It was on a crystal-clear morning, sunny and warm with only the hint of an early chill, that Bruce was awakened. His siblings had apparently been up for a while and were a little ways off, nibbling on remnants of old venison. It had been their only source of food for some time, though it wasn’t anything to be disappointed about. Nourishment couldn’t have come in much of a better form than this, and while he never complained, there wasn’t anyone to complain to even if he wanted. His existence didn’t afford him such luxuries, and, in truth, it wasn’t particularly necessary. After all, Bruce was a fly.

Bruce was but one in 87 flies, smartly laid by his mother deep within the warm carcass of a deer which had recently been hit by a semi-truck on the highway. Out of the original 87 eggs, only 62 hatched, and out of those 62, only 23 of them completed the metamorphosis from maggot to fly. Bruce vaguely remembered the journey from the guts of the deer to the surface, though he recalled the light had been nearly blinding. However, within the first few days in his encasement as a pupa, he’d become accustomed to it, and since his emergence, he couldn’t help but stare at the big, blue sky above them. Never in his life had he ever seen anything so spectacular, and the reality that his life hadn’t been particularly long in the first place was a detail of little relevance to him.

No one else seemed to notice and, in fact, did not generally seem to see or even think about anything beyond the carcass whatsoever. His brothers and sisters zipped around mindlessly, and any time he tried to tell them about anything that he considered amazing, they simply stared at him and said, “Buzzzzzzzz.”

With such an isolating difference between him and the rest of his family, Bruce spent an ever-increasing amount of time by himself. This didn’t bother him, however, as he had become fond of strolls at twilight along the exposed ribs of the deer. Bruce considered often how nice it would be to talk to someone about everything, though, and it was during one of these particular moments that Bruce first began to wonder why he was different.

He looked like the rest of them, ate the same food, slept the same way—more or less. There was no doubt that he was indeed a fly. Yet, Bruce did not feel like a fly, or whatever he imagined a fly should feel like. No one else cared about the great vastness above them. He was the only one who seemed effected by the vision of swaying tree branches in a breeze, the bright variances of color as the sun rose, its comforting warmth in the day, and its stunning brilliance at sunset. Even as he was sleeping, Bruce would see and feel these things, sometimes things he’d never felt or seen, and would wake with his heart racing euphorically before falling into despair upon realization of the truth.

It was after waking from just such a sleep and to such a feeling that he began his morning stroll earlier than usual, the sky still black and sparkling above, a full moon glowing. He walked along the bone until he’d come out into the light of the moon. As he moved past several droplets of dew, he noticed a shadow at his side, though more than simply a shadow. Bruce, at first thinking that perhaps one of his siblings had woken early as well, turned to see that this was not the case as he had come face to face with his own reflection.

This was not apparent to Bruce, however, and he wondered how many times he had been in that same spot before and not seen this strange aberration, a fly trapped within the water. It watched him as he watched it, and Bruce spoke first with mounting excitement.

“Hello, there,” Bruce greeted with a wave. “Are you on a stroll, as well?” The fly appeared to be trying to speak and wave also, yet Bruce heard nothing. “I couldn’t sleep,” he continued. “So, I came out to enjoy the night sky. Do you like the sky, too?” He spoke louder, and the fly in the water appeared more excited as well, but there was still no sound. “Can you hear me?” Bruce asked. “I say, can you hear me?” The fly appeared to be fairing all right there in the water, though apparently growing agitated as Bruce could not understand what the fly was trying to say. Presently, the fly became forlorn, and collapsed before him in defeat. “I’m sorry,” he said sadly.

It seemed only a moment later that the sun was up and the dew almost evaporated. A breeze tickled at Bruce’s wings, and they fluttered lightly. The fly’s wings in the water were hardly visible, but they, too, fluttered. Bruce adjusted his wings. The fly in the water adjusted his wings. One of Bruce’s siblings droned by. A second fly in the water suddenly droned by the first.

There was no doubt that he was indeed a fly. Yet, Bruce did not feel like a fly, or whatever he imagined a fly should feel like.

It is widely considered that, in all individual existence, it is the first moment of self-awareness which sets the course of everything to follow. That it creates a defining point of origin for the path of life and presents the possibility of extraordinary things. It is, for most, a pleasant thought. For Bruce, however, this awakening was something else altogether. In one microscopic moment, a fly named Bruce suddenly realized that he was both of the world, and apart from the world. He realized that he could do everything or nothing. His life was his to make whatever he wished it to be. Such a realization might seem invigorating, but to a fly, who—if lucky—lives but a matter of weeks, was earth-shattering. It had been one part genetics, two parts luck that he’d survived as long as he had. Already, half of his siblings who’d fully developed were dead. How could he ever do all he was capable of or experience all there was to be experienced with such a short and fragile life?

Bruce retreated into the carcass, trembling with fright at this sudden revelation. He was determined to keep himself alive at all costs and located an untouched section of intestine to hermitize himself. He would only come out for food when absolutely necessary, and what food he did get, he would ration. He could think of little else he might need, and before midday, he’d disappeared deep into the decaying animal. There Bruce stayed, and while at first he struggled with the lack of light, he didn’t find it all too bad of a place. There was nothing more to worry about. He had everything he would ever need, and now, all the time in the world to have it.

But Bruce did worry. At first, he worried about the food running out and so stockpiled it, restricting his ability to move, but when he dreamed, he dreamed of limitless space. After that, he worried about his stockpile being discovered and so blocked the entrance into his hideaway, isolating him more than he’d ever been, but when he dreamed, he dreamed of all the friends a fly could have. Pretty soon, Bruce’s own waste began to build up. This wasn’t so bad at first. After all, he was a fly, but it wasn’t long before he could hardly recognize his waste from his food. He quickly convinced himself that it was all edible, but when he dreamed, he dreamed of unattended picnics. He would live, Bruce thought, and that was all that mattered.

Then one day, as he dreamed of space, friends, and picnics, a rumbling erupted all around him, and his lair began to shake violently. The booming and the jostling sent Bruce into a panic, and, certain he was going to die, he cried out in anguished fury at the world that had it out for him and all his kind. No matter what he had done, his life was over, and all the things he had dreamed of doing were to never come to pass.

What Bruce was unaware of—by no fault of his own—was that the carcass of the deer which had been his only home was being cleared from the highway. As it was tossed into the bed of a truck, the very place where Bruce had made himself a sanctuary was torn in apart. The daylight burst in upon Bruce. The sweet, fresh air poured over his wings which had become caked with his own excrement and incapable of flight. His body landed somewhere foreign to him, and even the sky which has always been blue, was now gray and menacing. As little drops of rain began to land around Bruce, he lay, waiting to die.

In his defeat, Bruce no longer felt the desire for anything. He didn’t care about the sky. What did it care of him? He didn’t care about the trees or it’s swaying branches, or all the things he knew exist but would never experience. It wasn’t there for him. It never had been. Turning his face away from the clouds, he looked over where drops of rain were collecting, and in them he saw his reflection, the fly in the water.

Bruce waved feebly to the fly. The fly waved feebly back. The fly smiled weakly at Bruce. Bruce smiled weakly back. And they both said to each other, “This is all your fault.”


OTHER SHORT STORIES
BY STEPHEN DANIEL RUIZ

Enter: OBLIVION

Studies In gray.

THE SALESMAN

Richie Mullins was full of shit. Everyone knew it, but no one more than Lars, and no one in quite the same way as Lars. After all, he had been following Richie Mullins for weeks, tracking his movements, his patterns, his leads. Lars had even lost potential clients because of his investigating. It didn’t matter, though. With so much at stake, it was justifiable. The truth had to be known, and Lars would be the one to reveal it for all to see. Richie Mullins- in  front of the executives of the company, the district and regional management, the headquarters administration, in front of everyone- would be exposed and humiliated, and with any luck, fired. That company-wide number one sales award would be Lars’ once again. Lars smiled as he sipped his champagne, pleased with himself.

It wasn’t that Lars was interested in being number one, it’s just that he wasn’t interested in being anything other than number one. To be cheated out of it, however, that was a different situation altogether. He’d established that personal precedent long ago and could not allow it to be broken. If he were to allow Richie Mullins to cheat him out of being the best, then what about the next Joe Blow that came along? Pretty soon, the whole world would be walking all over him starting with everyone in that dining hall, and the name Lars Jefferson would forever be synonymous with ‘schmuck’. Was he to sit idly by and let this happen? No, because Lars Jefferson was a salesman.

Even then while he’d been watching Richie Mullins from his rental car- which he’d obtained for the purpose of remaining clandestine- Lars had considered that perhaps everyone might think he had gone off the deep end.  Of course, this was ridiculous, and he’d laughed out loud. Once the evidence was laid bare, Lars knew they’d realize that he was steadfastly committed to the company, and, therefore, deserving of a raise and promotion at the very least.

   Lars had prepared his presentation meticulously, dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’. His arsenal of evidence included two graphs, an interactive outline, photocopies of official documents signed and dated, and even high definition images taken by the eyewitness himself. It was all there. Sure, they’d think he’s crazy at first, but once he got started, they’d see. They’d know. They’d toast him. They’d applaud him. They’d cheer him. His photograph would return to its rightful place in the “Employee of the Year” frame- in addition to Employee of the Month. Life would return to the way it had always been. It would all be right again.

Lars had worked hard- better yet- he’d slaved away for years to learn the trade, studied all the ins and outs, mastered the tricks, memorized the scripts. His most prized possessions were the seven ties he’d sacrificed to tie-cutting ceremonies. Being a salesman was more than just getting people to buy things. Anyone could sell. Computer programs could sell. Some talented salespeople could even sell things that people don’t need. However, when it came down to Lars, it was an art. He could walk into a stranger’s home, no appointment necessary, present an item they’d never heard of much less needed, and be willingly given their money, and lots of it. There was a psychology to this kind of transaction, one that he had long mastered. He could sell a telescope to a blind man. Lars knew this because he had.

It wasn’t that Lars was interested in being number one, it’s just that he wasn’t interested in being anything other than number one.

   Lars lived for sales, and he was convinced at this point in his life that it was simply in his blood. After all, his father had been in sales, his father’s father had been in sales, and his aunt had been a hooker, which is kind of like being in sales. It had been sales that gave him a purpose. It had been sales that had kept him moving even when his wife took the children and left, even through the mornings he didn’t think he could get out of bed, and the nights before when he didn’t think he could go to bed. Sales had kept him alive, and all was well.

   Then they hired Richie Mullins, and the world rolled over. He was a slick, young guy with a straight, bright smile, and a way of making everything he said sound like he’d just read it off a billboard somewhere. Lars was certain the kid was a phony, though he wasn’t foolish enough to believe that there was any other kind of salesman. Richie Mullins convinced people he actually cared about them, though. He fed them line after empathetic line, deceptively leveling the field, removing the jacket and tie, so to speak, and Lars found it disgusting. He’d seen it on Richie Mullins’ first day. Of course, management tasked Lars to show the new kid the ropes since he was the best there was. The very first stop they made, Richie Mullins threw the whole playbook out the goddamn window. The script? What script? The demonstration model? To hell with the models. Lars couldn’t respect anyone who didn’t have respect for the rules, and if the rules say to do this and that, then you did this and that and in the specified order. It was sales. People expected to be sold to, and anyone who defied that was dangerous. It broke the salesman-customer bond of understanding, and Lars almost spat right there just thinking about it.

   Lars did not spit, however, because at that exact moment, he heard his cue. The president of the company was at the podium, looking out over them like Christ himself preaching to his disciples on the mount. There were at least two hundred of them, pressed and dressed, full of catered chicken, pork, or fish depending on how you responded to the email a month prior, sipping their single glass of champagne slowly to make it last. The president had been going on about the quarterly breakdown and how proud he was of each and every person there, that without them, the company simply wouldn’t be. Without them, he wouldn’t be so stinking rich. His employees laughed zealously. Lars’ blood pressure began to rise with anticipation. He breathed deeply to keep his heart from racing beyond control. A few minutes later, five salespeople stood beside the president who was instructing them to give it up for Richie Mullins, the company’s MVP of the year.

   Lars knew this was it. Richie Mullins’ career was about to be flushed down the toilet, and Lars was at the lever. He would wait for the right moment to jump up and object. There would be a dramatic gasp across the room as he strode to the stage. The president would ask him what the meaning of this was. Lars would take the podium, lean into the microphone, and tell the truth about Richie Mullins. Richie Mullins, the phony. Richie Mullins, the deceiver.

   Lars Jefferson did just that. He jumped up and shouted his objection just as the president was about to hand Richie Mullins the award trophy. The audience gasped. He approached the stage with long, confident strides. The president, bewildered, demanded to know what the meaning of all this was. Lars leaned into the microphone and told everyone the truth about Richie Mullins the phony, Rich Mullins the deceiver. He pressed the button in his pocket, and his presentation illuminated the white wall behind them. He showed them his two graphs, the interactive outline, all the photocopies of official documents signed and dated, and each high definition image taken by him, the eyewitness.

   When he stopped speaking, Lars stood before a silent audience, eyes all wide and in varying degrees of shock and amusement. From an unknown corner of the room, a pair of hands began to clap. Then another. And another. The room erupted in great ovation. Richie Mullins shrank away, exposed and humiliated. The president beamed at Lars, before silencing the crowd to tell them how evident it was that Lars was steadfastly committed to the company, and, therefore, deserving of a raise and a promotion. The president asked how they ever could have been so blind.

One week later, as the sunset cast its vivid colors into his new corner office, Lars stood proudly surveying the view of his seven, cut ties which had been framed and mounted on his wall. He smiled contentedly, reminiscing over all the years of hard work that had brought him there. He’d sweat, bled, and cried for sales. There had been times of famine and times of plenty alike, but he’d marched right through it. Some may have even labeled it an addiction, but Lars knew it was love. Love of the chase. Love of the close, of looking into the eyes of the willing prey, navigating into their subconscious and extracting the “yes”. It was for the preservation of all this that Lars had gone to such lengths to vanquish Richie Mullins and preserve the integrity of the sale. It hadn’t been the first time, and, he considered, it might not be the last. No matter, he would do what had to be done. After all, wasn’t that why they’d promoted him to director of sales? Yes, because Lars Jefferson was a salesman.

   Lars, however, was not a director, and within a month’s time he was fired from the company, and he never made another sale again.


OTHER SHORT STORIES
BY STEPHEN DANIEL RUIZ

Enter: OBLIVION

Studies In gray.

THE SALESMAN