With a strangled cry of rage and frustration, Glen brought the hammer down on the end table, but it was no good. The fly escaped, unharmed, its mocking laughter floating on the air as it buzzed lazily, almost insolently away.
"Goddammit!" he snarled. He was sure he had it that time. He turned away from the now-marred cherry wood table and squinted as he scanned the air, searching for a bobbing, weaving black dot, ears straining to pick up its faint laughter.
His gaze passed over the couch on the opposite side of the living room, but his mind refused to acknowledge the shapes resting on there, shapes covered with a squirming black blanket of flies. But none was the fly he was looking for, and so he ignored them, and ignored what they crawled upon.
The laughter came from over by the TV. There it was, a winged raisin sitting motionless on a screen which had been dark for months. Glen gripped his hammer tight and prepared to rush the fly, but he stopped himself. That wasn't the way; he had to sneak up on the little bastard.
He moved slowly across the worn and dirty carpet, bare feet not making any sound. The muggy August heat which saturated the house sucked moisture out of him by the bucketful, soaking his soiled
t-shirt and underwear. As he inched closer to the TV -- and to the giggling ebon insect clinging to its screen -- he became aware of a
foul stench that hung heavy on the air. The stench of ... of ... He blinked a couple times and shook his head and the smell was gone, as was all memory of it.
When he reached the TV he stopped; he didn't move, didn't breathe. The fly remained motionless, its laughter now nearly inaudible.
Carefully, cautiously, gaze fixed unwaveringly on his quarry, Glen crouched down and brought his hammer back to strike.
And the fly's laughter suddenly rose in volume, until it filled the entire room, drowning out the buzzing from the couch that Glen refused to hear.
Fury flooded through Glen. "You sonofabitch!" he roared, and swung with all his might. The screen shattered, the picture tube exploded and the fly drifted off in a gale of mirth.
With a howl, Glen yanked the hammer free of the broken ruin before which he and his family had spent so many mind-numbing hours. His hand was bleeding, but he didn't feel it. He'd gotten quite skilled at not feeling lately.
He leaped to his feet and chased after the fly, hammer held high in his blood-slicked hand, teeth gritted so hard he broke a filling.
The fly lit upon a cluttered bookshelf, clinging to the spine of a tattered, leather-bound volume. Glen swung his hammer, but too slow, too late. The fly took to the air just before metal connected with leather. The impact jarred the shelf loose and old books and yellowed papers cascaded to the floor, some of the tomes breaking apart on impact, so ancient were they.
Glen stared at the mass of paper scattered at his feet. He couldn't quite recall what all these books and loose pages were or who they belonged to, but he knew they were important, were valuable. Or at least had been before he'd knocked them down and ruined them.
An inarticulate shout erupted from Glen's throat.
The fly seemed completely unconcerned by the rage it had engendered. It wended its way over to the fireplace and alighted on a picture hanging over the mantle.
Glen didn't aim, didn't think. He just hurled the hammer. It tumbled end over end, by some miracle headed straight for the little six-legged fucker. But a split second before impact, the fly was gone and the hammer slammed into the picture, sending glass flying everywhere and knocking it off the wall. The hammer thumped to the carpet, followed closely by the picture, which stood upright for a frozen moment before falling face down.
Glen crossed to the picture. He didn't feel the glass shards that punctured his feet, didn't feel the throbbing in his wounded hand as he picked up the picture and examined it.
A tall, beefy man in an ill-fitting brown suit stood with his arm around a petite washed-out blonde in a blue dress. Before them were two children, a girl with dark hair like her father and a boy, no more than two, who favored his mother. They were all smiling.
Glen let the picture slip through his fingers and when it hit the carpet this time, the damaged frame came apart. Glen put his face in his hands and sobbed, his tears mixing with the blood from his
And the fly's laughter echoed derisively in his ears.
Glen sat on his couch watching a game show and working on his fourth beer of the day. Or maybe fifth. He tended to lose track. Megan and Tyler played on the floor in front of the tube, Tyler pushing a dented Matchbox truck and making vroom-vroom noises, Megan making a doll with only one leg do pirouettes and singing la-la-la softly to
"Quiet," Glen said. "Daddy's trying to watch TV."
As usual, both kids paid no attention to him. He considered making an issue of it, but it was too damn hot. Christ, it was only early June, but it felt like mid-July. He took another sip of beer which had been cold when he'd taken it out of the fridge but was now lukewarm. For the hundredth time that day, he wished he'd gotten the air conditioner fixed when they'd had the money.
His stomach rumbled. "Hey, Anna!" he called out toward the kitchen. "How much longer til supper?"
His wife, never one to yell, appeared at the entrance to the living room mopping sweat from her brow with a paper towel. "Not long. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes."
"Good. I'm starving." Glen regretted his choice of words instantly. His family might not have been facing starvation, but they were getting damn close.
Anna's expression remained neutral, but her eyes showed she'd had the same thought. But before Glen could try to take that horrible word back, she disappeared into the kitchen. He glanced at the kids but they were oblivious, caught up in their separate worlds of make believe. Glen envied them.
He pointed his face toward the TV once more and took another swig of beer. And just as some idiot from Spokane was about to tell the grinning-robot host what a spelunker did, the screen went dark.
Megan, who had been completely unaware of the TV while it had been on, instantly noticed that it had gone off. "It's busted, Daddy!"
"Busted!" echoed Tyler.
"Shut up!" Megan said.
"Busted, busted, busted!" Tyler said with glee.
"Both of you shut up!" Glen growled as he hauled himself off the couch and stomped over to inspect the television set. But before he could do more than turn the knob on and off a few times, Anna came into the room.
"I think we blew a fuse, hon. The lights went out in the kitchen and the stove's gone dead."
"Shit." He sighed. "I'll go down in the basement and take a look." Glen drained the rest of his beer in a single swallow and tossed the empty into the plastic trash can in the kitchen. He found a
flashlight out of the junk drawer and headed down into the basement.
Several minutes later, he returned to the living room, his expression dark.
"What's wrong?" Anna asked, but Glen waved her question aside and picked up the cordless phone off the floor, where Tyler had been playing with it an hour earlier. He took it with him into the
kitchen, got the phone book out of a drawer and looked up a number. Anna and the kids gathered in the kitchen doorway -- Tyler in her arms, Megan holding on to the thin yellow fabric of her sun dress -- while he dialed.
"Ohio Southern Power," said a voice on the other end.
The conversation didn't last long. When it was over, Glen disconnected and put the phone down on the counter.
"It's okay, Glen," Anna said.
"It's not okay! Bastards! A man gets laid off, has a little trouble paying his bills, and those cocksuckers go and turn his power off!"
"Daddy said a bad word," Megan said in sing-song voice.
"I know you're upset, Glen," Anna said, "but please watch your language -- the children ..."
"Motherfuckers won't even give me a couple weeks to get some money together! Pricks!"
"Pricks!" Tyler repeated, laughing.
Glen smacked the boy upside the head, setting him instantly to crying.
"I don't want to hear trash like that coming out of your mouth, young man!" Glen yelled over the boy's howls. "You hear me?"
Anna held Tyler close, bouncing him up and down in an attempt to comfort him. "He heard you all right, Glen, that's the trouble. If you'd start watching your mouth around these kids like I've asked you, they wouldn't pick up your swearing."
Glen's hand itched to strike Anna too, but he kept it at his side. "Don't start with me, woman," he said low and dangerous. "Not now."
"You don't scare me, Glen Hochstetter," Anna said defiantly. But her eyes, as always, told the truth. She was afraid, at least a little.
They were silent for a few moments while Tyler cried. Glen felt sweat rolling off him. Jesus-fucking-Christ, but it was hot!
That night they ate not-quite-cooked tuna casserole by candlelight.
"You could always look for another job," Anna said tentatively.
Glen snorted. Endor was a small little country town with few people and even fewer opportunities. Lockwood Tool and Die was just about the only game in town, and those bastards had laid him off -- along with a lot of other good people -- after ten years. Some of the others had had even more time in than that.
"You could go on unemployment, then. Just for a little while."
He swallowed a tasteless mouthful of casserole and scowled. "We've talked about that before, Anna. You know I don't believe in taking handouts."
"But unemployment isn't like welfare, Glen."
His hand tightened into a fist around his fork. "Drop it, Anna." he said warningly.
A few silent moments passed as they ate. Finally, Glen said, "What about all those --" He almost said stupid -- "books and papers of yours, Anna?"
Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What about them?"
"They're pretty old. Might be worth something. Maybe we could sell a few --"
"We're not selling any. I inherited those from Great-Grandma Mast. They've been in my family for generations. They're ..." Anna paused, searching for just the right word. "Special," she finished.
"I don't see what's so damn special about a bunch of moldy old books," Glen muttered. He'd tried reading some a couple times, but he'd never been able to make even the slightest bit of sense out of
"Well, then, if they're just a bunch of 'moldy old books,' no one would want to buy them, would they?" Anna said, then turned her attention to eating the last few bits of casserole on her plate.
Glen wished he knew more about things like books and such. If he had, he'd sneak Anna's precious books out one night and sell them himself. But he had no clear notion of their worth, and more than likely he'd just end up getting ripped off.
So Glen spoke no more of Anna's books, and the family finished their meal -- such as it was -- in silence.
Glen realized he couldn't just chase the fly all over the house and hope to catch him. The little sonofabitch always saw him coming. He
vaguely remembered hearing something in his high school biology class about a fly's eyes, about how they could see more than a human's.
Every time he'd tried to sneak up on the fly and squash it, the little bastard would take off at the very last minute, laughing its derision as it sped away. So what he had to do was find a way to distract it, a way to keep it in one place long enough for him to get to it and SPLAT!
Glen thought and thought as rolling beads of sweat traced lines all over his body and eventually he came up with an idea.
He crouched under the kitchen table, the chairs stacked in a corner to give him room. In his arms rested his pump shotgun, newly cleaned and oiled, and loaded for fly.
The day was beginning to draw to a close and the dim light that came slouching through the west-facing windows washed the kitchen in bruised gray. But there was enough light for Glen to keep an eye on his bait.
In the middle of the tiled floor rested a saucer, one of -- one of -- someone's favorite pieces of china. And on that saucer was nestled a piece of human shit. Glen's, to be precise. He congratulated himself on his cleverness. What else would you use to attract a fly?
Still, he had known the shit wouldn't be enough by itself. Not with -- with -- with whatever it was on the couch in the living room that kept the other flies in the house busy. So Glen decided to add an extra enticement. He knew the fly hated him; why else would it torment him so, mocking him with its sly laughter? None of the other flies did. Glen was sure the fly hated him so much that it wanted him dead. Glen refused to oblige it that much, but he had given it the next best thing: he had unwrapped his ill-bandaged hand, reopened the wound he'd received from smashing the TV, and dribbled blood onto his stool, creating a meal fit for the King of Flies.
Now all he had to do was wait, which wasn't difficult. Time didn't mean much to him these days.
Eventually, it was there, crawling along Glen's blood and shit in the spastic move-and-stop, move-and-stop way of flies. Glen hadn't heard it buzz in, but that it was here and was his fly there was no doubt. He could hear it laughing softly to itself.
He raised his shotgun slowly, braced the stock against his shoulder, placed the index finger of his wounded hand lightly on the trigger.
Eat this, you little fucker! Glen thought, and fired.
There was an explosion of feces, blood, china and floor tile. When the debris settled and the echo of the gunblast in his ears died, Glen strained to hear laughter. But there was nothing, not so much as a chuckle. Still cautious, he pumped the gun to eject the empty shell and jack another into the chamber. He then came out from under the table and walked slowly around the kitchen, listening.
After several minutes of quiet, he began to allow himself to hope that maybe the little bastard had been disintegrated, when he heard a tiny burst of laughter coming from the tip of his gun barrel. And there, perched insolently on the sight, was the fly.
"GODDAMN YOU!" Glen roared. The fly took to the air and Glen fired, missing the insect and blowing a large chunk out of the wall. The fly banked and headed for the living room. Glen gave pursuit, cocking the gun again, sending the spent shell flying and a fresh one into position.
The living room was too poorly illuminated for Glen to keep track of the fly visually, but he honed in on its laughter as if possessed of sonar. It dipped and soared over to the couch, and when Glen thought he had a bead on it, he fired once more, right at the Something -- or rather one of the three Somethings, two little, one big -- on the couch, completely obliterating the top of the largest. A top which resembled nothing so much as a person's head.
The Something was knocked backward by the shot's impact, and then pitched forward, landing with a rotten, wet thump at his feet. A cloud of angry flies, their feeding disturbed, rose into the air and swirled around him, buzzing their fury. And somewhere in all that cacophony, Glen detected a solitary voice chortling in dark
Glen dropped the gun and stepped away from the Something which he could now not help but see, which he could perhaps put a name to if he tried hard enough. But he turned away and closed his eyes. And when he opened them again, he had forgotten all about the Something and its two smaller companions. He suddenly felt bone weary, ready to collapse from exhaustion. Well, who could blame him? He'd had a rough day.
He shuffled toward the stairs and started up, heading for bed, the buzzing of the flies following him like some sort of nightmarish lullaby.
It had only been a few weeks, but already they'd adapted to life without electricity. Candles for illumination, bottled water for drinking, bathing and flushing the toilet. Anna did the washing at the laundromat in town, with strict orders from Glen to say their washer had broken down if anyone asked why she was there. To save
money, she brought the wash home wet and hung it outside to dry.
Glen, out of sheer boredom, and to escape the kids' jabbering and what he imagined were Anna's increasingly accusing looks, had taken to sequestering himself in the basement and puttering around at his work bench by the flickering glow of candlelight.
He hadn't done much, sanded some wood, made a half-assed attempt at a spice rack. But Tyler's birthday was coming up and while there was no money to purchase a present, Glen was determined that his little boy would get something. What sort of father would he be if he didn't?
He decided to try making Tyler a toy duck. Glen had done some carving off and on over the years and didn't consider himself too terrible at it. Once he'd decided on his task, Glen felt a sense of purpose and excitement return to him, something he'd long been missing. It felt good to have work -- real, purposeful work -- to do.
He sorted through the odds and ends of wood in the basement until he found a couple likely candidates for duckhood. And then he went to
gather his carving tools, but they weren't where he thought they'd be. He wasn't worried at first. It had been a while since he'd used
them and perhaps he'd misremembered their location. He turned his work bench and toolboxes upside down and inside out looking for them, but without success. They were gone.
And then he remembered last fall when Megan and Tyler had taken his hammer without his permission and used it to smash crabapples in the backyard.
Anger building, Glen went upstairs and outside in search of the two suspected thieves. He found them at the base of the oak tree at the side of the house. Megan had nearly finished carving TYLER IS A POOPHEAD into the trunk. She was just starting the D when Glen grabbed her arm and yanked her to her feet, causing her to drop the tool.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" he demanded.
"OW! Daddy, you're hurting me!"
"Megan's in trouble!" Tyler crowed.
"Shut up, dammit!" Glen snapped at his son. He gave Megan a shake. "You heard me -- what are you doing?"
Megan's only answer was to start sobbing.
Glen yanked Megan upwards until she was standing on tip-toe. She yowled in pain, which starting Tyler crying.
"How'd you like it if someone carved on you, huh? How'd you like it if I took that tool and wrote MEGAN IS A GODDAMNED LITTLE CUNT on your stomach, huh?" A shake. "Huh?" Another, harder.
Megan was now screaming at the top of her lungs, as much from terror as pain.
"Put her down, dammit!"
Glen turned to see Anna running across the lawn toward them.
"Don't tell me what do, woman. Megan did something wrong and I'm correcting her."
Anna reached them and stopped, chest heaving. "Goddammit, Glen Hochstetter, you put her down or so help me, I'll make you sorry your mother ever birthed you!"
Glen released his daughter who landed on her behind and sobbed. He turned toward his wife. "Oh, yeah? And just how would you do that?"
"I know things, Glen. Things I picked up from Great-Grandma's books. Things that I could use to hurt you, hurt you real bad, if I wanted."
Glen snorted. "You don't understand any more of that shit than I do."
Anna's voice was cold. "I understand enough."
Glen's hand itched to fling out and strike her. But he kept it at his side. He didn't believe her, knew she was just blowing a bunch of air. Still ... she spent a lot of time pouring over those musty old papers. And sometimes at night, just before going to bed, she would kneel at the foot of their mattress and say her prayers. Prayers spoken in an oddly lilting language that hurt Glen's ears. A bunch of air, that's all. Nothing more.
He turned and started walking away.
"Nobody's ever going to hurt my children, Glen!" Anna shouted after him. "You hear me? Nobody!"
Glen lay in the dark, completely covered by a sheet and two blankets. He was sweating like crazy, but that didn't matter. Nothing mattered as long as he was safe from the fly.
He had closed the bedroom window despite the heat, and as an added precaution had shut the door and stuffed a towel against the crack at the bottom. There was no way the fly could get in. No way.
Wrapped in his protective nest, Glen whispered those two words to himself over and over, both mantra and prayer.
"No way, no way, no way, no way, no way, no way ..."
Despite the weariness that gnawed at his muscles and tugged at his eyelids, Glen was having trouble falling asleep. The image of that -- head, that head, a voice deep inside him supplied -- that something blowing up haunted him. He kept seeing it again and again in slow motion, like some kind of grotesque instant replay. Kept
hearing the furious buzzing of the disturbed flies, kept seeing the -- body, body, said the inner voice, more insistently this time -- pitching forward and landing at his feet. Kept hearing the sickening sound of rotten meat hitting carpet. And it was with this sound in
his ears that sleep finally took him.
He awoke with a start, dreams of blood and screams vanishing back into the darkness that had birthed them. He lay there beneath the covers, breathing hard, pulse pounding, waiting for his body to calm down.
He became aware of a tickling on the tip of his nose. And then he heard a tiny chuckle.
He made a fist and struck at the fly, once, twice, three times, as hard as he could. Pain flared bright behind his eyes. He felt cartilage break and grind, tasted hot blood as it flowed over his
lips, ran down his throat.
He heard muffled giggling coming from outside his worthless protection and knew he'd broken his nose for nothing. He threw back his covers, bellowing a sound that was more animal than human. The fly wove through the air around him, giggles transformed into peals of delight.
Glen ignored the insect and grabbed the flashlight on his nightstand. He turned it on and crossed to the bedroom door, slamming it open so hard that one of the hinges tore completely free. He stomped into the hallway, flashlight illuminating his path to the stairs, the fly floating along behind him.
"I've had enough of this shit," Glen muttered. "I'm gonna burn the whole goddamned place down to the ground. Let's see you laugh about that, you little fucker!"
He headed downstairs, toward the basement and the cans of paint thinner stored there.
The day before Glen first heard the fly's laughter, he sat on his front porch with a warm beer, looking out over the rows of corn across the road from his house and thinking hard about his family's situation.
The money had finally run out. They didn't have so much as a dime to their name. School was coming up soon, and the kids would need clothes, not to mention notebooks and pens and such. There was
hardly any food left in the house. And Anna had been on him about taking unemployment again. Worse, she had gotten a ride into town
with a neighbor and applied for a waitressing job at the diner. She was still swollen up from the beating he'd given her over that.
Glen had to face facts. He was a failure. A failure as a worker, as a father, as a husband. As a man. And it was his family that had to suffer for it. But they didn't have to go on suffering. Not if he was still man enough to take care of his own. He got up off the porch and went inside in search of his shotgun.
He did the kids first, then Anna. As he raised his gun and took aim, she knelt and started praying in that funny way she had -- strange, malformed words tumbling over her lips, face strained and sweating, eyes wild.
The words struck his ears like razor slashes, and he almost lowered the gun and got the hell out of there.
One last pull of the trigger, and Anna fell silent. But the sharp echoes of her prayer continued slicing away at the soft flesh of his mind.
Glen started down the basement stairs, flashlight beam cutting through the darkness. The fly buzzed and laughed around his head as he took the first step, then the second, pale beam only dimly showing the way down into the dark.
The fly's laughter grew louder and suddenly there was a tickling sensation in his ear. Laughter exploded in his skull and Glen realized with horror that the fly was inside his head. He screamed and dropped the flashlight, which went bouncing down into the shadows. He beat his head with both hands, twisted and shook violently, attempting to dislodge the fly. But instead his exertions caused him to lose his balance and he went tumbling down the stairs.
There was pain, then darkness. After a time the black lifted a little and Glen found himself lying on cold concrete, looking up at the steps awash in the flickering, weak glow of the damaged flashlight which lay on the floor not far from him.
His head hurt like hell and was tacky with blood. But there was no buzzing, and better yet, no laughter. He held his breath and listened, barely daring to hope. But no sound came. It was Glen's turn to laugh. It seemed the fly hadn't survived their little trip.
Elated, he tried to push himself to his feet, but his limbs refused to cooperate. Figuring he was still groggy, he tried again. But no matter how much concentration he mustered, his arms and legs remained motionless.
It appeared he was hurt worse that he'd first thought. Hurt bad. He mulled it over for a moment and decided he didn't care. It was a small price to pay to be rid of the fly, to never have to endure that horrible laughter again.
He knew he would eventually die down here, but so what? At least it was cooler than the rest of the house. And more importantly, it was quiet.
He lay there drinking in the sweet silence until it was shattered by a soft buzzing.
No, please ...
A fly drifted past his face, but Glen sensed it wasn't his fly. For one thing, there was no laughter. For another, his fly had always traveled alone. This fly was soon joined by a second.
The two become three. Four. They continued gathering, hundreds of them, until he was surrounded by a swirling storm of flies.
And through that storm he saw three figures descending the stairs, the two smaller forms leading the way, the taller -- which seemed to be missing most of its head -- coming along behind. They were dark, shadow-carved things, and as they drew closer, the intermittent beam of Glen's flashlight revealed they were covered head to toe with flies.
For so long the only emotion Glen had felt was anger that when the fear came, he almost didn't recognize what it was.
When the figures -- which Glen now knew were the things on the couch, the things whose existence he had tried so hard to deny -- reached the bottom of the stairs, the two smaller ones stepped aside and the larger came toward Glen. He saw its feet were ill-formed and didn't quite touch the floor and he realized that the figures weren't merely covered with flies -- they were flies. Flies clumped together in a horrid parody of the human form.
And as the larger figure, which was just about the size of his Anna, reached for him, the flashlight cut out and Glen screamed. But the sound was quickly muffled as a gout of flies poured down his throat.
Glen bulged obscenely. The eggs inside him had hatched and the newborn were busily going about their dark work. When they were finished, he and his family would be together again. Forever.
Glen's mouth opened and the fly's mad laughter bubbled forth.
Created: December 2, 1997; Updated: August 9, 2004