Flies gathered overhead. In the light of the moon, it reminded Delroy of the flies back on campus, their nightly gatherings above the street lamps dotting the campus green. They seemed to frenzied. So ravenous to get at the light. Why? What drew them to it? He was sure science had a ready-made explanation but he also knew it would never satisfy him. Why didn't flies spend all day flying toward the sun? How come they hadn't committed mass suicide in final failed flight to space?
There's something else, he thought. He moved his hands to the back of his head and made a pillow of his fingers. Maybe they were drawn to the sun, but evolution had bred it out of them. Too many had flown too high and frozen to death, or left the warmth of earth and froze mid-flight, falling to earth like dirty rain where they shattered against the rocks and trees. Maybe these little man-made fires, these ersatz suns, was the best they could, and in realizing that, it drove them insane every night. Flies never seemed crazy during the day. He'd met a few that seemed more cunning than most people he knew. He could swat people. And he had. But get a god damn fly in a room with a few places to hide and it would have you tearing your house apart looking for it.
Delroy's hand went to his pocket. Ever since he'd found it in the ruins, he couldn't keep himself from touching the key every few seconds, reassuring himself it was still there, still real. Something about it soothed him. Its weight and contours. It was real! So much more real than anything else in life felt. His entire life had been ripped away from him by people he would never meet, on a system of interconnected databases he would never touch, never truly understand, over a broadband wireless web of nothing. The key was real. He'd seen its like before. Understood it. Taking it from his pocket it brought it up to his face and smelled. Brass. He didn't know why that comforted him. Didn't understand why he smelled it in the first place. But it helped him. Running his fingers over it the way a child might stroke a favorite stuffed animal, he felt soothed. Without thinking he brought it to his mouth, brushed it against his lips, kissed it.
Something snapped in the woods behind him. The first thing he did--before arming himself, before moving out of the way, before, even, looking back--was to put the key back in his pocket where it was safe.
A second passed. Then another.
"Hello?" His voice come out in a hoarse whisper. Despite the cold mountain air, Delroy could feel sweat gathering on his brow, his neck. As he moved to better see the woods he could feel great beads of it cascading down his back.
"Hey." The intensity of his own voice both frightened and encouraged him. Despite his fear he was fighting back. In his own small way he was letting whatever was out there that he wouldn't back down. Not anymore.
"Hey!" Delroy shot up. He wouldn't take this, he decided. If something was out there, he'd stand up and meet it. No more running, no more waiting on hold hoping someone else would find the solution to his problems. No more bullshit.
Delroy whirled around. The sound was all around him now. Whatever it was, it was moving.
Delroy's head turned to the left. Whatever it is, he thought, it's moving fast.
No, there was more than one. Had to be. If it was moving this quickly he'd hear it. And besides...
How could it move so silently...
In between sounds....
Unless it wanted to be heard?
Delroy could feel the thing's hot breath on his neck. He spun around so hard he lost his footing and stumbled backwards. Something got his heel and before he knew it he was tumbling over a naked patch of rock. Pain shot through his shoulder and the back of his head. They had taken the brunt of the fall but already, as he somersaulted down, he could feel the ache pulsing, growing with each beat, reaching his back, his arm. It emanated until he could feel it in his jaw. By the time he came to a stop in the skeletal remains of a bush, his fingers were tingling.
I'm dying, he thought to himself. Heart attack. Just like Uncle Larry. Grandpa Steve. His dad.
Shuffling his feet, Delroy fought to stand up, to pull himself out of rigid branches, but his spirit outweighed his body and as quickly as he gained his feet, he lost them. The world spun and a wave of nausea overtook him.
Concussed, he thought, and as if in agreement, the ground came up to meet him.
Clarity. He had come to the valley to get away from his family. He'd known that, to some degree. Old friends, acquitanences, they'd never understand what he was trying to do by coming to school out here. He'd heard a lifetime of ridicule in the short two weeks between letting everyone know he was moving and the big day when he finally took off. In a way he had always used that as a shield. It wasn't his family, he was avoiding, it was everyone else. But that had been lie. Just as it had been a lie that he actually wanted to be an anaesthetis. Two years ago he couldn't tell you what that ways. Gun to his head, he would have said it was a made up word. Boom. Dead. Now he was a year into the program and gun or no, he still felt like someone had pulled the trigger.
A dull, ragged sound, like air being squeezed from a corpse. That's me, he realized. I'm making that sound. He moved his hand. It responded. Concussed, he said. But not paralyzed. Thank god for small miracles. He tried laughing but the pain in the back of his skull warned him against it.
Snaking his fingers downward, he traces a line down his leg until he found the bottle of water in his pant's pocket. Will I even be able to get the cap off?
Tugging on it, the bottle resisted. Caught on the thin fabric of his pants,