Moira Gillen

A little bit of darkness to brighten your day

Like Flies to Shit

I always thought if you forgot all the bad things that happened to you, it was inevitable you’d forget all the good things, too. I never thought that focusing so much on the bad things would attract more of the same, like flies buzzing around a pile of shit, ripening in the sweltering sun. But they’re gathering now.

This one was based on the following prompt:

-Write a short story that includes the paragraph below, and from the perspective of one of the following:

School Teacher
Stay at Home Mom/Dad
Serial Killer 

"I always thought that if you forgot all the bad things that happened to you that it was inevitable that you would forget all the good things, too. I never thought that focusing so much on the bad things would attract..."


            I always thought if you forgot all the bad things that happened to you, it was inevitable you’d forget all the good things, too. I never thought that focusing so much on the bad things would attract more of the same, like flies buzzing around a pile of shit, ripening in the sweltering sun. But they’re gathering now.

            It was an accident. ‘Course it was. Maybe that’s not what Stacey would say, maybe she’d say I brought it on myself, but Stacey… Stacey has opinions about everything.

            What I call trying to forget—the whole shitpile that is my life, the good right along with the bad, who cares as long as the memories are gone—Stacey calls “dwelling.” I keep telling her that’s impossible, those two things—forgetting and dwelling—are pretty much exact opposites, but she claims if I could just let go of the past and stop trying to run from my shitty childhood, I’d be free and could move on. Stacey says I’m so focused on all the bad stuff that happened, on trying to block it out, that… well, that’s usually when I get so sick of listening to her drone on in that know-it-all tone of hers that I check out and go inject liquid distraction into my veins.

            So, really, maybe we can blame all this on Stacey. If she wasn’t constantly nagging at me to make something of myself, trying to make me feel guilty—ME, after being shuffled from foster home to foster home, I’M the one who’s supposed to feel guilty?—maybe I wouldn’t have been at that party that night. Maybe I wouldn’t have stayed so late, put off going home to her disappointed sighs. Maybe I wouldn’t have had that sixth beer, which “impaired my judgment” enough that I shrugged when those pills were passed around and took a handful without even finding out what they were.

            Then maybe I wouldn’t have freaked out that my shirt was trying to choke me, strangle the life out of me like Eddie used to do. I wouldn’t have decided I needed some air, or a cigarette, anything to get me outside where the walls weren’t yelling at me with Ma’s voice. I wouldn’t have stumbled out of the house, mumbling about belts and lessons and disrespect. And, when the cold air hit my face, maybe I wouldn’t have decided I was sober enough to drive home and sleep it off.

            The next part gets kind of fuzzy. I do remember getting in the car, starting the engine. I do remember the road being really clear, in focus—that’s not the fuzzy part. The road felt sharp, center line and edges all defined in the headlights. Almost too sharp, like when you’re wearing someone else’s glasses and they’re just a little too strong for you. But clear. Not wavering, no distortion of distance, no dulled reaction time. That’s why I knew it’d be safe to drive home, even if I had some questionably legal substances in my system.

            The problem was that, as soon as I started the car, I realized Eddie and Ma had followed me. They were both crammed in the back seat, screaming at me. Different “me”s, of course, different screams:  Ma yelling at three-year-old me for wetting the bed again, calling me a disgusting little animal, telling me if I was too lazy to use the toilet like a human being, I could sleep in my filth like a dog; Eddie telling fifteen-year-old me that if I was going to live under his roof and eat his food, I was going to learn to respect him, goddammit, or he’d beat the mouthiness out of me, he’d teach me to say yessir and nossir or I could sleep in the basement again...

            Their screaming got so loud that I couldn’t pay attention to the road, but I knew if I could just drive fast enough, I could outrun them. Leave them behind, coughing in the dust and fumes… But I couldn’t seem to get up enough speed. 82 mph and they were still shrieking at me from the back seat, except now my little brother, Michael, was back there with them, and he was screaming too. Or, crying, more like. Michael, still nine, still scrawny, just like the last time I’d seen him, snot and tears streaking trails down his grubby little-kid face, begging me not to leave him behind…

            I’d just started to tell them that I couldn’t concentrate, to tell them to shut the fuck up so I could drive, when I saw her in the headlights, dashing across the road like a full-fledged maniac, like she was running for her life, but it was too late to do anything.

            I tried to swerve. I did swerve, I almost managed to go around her. Almost. It was an accident. It wasn’t my fault; who the fuck runs across the middle of the road at 2 a.m. in the dark?

            This is the part that’s kind of fuzzy, see. A flash of the headlights reflecting off the bleach white nightgown and white spindly arms and white scrawny legs, long white hair streaming out behind her like a surrender flag—2 a.m., lady. TWO. IN THE. FUCKING. MORNING. Why the hell weren’t you in bed dreaming about knitting or baking cookies or whatever it is old ladies dream about?—and right as I hit her—that is, right as she bounced off the car, a shadowy swift blackness, this spot of “nothing” in the corner of my right eye, like maybe my brain had something jarred loose from the impact. The car shuddered, the wheel jerked in my hands, jolted so violently I could barely hold my grip on it. But I did, somehow, and managed to keep the car on the road while I was at it…

            …the next thing I remember is looking in the rearview and seeing her sprawled in the road, getting smaller and smaller in the mirror. I’d forgotten to take my foot off the gas, see. Maybe I should have stopped, I guess. But what good would it have done, honestly?  I could see that she was just lying there, wasn’t getting up. So either she was okay, or she wasn’t. Me going back wouldn’t have made a difference one way or the other.

            Besides, I was starting to feel sick. Like, really sick. Like, hallucination, seeing-things-you-know-can’t-be-real sick. There was still that blackness in my vision, ‘cause when I looked in the rearview, I could see her, this lump glowing red-grey in the taillights, and there on the side there was this… spot. This area. This small crouching animal shaped area, sitting on the side of the road near her body. And it was so… dark. So black. Not like light bouncing off something shiny and black. Not like light bouncing off something matte and black, either. More like light getting sucked up into something that absorbed it so there wasn’t any light left. It was just Dark. This dark crouching shape.

            That’s when I knew my trip was really bad. And see, that’s why I didn’t stop. Because probably, this whole thing was just a rotten, bad dream, a weird mix of pills and beer and those nachos I’d had earlier that afternoon. Another nightmare in a long line of nightmares that make up my pile-of-shit life.

            That’s why I kept driving. Because this was all in my head. And even if it wasn’t, there was nothing I could do.

            Besides, the screaming had finally stopped. The back seat was empty. Good thing too. Because I was still feeling really sick. Did I mention how sick I was feeling?  That light-swallowing trick my vision had played on the edge of the road was messing with my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, how black and nothing it was, and I just wanted to get home and sleep it off.

            The rest of the drive, I don’t remember anything. I know I pulled up in front of the house and parked, ‘cause I remember staggering around to check the front of the station wagon—no blood. That’s good, right? Kind of a dent, but who was gonna notice one more dent in that old heap?—then making my way toward the house, feeling like I was being watched—was Eddie following me again? I made it as far as the couch, where I tripped and fell facedown and didn’t get back up.

            I mostly remember waking up the next day, Stacey hovering over me, clicking her tongue and asking if I was planning to join the world of the living any time soon. The rest of the afternoon is a haze of hangover headache, her voice droning nonstop in the background about how it was time to let go of all the bad things that had happened to me growing up, stop wasting my life running, pull myself together, face the past and move on, concentrate on the good things, had I thought about therapy? I just kept nodding, agreeing with her, anything to get her to shut up.

            She works night shift at the hospital and headed out that evening around 10:00. By that point, my headache had dulled to a throb, and I was feeling pretty sober. Sober, but worried. I was watching TV, trying not to think about the night before, the weird trip—it was just a trip, it was a BAD trip, maybe I’d listen to Stacey this time and give the drinking and the other shit a bit of a break, at least for a while…

            That was when I noticed that thing with my vision hadn’t gone away.

            Except it wasn’t just my vision, was it.

            It began again with that feeling like I was being watched. But I was sober enough now to know it wasn’t Eddie. Or my mother. Or even Michael.

            Monster Truck Nation was blaring away at full volume—I’d had the news on, but then I got nervous I’d see something about a hit-and-run, except of course that was impossible since it has all been in my head anyway, but it made me anxious just the same, so Monster Truck Nation it was.

            Anyway, I’m sitting there, partly paying attention to the screen and partly just thinking about how bad I had to piss but how I really didn’t want to get up, and how long could I hold it—and the TV sits in front of the windows. I don’t know what made me look over, just that feeling, but I glanced up and noticed in the lower right corner this one spot that was dark. Not just dark, though—I mean, it was night outside—but Dark. That same Dark, capital D, so black it’s not even black anymore. Some color past black, so dark it made the rest of the night look grey. That black “lackingness” again, like something was sucking all the light outside into just the one spot.

            Except it wasn’t just a “spot.”

            It was kind of… face shaped.

            And then it moved.

            Which is why I about pissed myself right there all over the couch. It was a good thing I hadn’t been waiting to use the bathroom for much longer or I really wouldn’t have been able to hold it. As it was, my bladder almost let go and, terrified or not, I had to sprint for the toilet.

            So I’m standing there peeing and sweating, trying to figure out what it was I’d just seen. It had looked like a face. Maybe? No, definitely. It was definitely a face, just not a human face. It was too black to see any features, so I don’t know how I knew it was a face. I just did. But it was like, the second I’d realized what I was seeing, it had noticed me noticing and ducked out of sight.

            I finished and quickly put myself away—didn’t bother washing my hands because what the hell did it matter, literally just shoved myself back into my pants and zipped up on my way out—and headed back to the den to do a recon. But the windows were closed tight, and the TV was blasting away, and everything outside looked normal, and with all the lights on and the announcer declaring this next fight “the automotive battle of the century exclamation point” I was starting to feel pretty ridiculous.

            Only I shouldn’t have. Felt ridiculous, I mean. Because even with the show going full volume and all the lights in the house on, I still managed to fall asleep. And it wasn’t the television that woke me up. Or Stacey coming home. Or even bad dreams about Eddie.

            It was the scratching. This scritchy clawing noise, quiet, but so persistent that you couldn’t miss it after a minute. And it was coming from the window. But, not just the window. There was scratching at the door, too.

            I went to check to make sure the door was locked. I mean, I sure as hell wasn’t going to check and see who was there. (Mitzi pawing and miaowing to be let in? Stray dog? Stacey, digging through her purse on the front stoop after forgetting her keys? Christ himself with the Second Coming? Fuck ‘em all, scratching at my door in the night like a freak, ain’t nobody coming through that door.) I’d just finished triple-checking the bolts when I saw something dark out of the corner of my eye.

            I spun around so fast I nearly fell over, every hair on my body standing up so sharp it made my skin hurt, sure it was my imagination, praying I’d given myself a concussion, certain I’d spooked myself into hearing things, but no dice. I’d turned just in time to catch a something, dark and light-sucking, as it slipped out of sight around the kitchen doorframe. I could hear its claws scrabbling on the linoleum. Scratching.

            That was 3 days ago. And it’s not just a something. It’s a They. And they haven’t gone away. They’re closing in. I haven’t slept much. Or at all, really. Not that I want to sleep, to let my guard down, but even when I can’t help it and pass out from exhaustion, I get roused a few minutes later by their scratching at the doors, the windows. That constant quiet clawing, trying to get in, to make their way nearer to me. They’re very sneaky, very clever, very quick. I only ever get a glimpse of them, dark forms stealing closer, sucking all the light from the room. When they catch me watching, they slip away. But not before I see that blackness they’re made of. So dark it makes you forget there’s such a thing as light.

            Yes, they’re clever, all right. Make themselves scarce when Stacey’s around, like a swarm of flies buzzing out of reach when someone waves a hand at them, before settling back down on their shitpile. They’re never gone, but they keep their distance when Stacey’s around. I can still hear them, scritching, lurking, but at least I don’t have to see them.

            But Stacey’s gone again. And they’re getting closer. I can hear them. Scratching, skulking… I can feel them, feel their darkness, feel them sucking in the light. They’re closing in. The flies are getting ready to land.

Image: 2017-03/rural-road-351491-960-720.jpg

Written by Moira Gillen

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