by Nicholas Stillman
He slid from his pupal case, and though he witnessed other flies struggling to escape theirs, none of them suffered a time limit. None of the others nearly drowned in the strange secretion which covered him. They had hairs, small and sharp ones like thorns angled into the wind. He had a fluke mutation that produced an oil instead of hairs, and production never stopped. The oil consumed him, and what he consumed became oil.
When he emerged in the light, half suffocated and stumbling, the secretion never dried. It ran off him in the wake of even more. His world blurred, his compound eyes covered in a replenishing film. His wings flapped too slowly for flight. They clung to his sides when he stopped trying. He crawled instead, on six legs which soon gained the oily mass of twelve. They carried him doubly far as well, and doubly slow compared to most flies. The gooiest food belonged only to those who could land on it first.
He ached after his first day of pitiful exploration. The most crushing pain came from inside, as his whole body felt like an empty, collapsing stomach. He expelled oil in both the light phase and the following dark phase which lasted just as long. He fed like the others, sucking up whatever happened to die and spread itself out on the world.
The others had plans. He didn’t know them. The flies fumed away from him in visible clouds, like the odors that billowed from their food heaps. The light always took its share. When it shined the most viciously, pulling vapor from all food, he scrambled to merge with the buzzing masses.
Enormous creatures flew in daily, like mountains that broke off the horizon and perched before him. Their beaks pitched downward, like mountain peaks inverting themselves. They tilled both the living and the dead underneath.
He slid under the crawling masses, deep in the piles of hollowed thoraxes and snapped-off legs. The mountainous creatures snatched up and swallowed the flies nearest to them, the fullest and greediest ones who ambled after their drunken flights. The oil helped him only for those times: it kept his body greased so he could burrow deep.
Even there, buried under hundreds of dead flies and live eggs, the oil covered him the most. It smothered even his thoughts. When he crawled out of the heaps, he could only yearn to think like the others who paced in the air. For him, every moment involved constant feeding or a plod to the next reeking warm puddle.
The oil cried out of him. It congealed, and he had to rub himself down between long journeys. His spinning forelegs felt a new hunger as they cleaned him, as though their joints had empty stomachs of their own. He learned to rebalance himself and scrape off the gel with his hind legs. Later, his mid legs joined the sickening dance. His antennae wriggled in vain, conducting nothing.
In late adulthood, he crouched and waited. He guarded the tiny spot under him, hopeful that the gunk went deep. He watched the zooming flies grow and shrink around him. They formed a map of living dots in the sky, his only guide to the next swamp of nutrients. Though he could hardly see, the taste sensors on his legs didn’t work at all. They drowned in the swamp of his own secretions.
Nothing could happen in the dark, and the light gave him nothing but gummed-up motions. All other flies, even impossibly big ones, chased the sky itself. They flew to other worlds, to other feasts and dangers. They fed only to fly, to find glory in all directions. They expelled all their food in the form of blissful flight.
He, however, failed to fly in the hottest, driest times of the light cycles. The effort only wore down his limbs faster. His legs never truly rested, as they had never hung freely in the air. They felt tired to the point of nearly breaking off.
Other flies grew old too, he observed, for they played as hard as he worked. They slowed, pondering their euphoric adventures on their final drunken day. Although he lived most soberly, beneath the whole intoxicating sky, he at least lived. He had proven himself worthy of survival, even in the torment of the whirling fun around him.
When he spotted a female, alone and thick with fertile guts, his instincts flared in ways his matted wings never could. In his whole life he had expelled only oil, but his mutation could not expel him from life itself. He had but one triumph left, and such an easy one too. A natural one. A pull. A lust. The female wore the right pheromones. She poised herself, ready to take anyone.
He crawled one final path, scurrying like no other fly. All the others danced in the sky or fed on animals who lay fuming and ever-deflating. Death would hollow him out too, before the light rebirthed itself again. He couldn’t carry his layered secretions for one more feeding. He would live on inside her, though, in hundreds of lineages. As he neared, he saw himself ossified in her eggs like the ones he had seen while hiding. He knew them innately as well, their eternally round shapes–ageless, endless worlds of himself. They called for him to go there, to her.
Once inside her, she would take care of him forever, as long as meat kept falling to the ground.
He reached her, and his instincts dared him to mount her with every muscle. Strengthened from his life’s journey, he reared up faster and with more ease and rapture than any other fly. He only needed a moment now, with her and within her.
She saw him drawing behind her, saw him rising, with her big red eyes. And when she saw all that oil, she simply flew away.