Them Flies

“A metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It may provide clarity or identify hidden similarities between two different ideas.”

Way back in college, I had to take a speech class. Never figuring I’d need it since I was pursuing a degree in architecture, I staggered in and out of each class without much caring what my grade would be. In fact, I took a D and was glad to get it, but one interesting assignment was to write and present a persuasive speech.

As I recall, the idea caused much consternation among some of the other students, but I didn’t care, because all I wanted to do was complete the assignment and get out of there.

One of my fellow students wrote a gut-wrenching plea to end war, because he’d just lost his brother in Viet Nam. But he didn’t write about war, he wrote a metaphor about something entirely different that we absorbed in wonder. We knew what he was talking about, but the idea hit us from a different angle.

My professor ended the day by saying, “When writing, there are times we need to make people think, instead of slamming them with the facts as we, the author, see them. A writer or speaker is charged with making people think, and to elicit an emotional response.”

Way back when I was first published, I’d use what my old man called “three-dollar-words,” designed to force readers to a thesaurus. What a stupid idea. It wasn’t my job to expand my reader’s vocabulary. It was to inform, but mostly to entertain.

However, there were times I couldn’t write what I wanted, so I found an alternate way to make a point through the use of a metaphor…

There’s a wonderful children’s book titled, A Fly Went By, by Michael McClintock and edited by the one and only Dr. Seuss. I read the story to both of my girls when they were very young. Now my grandchildren love the rhyming story that focuses on misplaced perception and unknown fears that continues to build throughout the story until the source of all that fear is rooted out.

In a nutshell, a small boy is relaxing in a rowboat one find day, loving the outdoors and watching clouds pass overhead when a fearful fly buzzes past. It’s being chased by a frog, who is in turn being chased by a cat, who is chased by a dog, who is followed by a pig. By the end of the little book, an entire frightened menagerie passes, all trailed by a man who is frightened by a sheep who starts the whole thing by getting its hoof tangled in a bucket.

This cumulative tale is great for a variety of reasons, one of which is that we too often get caught up in whatever the Fear of the Day might be. In this book, the kids learn that instead of taking other people’s word for how bad something is, they should investigate and make informed decisions before the Boogy Man turns out to be their own fears.

It’s odd that I like the story, because it starts with a fly and I hate flies with an absurd passion. I have flyswatters in every room of the house, just in case one sneaks in and threatens my peaceful world. In the pantry, three more swatters wait for a killing.

A Bug-A-Salt gun on a shelf in the pantry. It’s a bright yellow plastic pump-action shotgun that blasts flies with table salt. We’ve salted a number of them, and plan to buy even more to eliminate the pests.

We do our best to keep the filthy insects out, with closed doors and screens, but as in many things in life, it isn’t if one gets in, but when.

For some reason they’re attracted to a great glass brick wall in our shower, and to keep from being defenseless there, I have a slightly rusted swatter within reach.

Sometimes you can’t enjoy the outdoors because of invasive flies. The first time we had a cookout here at the new house was on a late spring day, one perfect for eating out. We cooked burgers on the grill, and I noticed more than a few flies around the patties protected by plastic wrap.

There are always flies around, and we should be attentive at all times lest they contaminate our food with their filthy feet and repulsive mouthparts called the labellum and pseudotrachea.


As our delicious burgers patties sizzled, those nasty insects brought their kinfolk, until by the time we gathered the family and settled around the patio table to enjoy lunch, we were engulfed in a swam. Hundreds landed on everything so fast the kids couldn’t eat.

Waving them off was impossible, and with shrieks, gesticulations, and lots of adult curses (properly curbed for little ears), we gathered everything and retreated to the kitchen, only to be followed by bombing patrols that continued inside until we armed ourselves and launched a counter attack.

One flew into the Redhead’s mouth, (my oldest daughter) and a string of words that would have impressed a merchant seaman emerged. She spat it out and stomped the soft, tiny corpse until it was nothing but a stain.

As we all know, flies are sourced from some of the most revolting environments we can imagine. They come from the filth that attracts and breeds them, and bring their contamination to the rest of us who do everything we can to protect ourselves, and enjoy a maintained, well-ordered existance.

I’m convinced our neighbors who have seven big dogs were a significant source of the infestation, and I wondered if those good, well-intentioned folks ever cleaned up their own back yard. You shouldn’t foul your own nest, and that goes for letting feces remain in your yard for long periods of time, even though a soaking rain can melt it into the ground where it allegedly becomes beneficial fertilizer.

We keep our yard clean, despite deposits from Willie the Wonder-dog (read Shih Tzu here), and I patrol the yard with whatever utensils are necessary to keep our property clean and safe in all way.

We’re required to protect our houses from pests, and prevention works when done properly, but there are times we have to stop them before they get in. I have a pest control man who comes by a couple of times a year. His theory is, “keep them out of the house, before you have to kill ‘em inside.”

Some sympathetic individuals surely like flies and feel sorry for them in some bizarre way, but that’s not how my mind works.

I despise flies, but love A Fly Went By, and I bet you will, too. Read it to your little ones and enjoy this metaphor.

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About Reavis Wortham

Two time Spur Award winning author Reavis Z. Wortham pens the Texas Red River historical mystery series, and the high-octane Sonny Hawke contemporary western thrillers. His new Tucker Snow series begins in 2022. The Red River books are set in rural Northeast Texas in the 1960s. Kirkus Reviews listed his first novel in a Starred Review, The Rock Hole, as one of the “Top 12 Mysteries of 2011.” His Sonny Hawke series from Kensington Publishing features Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke and debuted in 2018 with Hawke’s Prey. Hawke’s War, the second in this series won the Spur Award from the Western Writers Association of America as the Best Mass Market Paperback of 2019. He also garnered a second Spur for Hawke’s Target in 2020. A frequent speaker at literary events across the country. Reavis also teaches seminars on mystery and thriller writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to writing conventions, to the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC. He frequently speaks to smaller groups, encouraging future authors, and offers dozens of tips for them to avoid the writing pitfalls and hazards he has survived. His most popular talk is entitled, My Road to Publication, and Other Great Disasters. He has been a newspaper columnist and magazine writer since 1988, penning over 2,000 columns and articles, and has been the Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game Magazine for the past 25 years. He and his wife, Shana, live in Northeast Texas. All his works are available at your favorite online bookstore or outlet, in all formats. Check out his website at “Burrows, Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “The cinematic characters have substance and a pulse. They walk off the page and talk Texas.” —The Dallas Morning News On his most recent Red River novel, Laying Bones: “Captivating. Wortham adroitly balances richly nuanced human drama with two-fisted action, and displays a knack for the striking phrase (‘R.B. was the best drunk driver in the county, and I don’t believe he run off in here on his own’). This entry is sure to win the author new fans.” —Publishers Weekly “Well-drawn characters and clever blending of light and dark kept this reader thinking of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” —Mystery Scene Magazine

8 thoughts on “Them Flies

  1. Mr. Wortham, you certainly evoked the I-Hate-Flies-Curses in my head this morning.

    But, more than that, way more than that, you gave me a picture of how the fears in my mind blossom and take to the wind, dropping their nasty little seeds as they go. Some of those fears are irrational, but some are real-and enough to ferdutzt the heck outta me. I had to look that up, btw, but I just like the way it rolls off the tongue.

    I remember reading The Fly Went By when I was a child. Now, after decades of living, it has a whole different meaning.

    Happy Weekending!

    • Sorry to be late in responding. I was traveling all day yesterday. Im glad I sparked those thoughts with this little ditty but was my hope that each reader would take away something different. Looks like it worked! Thanks for writing.

  2. Have a horse, then horseflies are thrown into the equation. Not fun, but far into my past. I see some varieties of pollen-eating flies in the garden, but almost never house flies. Hygiene and lots of birds pays off.

  3. I look forward to your posts. This one reminded me to finally order The Rock Hole, which I did this afternoon. Thanks.

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