by Matt Taimuty, CJF
|Published in the August 2001 Issue of Anvil Magazine
The fly strolled stately across the forehead of the dead farrier, triumphant in his victory. He saluted his troops and bid them fly off to a well-deserved meal on the horse standing in the barn aisle .
How, you may ask, did this scene come to be? An army of flies? A dead farrier? This sounds serious! Well, my friends, it is serious. You have just witnessed a change in the genetic biology of the fly. They have organized into a militant militia and are on the move. BEWARE!!!
But before you go and dust off that last canister of DDT in your garden shed, perhaps I should explain the events that led to this change. You see, it wasn't always this way.
Long, long ago, in a barnyard far, far away, fly spray was used regularly to keep pesky flies off horses when farriers did their work. The label said the repellent would last for several days. The flies stayed away and the farriers could do their work in peace. The problem was the flies went hungry.
Then something sinister happened. The flies discovered some of them were immune to the effects of The Spray, as it was known in fly circles. This lead the Fly Powers That Be (FPTB for short) to issue special breeding orders to the masses. Only the ones who survived The Spray were allowed to breed, thus increasing their chances of survival in an ever-changing and hostile environment.
As breeding progressed, more and more flies emerged who were immune to the effects of The Spray. Eventually, their numbers reached a critical level and a metamorphosis took place. They discovered their numbers could win them a better food supply.
These changes occurred in all species of flies at the same time, with devastating results:
One hot steamy morning, somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic Region, a farrier set up his rig for the day's work. He set up on the north side of the barn, hoping for shade and maybe a breeze. He had six horses to shoe and wanted to get done before the weather got too nasty. The weather report proffered temps in the upper 90's with humidity to match. Maybe a late-day thunderstorm . maybe not.
The farrier, we'll call him Bill, strapped on his apron as the first horse of the day, Sadie, was led to his shoeing area and placed in cross ties. Sadie was a quiet, elderly mare of unknown breeding. A kid owned and loved her. The love was reciprocated.
Bill picked up his bottle of fly spray and proceeded to coat Sadie with a liberal layer in anticipation of a large concentration of flies. As Bill sprayed away, he heard an ominous buzzing behind him. He turned around to see one horsefly staring right at him. He could swear the thing was scowling. Bill took off his baseball cap and shooed the fly away, thinking nothing more of it.
As Bill proceeded to pull the front shoes off his charge, he heard the buzzing again, looked up and saw the fly hovering around the inside of Sadie's gaskin, looking for a place to land and feast. Sadie took care of the pest with a grand stomp and a furious attack with her tail. The fly buzzed off in frustration.
Bill trimmed the front feet and put a pair of new shoes in his gas forge. He hated using the forge on days like this, but his arthritic old elbow wouldn't shape shoes cold anymore. Better hot than sore, Bill supposed, with a dejected sigh.
He returned to Sadie, gave her a loving pat on the neck, and went to pull and trim her hind feet. The buzz returned. Sadie jumped, pulling her leg away from Bill, knocking him backwards. She kicked wildly as the fly, whose name was Joe, by the way, proceeded to stick his proboscis into her croup for a meal.
Bill, meantime, picked himself up off the barn floor with a few choice four-letter words and quickly surveyed the situation. He couldn't get close enough to Sadie to kill the fly without getting killed himself, so he grabbed the horsefly bottle and turned the nozzle to stream.
Bill's aim was true. He hit Joe in the face with the full blast and knocked him off Sadie, painfully twisting his proboscis. Joe fell to the floor, stunned. Just as Bill was about to stomp the life out of him, Joe came around and managed a narrow escape.
Joe spewed a few of his own fly-letter words (sorry-I couldn't resist the pun) as he flew groggily out of the barn to regroup.
Meanwhile, back in the barn, Bill calmed Sadie down and continued his work. Several minutes passed. Bill was dressing Sadie's other hind foot when he heard buzzing again. He ducked out from under Sadie to avoid a replay, hat in hand, armed for combat.
Joe, having decided a direct attack was dangerous, opted for a flanking maneuver. He led Bill on a merry chase around the other side of Sadie, who was nervously watching and listening, feinted upward, pulled a four G snap roll and ducked under Bill's flailing hat as he dove for the tender flesh of Sadie's udder. Joe figured Bill would have a tough shot with the horse jumping around and Joe in such a secure location.
His tactic worked, for awhile. Just as Joe was beginning to taste the warm juices of a well-earned snack, he felt the sting of a horse tail and was forced to disengage in order to take evasive measures.
As he came up from under the horse he saw Bill, swishing a horsehair fly whisk at him.
"Dang!" Joe cursed under his breath as he dove between Bill's legs and darted outside again. "That sucker is good!"
Bill draped the whisk over his tool box and went back to work. He had four shoes in the fire that needed tending. He quietly banged away on his anvil, oblivious to events transpiring just beyond his hearing.
Joe, frustrated, sore and hungry, landed on a fencepost to talk to his buddy Larry.
"That sucker's gettin' on my nerves!" Joe said.
"I know what ya' mean. I had a set-to with the owner of the place just yesterday. The old broad nearly killed me with a towel! I heard the thing snap just behind me. Sounded like a bomb going off.
"And speaking of bombs, did you know the entire McFlyire clan got wiped out three days ago by a bug bomb in the feed room?" Larry looked sad as he relayed the tragic news.
"Cripes! No I didn't! Why those dirty, rotten two-legged sons of ."
"Watch your proboscis there Joe, this is a family magazine," Larry warned.
"We gotta do somethin' about this, Larry. We can't just let these darn two-leggeds run the world, you know." Joe had a glimmer in his eyes, all eight of them-the glimmer of vengeance.
A meeting of the FPTB executive council of elders was convened in haste. Joe addressed the council with the news of the massacre in the feed room and his battle with the farrier. Larry told his story of his near demise at the end of a towel. Several others told similar stories. The most disturbing came from a greenhead fly just up from Baltimore.
He relayed his experience with the city pest management crews spraying malathion to kill mosquitoes that carried the West Nile Virus. He said the toll on the fly population was devastating, since that particular insecticide was not one the local FPTB council had experienced before.
The executive council of elders convened a closed-door session in chambers (under an old trash can lid) to decide the best measures to take. The situation had become grave and drastic measures were in order.
When the elders emerged some time later, Bill was on his third horse. Gestalt von Largen Horsen was a young Warmblood of both royal proportion, and bloodlines. Gestalt von Largen Horsen was a highly sensitive, emotional creature, with a prima donna attitude and a princely manner. Flies were not acceptable to His Royal Horseness and he wanted the world to know about it. To put it another way, he was not shy in voicing his displeasure.
Bill had doused him liberally with The Spray, as Joe found out when he snuck into the barn to reconnoiter the situation. That stench would be hard for the troops to ignore, and it was strong enough that even the most immune could be weakened by it. They would have to be careful.
Joe returned to the elders for final instructions. He was to lead a multi-species assault force in a coordinated attack that was designed to neutralize the two-legged and to procure a victory feast for the masses. The large horse would feed many good fly souls in need of nourishment on this day.
In a quiet ceremony on the ceiling of the tractor shed next to the barn, the elders blessed the troops and the mission. Joe said a few encouraging words after the fashion of the opening scene in the movie Patton, which he'd been able to watch a few weeks before through the window of the stable manager's apartment.
He concluded his speech with the following refrain:
"So, ladies and gentleman." (flies are not the slightest bit chauvinistic), "we have before us a daunting but necessary task. Some of you will not come back. Others will return as heroes. Most will simply fight for what we all believe in, the right to a meal when and where we want one! We have been ordered to make an example of this two-legged. We have been asked to send a message that we will no longer tolerate the type of assaults and indignities foisted upon our own by the likes of his kind. Ladies and gentlemen, this is WAR!!!"
With that he swooped down off the ceiling, circled his troops one time and led them out into the open where they formed up divisions. They hovered in the shade of an old elm as they organized themselves, by species, in a dizzying number of arrow-straight lines. It was an awesome sight, resembling a huge page covered with periods and commas.
General Joe, as he was now known, had at his disposal five divisions of face flies, two divisions of blue-bottle flies, two divisions of greenheads, four divisions of house and stable flies, two divisions of deer flies and one division of horseflies. They all had their orders. Nothing further need be said. The battle was at hand.
Meanwhile, back in the barn, Bill was quietly shoeing Gestalt von Largen Horsen as John Lennon put forth the lyrics of Revolution on the CD-a fitting epitaph for poor Bill, don't you think?
The attack began with two of the face fly divisions attacking Bill and the other three attacking poor old von Largen Horsen. Bill was at the anvil when the attack commenced. But for the noise of his gas forge, he would have heard something akin to the sound that his father heard that fateful morning in December of 1941, at Pearl Harbor.
All at once he was engulfed in a cloud of flies. He staggered back from his anvil, flapping his hands wildly at his face. Gestalt had a similar experience. He set back against the cross ties, but his training held. He did not break them. Instead he shook his mammoth head furiously and piaffed in place with great engagement.
Next, a division of deer flies attacked Bill from behind, landing by the hundreds on his neck, shoulders and back. Bill swung around violently, grabbed a towel on his tailgate, and flailed at the hoards accosting him. Many flies fell dead in the counterattack; many more were injured, but the attack persisted.
Bill, in desperation, dove into the back of his truck and came up with a large can of industrial strength OFFT. He sprayed himself and the surrounding area with wild strokes. Many flies where hit and went down, most others were driven away by the strong odor of DEET. Bill then went to the rescue of poor Gestalt von Largen Horsen, who was covered with every imaginable kind of fly and suffering mightily for it.
In the ensuing lull, Bill was able to get a handle on the situation. He looked around and saw the remaining divisions of flies hovering just out of range. His heart sank. He knew he was in trouble. In a move of calculated risk and great heroism, Bill carefully maneuvered himself towards the cab of his truck in hopes of securing his cell phone and a call to 911.
General Joe saw Bill's plan and quickly developed a counter plan. You see, Joe noticed the windows were open in the truck cab-something Bill had overlooked. Joe ordered all divisions of the blue bottles and greenheads to hold their attack until their target was inside the truck. Blue bottles were to attack from the driver's side and greenheads through the passenger window.
Bill managed to grab his phone and dial 911.
"911. Please state the nature of your emergency," said the calm operator.
"I'm being attacked by flies!" bellowed Bill.
"I'm sorry sir, I couldn't hear what you said, there is too much static on the line."
"That ain't static lady, that's half a million flies trying to carry me off to the manure heap!"
"Sir, is this a prank call? We can have you arrested for prank calls to 911, you know!" retorted the operator.
"Dag nabit, lady, this is serious! It's like a scene from Lord of the Flies out here! I'm at the Benson Farm out on Ridgely Road. Please send help, I'm dying here!"
With that, General Joe gave the signal to attack. Ten-thousand flies entered Bill's truck from both sides simultaneously, covering him completely. They flew in his mouth, in his ears, up his nose and down his shirt. He was effectively silenced. He dropped the phone on the asphalt causing the battery to fall out of it, thus ending any hope for further communication.
The 911 operator heard the noise of the attack and was terrified. The sound was like nothing she had ever heard before. She tried in vain to talk to Bill for the remaining few seconds his phone was operable. The instant it went dead, she contacted the state police. A moment later she had a sergeant laughing in her ear. Her panicked voice quickly convinced the desk officer the situation was serious. He in turn contacted county pest control and dispatched a squad car to check out the situation.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, the war continued. Bill managed to get out of his truck and dive for the OFF again. A long, wide spray cleared the area for a few moments while he spit the dead flies out of his mouth and picked them out of his hair.
He noticed they were quickly regrouping for another assault. In a moment of brilliance, he thanked his lucky stars he never took the coal forge out of his truck. He grabbed a shovel full of coal and tossed it into his running gas forge. The coal instantly ignited and poured billows of acrid yellow smoke into the barn. Bill put his towel over his mouth and staggered into the smoke. He huddled next to Gestalt von Largen Horsen in the smoky, but fly-free haven he had created.
Just then he heard a siren and saw a cloud of dust approach the barn. The state trooper lumbered out of his car as General Joe sent the second division of deer flies after him. The trooper quickly lumbered back into his car, shoved it in reverse, and lit out of there like a scalded dog. So much for the calvary coming over the hill.
Bill's heart sank, for he knew the coal smoke would last only so long. Through the smoke he could see the remaining forces General Joe had at his disposal hovering in the sun just outside the barn. The sky was black with them.
Ten o'clock in the morning, and I have to decide if this is a good day to die, thought Bill.
Gestault von Largen Horsen was thinking, as the gas forge ran out of coal, If I'm gonna die with this two-legged, at least someone could have the decency to braid my mane and tail.
The final assault commenced. General Joe sent in the one division of horse flies. His flying fortresses. In an organized bombing run-like maneuver they surrounded Bill, landed on him in droves, grabbed hold of his clothing and, as one, took off again. It was an effort, but they managed to get airborne with their victim, despite his frantic struggles. They carried him outside the barn, out over the asphalt parking lot, where they caught an updraft. They flew in unison, taking advantage of the lift in the air. When they reached an altitude of approximately 150 meters, General Joe flew to into the face of their nearly apoplectic victim for a last word.
"You, dear sir, are about to get a taste of your own medicine. Ever wonder what a fly feels when he gets hit with a flyswatter? Huh? It ain't pretty, I can tell you. I've lost many a good friend that way.
"Your kind has plagued us flies for thousands of years. It's payback time!" and with a nod, the flies dropped their victim onto the asphalt below.
With a sickening crunch, it was over. Poor Bill landed on his back with a splat. The only sound was the drone of many thousands of pairs of wings.
The battle was won. The flies erupted into a loud cheer as General Joe flew down and landed on his victim. The fly strolled stately across the forehead of the dead farrier, triumphant in his victory. He saluted his troops and bid them fly off to a well-deserved meal on the horse standing in the barn aisle.
Just a minute folks. Do you think I would end this story with the bad guys winning? Not so fast. I believe in the American Way and Apple Pie as much as the next fellow.
Just as the remaining fly forces were descending on poor old Gestalt von Largen Horsen for their hard-won feast, there was a rumble outside the barn. Huge clouds of dust entered the barn aisle from both ends. There followed a lot of shouting and the sound of human troops marching double time into action.
Nine men, all in white Tyvek coveralls, rubber boots, gloves and full-face respirators entered the barn at a dead run, five from one end, four from the other. Eight were separated into teams of two, each team pulling a black rubber hose with an ominous- looking shiny brass nozzle on the end. The ninth man had a large Tyvek tarp and an oxygen bottle.
The ninth man tossed the tarp over the horse and opened the oxygen bottle as the other eight opened the threatening-looking nozzles and filled the barn with a white cloud of insecticide.
Before General Joe could react, he and his troops were surrounded and engulfed by this cloud.
"MALATHION!!!!" the greenhead from Charm City shrieked, as he fell from the sky in a dead-man's dive. The other flies scrambled to attack their attackers, but it was too late. The white cloud overcame them in an instant.
When the cloud cleared, the barn aisle was an inch deep in dead flies. Not one escaped. Not even General Joe. He lay on his side where he had fallen, on Bill's anvil. The men in white suits removed their masks and the blanket from Gestalt von Largen Horsen. It was a sickening scene. Carnage everywhere. One dead farrier and thousands upon thousands of dead flies.
"I seen this once before," said the leader of the men in white suits. "It was on Guam back in '93. Air Force had me stationed there. Darnedest thing I ever saw. Flies- organized like an army. A coordinated attack. Lethal. Killed four locals and nearly killed a colonel. Read about it in the Inquirer a few weeks later. Never could understand why the big news guys never picked up the story." "How'd you know it was happening again?" asked a young man of about twenty.
"Son, when you been through a war, you never forget it. Soon as that state trooper called in about being run off by a bunch of greenheads, I knew we had a situation on our hands.
"Nice work, boys. All that training really paid off," said the leader of the men in white, as he squished a lone dead horsefly lying on the anvil.
The man's name was Joe.