The Fly on the Window
by Benjamin Batorsky
part 1 of 2
I’m writing this to you knowing full well that by the time you receive it, I will most likely be dead. This is not easy to write. Aside from the weakness that has gripped my body, the thought that the last words I will present to you will be inked by a machine is heartbreaking for me.
I remember the days when we used to write each other letters that we would fold up and pass to each other when time wouldn’t allow anything besides a brief touch of hands. I remember the gentle curves and slopes of your letters, each word written in a way I could imagine you saying it.
I remember spending time tracing the tilt of your L’s and the tight whorl of your e’s. All the little details were like gems, the treasures of your letters.
I can hear you scolding me for waxing nostalgic. And, as usual, you’re right. The tears these memories bring to me make this all the more difficult.
The reason I will let a computer hold my last words for you is that they are so urgent. I need you to read this letter, comprehend its message, and then destroy it. No other eyes should see it, lest their fate be the same as mine. And, though I hope to God not, yours.
I will begin a year ago, when I was still well enough to go to class, when my health was the least of my concerns. It was the beginning of a new semester and I was nervous, as you can remember.
The previous semester had almost been the end of my schooling. The dread of that hung over me all that summer and pushed me to read over my old papers, correcting them as though I could improve my grades retroactively. This new class in particular I was anxious about because it was an advanced literature course, and I had taken it out of necessity.
The class also proved difficult for me, as I knew none of my classmates. Though you’ve told me I’m good at making friends, I never thought so. Perhaps it was my ever-present worry during the class that kept me from making an effort.
It wasn’t until two weeks into the semester that I met Henry.
You met Henry once or twice before his illness. He was a slight man, neat brown hair, powerfully blue eyes and a tendency to wear sweater-vests even when the weather got warm. He was very bookish and an excellent study partner. He seemed to know as much about the material as the professor, if not more.
He did occasionally irritate me by always choosing to sit next to me and spending whatever time the professor was not present to talk my ear off about one or another book he was reading. He would drone on about each, describing even the tiniest detail and explaining how he could have written it better.
But the problem did not begin with Henry being talkative but rather when he suddenly stopped talking. I can recall the day with surprising clarity now. I suppose because I’ve revisited it so many times in my mind.
Henry came and took his usual seat next to me, and I prepared myself for another barrage about the latest volume he had read. Instead, he sat in contemplative silence, his blue eyes glassy, as though he hadn’t gotten much sleep. The look of him shook me.
When I asked him if he was all right, he assured me there was no problem, that he had simply had what he called “a ghastly dream”. Once jarred out of his thoughts, though, he loosened his tongue and began relating in explicit detail the contents of a story he had just read about a doctor who tried to raise the dead. This return to normal relaxed me somewhat.
After class, Henry hurried after me, cornering me so he could describe the details of the dream. His eyes burned blue with an almost manic excitement, as if he was relaying the plot of a particularly compelling book. I remember his face now, not as it was, but with its expressions distorted and playing back to me with grotesque slowness. Like a knife-wound victim replaying the scene of the attack.
He was looking out through a window screen for no reason he could understand. Outside was a haze of what Henry described as “amorphous shades” of buildings and trees. Then, out of the corner of the window, a fly began to creep slowly across the screen.
With his hand, he mimicked the small motions of the fly. At first he simply watched the fly. Then, he found he could focus on little else besides. At this point, Henry dropped his hand and began to stare, wide-eyed, at a spot some distance from us. He explained how the fly had become all he could see. It was, he said, as if all his senses were filled by it.
He went quiet for a moment. His eyes swung like pendulums back to me. “And then,” he whispered, “there was someone behind me”.
If this dream seems familiar, Anette, it is because I have described it before.
The next class, Henry looked more tired. It was harder for me to get his attention and he shook off my concern by explaining that he had been having “unsound slumbers”. I asked him whether he had had the dream again, but he did not reply.
A few more classes passed like this, with Henry appearing more and more perturbed every time I saw him. Our conversations shortened into one-word greetings as Henry stared fixedly at his desk. It wasn’t until one class where I saw him sit on the opposite side of the room from the window that I began to grow genuinely concerned. You’ve scolded me before for being nosy. I wish to God I had listened to you.
I stopped Henry in the hall after class, almost making him drop his books when I touched him on the shoulder. He drew sharply away and murmured an apology. There was an unusual meekness in his manner. He did not meet my eyes and he looked thinner and paler than before. I asked him, as gently as I could, what was wrong.
After some hesitation, he looked me in the eyes. The blue of them was starkly bright against the sickly pale of his skin. There were heavy bags under them. They seemed to be looking through me as he told me that I was right, that he had been having that dream again.
Only this time, he said, the person in the room had attacked him.
Every night he had had the dream, and each night he could feel the person drawing closer. Finally, he had felt the person’s breath on his neck and he had forced himself to wake up. The next night the dream had come again and this time the person made contact.
At this point he stopped and gripped the upper part of his arm. He looked quickly away and shook his head. “It is merely a fantasy,” he said quickly before hurrying down the hall. As he turned, I noticed a hint of a deep purple bruise on the back of his neck just above the line of his shirt.
Dearest, I have always had trouble being at ease when others are being tormented. I remember how heartbroken you were when your father died. The entire week that you were gone for the funeral, I did not sleep a wink. I kept remembering you crying the day I dropped you off at the airport and I could not put my head down without feeling guilty.
This was how it was with the image of Henry with his pale skin and hollow eyes. It kept me awake some nights. You will not remember this troubled time; you were busy with student council activities that week and I did not wish to burden you with my problems. Though I now wish I’d had you by my side, then. I did not know how little time I had left.
Finally, the only way I could console myself was by resolving that the next time I saw Henry I would insist he come with me to the counselor. This plan of action firm in my mind, I arrived in class and watched the door, anticipating his entrance at any moment.
But Henry never came.
I could see his empty seat next to me out of the corner of my eye. Every time I turned I felt a slow creeping chill that rolled over my stomach and made it difficult to concentrate on the lecture. I stopped myself from asking the professor about Henry’s absence, not wanting to create any sort of situation that might get Henry in trouble. I decided that Henry’s absence was a singular event, and he would most certainly be at the next class.
The next class came and went without any sign of Henry. As did the next. At the end of the third class, I felt I had to speak to the professor. Much to my dismay, the professor had heard nothing to excuse Henry’s absences. He added, with obvious disappointment, that one more absence and Henry would be dropped from the class.
At this point it became my responsibility to contact Henry. If I were to just ignore his situation, what could have been a simple illness would jeopardize his standing in school. I don’t need to tell you, Anette, that allowing that to happen is just not in my nature.
I had walked with Henry back to his dorm once or twice, so I knew where it was located. From there, it was just a matter of asking a few residents where his room was before I was standing in front of his door. Faintly, I could smell something, something I could not place but did nothing to lift the chill from me. It was acrid and bit at my nostrils, as if warning me against entry. I always felt that my gut feelings tend to be correct. But standing at his door, for Henry’s sake, I knocked.
There came a raspy reply whose meaning was lost against the heavy wood of the door. I tried the knob and found it unlocked. Slowly, I pushed the door open, peering in the room with my heart thudding loudly in my chest.
The room was like any other dorm room, except cluttered with a litter of books and papers, the shelves built into the walls overflowing with dog-eared volumes. The blinds had been drawn on the window, letting only a narrow shaft of light in to the room.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about it, save for the smell. It smelled like decay, thick and heavy as though I had disturbed the door of some ancient tomb. And what was worse was what lay amid a tangle of sheets at the far side of the room. It froze my blood in my veins. Anette, I tell you, it is an image that still reveals itself whenever I close my eyes.
There lay Henry in a pair of stained underwear sprawled out, his ribs jutting out like fangs from beneath the almost translucent white-gray of his skin. All over his body were marks as if he had been tearing at his flesh. Some of the marks were inflamed, outlined by deep, jagged bruises. His eyes were wide, the blue of them cutting violently through me.
“Help me,” he gasped, reaching feebly with one filthy hand towards me.
Copyright © 2010 by Benjamin Batorsky