring others into being was impossible to resist. They had to experience all that Taenia had.
And so Taenia would make love to herself.
Dozens of times.
The male parts in one segment of her body loved her female parts. Eggs were released. Then the next segment would engage in the act. And the next.
Once exhausted from her sexual indulgence, Taenia would eat again. Then she would sleep. When she awoke, it would all begin anew. Food, sex, food, sleep. Infinite decadence. Infinite security. Satisfaction until time immemorial. Taenia’s universe was one without want. And with each passing day, she would grow. Utopia expanded.
One thing had always troubled Taenia, however. She wondered where her eggs went. Why had she never seen the products of her intimacy after their moments of conception? Where had the fruits of her womb gone? Was it the same place toward which Taenia would drift when she lost her grip on the wall? Why should she be denied the parenthood of her children? After all, she had wished to create in order to share. Why give a gift if one cannot see the smile on the recipient’s face?
One day, after a particularly intense period of reproduction, Taenia watched her eggs float away from her most distal segment. As that plume of offspring disappeared into the darkness, Taenia was struck with a terrible thought. “What if my children are headed somewhere completely unlike this universe? What if theirs is a life of hardship? Loss? Starvation?” To quiet her mind, Taenia ate more than she ever had. She gorged herself with textures and flavors. But it was useless.
She tried to remember the time of her own youth. How had Taenia come into being? Was there even a universe before her? Or did time begin with her scolex and end with her last segment, that final proglottid? Perhaps there could only be one Taenia. Was it her very existence that killed her children? That would make no sense. The universe was Taenia’s. And she would never allow such cruelty.
Taenia proposed a bold experiment. After her next period of reproduction, she would not release any eggs. She would hold them inside herself. Then, perhaps, her children would stay and share her perfect universe.
The experiment was a failure. Instead of giving live birth as Taenia had hoped, her final segment lost its sense of taste and feel. It became gangrenous and bloated. And finally it tore off. The current ripped away a piece of Taenia’s own flesh, and the new lives it contained. Taenia became nauseous with shock. She vomited from every pore. She wept bitterly and abstained from sexual intercourse for days. For, with that particular failure, Taenia had reached an inescapable conclusion.
Hers was not the will that called the tides. The universe was not hers. Taenia was the center of naught but her own thoughts.
From that point on, everything lost its appeal. Growing was loss; eating was emptiness; sex was pain; sleep was fatigue. Yet Taenia could not stop, not for more than a brief time. She began to call out into the darkness. If she was not the center, perhaps she was the egg of some larger creature. Perhaps it would reply in comforting tones. Perhaps it would sing a lullaby of reassurance and paternity. When Taenia received no answer, she began to sing to her lost eggs. She said all the things she wished the anonymous master of this universe would say to her. Sometimes, for just a second, she even mistook her own echoes as answers.
“I love you. The future is a good thing. Life is a good thing. You are a good thing.” After what felt like centuries, and miles of corporeal expansion, Taenia decided she could not carry on in such a way. She felt as if she had outgrown her own life, and even its many pleasures. The only thing offering Taenia any sort of comfort was the fantastical notion that perhaps her children’s universe was not worse, but better than hers.
“And if that is the case,” Taenia whispered one day, to only herself, “then I should join them. Perhaps this life is a pupa. Perhaps the universe flows to a place where parents answer their children, and where lives become whole.”
Gathering the fullness of her bravery, Taenia let go of the wall. She fought every instinct to grab back on. Her mind filled with panic, but her soul filled with hope. Both tasted of adrenaline.
After what seemed like an eternity of free-fall, Taenia reached the end. In an agonizing second birth, she was dragged into the clean, blinding light of the beyond.
Far above, a gaunt young man cringed and called his doctor. He flushed the toilet, utterly horrified that he could have expelled such a gigantic tapeworm.
Katherine Marzinsky is a writer and undergraduate college student from New Jersey. She is currently pursuing her English degree at Kean University. Her previous work has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, A cappella Zoo, and The Inanimates story anthology. Although she has never harbored any parasites, she did once become violently ill at a lighthouse. The story is only funny in hindsight.
Lead image: “Tapeworm” (via Flickr user Rhys Ormond)