The Earwig Superstition: There is a long-standing European superstition that earwigs do, in fact, bore through the eardrum and tunnel through a person's brain, leaving eggs behind to hatch if they are female. Sources that cite this belief go back about a thousand years. This belief is also the origin of the insect's name. In May 2007, a 9-year-old boy in Albany, Oregon, US, had two spiders, one living and one dead, extracted from one of his ears. In 1862, British explorer John Speake, credited with being the European discoverer of the source of the Nile, suffered infections and other considerable ill effects from a beetle that crawled into his ear. In that case, however, the problems were not caused by the beetle itself, but by the attempts to remove it. Although there have been cases of maggots growing under human skin, usually introduced through a wound, medical literature has yet to record a case of burrowing through the eardrum.
Host: Good evening. I'm your little old curator in this museum which we call the Night Gallery. There are horror stories and horror stories. Elements of terror that take myriad forms. But this item has a built-in terror which can refrigerate even the most dispassionate amongst us. It has to do with a little beastie known as an earwig. A small bug that crawls into the human ear, and while inside, it doesn't whisper sweet nothings. It performs quite another function. Offered to you now on Night Gallery, a brand new nightmare which we call The Caterpillar.
Rhona: You are a moody one, Mr. Macy. You go from outrage to silence as if it were a quick tram ride.
Warwick: I see you've met our village entrepreneur.
Warwick: Yes, the only known rodent in captivity with a Christian name.
Macy: Bloody fool. I'm not soliciting an assassination.
Tommy: Assassination? Oh, come now, young gentleman. Assassination? I shudder at the very word. The thought of a killing palpitates me, is what it does. Sends shivers up and down my body.
Tommy: An earwig. A kind of caterpillar. A thing almost as fine as a spider's web. It lives on wax, feeds on the innards of flowers, and it has a decided liking for the human ear. The natives hereabout, they have a distinct terror of it, they do. You see, it moves and it rests so lightly on a human being, that one is practically unconscious of it. Now, if you were to place one of these earwigs in a man's hair, just above his ear, well... once in the ear, it's a thousand-to-one chance of it ever coming out the same way again. You see, Mr. Macy, it can't turn round. Backing out is impossible. So it continues to feed as it goes, and it crawls right inside of the head.
Tommy: This very night, if that's your pleasure.
Macy: None of this is my pleasure. Call it my... call it my ultimate desperation.
Tommy: Then that's what we will call it. It's just a matter of words. And as to what you're paying for, well, we won't call that assassination. No, what we'll call it is... brought-in favors. Yes, that's what we'll call it, brought-in favors.
Macy: Call it what you damn well please. When this is over, I never want to see you again, do you understand?
Tommy: Mr. Macy. You know, with your fine airs and your London drawing-room manners, and your mayfair proper touch, deep down inside you're a treacherous, murderous animal just like all the rest of us. The only difference is that you disdain a bit of blood on your hands. You like to keep a clean shop, you do. So as to our seeing each other again...
Tommy: Can you hear me? Can you understand? That native bloke which I sent over here that night, obviously got into the wrong room.
Macy: I... I want to die.
Tommy: Oh, yes. Well, you'll die all right, young gentleman. Have no fear of that. You will die. It's just that, I regret what happened. The mistake, I mean. I distinctly told that native bloke which room it was. But there's that language difficulty, you know. Mistakes will happen, you know. Nobody's fault, really. But I'm truly sorry for what happened, if that does any good. Truly sorry. Well, I've got to be off now. But I did want to pay my respects. You might comfort yourself, young gentleman, it won't last much longer. Really it won't. Not much longer at all. Bye-bye.
Macy: For your professional interest, doctor, since I am am the first person who has survived, I'll tell you what it's like. It's an agonizing, driving, itching pain. Anything would have been preferable. To be flayed alive, to be burned at the stake, to be put on the rack, to be hanged, even. Would have been an act of mercy.
Doctor: I took a look at the earwig that came out. I killed it, as a matter of fact-–I squeezed it. It was a female, that earwig... and the female lays eggs.
This episode is based on the short story "Boomerang" by Oscar Cook. This story was first published in the Christine Campbell Thomson anthology Switch on the Light (1931).