Kafkaesque

The fly had no head. 

The man was enjoy­ing an after-work whiskey when he first noticed it, buzzing fran­ti­cal­ly against the pic­ture win­dow dis­play­ing the final strains of day­light streaked across the sky in a fes­tive tan­ger­ine col­or. It was the fly’s insis­tence that got his atten­tion. Care­ful as he was with keep­ing the doors and win­dows closed, flies and the occa­sion­al bee still made their way inside, so this was not out of the ordi­nary. There was a strange des­per­a­tion to this par­tic­u­lar fly, how­ev­er. It was almost act­ing like it want­ed to be noticed. And to its cred­it, the bid was successful. 

The man picked up an old Sports Illus­trat­ed and rolled it into a tight cylin­der to give the fly a fatal riposte. With his arm raised like Jason Voorhees bran­dish­ing a blood-stained machete, he read­ied him­self to strike when­ev­er the fly tired itself out. And when it final­ly did (rough­ly thir­ty sec­onds lat­er, though it felt longer), it stopped almost dead cen­ter in his line of vision. If he leaned in just a few inch­es clos­er, the filthy thing would be able to reach out and touch the tip of his nose with one of its thin, hairy legs. And just when he was ready to bring the mag­a­zine down, he halt­ed. Some­thing was wrong with this fly. It was a few more sec­onds before he fig­ured out that the fly was mov­ing about with­out a pilot, so to speak. This also wasn’t out of the ordi­nary, because he knew a lot of ani­mals con­tin­ued mov­ing even after los­ing their head. 

As he under­stood it, how­ev­er, these life spans were extreme­ly short and even more chaot­ic. This fly seemed odd­ly in con­trol, using two of its legs to brush off its tho­rax and wings with the grace of a mod­el in a sham­poo com­mer­cial. Save for its head being miss­ing, it looked like every bug he had ever squished or mer­ci­ful­ly waved out­side, but he con­tin­ued to be trans­fixed by it as it lack­adaisi­cal­ly walked across the glass in a zig-zag pat­tern. This might sug­gest that it was indeed noth­ing more than a mis­fir­ing ner­vous sys­tem on the verge of death, but its move­ments were clean and pre­cise. The man was cer­tain that if you drew over its path with a mark­er, you’d have a pat­tern like the one at the bot­tom of Char­lie Brown’s yel­low shirt. 

Intrigued, he opt­ed not to kill it, tak­ing out his phone to cap­ture it on video. As soon as he hit record, the fly flew away, its steady buzzing fad­ing as it dis­ap­peared down the hall­way. Of fuck­ing course. He briefly looked around and lis­tened for it, but wher­ev­er it had gone, it was tucked down tight. He guessed the next time his clean­ing lady came, she’d find its with­ered husk of a body on the floor some­where, pay­ing it no mind as she swept it into a garbage bag while lis­ten­ing to what­ev­er ser­i­al killer pod­cast had her inter­est at that moment. The man’s mon­ey was on Dah­mer or per­haps Edmund Kemper. 

He bid the fly a respect­ful farewell and resumed enjoy­ing his after-work whiskey, which soon turned into three. With his head buzzing pleas­ant­ly from the booze, he entered the kitchen to make him­self a snack. He decid­ed on some instant mac and cheese (as gross as it was deli­cious) and wait­ed as the microwave hummed and count­ed down. It was in its final ten sec­onds when the fly appeared again, fly­ing in a steady cir­cle around the ceiling’s light fix­ture. Was it the same fly? It couldn’t be. For one thing, it was big­ger. Not mas­sive­ly so, but enough to be notice­able. As if sens­ing his curios­i­ty, the fly parked itself briefly on the side of the fix­ture. The man stood on his tip­toes to get a bet­ter look and sure enough, it had no head. But how could it have got­ten big­ger? It had bare­ly been an hour since he last saw it. What was more like­ly? That there were mul­ti­ple flies in his house with no head, or that one had grown in a mat­ter of minutes?

His knowl­edge of insects was a bit lack­ing, but both seemed pret­ty inex­plic­a­ble to him. What was even more inex­plic­a­ble was that the fly seemed to sense his bewil­der­ment rub­bing its front legs togeth­er like a man about to enjoy a suc­cu­lent prime rib din­ner. As the rest of its life could be mea­sured in sec­onds, the man decid­ed to let it have its fun. There were no mag­a­zines in sight, so he’d have to set­tle for the roll of paper tow­els on the counter. Not as effec­tive as a mag­a­zine, but still strong enough to stun it. He already imag­ined it falling to the tiled floor in a lazy arc before being crushed to obliv­ion under his foot. He didn’t know why killing this par­tic­u­lar fly seemed like such a sat­is­fy­ing prospect. Per­haps it was the booze, or maybe it was just how unusu­al and unnerv­ing the sight of it was. The fly con­tin­ued to rub its legs togeth­er as if invit­ing the man to strike, and he was hap­py to deliver. 

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the fly buzzed away just as the paper tow­els hit the light fix­ture. It wasn’t a hard hit, and while the paper tow­els were soft, it was still enough to knock the fix­ture loose, send­ing it to the ground where it shat­tered into a mil­lion shards of frost­ed white glass that went every­where. It was the kind of mess he’d still be clean­ing up weeks or even months down the road when a stray shard would inevitably bury itself into the sole of his foot late one night when he came into the kitchen for a sand­wich or a glass of water. As he fired off a num­ber of col­or­ful obscen­i­ties, he grabbed the broom and dust­pan, plot­ting his revenge as he swept the shards up. Part of him knew it was just a fly, but anoth­er part of him also couldn’t help but think that the ugly lit­tle thing real­ly was taunt­ing him (and hav­ing fun doing it). 

After sweep­ing up the glass, he saw it was after mid­night. That prob­a­bly meant it was time for bed. Fuck that fly. He quick­ly downed some water and shuf­fled down the hall­way to his bed­room. For as irri­tat­ed as he was, he imag­ined he could laugh about it some­day and even share it as a some­what amus­ing anec­dote. The head­less, unstop­pable fly. Yes, there would be peo­ple who would say he was exag­ger­at­ing, but he’d know the truth, and that was enough, he sup­posed. As he climbed into the bed to the usu­al groan of his aging mat­tress, he thought he heard some­thing. Although not com­plete­ly com­fort­able and set­tled, he sat still and lis­tened. Noth­ing. Just the booze and his mind fuck­ing with him. He shift­ed around a bit, pro­duc­ing more squeaks and groans, and there it was again. No mis­tak­ing it this time. The fly was back and buzzing around just out­side his door. He turned on the lamp he had on his night­stand to see it enter his room. And it was even big­ger this time, no mis­tak­ing that, either. While it was a nui­sance before, now it was get­ting a bit scary. He esti­mat­ed it to be about the size of a hum­ming­bird. Still small, rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing, but could flies get that big? And this quick­ly? One thing was for sure, he had to kill it. It was unnat­ur­al in a way that was begin­ning to feel dan­ger­ous. The only trick was doing it in a way that wouldn’t com­plete­ly oblit­er­ate it. He had every inten­tion of bring­ing it to the local col­lege, which he knew had an ento­mol­o­gy depart­ment. Maybe it wasn’t a dis­cov­ery, but it was worth not­ing just the same. He might even be able to get some mon­ey out of it. He watched the fly make its way around his room, try­ing to dis­cern if it had any kind of pat­tern. It was an absurd notion, but so was the very nature of the fly itself. It even­tu­al­ly parked itself on the screen of his brand-new 4K tele­vi­sion. Its wings flut­tered once, then twice as it rubbed its tho­rax with legs rough­ly the size of a baby’s finger. 

Even as far away as he was, he could still see detri­tus and God knows what else falling from its hairy body. It was enough to make him nau­seous. Yes, this fuck­ing thing had to die. He looked around for a makeshift weapon and saw the toe of a run­ning shoe stick­ing out from under his bed. Dare he use it? The TV hadn’t been cheap, and he def­i­nite­ly couldn’t afford a replace­ment. But then the fly did some­thing he didn’t expect at all. It lazi­ly turned itself clock­wise so its head­less top por­tion was fac­ing down. It then buzzed against the screen sev­er­al times in quick suc­ces­sion. And the hits had some pow­er. They were hard enough to pro­duce a sound akin to thump­ing, and was that a crack­ing he heard? Jesus Christ. This wasn’t like at the win­dow ear­li­er, where it was act­ing like every oth­er fly who couldn’t grasp the con­cept that just because you could see the out­side didn’t mean you could access it. This was dou­bly unset­tling because the fly couldn’t see any­thing and yet here it was, try­ing to break his fuck­ing tele­vi­sion. What else could it be? It rest­ed briefly and then resumed its kamikaze dives against the screen. The thuds were even loud­er, and the crack­ing of glass was unmis­tak­able. This lit­tle fuck­er. While his bewil­der­ment was strong, his grow­ing apoplexy was stronger as he swung his legs out of bed, try­ing to move as silent­ly and dis­creet­ly as pos­si­ble. Either the fly hadn’t noticed, or it was con­tent to die, hav­ing suc­cess­ful­ly destroyed his tele­vi­sion. Oh, this lit­tle fucker. 

With the shoe raised, he pre­pared to strike. To his sat­is­fac­tion and delight, the fly seemed obliv­i­ous to his pres­ence as it con­tin­ued to ham­mer his tele­vi­sion. When it stopped to rest again, the man made his move, bring­ing the shoe down in a slight­ly hes­i­tant arc. The goal was to stun it, but the fly made it to safe­ty just as the shoe con­nect­ed with the screen, pro­duc­ing a crunch­ing that he instant­ly regret­ted. How could he have been so fuck­ing stu­pid? If the fly had dam­aged his tele­vi­sion, then he had thor­ough­ly fucked it. He briefly con­sid­ered going to bed and wor­ry­ing about it in the morn­ing, but why delay the inevitable? He grabbed the remote, still bear­ing the glossy pro­tec­tive plas­tic, and turned the tele­vi­sion on, reveal­ing a rain­bow spi­der­web of cracks over the smil­ing face of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. His Ama­zon Fire­Stick had decid­ed to rec­om­mend Fleabag, a show he had put off watch­ing for far too long, and now it looked like he wasn’t going to ever see it. 

“You stu­pid bel­lend,” he imag­ined her scoff­ing. “Is this some­thing you can tell your fam­i­ly and friends about now?”

No, it wasn’t. And that meant the fly had to die in ways he nev­er thought imag­in­able. Fuck the ento­mol­o­gy depart­ment at the local uni­ver­si­ty. He was going to anni­hi­late this thing, piss on its remains, and then burn what was left of it. 

“Where are you, you fuck­ing piece of shit?” he hollered, know­ing full well at least one of his neigh­bors would hear him. He dropped his shoe and went into his clos­et to get his ten­nis rack­et, some­thing pur­chased at the behest of an ex. It was used once before the rela­tion­ship end­ed. Since then, it had been col­lect­ing dust, mean­ing it was time for it to final­ly earn its keep. Find­ing it required mov­ing a lot of oth­er for­got­ten shit around, but when he did dis­cov­er it, he saw it not as a rel­ic from a time he’d rather for­get, but as his own Excal­ibur, a pow­er­ful weapon capa­ble of slay­ing evil that was any size, which was good because when he stood up and turned around, he found him­self eye-lev­el with the fly. And it was even big­ger. He esti­mat­ed it to be rough­ly the size of a robin now. 

It hov­ered con­tent­ed­ly, wait­ing for him to make his next move. And he was hap­py to deliv­er. He blind­ly lashed out with the rack­et, graz­ing his nose, which hurt like hell. The fly lazi­ly dipped left, caus­ing him to miss it com­plete­ly. He wasn’t expect­ing it to be a killing blow, but it was frus­trat­ing and even a lit­tle humil­i­at­ing. The way it was sup­posed to play out was that he was going to stun the fly, knock­ing it to the ground before grind­ing it into his car­pet, and reduc­ing it to an ugly stain that would serve as a warn­ing for oth­ers of its ilk. As he touched his fin­ger to his ten­der nose, he watched as the fly resumed its eye-lev­el posi­tion. Just when he was get­ting ready for his next (and hope­ful­ly fatal) strike, the fly did some­thing he didn’t expect at all. It tried to go inside his mouth. 

The man gagged and flailed as the hor­rid thing plant­ed its sticky, hairy legs on his lips and tried to push itself inside. It filled his mouth with the taste of rot and cop­per as he imag­ined the legion of bac­te­ria bur­row­ing them­selves deep inside his body, sub­ject­ing him to count­less dis­eases, some of which prob­a­bly hadn’t even been dis­cov­ered yet. Per­haps that would be his lega­cy. Patient Zero for some ter­ri­ble ill­ness he had caught from a whole new species of insect, his name appear­ing in med­ical jour­nals and text­books for gen­er­a­tions to come. 

At that moment, the prospect of that was the only thing worse than the dis­gust­ing thing try­ing to work itself inside him. He did his best to grab hold of its cone-shaped abdomen, but even that proved dif­fi­cult as it twitched and wig­gled like the siz­able pos­te­ri­or of a dancer in a hip-hop video. With no oth­er recourse, he ran face-first into the wall, pro­duc­ing a nuclear blast of light and pain inside his head. He felt warm blood pour­ing from his nose and knew that it was bro­ken. But he wasn’t the only one that had tak­en dam­age. He felt the unmov­ing fly slip out of his mouth and heard it hit the floor with a plop. The wet sound was par­tic­u­lar­ly impres­sive when you con­sid­ered how thick his car­pet was. 

While he want­ed to rev­el in this small vic­to­ry, the plop was also the straw that broke the camel’s back as he dou­bled over and pro­duced a thick rope of chunky vom­it that splat­tered his feet and shins. There was a good ten sec­onds of retch­ing before he was in con­trol again (rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing). With his eyes ful­ly open, he scanned the ground for the fly, hop­ing to find it cov­ered in his vom­it and blood. Assum­ing it was, he’d be hap­py to add urine or even feces into the mix to make it the cock­tail this thing deserved, his car­pet be damned. It was thread­bare and ugly, any­way. But to his dis­may, the asym­met­ri­cal pud­dle lay about two feet to its left. 

Worse yet, it was recov­er­ing, fran­ti­cal­ly brush­ing his sali­va and mucus from its body as its almond-sized wings flut­tered. He raised his right foot and brought it down hard, but the fly got away right before it land­ed. He felt it tick­le the sole of his foot, an unpleas­ant sen­sa­tion made even worse when he con­nect­ed with the floor. There was a crunch fol­lowed by a light­ning bolt of pain that shot up his leg as he lost his bal­ance and col­lapsed onto the bed. The fly zig-zagged over his head before exit­ing his bed­room, its rusty buzzing still loud and pronounced. 

He didn’t know if his ankle was bro­ken, but it was sprained, mean­ing he’d be hob­bling around on crutch­es for the next month and some change. And what the hell would he tell peo­ple when they asked him how it hap­pened? Some shit about play­ing rac­quet­ball, he sup­posed. And while most peo­ple would like­ly throw in the tow­el and call an ambu­lance, he refused to let the fly win. It was amaz­ing how per­son­al this felt, par­tic­u­lar­ly when he remem­bered that the fuck­ing thing didn’t even have a head. 

He pulled him­self up, tak­ing every pre­cau­tion not to put any weight on his injured foot, which was already pur­ple and swollen. He hob­bled over to the ten­nis rack­et and picked it up, pray­ing with every fiber of his being that his aim would be accu­rate and true in his sub­se­quent attempts. He exit­ed his bed­room and limped down the hall­way, using the wall for sup­port and knock­ing sev­er­al pic­tures to the ground, the frames crack­ing and even shat­ter­ing in some cas­es. He’d have to remem­ber to watch his step once this was over. It almost made him laugh, as not long ago, he was grous­ing to him­self about encoun­ter­ing a stray piece of glass in the kitchen. He reached the liv­ing room and lis­tened for the fly. As intim­i­dat­ing as its size was, it also gave him an advan­tage. It had few­er places to hide and was much nois­i­er now. It only took a few sec­onds for him to spot it perched on the arm­rest of his couch like an ugly Rorschach blot. 

“End of the road, ass­hole,” he said, sur­prised at how low and hoarse his voice was. “You may have won a cou­ple of bat­tles, but I’m about to win the fuck­ing war. Any last words?”

Despite every­thing, he man­aged to laugh as its wings twitched again, seem­ing­ly acknowl­edg­ing this chal­lenge. And while part of him admired its mox­ie, the big­ger part of him want­ed it dead in a way that prob­a­bly wasn’t healthy. Big or not, head­less, or not, it was still just a fly. A tiny thing born in shit, doomed to live an almost imper­cep­ti­bly short life before dying vio­lent­ly or anony­mous­ly (or pos­si­bly both). He twirled the rack­et as he limped over, the fly still parked on the arm­rest. At that moment, it looked like some sort of absurd art sculp­ture, so much so that the man was tempt­ed to get his phone and snap a pho­to of it. But that would be care­less and slop­py on his part. He sus­pect­ed it was wait­ing for him to make exact­ly that kind of mis­take. Instead, he sat down. Not next to it, of course. No, he didn’t want to scare it. He want­ed it to feel com­fort­able, like an accept­ed part of the land­scape. And it seemed to work, as the fly didn’t move. It was about six feet away, which meant he’d have to inch even clos­er to it before land­ing a strike. As he start­ed to do so, he heard a squish­ing sound. The man was hor­ri­fied to see it grow­ing in front of him in real time. The thick, wet sound grew loud­er as every­thing on the fly stretched and expand­ed. To the man, it looked painful, which should have brought some joy, but most­ly, he just felt sick again. Although the whole ordeal last­ed less than thir­ty sec­onds, it felt like an eter­ni­ty, and when the fly (now the size of a pigeon) lift­ed off from the couch and dis­ap­peared into the kitchen, the man felt very stu­pid. He had been hand­ed a gold­en oppor­tu­ni­ty to fin­ish the fuck­ing thing off, and he had blown it. Angry with the fly, but angri­er with her­self, he stormed into the kitchen with his rack­et ready. 

The fly was now rest­ing on the door of his microwave. With a swing wor­thy of Babe Ruth, the man let it rip, miss­ing the fly by mil­lime­ters as it took off again. The rack­et smashed through the door, which stung, as the microwave was bare­ly a year old and hadn’t been cheap. The fly con­tin­ued to taunt him by cir­cling his head like the world’s dirt­i­est halo, and it was all down­hill from there. The man went berserk, indis­crim­i­nate­ly smash­ing every­thing around him. His rack of cof­fee cups? Gone. His blender? His­to­ry. His air fry­er? Dent­ed, and pos­si­bly bust­ed. And yet the fly remained unharmed. 

After bring­ing the rack­et down on the counter and chip­ping it, the man gath­ered just enough con­trol and patience to real­ize that it was shot, the frame mis­shapen and its strings unruly and jagged. He whipped it to the floor and looked around for a back­up. With­in sec­onds, he spot­ted a can of air fresh­en­er. Per­fect! Nor­mal­ly, such a thing was kept in the bath­room, but after acci­den­tal­ly torch­ing his din­ner the oth­er night, he had brought it into the kitchen to help with the stench. It was an inci­dent that was annoy­ing at the time but felt like kismet now. The fly was now on the ceil­ing, no doubt wait­ing for the man’s next move. He start­ed act­ing casu­al­ly again (or as casu­al­ly as his present state would allow), grab­bing the can of air fresh­en­er before open­ing a draw­er to look for the kitchen lighter his moth­er had got­ten him for Christ­mas three years ago. Like the rack­et, it was some­thing that hadn’t proved very use­ful (until now, any­way). After find­ing it under a spat­u­la and a piz­za cut­ter, the man drew it out and dropped it to his side. The fly remained on the ceil­ing, which gave the man a hor­ri­fy­ing thought. What if it was gear­ing up to grow again? These moments of rest weren’t because it had any vest­ed inter­est or con­cern in what the man was doing (how could it? The fuck­ing thing didn’t have a head), but because it was sim­ply engag­ing in a bio­log­i­cal func­tion. The growth required it to be still, so that’s what it did. But if that was the answer, the man had no inter­est in find­ing out for sure. Instead, he raised the can and the lighter, flick­ing the lat­ter on. Noth­ing. No spark, no flame. Just a hol­low, plas­tic click­ing, fol­lowed by a now-famil­iar squish­ing sound. The man looked up and saw the fly grow­ing yet again. What was once a bird was now the size of a Labrador pup­py. The man went into a fren­zy, try­ing to get the lighter to spark to life to no avail. The fly’s trans­for­ma­tion was near­ing its com­ple­tion, its legs squirm­ing like the limbs of an unruly new­born. He saw its wings buzzing awake and knew this was his best shot. With one final snap of the lighter, an orange orb appeared at the tip. It was bare­ly a flame, but it would have to do. He trig­gered the air fresh­en­er, pro­duc­ing a sur­pris­ing­ly bright and intense flame whose sole pur­pose was torch­ing the bane of his exis­tence. And it served that pur­pose well. The man heard the fran­tic buzzing of its wings as an acrid, burn­ing stench filled his nos­trils. It took him a sec­ond to under­stand it was the burn­ing body of the fly he was smelling. Vic­to­ry was all but assured if it had­n’t already been claimed. The lighter died, leav­ing behind a sick­ly chem­i­cal smell of burnt straw­ber­ries as the man kept his fin­ger on the air fresh­en­er dis­penser for sev­er­al sec­onds. The fly was on the move again, but it was also on fire. No, it wasn’t the glo­ri­ous fire­ball you’d see in a movie or TV show, but it was still vis­i­ble, a dull orange flame sim­i­lar to the one pro­duced by the kitchen lighter. Head or not, he had hurt the fuck­er. Fire was the answer, but sev­er­al more clicks of the kitchen lighter con­firmed it was out of juice. He had a sud­den yearn­ing for his smok­ing days (for a host of rea­sons), and tried to think of what else he could use. He imag­ined hob­bling down the street to the gas sta­tion to buy a lighter and croaked a brief burst of laugh­ter. The pro­pri­etor was a very sweet old­er Asian woman. He could already see the look of hor­ror on her face and decid­ed that stay­ing inside until this was resolved was his best course of action. But what to use as a lighter? His draw­ers were full of junk his well-mean­ing moth­er had sent him over the years, and that’s when it hit him. The lighter had come from his moth­er, who always bought in bulk. That meant there was at least a three-pack of them some­where in the apart­ment. And they had to be more reli­able than their emp­ty brethren. He start­ed in the kitchen, rip­ping the draw­ers free and send­ing their con­tents fly­ing. Emp­ty stor­age con­tain­ers, uten­sils, and a bevy of assort­ed oth­er crap, most of it useless. 

It seemed the lighters weren’t in the kitchen, but to be sure, he kicked the emp­tied con­tents of the draw­er around, hop­ing to uncov­er them, and bar­ring that, a pack of match­es. No luck. He moved into the liv­ing room, catch­ing a glance of the fly on top of his book­shelf. It buzzed its wings as if to say it was ready, but the man ignored it. Let it recov­er. Once he found those lighters, it was all over. BBQed fly would effec­tive­ly be on the menu. He went into the hall­way clos­et, toss­ing aside coats, a cool­er, and some bare­ly used bar­bells. He checked the top shelf to find noth­ing there, either. Despair was start­ing to set in. He could clean him­self up and go to the gas sta­tion, but he tried to imag­ine what the fly would do with him gone. It was care­less to turn your back on an ene­my, and even more care­less to leave it alone in your home. His bed­room was also fruit­less, even after emp­ty­ing his clos­et and draw­ers, mak­ing it look like a bomb had gone off. His Hail Mary was the bath­room, and while he only begrudg­ing­ly searched it (think­ing for sure it was a dead-end), he found the lighters below the sink, propped up between a con­tain­er of drain clean­er and some Clorox wipes. The box was a three-pack, though it only con­tained one lighter, its body a bright and vivid red, which was almost poet­ic. He clicked it, and a bright, viva­cious flame snapped up from the tip imme­di­ate­ly. He had no clue how it had end­ed up under the sink, but it was here now, a val­ued item with mean­ing and pur­pose. He frowned when he remem­bered that the air fresh­en­er was back in the kitchen, but as that was also a gift from his moth­er, he found a fresh pack of three wait­ing for him under the sink as well. He decid­ed on Fresh Linen because “fresh” was the key­word here. Once the fly was dead, he’d have the very ardu­ous task of get­ting his apart­ment back into shape, but that sort of excit­ed him. He could remod­el it, throw away the shit that accu­mu­lat­ed over the years, maybe get it to a place that would allow him to host par­ties again, or (gasp) bring a date home. 

As he marched down the hall­way with his makeshift weapon poised and ready, he sup­posed part of him should be thank­ing the strange crea­ture that had invad­ed his home. It had act­ed as a cat­a­lyst for improve­ment. But then he remem­bered his nose, his tele­vi­sion, and every­thing else that had bit the dust dur­ing this ordeal and decid­ed it deserved very lit­tle. Upon enter­ing the liv­ing room, the fly was still on top of his book­shelf. While he didn’t fan­cy fire so close to his books (most of which were very dear to him), he also want­ed to catch the fly before its next growth spurt. He flicked the lighter, bring­ing the flame to life before unleash­ing the air fresh­en­er, which pro­duced a stream of fire even more bril­liant than the first. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the fly was ready, tak­ing flight well before the flame reached it. Frus­trat­ed, the man blast­ed it again, the flames lick­ing his ceil­ing and caus­ing the paint to peel. More remod­el­ing, but that was okay. His liv­ing room need­ed it. He chased the fly around the apart­ment, fir­ing every chance he could, some­times in short bursts, oth­ers longer and more pro­nounced. He had to stop sev­er­al times, once to put out the cur­tains in the liv­ing room and anoth­er time to extin­guish the tow­els in the bath­room. What was most frus­trat­ing was that the fly nev­er stopped. It flew around in irreg­u­lar pat­terns, dodg­ing the fire with a deft­ness and agili­ty that made the man think of the nin­jas he saw in those sil­ly mar­tial arts movies from the 80s. But that was giv­ing it too much cred­it. Head or not, it was just an insect, even with its night­mar­ish abil­i­ty to grow and oper­ate with­out a head. And if he had need­ed fur­ther proof of that, it final­ly came to a stop because it was still sub­ject to fatigue. It rest­ed on the seam between his wall and ceiling. 

Now that it was unmov­ing again, he could see just how dam­aged it was. Its oth­er­wise shiny body had an ugly streak of black that went from its tho­rax to its abdomen. Some of its thick black hairs were singed or burnt off alto­geth­er. The man looked around for some­thing to stand on. He had a stool some­where, but that would require leav­ing the room. No fuck­ing way that was hap­pen­ing. Instead, he opt­ed for his cof­fee table, which was com­prised of glass and met­al. Was it strong enough to sup­port his weight? He recalled drop­ping a full can of beer on it with­out get­ting so much as a ding, so he rea­soned it was at least stur­dy. He didn’t need long, just enough to aim and fire. And when the fly hit the ground a flam­ing mess, he’d stomp it until it was no longer rec­og­niz­able. Giv­en how big and meaty it was, he thor­ough­ly expect­ed the sen­sa­tion to be as sat­is­fy­ing as it was sick­en­ing. Either way, he was ready. 

He placed one foot on the cof­fee table fol­lowed by the sec­ond, doing his best to ignore the brief but labored crack­ing sound. The fly remained still as he took aim. Was it already dead? Could they die stand­ing? Giv­en how many rules of biol­o­gy it already defied, it was def­i­nite­ly pos­si­ble. He low­ered the lighter and air fresh­en­er and leaned in to get a clos­er look, prompt­ing the cof­fee table to let out a short, protest­ing screech. Time was of the essence and if the fly wasn’t already dead, it soon would be. He leaned back and read­ied the air fresh­en­er and lighter. The flame flicked on, and just when he pressed the air freshener’s trig­ger, the table gave, and the man fell through, a thou­sand tiny nee­dles pierc­ing the soles of his feet. That pain was brief, how­ev­er, as he fell back, his left leg shoot­ing straight up. His right wasn’t as lucky, as his foot had wrapped around the cof­fee table’s leg. There was a crunch­ing sound that remind­ed him of bro­ken pota­to chips fol­lowed by an unbear­able explo­sion of pain that rever­ber­at­ed through his entire body. What was mere­ly sprained before was bro­ken now, no ques­tion about it. 

He need­ed help, and he need­ed his phone to get it. And nei­ther one was any­where near him. Although his eyes were blur­ry with tears, he looked up and saw the fly mov­ing. It turned its obscene­ly large body toward him, and the man’s mouth reflex­ive­ly filled with the taste of rot and cop­per as he knew exact­ly what the fly was plan­ning. He fum­bled around on the ground, look­ing for his weapon, which would have worked per­fect­ly had he not fucked things up so bad­ly. Amidst the immense pain and over­whelm­ing humil­i­a­tion, he enjoyed a tiny bit of relief when his hand wrapped around the air fresh­en­er. But where the hell was the lighter? He felt and pound­ed the ground around him but came up emp­ty-hand­ed. With a grace­ful vibra­tion of its wings, the fly took off, its path sure and direct. As the man began to blub­ber and scream, he held up the air fresh­en­er and let loose, mist­ing the fly as it land­ed on his face, which did noth­ing to slow or stop it. The man slapped and grabbed at the fly, strik­ing his injured nose, and pro­duc­ing a fresh wave of pain strong enough to make him almost pass out. With no strength or recourse, he felt his scream silenced as the fly quick­ly and eas­i­ly bur­rowed its way into his mouth. He wrapped one hand around its greasy abdomen, but it was too late. The fly was inside him — crawl­ing, mov­ing, grow­ing. Unable to breathe, the world began to swirl and dark­en. Before it was all over, the man felt one last tick­ling sen­sa­tion deep inside his bel­ly as the fly flut­tered its wings. 

When the police arrived lat­er at the behest of sev­er­al very grumpy neigh­bors com­plain­ing about the noise, they all agreed it was the most bru­tal and hor­rif­ic crime scene they had ever wit­nessed. None of them even knew where to begin. The strangest part was the victim’s remains. It looked like he had explod­ed. And while the apart­ment was a hor­rid mess of blood and entrails, the police could still dis­cern what part was what. But on top of the dozens of ques­tions they already had, one, in par­tic­u­lar, stuck out:

Where the hell was his head? 

What’s scarier than short horror fiction?

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Michael Sub­jack (he/him) was born in a small town in West­ern New York. His work has appeared in a num­ber of pub­li­ca­tions. Most recent­ly, he had sto­ries in the antholo­gies Heavy Met­al Night­mares (Pho­bic Books) and Trig­ger Warn­ing: Curs­es (Mad­ness Heart Press).

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