Some kids play video games when they are sick and can't go to school. Others watch movies. Or hang out in their rooms with their music on.
But when he was home from school with a three-day virus recently, my son, Cowboy, spent time catching flies. Not as in the cliché meaning sleeping with your mouth open, or practicing his baseball catching; he was literally catching flies. The kind with kaleidoscope eyes, that hover around old watermelon rinds in the heat of a summer picnic.
We never have the ugly creatures. And by never, I mean one to three inside the house every calendar year.
This sunny February day, at 1500 hours, I saw one buzzing around my bedroom. I thought it was a little strange. Then I noticed a second fly-by.
By the time I got to three sightings, I started swatting. Smack! The thing just stood there when I introduced him to his Maker, if, in fact, all flies go to heaven. Which I doubt because not once have I seen them do anything remotely resembling loving their neighbors or serving God. Self-serving, overgrown maggots.
One of them dropped to the floor. I was sure it was executing a Top Gun kind of maneuver, but instead it just sat there, unaware that the other shoe was about to drop. In a flash, his soul met my sole.
I decided to do a little reconnaissance mission. Where do they hang out? I saw no rotting fruit or dung piles in my bedroom.
The windows. I'd seen them before there, long ago.
I glanced at the two windows near the crime scene. Nothing. The enemy was hiding; I could feel it. I gingerly raised the window covering. There they were. Twenty-five, to be exact. And the count was just beginning. Obviously, I had merely skimmed "Thou shall not kill" in my Bible reading over the years. A slaughter ensued. My hands were lethal weapons, sometimes wielding mighty wads of toilet paper, sometimes paper towels. The intruders were quite lethargic, as if they'd been on a 3-day bender sucking down fermented fruit. I was terminating their Happy Hour frivolity on my watch.
Knowing his agility and rapid movements, I called out "Get 'em" to Cowboy. He caught one mid-flight and threw it in the garbage, like a piece of crumpled paper. Then another. And a third. I watched my son morph into the Karate Kid. Sometimes he would just slap them on the counter then clean things up. In spite of my instructions to use a paper towel for the slaying, he was too busy for such formalities. He killed them al fresco, barehanded. And he was laughing while doing it.
Gratefully disgusted, I paused the battle for a boring mini-lecture on the filthiness of flies and proper hand-washing after making a hit. He lathered up quite a while before rejoining the front line. When no more enemies could be seen, we again scrubbed our hands and took a break. War was hell.
I felt compelled to report the situation to our sergeant, my husband, Flash. I first engaged him in a little round of Jeopardy via texting.
"17 flies," I wrote to him.
"What did you kill today?"
“That is the correct response, for $200.”
Our R & R was over, and my ensuing updates to Flash were 25, then 48.
"Geez. Where are they coming from?"
Yeah, I'd been trying to figure that out, too. I had walked the outside perimeter of the house looking for infiltration sites. No clues.
"I don't know; they are big and drunk. Cleveland?"
It was time to rest up for Armageddon: Part 2, so Cowboy and I plopped down in front of the TV. The Next Karate Kid was on. He watched the same techniques he had mastered with no training.
In the next hour, the death toll reached 58. "It's been a bloodbath today," was my last update shortly before Flash rolled in from work.
"Something could be dead in the attic. Or in the wall." My husband is such a comfort in times of trouble. A carcass was lurking among us. Perhaps a bird? A squirrel? Jimmy Hoffa?
By nightfall, the casualties were 88. The only thing more bizarre than the situation was my compulsion to count them aloud as I smushed them.
The next day we picked up window strips and a shiny, towering, fly-trap thingy, designed to lure them to it. Both products were sticky, of course, so that when the flies walked or flew onto them, they would be stuck until they expired.
It seemed cruel and barbaric, even for an insect. Whack! I used a rolled up stack of advertisements that came in the mail that week to put one of them on the window death trap out of his misery. Of course, when I pulled my weapon back, a huge piece ripped off as it stuck to the strip. Unless the winged creatures are interested in the "Daily Deals" at Big Lots, the strip was rendered partially ineffective.
I glanced at the tower with several bodies attached to its cylinder and saw one twitching as if he were sticking his leg into an outlet or undergoing some kind of shock therapy; he was trying to pry himself loose. It was awful. I found myself praying, asking God that the flies be in spared from any pain. Finally, I could stand it no longer and grabbed a mountain of toilet paper. I slapped it on the tower, killing the fly but adding a white flag to the contraption.
Flash looked at me as if I'd lost my mind; I agreed with his thinking.
After a long day of fighting crime, I was worried my sleep might be destroyed by nightmares. I remembered Vincent Price’s “Help meeeee” in his rendition of The Fly. Would the dead cry out to me from beyond their sticky graves? I heard their buzz, buzz, buzzing all around me, like the beating of the Tell-Tale Heart. Finally sleep came, and a new day dawned. I knew they would be gone, returned to wherever flies come from.
The next morning, I opened my Bible study homework, The Armor of God, copyright © 2015 by Priscilla Shirer. Obviously, my battles with the bugs had affected my eyesight. I saw before me the author's story of a fly infestation. She and her family left for a trip, forgetting to dispose of fruit left out in a bowl on their kitchen table. They returned to an invasion of fruit flies, of epic proportions. To paraphrase, she pointed out that they had not been invited, but the rotting fruit created an environment conducive for them; then she made the analogy between that situation and the environment of our hearts.
As I made my way to my sink to brush my teeth, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. How could it be? They were so bold. I found 18 in two minutes. Where was that dead body that was drawing them? Ms. Shirer’s words echoed in my head. Environment. It was time for some non-chemical warfare. I used my concoction of essential oils to clean my bathroom counters, mirrors, tub, and faucets with diligence; everything sparkled. Flash thought body snatchers had taken his wife and replaced her with Suzy Homemaker.
Still, the brazen creatures came. In the midst of my efforts, they still advanced. I needed something stronger than myself. I thought about the places where they could most likely get into my home, then I drenched every single window sill, window frame, and baseboard. I had to make their potential entry places too treacherous for them to survive. If they could withstand cinnamon, they deserved to live with central air and heat.
I left the premises to think about something other than insects. When I returned later in the afternoon, there were no flies. All was quiet on the western window. I thought it was too good to be true, but when I repeatedly walked back into my room to check, in true obsessive fashion, the flies never returned.
I thought back to my Bible study that day, to the writer's own fly story. Sometimes the environment of my heart attracts things contrary to God’s will for me. Things that hinder me and even attack me spiritually.
I want to be more like my Karate Kid; I want to aggressively smash to smithereens those hideous things that often proliferate in my life. Smack! Envy is eliminated. Smack! Jealously bites the dust. Squish! Selfishness is stamped out. I’ve been praying more in the mornings these days, when I first wake up, before distractions come. And I’m reading and learning more about the provisions God has given me as His child. As I practice these battle skills, fear is replaced with courage, discouragement with hope, and confusion with clarity. As my heart becomes a holier environment, the things that hinder me are dropping like flies.