In Hell With the Flies
By Dan Dillard
Death surrounds Graham Stiller. Not in the way an elderly person lives while family and friends pass on. No, this case calls for a much more literal interpretation. The first time he noticed, it was shocking- almost debilitating. It carved a valley into Graham’s world so deep, he thought it might strike oil.
That was three weeks ago. It didn’t catch his attention right away, but when Graham walked into that diner a few days later, strange happened.
He hadn’t eaten since the wreck.
In his booth, Graham was dazed from the transition of excruciating heat to arctic air conditioning and stared off into space for what he felt was an inordinate amount of time. He may have even dozed off for a second.
Unconsciously, he thumbed a menu although he wasn’t hungry. All he needed was some black coffee to counteract the alcohol that was still swimming in his belly from the prior evening. He was distracted by a fly that landed in a spot of dried up miscellaneous liquid, something with sugar in it. He blew at it, sending it skyward. It buzzed about for a few seconds before returning to the sticky stain.
He continued to flip the laminated pages of the menu, breakfast … lunch … dinner.
Breakfast … lunch … dinner.
Nothing appetizing, nothing had any color. Nothing had any flavor. He couldn’t even smell any food. Not the greasy, yet appealing smell he remembered from only a few days prior. It was just blank. His life was blank since the accident. The only thing he could do was drink booze to dull his senses into a troubled sleep. That mixed with the pain pills he’d gotten from the hospital worked quickly. In the mornings he had taken to guzzling coffee until his heart played a drum solo. He reasoned it was as close to living as he was capable.
Graham dropped the menu out of lack of interest and the flopping sound it made when it snapped on the linoleum tabletop didn’t faze him. The ketchup bottle didn’t faze him, nor did the salt and pepper shakers, sugar packets or that little cardboard stand-up that advertised the daily specials. His eyes focused somewhere in the distance, not on any object, but on a point in space where nothing existed. That point was familiar to him and seemed the only place he felt comfortable.
Something in between his safe point and his eyeballs disturbed him. Something was there. Someone was staring back.
Graham blinked once or twice to take back control of his vision. What he focused on was a person sitting three tables away: A large man who sported a beard and longer hair that was brown and unkempt. His tattoos and black t-shirt suggested biker and a quick glance outside at the Harley parked by the entrance confirmed the fact. He wasn’t doing anything. Not eating, not drinking, not speaking. Just staring. The expression on his face was blank, much the way Graham felt. Blank, focused on nothing.
For a moment, Graham wondered if maybe, just maybe this biker was hurting in the same way. Maybe he had suffered a horrible loss and by some cosmic strangeness, ended up in the same diner for lousy, black coffee. Then he got angry. That was his moment and his story and no one was going to take it away. He’d lost enough that week. He shifted in his seat and scowled to let Harley-man know he’d been caught staring and hoped he would look down at whatever was on his table. Harley-man stared and didn’t flinch. Graham cooled his fury and looked out the window. He would give it a moment.
The dust on the blinds was thick; grease lay on the sill along with several distant relatives of the fly from his table. Their lives were spent. No cars passed by in the early morning and other than a hot breeze through the blistering August day, the world was still. In his mind he saw flashes of the party, heard blurbs of conversation, drink after drink after glorious drink. Then he saw Cassie. His beautiful Cassie asked him not to drive. She even tried to call a cab, but Graham had assured her there was no need. It was only eight or ten blocks to their apartment.
His joy at seeing her again stopped as suddenly as the car when it struck the telephone pole. They decelerated from forty miles per hour to zero in an instant, sending internal organs slamming into rib cages at forty miles per hour. Graham passed out. Cassie lurched in such a way that rendered the damn seatbelt almost useless and bounced her head off the passenger window. Glass had exploded onto the shoulder of the road as the rear of the vehicle raised into the air and then bounced on its tires. Then all the world went silent. He tasted metal in his mouth and smelled the odd scent of adrenaline laced sweat, alcohol, blood and gasoline. Those were the last tastes or smells he could remember so vividly.