Ron Burch ~ The Flies

The flies have invad­ed our coun­try. They move, through the sky, as a mob, bunched togeth­er like plump dark grapes, black buzzing clouds so large they block the sun. Some mass­es are bal­loon size, but more often larg­er, the size of build­ings. They gath­er on win­dows, obscur­ing the day­light, the out­side. Their buzzing’s so loud, pro­longed expo­sure pro­vokes headaches and, for the unfor­tu­nate ones, emo­tion­al dis­tur­bances. The insects fill the sky like bad weath­er set­tling over, refus­ing to move.

They cov­er every­thing. People can­not go out in fear of being oblit­er­at­ed. Deaths have been report­ed. Mostly animals—birds, cats, dogs—and even a few larg­er ani­mals like cows, hors­es and zoo ani­mals have been killed. There have been human deaths. The flies zero in on any­thing liv­ing and dri­ve it mad until they con­sume it.

The news agen­cies report on this epi­dem­ic, bring­ing in weary ento­mol­o­gists to com­ment. The ento­mol­o­gists don’t know where these flies have come from, how they mul­ti­plied so great­ly that the researchers were not aware of them before. The ento­mol­o­gists over­lap each oth­er say­ing, “It’s a dead­ly muta­tion.”

The num­bers are so great, they have already stained our cities. Current insec­ti­cides don’t work, and the country’s pri­ma­ry health orga­ni­za­tion has already issued warn­ings against using them and stronger ones for fear of poi­son­ing all oth­er life. The government’s try­ing to find an insec­ti­cide that will kill the flies with­out harm­ing humans.

So far, the gov­ern­ment has failed.

We feel pow­er­less. The only thing we can do is watch as our coun­try seem­ing­ly falls apart. No one leaves his res­i­dence. No one goes to work. The flies clog up the engines. Cars are ground­ed. Airplanes are ground­ed. Even boats.

Susan bangs her hand on the win­dow in the liv­ing room. The vibra­tion caus­es the flies to alight for a few sec­onds before they land out­side on the glass again, so intent to come in. We momen­tar­i­ly see the world and then it goes dark again.

We won­der how long we’ll have pow­er and run­ning water. We still have food in the house. That should last a few more weeks. I’m sure oth­ers across the nation aren’t as lucky.

To address the sit­u­a­tion, the pres­i­dent of the coun­try says words that don’t real­ly mean any­thing and returns to his bunker to watch tele­vi­sion.

Susan stares out the win­dow most of the day. Either that or she stays in bed, her head turned to the wall. Sometimes her eyes are closed.

I’ve tried to cheer her up. R-rat­ed come­dies on tele­vi­sion or music she likes. I’ve gone through our fam­i­ly pho­to album a cou­ple times. I’m not sure any­thing is work­ing.

I’ve heard her cry­ing in the bath­room. Her eyes are red and moist when she comes out. I always ask her if she needs some­thing, any­thing. She shakes her head, goes back to bed, and returns to star­ing at the wall.

Some pun­dits have said it’s the end of the world. That it was proph­e­sized in one reli­gious text or anoth­er. A few seemed rather gid­dy about it. We hope that’s not true.

Susan clears the win­dow for a few min­utes and spots a dead mourn­ing dove on the grass in a nest of its own pale feath­ers, still cov­ered by the flies. She sobs and, not know­ing what else to do, I final­ly close the cur­tains.

Michael,” she says and then stands, walk­ing to the bed­room. I hear the door close behind her.

Weeks pass. She refus­es to talk.

We now keep those cur­tains closed, hav­ing grown afraid to look out at the world to see what is hap­pen­ing. I live on social media and news reports. I have a stack of books I’ve been mean­ing to read for years so that helps me keep my mind off the flies, who eat and shit and slow­ly ruin our world.

To get away, I often go into our attached garage and sit. I can hear the flies climb­ing around on the out­side of the garage door, their con­stant song a word­less threat. That’s when I see it. I pick it up and bang it against the cement floor. I slam it again and again into the cement, and the pick­axe chips it away, crum­bling the cement until I final­ly get to the earth under­neath. I’m cov­ered in sweat. My back hurts and my t-shirt and jeans hang loose, soaked with per­spi­ra­tion. I pick up the shov­el.

Susan opens the door from the house into the garage. The sound must have been rever­ber­at­ing through our entire home. I dig, throw­ing one shov­el­ful after anoth­er behind me, where it hits the wall. Susan walks across the garage and over to me. She wraps me in her arms, the first time since the flies came, and kiss­es me on the cheek. I hold her until she takes the shov­el from me and dri­ves it deep into the ground, the clang rever­ber­at­ing off the walls, break­ing the dark buzz of the flies under its relent­less steel blade.

~

Ron Burch’s fic­tion has been pub­lished in numer­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals includ­ing Mississippi Review, Eleven Eleven, PANK, and been nom­i­nat­ed for the Pushcart Prize. His nov­el, Bliss Inc., was pub­lished by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles.