"parasites" by cindi camponotus*
the morning is hot. perspiration covers the barren ground. gray clay blotched with umber and burnt sienna is sanded with quartz grains. algae adds random green and red accents. plants are small and sparse. it takes an ant like me several seconds to run from one to another, over and around dirt clods. i climb onto a daisy stem to look around. the sun shines green through my leaf shade. there are single clover plants. there are fuzzy rudbeckia dicots splashed with mud. there is a dried skeleton of mowed goose grass. blades of new bluestem and nut sedge emerge from the clay. the stage is bounded on three sides by an exposed tree root, a mulch pile, and a gravel road. at the edge of the mulch several russula mushrooms grow. the red caps are scored with slug chewings. a broken mushroom cap is hollowed out by maggots. the tree root weeps sap - licked by a butterfly and two hornets. a checkered skipper uncoils its proboscis and sucks moisture from a damp spot. a female red velvet-assed cow killer, aka dasymutilla occidentalis, runs across the scene searching frantically. i stay hidden least i fall victim to this termagant wasp.
holes the size of peas are scattered between plants one or two walking seconds apart. there are no excavation spoils surrounding these holes. they are naked. i see ten from my lookout.
i notice flies, lots of green-striped flies. the more i look, the more i see…dozens of them. they perch on plants and twigs close to the ground. their heads rotate as they watch with large black unblinking eyes. they are waiting…searching. they are flesh-eaters – from the sarcophagidae clan. one lands next to me.
a oxybelus wasp with pale yellow rings around her abdomen enters, dragging a paralyzed fly impaled on her stinger shish-kebab fashion. she hauls it across the stage toward one of the holes. she gesticulates her antennae. she moves to an adjacent hole. inspects it. she drags the fly in. she emerges a moment later and flies off.
my fly jumps up along with the others. they head for the wasp’s hole. a kerfuffle ensues – a buzzing ball of bickering dipterids. when it disperses, i see a single fly emerge from the hole. it returns to my daisy. other flies land on twigs and dirt clods. i am surrounded. they are checking me out with their wrap-around gangsta compound eyes. something seems sinister. my thorax hairs stand up. i need to find out what is going on here. i am not prepared for the story of disgusting depravity and deception i am about to hear.
the closest fly’s gimbled head oscillates. i ask, ‘hey sister, who are you and what gives with the dipterid kerfuffle question mark’
the fly fixes me with all seventeen thousand of her optical lenses and grumbles in a throaty russian accent, ‘i am michelle flynnovich, special agent of f.s.b. we wait for fresh corpse. toss egg on it. wasp knows nothing. no raising kids for us. no expense. no tuition. is free meal from stupid wasp. fly-babies hatch and eat whole corpse before wasp hatches. u.s. of a. is land of opportunity with sooo many stupid wasps digging holes and stocking with fresh corpses. is no crime. is no law from this. is capitalism. we kill you.’
i see where this gig is heading. i give the ‘tripod salute’ to alert the a.a.r.p. patrol parenthesis avian association for reciprocal protection close parenthesis. three legs in the air signals possible distress, while a tripod plus waving tarsi – the ‘thatcher’ – calls in a strike. i stall for time.
‘not so fast sister’, i growl trying to sound like the law, ‘you are talking to a 140-million-year veteran of intellectual evolution. all i see before me is a criminal band of sarco-phage-kleptocrats that toss their eggs on someone else’s corpse. and i bet you don’t pay your taxes either. what is this f.s.b. question mark’
a second fly pipes up from the other side. ‘f.s.b. is fly spy bureau. is training for spreading disinformation, diptheria and depression in u.s. of a.’
‘who are you’, i demand.
‘semion sarcophage mogilevich, head of f.s.b. in charge of active measures. we are the bratva gang of flesh flies, little black face. corpse borrowing is ok but child kidnapping is favorite. i train tachinid parasite mob from brighton beach. fly maggot lies in path of young caterpillar. maggot drills into caterpillar, eats from inside. caterpillar feeds maggot. maggot chews way out, becomes fly. caterpillar dies. very efficient. no cages for children. no expense. no pesky lawyers. everybody happy…except caterpillar. is genius kompromat measure.’
flycatchers appear in the bushes overhead mixed with nervous twitchy-tailed gnatcatchers. they hop from branch to branch nonchalantly pretending to glean. their nictitating eyes miss nothing of the scene below. the team is led by a great-crested flycatcher whose nom-de-guerre is tyrannus tyrannus.
i adopt a superior tone, ‘ok mister or mistress genius. you are spreading lies by flies, so where are the spies question mark’
semion sarcophage mogilevich insults me, ‘little black-face ignorant bug. you never hear of ‘fly-on-wall spy caper question mark.’ i invent. is genius. is called ‘kislyak capper’. white house fly travel to white house in kislyak pocket. spy flies out and sits on wall. listen to orange leader. orange leader travel to dear leader with fly in pocket. fly listen. orange leader meets supreme russia leader with fly in pocket. fly jumps to supreme leader pocket. white housefly travel back to f.s.b. for debrief by huge horsefly with bare thorax. now we kill you.
i get mad. ‘you touch me and i tell the i.r.s. about your unpaid taxes, your illegal money and your habit of sucking slimy scum from rotting carcasses’.
a highly aggravated semion sarcophage mogilevich shouts at me like i am some kind of foreigner, ‘little bow-legged ant, we flick fly fertilizer at i.r.s. morons. if i.r.s. fall from tree, is too stupid to land on ground. f.s.b has clean money. is coming by laundry bags. you investigate family business … now we really kill you.’
not wishing to press my luck to the lethal limit, i give the tripod and am in the middle of a tarsal thatcher when i hear the rising blurry ‘quee-eeep’ of tyrannus tyrannus. birds drop like bombs. wings beat as they level, lunge and gulp flies. flies zip and buzz. dust rises. chiton is crunched. fly juice splatters me. gnatcatchers’ high-pitched war-whoops, zeee-beee, zeee-beee trill above the chaos. phoebes hover above, plucking escapees from the air. i am batted off my leaf by a gnatcatcher as he pulls out of a dive and crunches a fly where i stood. it is close combat. i manage to hang on with one leg and by the time i climb back up it is all over. fly legs and wings litter the battlefield. heads with wrap-around eyes no longer oscillate and threaten. a few feathers float down. dust settles.
boss, the satisfaction i feel from this massive crunching of klepto-criminal necrophiles is diminished by the fact that there are so many kleptoparasites among us. never have so many flies been so bereft of so many empathy genes. it was an evolutionary disaster that resulted in a mob of flies that treats butterfly caterpillars as nothing more than crawling meat lockers for personal gain exclamation point. this would never happen in a eusocial ant community. with all your pernicious poisonous pesticides, is there anything you can do about this plague of flesh flies that will not destroy us all in the process question mark on further consideration, given your impotence and incompetence in dealing with parasites, maybe you should just look for the missing tax money.
factually reported and respectfully submitted as per agreement by
official holly point farm investigative reporter
* cindi is the pseudonym of Dr. Anthony Picardi, master naturalist. All of the science in this satire is factual. Dr. Picardi is the author of a book on mushrooms and several stories involving cindi, his alter ego.