Hello, Flash Friday!
Today’s prompt is by Mandy Wallace: It’s not really a fly. If you swat it, they’ll just fine you and send 2 more.
It was hot. The kind of hot that baked your skin and left you hot and sticky and crabby. Jumla sat in his designated seat behind the bar and waited for customers that never appeared. Flies buzzed around the bottles behind him, but he knew better than to swat at them.
It seemed he had sat in this cabana for years, decades even. Maybe he had. There was no way to tell time here, and he was doomed to serve out his sentence for at least five hundred more years. His future extended before him in an endless hot day that never brought the relief of a fresh rainstorm.
The voice startled Jumla, and he jerked around to see a man with white skin step into the minimal shade of the cabana. Jumla stared at him. He hadn’t seen another human in … how many years?
The man strode up to the bar and took a seat. “One Lime Rickey, please.”
Jumla continued to stare.
“You do serve that here, right? I was told the drinks are on the house.”
Slowly, Jumla forced himself to move into action. It had been so long since he’d mixed a drink, he wasn’t sure he would remember how. But it was like riding a bike, and he grabbed the bottles he needed and began to pour. His movements disturbed the flies, and they started darting around the bar.
The man waved at them in annoyance. “Awful hot day, isn’t it?”
Jumla froze, watching the man wave at the flies. What if he hit one?
“You got a fly swatter somewhere?” he asked.
Jumla swallowed hard. “No fly swatter. Won’t do any good, anyhow.” He handed the man his drink. “This won’t quench your thirst, either.”
The man quirked an eyebrow at Jumla. “How’s that? You put something funny in it?”
Jumla shook his head, his many braids swinging. “Not funny. Nothing funny about it.”
The man sipped at his drink, then his eyes got wide and he drained the whole glass in a long draught. He banged the glass back on the counter, gasping. “Another! Quickly, man.”
Jumla hesitated. “I told you. Won’t do any good. You’ll just make it worse.”
“I don’t care!” The man banged his palm on the counter.
“No!” Jumla practically leapt across the counter. He wanted to strangle the man.
The man lifted his hand to reveal a dead fly.
“What have you done?”
The man shrugged. “It’s just a fly. Get me that drink!”
Jumla shook his head so hard, the braids batted him in the face. He could already hear the drone of two more flies arriving to replace the dead one. “You don’t understand!”
The man was getting angry now. He began to go after the flies, ignoring Jumla’s cries of protest.
“I don’t see what’s so awful about killing flies!” His words were halting, coming between gasps as he clapped his hands together over fly after fly. Each time he killed one, two more showed up until soon the cabana was humming with their wings.
Jumla put his hands over his head, crying like a child. The droning, the buzzing. It was horrible. He hated it. He hated it!
After a moment, the man slumped across the counter, exhausted. “A drink!” he gasped. “I need a drink!”
Ducking to avoid the worst of the flies, Jumla grabbed a bottle of soda water and shoved it at the man. “Knock yourself out!” he cried angrily.
The man grabbed the bottle and guzzled it. When he was finished, his tongue fell out of his mouth as he panted like a dog.
“More,” he croaked. His voice sounded as though he had wandered the desert for a week.
“You can have it all!” Jumla tried to scuttle out from behind the counter, but the barrier stopped him. It always did.
The man reached for the drinks, but he couldn’t reach them. It seemed he had his own barrier.
Jumla’s laugh sounded hysterical over the buzzing of the flies. One landed on his arm, and his laughter turned to a shriek.
“I’ll find a bar somewhere else,” the man panted. He stood up, knocking over his glass, and tried to walk away, but didn’t get more than a step before he froze. “Why can’t I move?” His voice was full of panic. “I want to leave! Why can’t I leave?”
“You must serve your sentence!” Jumla screamed. “And now you have made mine so much worse!” He waved carefully at the flies, trying to scare them off without killing anymore.
“What, the flies?” The man made as if to swat another one.
Jumla glared at him. “If you do that, I will serve you every drink in this bar, and you will become a shriveled dehydrated shell before the end of your first day, doomed to suffer eternal thirst so vast the deepest ocean would not satisfy it!”
The man hesitated, clearly shaken by Jumla’s words. “So, what do we do now?”
“We wait for the flies to settle, and you sit quietly at the bar with an empty glass until your sentence is over.”
“How long will that take?”
Jumla watched a fly crawl up the man’s arm and suppressed a shudder. “Five hundred years, give or take fifty, but it will feel like eternity.”
The man inched back onto the barstool and picked up the glass he’d knocked over earlier. He stared down into it longingly. “Then I guess we’d better get started.”