“It’s so hot in here, I can hardly breath,” said the fly. The window was open one moment, then closed the next. A child’s face pressed up against the front seat, struggling to see the road ahead. His parents gabbed about the next turn up ahead. In three hours, the average American family planned to arrive in Thermopolis, Wyoming, an out of the way place surrounded by a scenic mountainous landscape, completely foreign to the insect resting on the dashboard. His wings fluttered in confusion. None of it looked familiar.
His journey began a few days before. He had traveled on a train with National Guard troops from Arkansas, curled up in a rucksack. There was food there for more than a week falling out of the brown package (a meal ready to eat) torn open with a Gerber cutting tool carried by a soldier sitting in the driver’s seat of a Paladin, a monstrous artillery gun. Once the weapon was chained onto one of the flatbed cars, the fly sat there digesting the crumbs of a Cherry Pop Tart. His stomach was too full, he didn’t think of flying away.
His arrival at Guernsey could only be compared to a human being traveling a huge distance, let’s say half the circumference of Jupiter. The fly buzzed around the encampments. He didn’t have far to go, there. Trash was everywhere, and he could travel on the tan and green vehicles and the shoulders of swift soldiers oblivious to small creatures. He stuck to small hops, out of the way of waves of mosquitoes aiming for exposed skin. A row of port-o-potties the soldiers called shitters or Johnnies became the central home to the fly and his many cousins. Buzzing all around, his winged grey and black brethren merely had to avoid stray hands, newspapers and porn magazines waving through the air.
Pfc. Flavius parked at Johnston’s Corner in the midday sun. Fly had hitched a ride in his HUMVEE. He blasted his AC while Spc. Winston dashed in to buy a can of Skoal, chicken nuggets, and a few 16 oz. cans of Monster Energy drinks to add a little flavor to the Army’s staples of a high-calorie meal, which included pound cake and corn nuts. A lot of the prefabricated food was meant to clog up the guts of the men doing the hard work. After 16-hour days, it’d be days before they had any use for their flimsy supply of toilet paper. You might as well use a pine cone, which suited the fly. He was fine with the rich deposits returned to nature, instead of the pools of chemicals masking the stench.
The fly saw his chance when Winston returned. He opened the passenger side door, on which fly sat. He then crawled along the edges of the window, sensing the breezes hitting the glass. His small wiry legs felt the warmth of the sun hitting the thick glass, meant to shatter not break if struck by bullets. Flavius wore iPhone ear buds, tapping his hand against the steering wheel to the beat of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. In his own world, Winston smacked him on the noggin to hand him a pack of Jerky.
“On me,” he said. “Don’t say I never did nothing for you.”
Fly buzzed around Winston’s hands, inspecting it before moving on. It was a big risk. Winston dropped his goods, glad he hadn’t opened his chew yet. It might have lost at least few pinches of the valuable tobacco that marred his gums. His large paw smacked the back of the seat. Fly crawled to the edge of it, jetting out the wide opening, his transparent wings in full flutter. Winston smacked Flavius again.
“Hey bitch, why’d you let that fly in?”
The young private gave a weak retort.
“Quit smacking me man. You let him in. He was on your side of the vehicle!”
The winged creature landed in the car, an old model Chevy Malibu from Colorado, parked next to them. Its rear windows were cracked open while the family loaded up on soft drinks and sandwich supplies. The pot-bellied dad, wearing a golfer’s polo shirt and a Boonie hat with fishing lures, announced that he wasn’t stopping at any restaurant along the way.
“Tourist traps,” he said. “Besides, we’d be wasting time we could be spending at the hot springs.”
His wife, dressed in purple shorts and a plain white tank-top, nodded. Their chubby nine-year-old son Ryan fiddled with key chains at the end of an aisle, fascinated by the cutout of a bucking wild horse and a cowboy holding on for dear life. Broken out of his trance, his dad ordered him to hold the bread and bologna while they stood in line.
They came out of the store, and fly thought he had seen the end. He was roused from drowsing on the back seat when the car swayed. Ryan’s father slammed the trunk shut.
“We’re burning daylight,” he said. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”
Ryan and his parents entered the car with haste. Fly felt the rush of air and barely made it out of the way of the child’s buttocks, bobbing to find his seat belt. Thankfully, the cool air of the air conditioner made its way to the warm backseat, reviving him for an instant. Fly flew up to the car window, and began to crawl up to the opening, but as he did, an electronic whirring powered it closed, possibly sealing his fate.
“That window closed, Ryan?” his father asked, his finger still on the control.
“Yeah dad,” Ryan said.
“You buckled in, too?”
“Yeah dad, I’m ready.”
“Good, we’re off.”
Fly panicked. Adrenaline flowed through his tiny body. He flew like a dive bomber up to the ceiling and back down to the floor, where he found coolness in the shadow. The air shooting out of the vents pushed him around like the strong breezes in Arkansas, and wild winds of Wyoming. Ryan’s mother sat restless in her seat.
“Let me see if I can try to get that pest out of here,” she said.
No matter how hard she tried, with opening and closing the windows, the strong gusts outside the car kept fly just out of the range of freedom, and possibly, a peaceful death on the open prairie. Ryan’s mother gave up. And fly landed on the rear dash, aware of the corpses of his cousins that didn’t make it. Time had passed, and he felt like he would become one of the many casualties of nature that day. Human beings didn’t care, especially about something they could barely see.
Miraculously, fly had made it to Thermopolis. He survived. The family parked at the Hot Springs and the repugnant smell of sulfur.
“This is going to do wonders for your dad’s arthritis,” Ryan’s mom said to the little guy whose hand she held.
Fly crawled through the door left open by Ryan. His mother reminded him to shut it.
“Make sure you got your bathing suit,” she said.
His father was already inside at the counter among several half-clad adults, ready to treat their aches and maladies. Fly heard a familiar tune—the orchestra of his cousins mounting an attack. The smell drew them closer to the water, while the proprietor chased them with a large red swatter. He smacked the surface of the rock enclosure.
“Got three of them,” he said, letting out an exaggerated guffaw. “One fell swoop. What’d you know? I got lucky.”
Fly said, “not today, not me old man.” He gathered his strength and headed for the overwhelming smell. The beautiful scent drew him. Then, before he realized it, water, hot and suffocating. He couldn’t pull up from a powerful nose dive. In seconds, his floating body was being scooped out by the proprietor.
“They never learn,” he said, looking down at Ryan.
The young boy felt disappointed, like the fly’s death hurt him. No one bothered to explain why the creature was so despised, barely a nuisance. He didn’t do anything. Not to anyone. As he grew up Ryan always wondered what that fly said in his last moments of buzzing. Then he finally said, “What would I say if I was facing death?”
Throughout his life, Ryan decided to never hurt a fly.