Sir Reginald F. Grump XXIII presents...
The journal of unlikely entomology
All I wanted was to take a leak and go to bed. As it turned out, I was up for the duration. In five or six hours, I'd be watching the sun come up, in an emotional state, I'm telling you now, I'm not going to be able to describe.
Standing in the bathroom, taking care of step one, I noticed the fly. I shooed it away when it got too close, and otherwise tried to ignore it as it buzzed around the room and bounced its little body off the walls the way they do.
I'd lost sight of it by the time I flushed. That grating buzz was gone. I washed my hands, and dried them on the towel beside the sink. The fly buzzed up, its resting place disturbed. I took a swipe, and felt a tiny, glancing impact on the back of my hand. It buzzed away, circling agitatedly near the ceiling. I said something like "Little fuck."
And it said, "Ow."
Well, that scared the hell out of me. That'll probably seem weird, but yeah, it did. If you saw a unicorn or a mermaid or whatever, something that can't possibly exist and yet does, you wouldn't be filled with wonder and enchantment. You'd be terrified. You don't think so? Try it some time.
The fly — which is what I'm going to keep calling him; whatever else he might've been, he was definitely that — came to rest high up on one wall. He said, "That hurt, asshole."
I swung, but he was ready this time, and my palm slapped bare tile. That's how fast fear can turn to anger. You know how annoying it is to have a fly buzzing around you, but you don't know what it's like to have him call you an asshole.
I kept my arms at my sides while he buzzed around, waiting for him to settle down. And you know what the little fucker did? Landed right on my cheek, about an inch from my mouth. Little fucker.
I flinched, and he flew off, and to my credit I didn't slap myself in the face. Instead, I brushed my cheek with the back of my hand, rubbed it with my palm.
The fly came to rest on the square of translucent plastic covering the overhead light fixture. Backlit like that, it looked like a tiny Halloween decoration. It said, "Hey, how about some wishes?"
I said, "What?"
"Wishes. You want some?"
"You can't grant wishes." I know that sounds goofy and stilted — "grant wishes" — but that's what I said. It's in the culture.
"No," said the fly. "I can't talk, either. What're you, an entomologist?"
"What kind of wishes?"
"What do you mean what kind? Any kind. That's why they're called wishes. Christ, you're quick. Let me live and I'll give you some."
"I don't believe you." But that was a bluff.
"Easy enough to test. Go ahead."
"OK. I wish for — hold on. How many? Does this count as one?"
"Many as you want, sport."
"Three or thirty or three hundred. It's nothing to me."
"Then I wish for..."
"Don't say 'world peace.'"
"No?" No, I wasn't going to. I'm about seventy-five percent sure I would've gotten to it eventually. Maybe eighty. No, seventy-five.
"It just doesn't work that way. Keep it to stuff in your own life."
"OK. Then I—"
"And you don't have to keep saying 'I wish for.' You're not in a comic book. Just say it."
"Then I — want — ah...a big flat-screen."
Flies can whistle, apparently. Anyway, this one could. Sarcastically. Then it said, "Wow, that's ambitious."
"It's a test. That's just the first thing that popped into my head."
"That says a lot right there."
"Oh, fuck you."
"'Fuck you' he says to the magic fucking fly that's gonna make all his dreams come true. Nice gratitude."
"Well, I still don't believe you." Still a bluff.
"Then check it out."
I turned to the door, but stopped, with my hand on the knob, and looked back. "That's a trick. You're gonna fly out of here as soon as I open it."
"Nope. I'm gonna stick." And he did. I have to say, in fairness to the son of a bitch, he was as good as his word. Throughout.
So I opened the door — just a crack, I didn't trust him much at that point — and looked out. I'd had a dinky little fifteen-inch, decent resolution, but one of those annoying ones where the plastic around the edges overlaps the screen, so you miss half an inch or so on each side. Not a huge deal, but it can fuck you up in games. I know, it's fascinating to hear someone talk about their TV, but I'm gonna cut that off here and just tell you, that was gone, and the wall above where it'd been was practically gone, too, or anyway hidden.
Hanging there like a window onto all God's glory was this massive fucking screen, I mean eighty inches if it was an inch. I didn't know they made them that big. I mean I could've used it as a bed. I couldn't believe it wasn't bringing the whole apartment down around it, like Samson in the temple. If I'd walked into somebody's house and seen it hanging there, I would've instantly secretly hated the guy. But it was mine.
I stared at it for a while. It wasn't on, but it didn't have to be. There're plenty of cute girls out there, and some of them are fun and funny and smart, and some of them aren't and don't need to be. Some of them are unplugged TVs, and darn it, it just doesn't matter. Same with guys, I gather. Finally, I looked back at my pal. He spoke first. "I hooked you up with 3D, full HD fiber-optics package, all that. HBO's extra. I'm fucking with you, it's all on there."
To my credit — and that's the last time I'm gonna use that phrase — I said, "Thanks. Thank you. Jesus, thanks." Or something like that. Anyway, I did say thanks.
He said, "Yup. So what else?"
Maybe you've got a list, but I didn't. I had to think. This is the kind of thing you wouldn't want to blow. My next one was pretty safe: "How about a billion dollars?"
"Why not make it a trillion?"
"Might as well, right? These are wishes."
"But that wouldn't...like, I don't know...bring down the whole economy or something? Like, inflation or whatever?" See, I was looking for catches. Like that story about the monkey's paw, I know you know it, they did it on The Simpsons. But this wasn't that.
"No, it'll be fine. As long as you don't spend it all at once. But there's nothing in the world for sale for a trillion dollars. Literally nothing."
That gave me a little shiver. Brought it home, you know? Also, I liked the fly more, because he obviously knew what "literally" means.
I said, "OK. Let's do a trillion."
"Bing," said the fly. "Got your phone on you?"
I did, and I started to reach for it, but the fly said, "Hold on. Wish for a smartphone first."
"OK. I do."
"OK. Haul that puppy out."
I hadn't felt anything shift or whatever, but when I reached into my pocket, the phone's shape was unfamiliar, and when I took it out, it definitely wasn't my shitty old prepay.
"You're gonna like that one," the fly said. "Sixty-four gigs, camera, ereader, blah blah blah. I put some good games on there for ya."
"Go ahead and check your bank account."
It took me a little while to figure out the phone. By the time I got online and into my account, my palms were sweating pretty good, and my hands were shaking, and my heart was off to the races, as they say. So I got in, and I looked at my balance. You know that phrase, "I didn't know whether to shit or go blind?" Good phrase. This I'll tell you: there're a fuck of a lot of zeroes in a trillion, and there's something absolutely fucking transcendental about sticking a dollar sign on the front.
Another thing I liked about the fly: he hadn't gotten rid of my previous balance, so I didn't have a trillion dollars, actually I had one trillion sixty-seven dollars and seventeen cents, which I thought was pretty funny. I hadn't gotten paid yet that week.
I said, "Holy Christ."
"Yeah, I just stuck it all in your account, but you're gonna wanna get that invested. Or not. You could live like a king off one percent interest."
"And you'll never spend all that."
"Yeah." I thought he meant you couldn't spend that much money in a lifetime, which is probably true. But now I wonder if he was trying to be clever. Foreshadowing, you know.
So, not to bore you, but we did some more, me wishing, him granting. A few highlights were that I no longer lived in a shabby one-bedroom apartment but a Stately-Wayne-Manor-type mansion, I no longer drove a last-legs Toyota but a whole fleet of vehicles more befitting my new status (some of which I could see parked in the driveway when I poked my head out the bathroom door and looked out the row of high windows a long, long way across the living room), and I no longer lived alone, but with Sammie.
A few words about Sammie: she was the first and, cheesily enough, the only girl I ever loved. Since middle school. Unreciprocated. We were friends, and we made out once at a party sophomore or junior year of high school, but that was the extent of it. Cute, yeah. But the farthest you could get from an unplugged TV. Fun, funny, smart. All of it.
Now she was mine. Maybe that sounds sexist or possessive or something. I don't care. She was mine. The fly said so, and by that point I had no reason to doubt him. He said she was out at the moment, but that she loved me very much, and I had no reason to doubt him, and I still don't.
That's the hell right there. I know he was telling the truth.
One more highlight: I said to the fly, kind of sheepishly, expecting a sharp answer, "Can you make me...make it so I never..." It's a big thing to ask. Of a god, let alone a fly. But he knew where I was going with it.
"Immortal. You wanna live forever."
"Uh, yeah. If that's cool."
"Yeah, why not?"
"This age good? Or you wanna go on aging a little bit before it kicks in?"
"No, this is good." I was and am twenty-four.
"Yeah, I figured. Her, your parents. You have any siblings?"
"I have a cousin I like."
"OK. All set."
"Really? Thanks. I mean...thanks, man."
"Sure. Anything else?"
"No, I think that covers it. And I gotta say, again, man, thank you, so—"
"OK, but listen. You ready for the catch?"
That made me nervous, but not as much as you might think. I liked the fly a lot by that point, and not just because of the trillion dollars and the immortality and the only girl I'd ever loved stuff. I liked him as a person. Or a fly, I guess. I trusted him, and I didn't think he'd do anything terrible. I mean, if I had to spend my life doing charity, or proclaiming the glory of insects, or whatever, I was prepared to do that. If he wanted my soul, yes, I was prepared to give it to him.
But I wasn't prepared for what he said, which was, "In five minutes, I'm gonna take it all away, and the only way you can stop me is to kill me." I think I said something — "What?" would be my first guess — but I'm not sure. I wasn't prepared for that at all.
"I'm gonna take it all away. In five minutes. Unless you kill me."
"But...is this, like, a test? To see if I'm really grateful or whatever, like if I kill you, then it all goes away? Because I am, man, please, I'm so grateful."
"That's terrific. But there's more to it than gratitude. You gotta earn it."
"But I don't wanna kill you, man." That was true. But I wanted to lose my trillion bucks, and my mansion, and my immortality — and my Sammie — even less.
"That's too bad," the fly said. "But you're gonna do it, or you're gonna lose it all."
"Why do you want me to?"
"That's my business. I'm starting the countdown."
"No. Right...now." And he took off, and started buzzing around the bathroom.
There weren't any magazines or anything in there, and I wasn't going to open the door and go look for one. I'm sure he would've flown right out, and I would've had no chance of catching him in that mansion. The bathroom was still the same dirty little closet it'd always been, and I remember thinking if I couldn't kill a fly in there in five minutes, I didn't deserve to be immortal.
I reached down, rolled a few turns of toilet paper around my right hand, then did the same to my left. Those were seconds ticking by, tick tick tick as they say, and I don't know why I was so concerned about getting dead fly on my hands, considering what was at stake.
I remember my first try very clearly. I remember a few tries, standing out from the breathless flurry of limbs like specific moments stand out from the general, forgettable confusion when you look back at your childhood, or at your whole life, I guess. But the first one's the clearest, because it was probably as close as I came.
I didn't wait for him to settle down, like I would've done if I wasn't on the clock. I brought both arms up, clapped my hands together in the air above and a little in front of me, right where the fly was flying, and I was sure I got him, despite not feeling anything between my palms. I was so sure I rubbed my hands together hard enough to heat them up and tear the top couple layers of paper.
But when I eased my hands apart, there wasn't a spot of blood on the paper, and a moment later the little fucker buzzed in out of nowhere and landed on my cheek again, no more than an inch from my mouth. This time I did slap myself, hard, and I didn't feel stupid about it at all. But he was gone, up and buzzing around again, loving it, you could tell.
Like I said, I remember bits and pieces, but mostly it was a blur. A long, short, sweaty, flailing blur, moments of hope, moments of despondency. Like life, if you're feeling allegorical. I'm not. I can't.
I didn't get him. I tried my best, and that's no comfort to me at all. When time was up, he let me know by yelling, "Time! Done! Time!" He buzzed around until he saw me relax, go limp, mentally and spiritually collapse, whatever, then he settled down again on the light fixture. He said, "It's all gone, boy. Take a look. I'll be here."
Out of breath, sweating, head and body throbbing from bruises I couldn't remember giving myself, little finger of my left hand bleeding for some reason, toilet paper — my mighty crusher of flies — hanging in tatters from my hands, I opened the door. It was all gone. I didn't have to check my account to know it was back down to sixty-seven seventeen. I didn't need to ask to know Sammie was off living her life somewhere, probably not having thought of me in years.
I turned back to the fly, and I closed the door behind me. Flies can laugh; sadistically, and with genuine amusement.
I went for him. He flew off, buzzed and circled, still laughing his tiny ass off, but he must've known, like I did, that it was only a matter of time before I got him.
This was a slower blur, since I wasn't on the clock. I swung and missed a few times, but nothing in the world was going to stop me. Eventually I got him. Nothing climactic. Just crushing a fucking fly against the fucking wall.
Here's something cute: I wasn't timing it, but I'd be shocked if it took more than three minutes, let alone five.
What the fuck was the matter with him? Really, what the fuck? For a few weeks after, I thought about that a lot. Then I stopped. I don't know. I don't know why he was magic, I don't know why he was an asshole, and I don't know why, if he was suicidal or something, he couldn't've let me keep my fucking TV. Et al. What was it to him?
I don't know. I don't know.
Bug Eyes © Eleanor Leonne Bennett