The Familiar Buzz of Gone
by Cate Gardner
Illustration by Kyle Conway
In the Temple of Nergal by Kyle Conway

With his hands clasped together, Emmett sat at the kitchen table and prayed the fly slamming its belly against the window wouldn't get into the house. There are no dead here. Unless they counted his cheese sandwich, and even that was more alive than dead, alive with mould. He couldn't remember making it. Emmett unclasped his fingers, tearing hand away from hand, cracking knuckles. Beneath the table, his legs stretched in yawn, unused muscles throbbing at the sudden movement. Black flecks clung to the hairs on the back of his hand. He flicked them onto the table.

He couldn't eat the sandwich now.

Outside, the fly splattered against the window. As Emmett stood, several pairs of pyjama bottoms fell to his ankles and as he bent to pull them up, tying cord after cord into place, pain tore along his spine. If Alison returned, she wouldn't recognise him. Despite the padded layers of clothing, nothing of the man he'd been remained and yet the man's disappearance hadn't wiped out the boy's sins. He leaned towards the window where another fly began to beat itself to death.

What are you trying to tell me? Asking what he did not want to know.

The flies had numbered hundreds when they feasted on his friend Jimmy's blood all those years ago. Buzzing about the wound to his forehead, settling on his eyes, and Emmett had felt he knew each one. They'd hummed a tale into his ear, insisted he come, but he'd been too busy running from what he'd done to his friend. In the quiet loneliness, when his mind settled towards worry, he'd hear the stone whiz across the field and the haunting would tear him apart. It was an accident. If only he'd heeded the flies, if only he'd gone back before they began their feast. Jimmy hadn't died when the rock hit him. He'd lain semi-conscious in a ditch while Emmett sat in his bedroom, headphones pressed to his ears, replacing a mechanical buzz for that of the flies, ignoring their whispered plans to feast when Jimmy became one of their dead. He hadn't meant to hurt his friend.

No wonder Alison left him. Digging his fingers into his ears, ignoring the beat of wings against glass, Emmett recommenced staring at his sandwich. Alison had left him for an Apostle; a Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Scribbled a note on the back of a church autumnal services leaflet and took none of her things. Her words blurred beneath the weight of long-shed tears, gel-pen ink dribbling off the page, creases criss-crossing the paper. Gone was all he remembered. He crumpled the note in his fist then smoothed it against the table. He gathered the waistbands of the pyjama bottoms in his fist, headed out the kitchen and up the stairs to the bathroom. There, he shivered into Alison's discarded bathrobe and then wrapped his own above it. Swaddled. He didn't care that she'd left all her things, only that she'd left him.

A dead fly lay in the bath. Emmett turned on the hot water tap to wash it away. Dressing robe ties dribbled in the bath. Steam rose, clouding the mirror with its breath to reveal a message fingerprinted onto glass...

I loved you.


Emmett turned off the taps. When the steam cleared, he found three flies had replaced the one he'd washed away. He backed out of the bathroom, glancing at the ceiling and the window expecting a torrent of wings, and shut the door. He shook his head. Another dead fly fell at his feet.

Dead flies had surrounded Jimmy's body. Marks made by the boots that stormed to save a long dead boy. Others lay crushed behind the nearest tree, where Emmett had crouched and stared at a boy he thought dead. Jimmy had lived for seventy-two hours after the accident, they'd said. If someone had found him earlier we could have, possibly, may have, a lone 'without doubt' saved him. The flies whispered that in their gleeful, hungry way and perhaps now they were telling Emmett that he had died and they waited for the ghost he'd become to discover his body. There was no Alison to save him.

I loved you.

Deciding by the stink of his breath and the gnawing in his belly that he hadn't died, Emmett flopped onto the floor in their bedroom and removed all the books by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A fly buzzed into the room with some message Emmett couldn't make out. It landed on the bible. Emmett pulled the book from the middle shelf — the only one not coated in a thin layer of dust — and traced his finger over the inscription. To my most devoted parishioner. He tore out the gospels. By the flick of his wrist, the gospel pages flew onto the dressing table, knocking over Alison's perfume bottle. Now the room smelled of her. A fly drowned in her scent. If only he could do the same.

She wouldn't leave him, couldn't, even though she'd danced away. Three layers of pyjamas slid down his hips, their length wrapping about his feet. They hindered but did not deter him. Emmett opened the bedroom window to release her scent. He breathed in the crisp air, the tang of bonfires rustling from back gardens. Although it was five days until Bonfire Night, the neighbourhood blazed, sparks lifting from the garden of the facing house. They'd loved this time of year — Jimmy, Alison, him. Three flies buzzed into the room, whispering their secrets into his ear. He already knew it was too late.

They'd buried Jimmy thirty-one years ago.

1981, the day after Halloween, Emmett had awoken to find the sunlight extinguished. A film of flies clung to his bedroom window. 1981, the day after Jimmy's accident and three days before men hunting for firewood had stumbled upon his body. Poor long-dead Jimmy. Noting Emmett's stare, the flies had beaten their wings and reformed into a head or rather a head shape. Emmett had screamed and screamed but by the time his parents had come into the room the fly man/head had dispersed.

Now, as more flies sped into their bedroom, beating in from the direction of the now-abandoned chapel, Emmett fled elsewhere. He pulled down the attic ladder and when ensconced in its moonlit dark, he yanked the ladder up and sat with his knees tucked under his chin. He hummed and his hum slid into buzz.

When the men found Jimmy, when his parents had rushed down the slope and Emmett had followed, the flies relinquished their feast. So-called experts claimed the trauma of seeing his dead friend (they never used corpse in his presence) had caused him to hallucinate, but Emmett knew different. Emmett knew as the flies dispersed they had formed into a man, his torso stocky, his fingers moving so fast they were almost not there, his hair a wild afro of beating wings. Now that man was reforming on the floor below his hiding place. Emmett huddled further into himself. The darkness deepened. Flies pressed their bellies to the porthole window cut into the roof.

Emmett realised there was no need to search for his body. He wasn't a ghost. He was a living corpse waiting for death to catch up with him. If it meant Alison would return to him, he'd almost accept death. Glass cracked beneath the weight of flies. He wasn't ready to face the fly man. Perhaps he should make his peace with God, spend a final hour or two kneeling in the chapel as Alison had done. Always there, knees to the marble, the preacher's shadow curving over her. Had the preacher known of her apostle, of her secret lover? Had he fled because he could no longer look his neighbour in the eye?

As Emmett dropped from the attic, losing a layer of pyjama bottoms in the act, the front doorbell rang. The sound danced about the house as Alison had done. Waltzing around the kitchen and not caring that the blinds were open and the preacher, supposedly watering his plants, watching her dance. The doorbell rang again.

Shadows lurked behind the glass inset into the front door.

Tying the outer dressing gown tight and looking almost the man he'd been, if you discounted the days-old beard growth, the stink and his gaunt face, he opened the door.

A fly peered up at him.

There were other figures there. All less than four foot and all glaring up at him, but all Emmett saw was the fly in its ill-fitting blue suit. "Buzz," it said, and someone laughed.

I'm going mad.

"Trick or treat," the others chorused.

The fly-child said, "There's something on your face."

Emmett's sigh tasted of curdled milk. He fumbled in his dressing gown pockets as if to offer the children lint. An adult shooed the kids away, all of them backing down the path, keeping an eye to the crazy man. The fly-child hesitated at the gate. Another fly buzzed in Emmett's ear before settling on his shoulder. He shook it off and slammed the door. Fly spray.

Emmett tore through the kitchen cupboards, bottles rolling along linoleum, which bore heel marks from his wife's naked dances. The fly spray lay at the back of the supplies cupboard. He shook it, a whisper of chemicals rattling against emptiness. He dropped the canister into the sink. Gripping the edge of the basin, he looked out across the side yard to the neighbouring chapel. Children crept past it, their lanterns lit. He didn't spy fly-boy amongst them, but in the window, oh, in the window, a curtain of flies draped up and around until they reformed into a man and the man looked as solemn as a man made of flies could. Emmett stumbled back, knocking into a chair and sending both it and him crashing to the floor.

The doorbell buzzed again and a cry of 'Trick or Treat' sang through the letterbox. Go away. The night turned as blue-black as a fly's wing. Emmett pulled himself up and sat for a moment or two at the table where a fly feasted on a rotten sandwich.

If only Alison hadn't left. The house had died without her laughter. She'd frightened away his fears, pushed them into her belly and swallowed the key. She didn't understand the dark truth of him — what he'd done to Jimmy — and when he'd told her, the only person he'd ever told — she cried that it was an accident. Insisted he shouldn't blame himself. Her doubts displayed in her internet history, in google searches and age-old pictures tumbled out of sealed boxes in their attic.

"What an awful way to die," she'd said, narrowing her eyes, "waiting for help to come."

"You could have saved him, Jimmy," she'd whispered in her sleep.

"He could have saved him," she'd prayed into the preacher's ear.

Then a flurry of kisses for Emmett insisting he was a child, he hadn't known better, and she'd danced across the garden to the chapel. The preacher had fled from the weight of their combined woe. A scream cut across the dark. It wasn't his. Emmett's throat too dry to offer more than a hoarse, "Go away."

Hunger forced him to tear an edge of crust off the sandwich, to feast on the fly's meal before he became it. He pressed his hand to Alison's note. Blue light shivered through the window but didn't prove illumination enough to read it.

Emmett tore off the layers of dressing gowns and pyjamas until he sat naked at the kitchen table. Rotting skin clung to bone, sweat and blue-black streaks of blood and wing. A dead fly nestled in his bellybutton. He looked as if he'd lain with the fly man.

A knock at the front door caused him to shiver. He pressed his hands to his forehead, rubbing the pulse points. The constant buzz of flies drifted until they formed a faint echo that he needed to concentrate to hear. A fist continued to slam against the door. Another rapped, this time at the kitchen window. Emmett pulled his arms close to his body and hunched his shoulders. If he made himself small, perhaps they wouldn't see him.

"Open the door, sir," a voice called through the glass. He should invest in triple glazing. "Open the door."

Emmett turned to the window. Torchlight shone into his eyes, blinding. He pressed the back of his arm to his face and waited for the light to lower. When it did, when he removed his arm, he saw that the torch wielding man was a police officer.

Still naked, Emmett shuffled to the back door.

As soon as the door opened, the police officer said, "On the floor, on the floor."

A needless shout, for Emmett's legs no longer held the strength to support him. Blood rushed in his ears, sounding like a hundred boots storming past his shivering form. A single fly watched, its broken wings twitching against linoleum. Rough hands pulled Emmett's arms behind his back and clamped plastic ties around his wrists.

"What are you doing, officer?" a woman asked.


The woman cut the restraints from Emmett's wrists and helped him up. "Here," she said, wrapping a discarded dressing gown around Emmett's shoulders.

The overhead light flicked on. Emmett squinted. The female detective flinched as she looked at Emmett, and then reemployed her smile. Putting on a pair of latex gloves, she lifted Emmett's arm and examined the black marks inked along it. Dead flies pressed into his skin, attached like plasters covering a wound. Their blood smeared his legs.

"I'm not the fly man," he said.

"Have you been to the chapel next door, sir? Did you break in?"

"All closed up. The preacher left same day as my wife," Emmett said. "Flew as if Hell's hounds licked water from the font."

"Where did your wife go?"

Emmett licked his cracked lips and nodded to Alison's note. "She left with an apostle or one of the saints. That's her note, her goodbye."

The detective picked it up.

"This is a shopping list, sir. On the back of a leaflet advertising chapel services. I repeat, where did your wife go?"

A shopping list. Emmett shook his head and looked across a garden now lit by white light that would appear almost angelic if not for the uniformed man standing in its glare. He rubbed dead flies from his knees.

The detective sat down, taking his hands in her gloved one. "Did you find her?"

"Did you kill her?" the original officer asked, the one with the ready supply of wrist ties.

"Kill her... who?"

"Your wife."

"Alison didn't leave?" he said. "You mean... That is... The flies were for her. He was telling me she was in there dying."

"Who told you?" the detective took out her notepad — black leather revealing crisp white pages.

Emmett rubbed his frown line. The flies had encouraged him towards the chapel. He'd seen her draped before the altar, naked from the waist down and the blood at her temple. The flies had called for days, but he'd been too busy drowning in whiskey to heed them and when he had, when he'd run out of Scotch and the pain in gut and heart had compelled him to follow the fly-man, then he'd fallen upon her. Dropped to his knees at her altar and tried to scrape away the flies that ate her flesh.

"Who told you?" the Detective repeated, cutting into memory.

"The fly man told me, but it was too late, my wife and he had already danced."


The Familiar Buzz of Gone © 2012 Cate Garnder
In the Temple of Nergal © Kyle Conway