Grasshopper Creek by Ross Peterson
by Ross Peterson
I can see it burn from where I sit in the tall grass. It’s been at least an hour since I spoke with the deerman, and the flies are gone. All gone. I think it’s worked. I think my troubles are over. I don’t know if I’ll see him again, but if I do, I’ll make sure to say: “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
My name’s Pete Wolff and, except for their money, I’ve no use for my fellow man. That’s why I keep myself isolated, why I live on Grasshopper Creek—in the middle of nowhere. Louis Briggs, at this particular moment, reminds me why. I don’t imagine I could tend bar on account of his type.
“Real good,” he says. “You make real good liquor, Mister Wolff. But I gotta tell ya about this batch I had back in—hell when was it? ’16? ’17? Might’a been ’19. I ain’t entirely sure when it was but—it don’t matter. You see this batch I’d drunk had . . . well it had just the right amount of sugar and pine, you understand? It was a real kick in the pants, you know?”
No, sir. I prefer the company of mule deers hopping through brush on my acreage.
I say to Briggs: “Louie, buddy, it’s getting late and I got an early morning. You say hi to Mable for me, okay?” Mable is Louis’s wife and second cousin. They live up the road from me, both regular customers.
“Oh, yes, well, she probably is a-wonderin’ now, ain’t she? Thank you—thank you very much, Mister Wolff. It sure has been a pleasure. And if I think of it I’ll—”
I’m behind the screen door, opening a jar of shine. I sigh, take a drink, thankful to hear Briggs mount his horse outside, although he’s still talking.
It’s the end of summer and I have this problem with flies. It’s been thirty days or more, easy. They get worse every day. They won’t let up. I suppose it’s like this every summer, though. Infestations. If it’s not the bees, it’s the mice. If it’s not the mice, well, I guess it’s the flies. I don’t think much of it, really, until . . . well . . . I’m in the kitchen, standing over the stove with a hamburger frying in the pan. I toss in a little salt, press down on it with a fork. Sizzling red juice rises and my mouth waters. You see I love hamburgers. But six—seven—eight of them swoop in towards the meat. “You lousy bastards,” I say, fetching my swatter off the hook. They’re all over the damn place, flying around. One lands by the stove and I smack the swatter down.
“Shit!” I say, missing it.
Then there’s a knock on the door.
“M-M-Mister Wolff, it’s me, Louis. Shore does smell good in there. Whatchya cookin’ up, buddy? Never mind that. You got anymore of what you sold me day before yesterday? Hair of the dog, don’t you know?”
“Hang on.” I let him in. “Yeah, you bet, Louie. I got more.” I swat at my face. “Damn flies.”
“Huh-huh,” he chuckles. “What flies, Mister Wolff? I—I don’t see no flies.”
“The hell you don’t. They’re all over the place. There’s one on your head now. On your shoulder, too.”
“No there ain’t.”
“There most certainly is. Look. They’re circlin’ ’round your boots, too.”
“I—I—don’t see nothin’ . . . Ah now, Mister Wolff . . . you been drinkin’.”
“No I ain’t!” I go to the stove to flip my burger steak. Twenty—thirty—of the little bastards swarm over it. “Get—get the hell out of here you damned flies!”
Briggs laughs. “I think you been.”
I turn around quick. “No! No, I ain’t, goddamnit! I ain’t been drinkin’. Not one drop, boy. Now you tell me—and you swear on the good book—tell me you don’t see no sonofabitchin’ flies!”
He looks frightened now, puzzled. “H-h-h-honest, Mister Wolff. I—I don’t see nothin’. Nothin’ at all.”
H-h-h-honest, Mister Wolff . . . I—I don’t see nothin’. Nothin’ at all . . .
I’m wandering around swatting at them. They get worse. It’s looking like a black storm cloud following me around there’s so damned many of them.
H-h-h-honest, Mister Wolff . . . I—I don’t see nothin’. Nothin’ at all . . .
As of late they’re having babies. You ever see maggots hatch? You ever see those slithering piles of slime and filth: disease-colored oranges, yellows, grays? Hundreds of thousands of the little spawn, squirming as one in every damn corner of my cabin: on my table, on my stove, in my bathtub. I stomp out one pile just as soon as I see another. And everywhere I walk I’m in a haze of their mothers and fathers. BZZZZZ BZZZZZ BZZZZZ BZZZZZ BZZZZZZ BZZZZZZ: it’s all I hear.
Infestations. I remember one time when—it’d been before my father passed—we had these wasps that’d found a home inside the walls of our kitchen. We still lived in town then. It was before Father died and Mother bought the farm. We were all sitting around the table, having the pork supper my mother’d prepared. It’d been a Sunday. I remember because my father was hounding us—my brother and me—about what we’d learned at church that day.
“And what . . . what was it Hannah and Habakkuk was praying for, huh, boys?”
We could barely hear him, what with all the wasps buzzing and hitting up against the insides of our walls.
“Bees gonna take away all our postage stamps,” my mother said.
“Was it bodies without organs?” my brother said.
“Nope. Wasn’t bodies without organs. Come on now. You boys pay better attention than that to Reverend Breath, don’t ya? Don’t ya?”
“Bees gonna take away all our pots for cooking.”
“I think it was something like getting spared from the tornado God was sending their way because they weren’t being—you know—proper enough Christians.”
My father buried his head in his hand and shook with disgust. “No! Boys . . .”
“Bees gonna take away my sewing supplies. Gonna take away all my butter and my things for churning. Bees gonna take away our knives and forks. How we gonna eat with no knives and forks I ask you!”
“Boys, I’m disappointed.”
“Bees gonna take away all our hats that keep the sun out of our faces for picnics.”
Then the walls burst. The wasps surged out of the wall, giving us all more than a few stings. We all screamed and ran outside.
Infestations. If it’s not the bees, it’s the mice. If it’s not the mice, well . . .
A stranger visits in the early evening.
I’m on the porch with my fly swatter and a half-empty jar of shine when he walks up. I say, “Evenin.’” He says nothing. I notice his eyes. They’re the eyes of, almost, well, one of the mule deers. I try not to stare but he’s got a mule deer nose, too. He’s wearing a hat, a fancy one, but I think he’s got some sawed off antlers under there. “Would you like a seat?” I say, gesturing at the other rocking chair on my porch.
He sits. The flies are thick but they leave this . . . deerman . . . alone. I offer him a drink. He doesn’t say anything. We both sit there in silence for a minute or two.
“Can I ask you a question?” I eventually say, batting at the flies.
He cocks his head, reaches up his hand to his mouth. Holy hell, I think, seeing his fingernails. They’re a grimy yellow, razor-sharp, and about three inches long. He uses one of them to pick at his teeth, which are a grimy yellow, razor-sharp, and about three inches long.
“Look, I’m not human,” the deerman finally says.
“You can say that again.”
“Our species has been observing you for some time.”
“You been watchin’ me?”
“Yes. We know about the flies.”
“We can help.”
“Look. There’s only way to make them leave: set fire to Louis Briggs’s cabin.”
“It’s the only way.”
“But—but—I can’t do that. Briggs is a regular cust—”
The stranger’s gone. He’s disappeared. And I sit there, stupefied.
Well now, I say to myself. Well, well, well, well, well. I’m going to have to think about this one. I am going to have to do some serious thinking indeed. Yes, sir. I’m going to have to mull this one over for a long time—you know, sleep a few nights on it. If this isn’t a dilemma and a half, I tell you what . . .
They’ve left, all right. One by one, until there’s just one still flying around. It lands on my hand and I stare down at it. Then I whack it against my skin so hard it feels like a brick getting dropped on there. The fly’s squashed. I flick it off my hand, and it lands in the grass. Briggs’s cabin sure is putting out the heat.
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright Ross Peterson 2014