Do not go outside. Glimpses of marsh look pleasant. The water clean like metal. Ripe foliage two-feet-long, fleshy. But swaths of black flies and doughy maggots cover everything. The terrible smell cuts your throat.
Fisk, across river, pierced by a proboscis as long as a sword. Straight into his gut on his hammock. A ten-foot bug, according to the story. Conroy, Maggie’s father, saw it in his binoculars. Fisk’s eyes popped open, possessed. In a second, the bug shot into the air, Fisk rising two hundred feet, silently screaming, mouth wide without words.
But Grandpa Conroy is dead, and I’ve never seen a bug thicker than my fist. There were millions though. Maggie says, “People survived worse.” Nukes. The Holocaust. Even the dinosaurs. “We’ll get through it,” she says.
She thinks our little girl is out there. Four years gone would make Dallas six. “Didn’t have her long enough to find her way home.” I never said this to Maggie. Grandpa Conroy had reminded his daughter daily that he could feel her out there. “Flies had her.” But neither would I say this.
We screened the porch before the cough hit. And before the flies. Now they blackout every window. The cough is how it began with Conroy, and Maggie. She won’t eat today. Once you stop, you don’t start. Stopped drinking too. We have another day. Two, I say aloud. I stare at the porch wood. Gray and split wide and old. Soon the house will collapse right under us.
Years back, the buzzing seemed to stop altogether. The constant fly-hum as constant as silence, and then I could not tell sound from no sound. But I still hear Dallas’s cough. Wispy. Gray. Children were the first.
We had entirely different lives. I taught at the college. Maggie too. She was in workshop when it happened. News said we had thirty minutes from first cough to contagion. I ran her into the woods, behind the house, deep into the swamp. If she was breathing, I couldn’t submerge her. I tied her in my jacket. She was a beautiful monster wedged in the branches of the muskeg spruce. Dally was a good girl. Dally never cried. I heard her cough, and a chainsaw running, and “Daa, daaa.” Those black sounds as I dragged away.
Maggie is finally sleeping, but the coughing only stops once. Asleep, I tell myself. The silence is undeniable, and I push against the porch door. Hinges stuck with rust. Finally cracking loose. Swings open. Hungry. Thousand of flies cling to the screen, the walls outside, and the trees. Blackest black waiting. I clap my hands. “C’mon.” Each eye with four thousand lenses. I see them see millions of me. It’s for you, tenders, I say.
Craig Buchner’s fiction has appeared in a variety of literary journals including Puerto del Sol, Word Riot, Juked, and others. In 2006, he won the AWP Intro Journals Award for fiction. Craig lives in Portland, OR, where he teaches creative writing.