Word went out that Joe was dead and that he’d bought it in the library. I didn’t want to believe it. Knew I wouldn’t until I’d seen the body with my own eyes. My girl begged me not to go, but being young, quick and dumb I ignored her concerns and took wing. I could handle myself and when the time came I would look Joe’s killer straight in the eye, that being the least I could do for him.
My people don’t kill one another so we don’t have any police, courts or prisons, but the absence of such things doesn’t mean I can’t speak on behalf of the dead. I’m not talking in spiritual terms; we don’t have any more use for that than we do rules of law.
So let me tell you about the departed. Joe was a through and through gent with a streak of generosity a mile wide. There wasn’t an open kitchen window or a lump of fresh excrement he wouldn’t tell you about, because the way Joe saw it, the world was rich enough for us all to have a share. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not some kind of liberal or socialist dreamer. Far as I’m concerned, a fly that doesn’t graft isn’t any fly at all. But there’s no point sitting on a mountain of food you couldn’t hope to eat in a hundred years and letting it go bad on account of the fact you were the one that found it. No point fighting over it either, there being plenty more where that came from.
I don’t want you to go away thinking Joe was some sort of saint. He had his flaws like the rest of us, particularly when it came to the ladies. Couldn’t get enough of them, as a consequence of which he had himself a regular brood of kids by a score of different mothers. That said I never saw him let down so much as one of those little maggots. If Joe wasn’t the best of us, he was far from the worst. Now Joe’s dead his kids will have to make their way in this crazy world without his guidance.
Now you have the background, let’s get on with the story.
Baked by the sun of an Indian summer, the tarmac outside the library sucked at my feet as I paused to settle my nerves. The librarian gave me an evil look as I flew through the automatic doors, then she went back to checking in books. A perverse silence hung in the air, the quiet afforded not to the dead but to readers of musty books and journals. Of course, humans have been killing one another since Cain put Abel in the ground, so there’s no reason think they’d act any different towards so-called “lower” species. To them it was only a little pest control, not even worthy of a raised eyebrow, but taking it on yourself to end a life, any life, is murder in my book.
Now maybe they’ve their own concerns. Let’s face it, who would know what goes on in those big empty heads of theirs? I reckon the problem with humans is they spend too much time thinking about what they have or don’t have and not enough time living in the now. Life, as Joe would no doubt testify, is short and cruel, so why waste time worrying about it. There I go again, offering opinions where their probably not wanted, talking about me when I should be talking about Joe. You’re right; I’ve put this off long enough, time to view the body.
Joe lay where he had fallen, below a south facing window. Being a little after midday, a beam of sunlight illuminated his broken body. The murder weapon, a rolled up newspaper, lay on the windowsill, the black of its print highlighted by the yellow smear of his guts. The irrefutable proof of Joe’s death settled in my stomach like a lead weight. My friend was dead and for all my earlier bravado I was powerless to do anything about it. As flies go I count myself among the toughest, but I’m still only a fly. Inadvertently spreading disease is about as much as a bluebottle can do.
Buzzing my frustration, I flitted up to the ceiling and surveyed the room. The librarian’s stamp clicked away as she checked out books to a wizened old woman. Was this blue-rinsed Methuselah the killer? The arthritic talon of her hand convinced me otherwise. A stronger, more limber arm had dealt the murderous blow. Perhaps the librarian herself was guilty. What darkness lurked beneath that cheerful exterior? More than one killer has hidden behind the mask of quiet respectability. Her travels round the aisles would have afforded ample opportunity to squash the life from Joe. Worth watching, I decided.
Turning from the desk, my multifaceted eyes lit on an acne-scarred youth. Flakes of dandruff spotted the shoulders of his shirt. Deep-set eyes and a vicious slash of a mouth completed his mean appearance, but if an unfortunate face were taken as proof of guilt then half, if not all, the human race should be locked up. I needed some further evidence. The desk he sat at was closest to the window with a rack of newspapers conveniently adjacent. A blank space confirmed my suspicion that this was the source of the murder weapon. The spotted youth, who stared so fixedly at the contents of some social networking page, possessed both means and opportunity. All I needed to discover now was the motive.
Confident as I was, a good detective reviews all the facts before drawing any conclusions. I could go head to head with this sorry specimen, push him right to the edge, but would such a tactic reveal the truth? Was I guilty of making the evidence fit the facts I wanted to believe in? Needing a safe heaven in which to think things through, I took myself to the window and hid behind the slats of the venetian blinds.
The library, being a public place, it was possible that Joe’s killer had already come and gone in the same fashion as the old woman I’d already eliminated from my enquiries. Much as I wanted to ignore this conclusion I couldn’t dismiss it, but to accept it would be to admit defeat, something I wasn’t ready for yet. I would put the youth and the librarian to the test. If both passed, well and good, I would give up my search for the killer.
The librarian was first. Summoning up my loudest and most irritating buzz, I settled on the counter. When she took no notice, I crawled up on to the spines of the pile of books beside her and made my way to the top of their literary summit. The librarian reached over and lifted the first book. Our eyes met and I prepared myself to spring to safety.
‘Away with you fly.’
She shook the book gently and I took the hint, flitting up to the ceiling and the harsh glow of the fluorescent lights. For all her distaste, she had no real hatred, so I pronounced her innocent and moved on to my prime suspect.
He turned at the sound of my first buzz and his lumpen features took on a look of antagonistic spite. Needing to be absolute, I alighted on top of his monitor and waited. Sure enough, his hand crept across the desk until it encountered a magazine. I ignored the folding of its pages and the slow drawing back of his arm. A cold smile twitched the killer’s lips as he prepared to strike. Warned by the sudden displacement of air, I launched myself skyward, leaving the magazine to strike harmlessly against the screen. The librarian’s disapproving shush followed the smack of the magazine like an echo, but held no interest for me. I had looked into the eyes of Joe’s killer and beheld the unthinking and unseeing hatred that lived inside. There was nothing more for me here.
It felt good to be outside again, to feel the heat of the sun on my wings and air around me. But how was I to take my revenge? Would I call an army of flies to follow his every step until they drove him into the depths of madness? It was a difficult if not impossible challenge. I seemed the one most likely to be driven insane, or would have been if at that crucial moment I hadn’t spotted a dog doing its business on the grass. The owner called it to heel and as they walked away I knew happy times were here again, because when all was said and done I was only a fly and this is what Joe would’ve wanted.
Raised and educated in what he describes as a town of narrow streets and even narrower minds, Leon Steelgrave was afforded plenty of opportunity to hone his acerbic wit. If he never looked back, he certainly spent a lot of time looking inward, a practice that has stood him in good stead, not least in his writing career.
White Vampyre, his first work of fiction, was originally published as a Print On Demand paperback by Booklocker.com in the USA in 2003. Out of print for a number of years, he recently issued a revised version via Kindle Direct Publishing. Two sequels are currently in preparation along with a police procedural, A Pauper’s Shroud, and a collection of early short stories.