His Fly Undid Him

Matthew Kirshenblatt

Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day. - Bertrand Russell.

It's a short story. As short as the lives of the flies that my friend liked to kill, but not too short to demonstrate the consequences thereof.

So, yes, my friend liked to kill flies.

Dan lived in a broken down old apartment building where the walls were peeling, the carpet managed to smell like dog without even the presence of a canine, and the plates and utensils in his rusting kitchen and bathroom sinks were classified under the term "scrubbing optional."

As for Dan, he was a dumpy guy that managed to remain greasy a lot of the time, when he was incredibly scruffy and wearing the stereotypical grunge to go along with it all. Don't get me wrong. Appearances aside, he was an otherwise good man who liked to play World of Warcraft, could tell the most entertaining stories of how he was fictitiously laid after a few beers, and had a genocidal compulsion against flies.

I'm still puzzled about it to this very day. I mean, you would think with all the filth he accumulated, Dan would have been more tolerant of his nonhuman neighbors in the inevitable ecosystem he created for himself. And indeed, he had no problem with the earwigs, and even the spiders. No, he had no problem with the spiders at all.

You see, Dan liked to kill flies in a variety of ways. Sometimes, he would just use a basic Swiss-hole flyswatter. Other times, he would just spray them. This was just a matter of course really. Then, he just got nasty. Dan owned a BB gun. I would be hard-pressed to tell you now what model it was, considering I never really had one, but it was one that shot out hard, multicolored pellets. Sometimes, as we were gaming on our laptops, he would reach over and, before anything, he would shoot a fly in midair. Sometimes, he would even get a few shots off, which annoyed me because sometimes the pellets just whizzed over my head or brushed my cheek.

I was really philosophical at that point. Well, as philosophical as any drunk gets at two in the morning.
But no matter how many times I swore at him, he would just not stop. And you can say a lot about my friend, but he was an excellent shot. There were pieces of fly limbs scattered everywhere under the bright paint of those pellets. Those, and the others, however, were the lucky ones. I won't even go into the ones that were not always killed instantly. The ones that had their wings shattered, or their legs ripped off.

Sometimes, I suspect that he honestly trapped some of them in the window screen and literally watched their strength slowly ebb away. That was, of course, when he didn't feed them, or remnants of them, to the spiders that he kept in the corners. One time, I asked him why he did it. I'm not sure I remember, but I do think it was something to do with the noise that they made. The buzzing sound. Something in the vibrational tone of these insects bothered Dan so much that it moved him to specific acts of cruelty towards them. Now, I don't like the sound of flies either. Their droning reminds me too much of wasps and hornets - insects I don't know if I'm allergic to and otherwise do not want to find out.

But even I started to feel really sorry for them, and found this compulsion almost weirder than Renfield's eating habits from Dracula. I even told him that maybe if he cleaned his place up more, there would be less of them. But according to Dan, it was clean enough. The waxy pale flypaper on the walls, with its macabre trophies, was supposed to be a testament to this. And besides, he claimed that he should be able to keep his place any damn way he wanted and that he was the one who suffered everything else in it to live. He would just not, as he put it, suffer flies.

Now, I didn't go there often and only when I was stranded at night when the buses stopped, or we came back from a particularly strenuous game of D&D. To be honest, I couldn't stand the place. There was something really bad aside from the smell of ass and antiseptics. I couldn't really express it then.

Then, there was the night.

We'd been gaming and drinking a lot. I crashed on the couch while Dan went into his room. As tired as I was, I couldn't get to sleep. I was really philosophical at that point. Well, as philosophical as any drunk gets at two in the morning. There actually was a full moon shining from one of the windows. The white light from the view was probably one of the few beautiful things about that place. It was actually really bright. We'd turned the other lights off, and I just lay there thinking about stuff.

My thoughts were not very original, as semi-inebriated musings go. I wondered about souls. About death. I thought about how we knew that we had souls. Or was it that we were just machines that would blink off the moment our hearts -- our sources of power faded and turned off and parts fell apart? Much like the flies that Dan killed. Descartes, a philosopher almost always quoted when someone is at least somewhat wasted, said that animals were just machines that acted on pre-programmed impulses and could not feel pain or anything. He said they were soulless things.

I was as skeptical about that pyjama-wearing Frenchman's delusions as I was about that soulless vampire bullshit in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Then I started thinking about ghosts and other stuff we touched on at our friend's when were role-playing. My last thought was something along the lines of just how much flypaper was on the walls, and how many small bodies were stuck onto the pale white substance forever.

I'm not sure if I woke before, or after I heard the sound. It was a low, but reverberating sound. My teeth were vibrating from it. The windows from the outside were still white with the moon, but the light seemed to be swirling around on the walls.

Or so I thought.

I was very disoriented from waking up so soon and I was sure as hell that I was somewhat under the influence. To this day, I hope that it was the alcohol whose influence I found myself under.

The walls were squirming. Pulsing really. Maybe it was a trick of the light or very bad vision on my part. But what was really disturbing was the black bits on the fly paper walls. I could have sworn they were twitching. Underneath dust, paint and stickiness they moved like one great organism. In the moonlight, they were all pale and slowly, they began to extract themselves from the wall. I wish this delusion rivaling an LSD trip ended there.

But it got worse.

Accompanied by a white powdery mist, mangled fly parts joined the mass from the wall. The moon robbed them of any colour other than the one it gave them. They crawled from under the screen, and the corners, and the garbage, and even the sink and the bathroom -- where I strongly suspect Dan drowned them. They all molded together like never-born maggots, or a cocoon of death until this malformed shape of multiple broken wings, and twisted limbs, and dead insect eyes, and powder, and hurt buzzed ominously and slowly away from me.

Like an undead Zerg Overlord, it hovered like an ivory pustule of small horror and pain and floated across the room.

To Dan's room.

I was on the couch when I woke up the next day. My head was aching and it took a while for my eyes to focus in the really bright sunlight. And then I screamed.

You would have too. The place was almost entirely clean. Too damn clean. The fly bodies were all gone. All of them. The wax paper wasn't even on the walls anymore.

But that wasn't what really scared me. What really scared me was the white powder coating everything, with greater parts of it in the centre of the room ... and in the line trailing to Dan's doorway.

They never found Dan. And I got as far away from that apartment building as I could. I'd heard all about things like ectoplasm as psychic residue, and poltergeists and places as things being charged with the collective energies of people who died especially violent deaths. These things could pool together and sometimes, apparently, gain something not unlike sentience or intent. What I didn't know was that the same principles could also be applied to nonhuman lives. To animals. To insects.

To this very day, whenever I get a fly in my room, I put it on a Kleenex and throw it out of my door to go elsewhere. I literally will not, and cannot hurt a fly again. I won't hurt a fly because they know us. They know our homes, our food, our garbage, and our shit.

Beelzebub. The Lord of the Flies.

I could go on, but I won't.

© Matthew Kirshenblatt 2009 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 18:08 Fri 19 Feb 2010
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