It was almost 2 a.m. and somehow Ray made it safely home from Ollie’s Pub after yet another night of heavy drinking. He got out of the car, grabbed his guitar case, and shuffled down the long, dark driveway that led to his place in the back of the house. He forgot to turn on the porch light before he left so he struggled trying unlock the door in the near pitch-black darkness. As he did so, he thought he heard a faint whirring sound coming from very close by. He stopped for moment to see where it was coming from, and then heard some rustling in the bushes behind him in the yard. He wheeled around and glared into the darkness but could only make out a few dim shapes of shrubs and trees. The yard bordered a large greenbelt zone, an area where homeless people sometimes setup little habitats.
He took a stab with his keys into the lock while looking over his shoulder at the same time. After a few seconds, the key slipped in and he turned it open. As soon as he got inside, he turned the porch light on, double locked the door, and adjusted the Venetian blinds closed.
He collapsed onto the couch. He already had a headache and his mouth was cotton-dry. He lost track of all the beers and gin and tonics he had at Ollie’s but figured it was worth it because at least it numbed the pain of his disappointing open-mic performance. He wanted to ditch the place right after that, but knew he couldn’t, especially with his musician friends there. No, he had to stay and put on a strong, brave face, which he did, fortified with booze, and not leave until at least the featured musician had finished.
It wasn’t that his performance was that bad. He didn’t flub any chords and he sang the words okay. It was just that it was so painfully meh. All the other musicians before and after him were so rocking and energetic by comparison, as evidenced by the crowd’s reaction both during and after their performances. There was little or no emotion from the audience when he was up there, and the smattering of applause afterwards was polite at best and mostly generated from a few friends at his table. He shouldn’t have expected anything else. After all, here he was, just past forty and trying to resurrect his humble musical career by doing stale and punch-less Dylanesque folk songs in front of such a young crowd.
He stumbled into the kitchen for another drink. The last one before he hit the sack. A soft thumping sound on the window of the kitchen door stopped him in his tracks, and then he saw a shadow pass across the window. “Huh? Who’s there?” he whispered, hoarsely. He stared at the window, which was illuminated by the porch light behind the venetian blinds. He didn’t see or hear anything after that and figured it was just his imagination and more than likely a function of being drunk.
He poured a double shot of vodka, added some fruit juice, gulped it down, and headed into the bedroom. Just before he dozed off, he heard that intermittent thumping sound again coming from the kitchen window, so he got up to investigate. As soon as he got there, he saw a shadow race across the door window again. “Shit,” he mumbled and then saw the shadow again, passing quickly the other way.
He picked up a steak knife from the counter and crept up to the door. He adjusted the blinds so that he could peek out onto the porch. The porch light exposed the patio furniture on one side of the deck, the potted plants along the edge and a group of chimes hanging from the low roof of the deck that tinkled softly in the breeze. Beyond the light of the porch, he could only see a few shrubs in the backyard bordering an old picket fence. Behind the fence was the greenbelt zone, where anyone could be lurking.
Suddenly, he saw a large dark shape pass across the porch light. Startled, he looked up. Then the shape passed across again, and again, darting madly around the light. At first, he thought it was a small bird, like a sparrow, with those wings flapping away so fast. But then he realized that it was a moth, probably the biggest one he’d ever seen, with a wingspan of several inches and a gross fat ugly body. He adjusted the blinds to get a better look. As soon as he did, the moth-thing slammed into the window with a gentle thump then stayed there for a moment, settled on the glass and just inches from his face. It was so close that he could clearly see its features: the brownish wings with dark spots, the antennas protruding from the head, and those little specks for eyes. Just then, it’s wings churned up again and the moth flew back into the porch light, flittering around the light for a while, before bumping lightly back into the window.
He watched the moth with growing fascination as it flittered back and forth between porch light and the window and began to imagine that each little thump against the glass was like a knock–in effect a plea–from the moth for him to open the door so that it could escape the deathly lure of that hot bright bulb.
After a while, he lost interest in the spectacle, turned off the light, and padded back to bed. With no source of light, he hoped the moth would fly away.
He tried sleep, but the image of that close-up image moth on the windowpane was still vivid in his mind. He tried to recall all the things he knew about them: as precursors of death, agents of souls, warning messengers etc. Perhaps the moth was trying to communicate something to him. Soon he began to feel something deep inside him stirring, like hunger pangs, but more disturbing, like a sense of loss or having something important slipping away. Suddenly, he had the urge to see the moth, at least one more time.
He flicked on the light and looked outside. He waited a moment, opened the door and walked around the porch, thinking it might have landed on the wall or ceiling of the porch, but the moth was gone. He began to feel a certain sense of loss, like part of him had flown away as well. He gazed out into starlit sky, and began to imagine what it was like to be a moth, fluttering away in the night, looking down onto all the darkened shapes below, seeking out another source of light.
A rustling sound in the bushes broke his reverie. He turned around and saw a hooded figure race toward him with arm raised high, grasping some kind of club. The man took a swing at him with his club, which he blocked with his arm. “What the fuck!” was all he could say before man swung at him again, this time hitting him on the head with a glancing blow. Partially stunned, he took a wild swing at the man, which landed square on his jaw. The man’s hood slipped down as he fell against the wall with a thud, revealing the face of a skinny kid in his early twenties at most. He was about to belt him again when he heard footsteps behind him and then suddenly felt a pair forearms grip him hard around his head. He began to get dizzy: the fucker had a sleeper hold on him. He flailed his arms wildly trying to break the hold, but he was losing it fast. The kid stared at him with a wild-eyed look, and then everything went black.
When Ray opened his eyes, he found himself lying on the kitchen floor. His mouth was duct-taped shut. When he tried to get up, he realized that his feet and hands were taped as well. He managed to stand up and then rubbed his bound wrists against the sharp corner of the kitchen counter. Soon, he broke the tape and his hands were free. Slowly, he removed the tape from his mouth then cut loose the tape around his ankles. The kitchen door was partially open and he peeked outside. It was just beginning to get light, and robins chirped in the nearby trees. He touched the spot on his head where the kid clubbed him. It was sore and caked with dried blood. After he got his bearings, he tried to remember what happened: the moth against the window, staring out into the night, the hooded figure coming after him, then someone else gripping him around the neck. He figured he might have fallen asleep from exhaustion for a short time before he came to.
As he entered the main room, he began to fear the worst. Sure enough, his CD and DVD players were gone. In his bedroom office, there was an empty space on his desk where his laptop used to be. He tried to remember the last time he backed up his files. Of course, his wallet and cellphone were missing from the dresser top. Across the room in the walk-in closet, he glared at the empty hook on the wall where his favorite black leather jacket used to hang.
“The dirty meth-head fuckers…”
He sat on his desk chair and tried to figure out what to do first. He grabbed a pencil and notepad and began to make a list: credit card agencies, driver’s license, cell phone provider, the home insurance company, the cops for a police report, call work and tell them he’d be off a day etc. This was going to be a long process.
He stumbled into the kitchen to get a cup of water. He was about to rinse his cup when he saw it. His pulse shot up. There it was, lying in a little pool of moisture in the sink, barely fluttering its wings: the moth. It must have flown in through the half-open door at some point in time.
At that moment, he flashed upon the time when another winged insect was in this same sink. It was laying there in much the same way that the moth was doing now; its wings barely fluttering, trapped in a little pool of water, looking so dazed and helpless. However, the insect that time was a butterfly – a Monarch butterfly he found out later when he researched its orange-black colorings. It was there on the very first day he first moved into the place, almost five years before, just after the divorce; a time of hope and promise when he began composing music again. He gently picked up the butterfly then, and right away saw it stir back to life. He went outside, threw out his hands to release it and watched it circle around a while and then fly away in a southerly direction. Afterwards he thought of that as a kind of good luck omen, symbolizing the beginning of a new and promising phase in his life, which it was–for a while. That is, until so many things began unravel; the mugging at his doorstep only the latest in a series of miserable setbacks.
His head began to throb as he stared down at the moth. It reminded him once again of what had just happened and all the things he had to do to get his life back in order, none of which would have been necessary, he mused darkly, if he would’ve just ignored the moth and not opened the door to look for it. Or was it trying to warn him? Shit, he didn’t know, and was too fucked up to dwell on any cosmic implications.
He picked up a cup and turned on the faucet to rinse it out. As the water filled, some drops spilled down and touched the moth. It moved its wings a little more, as if trying to get away. The water from the faucet continued to pour directly into the drain. Briefly, he thought about releasing it outside, as he did with the butterfly, and turned the faucet off. However, he felt an anger begin to rise when he the thought of all the stuff he lost, which he now began to associate with that goddamn moth. What made him angriest was the black leather jacket. He had it for almost seven years and it was his favorite piece of clothing. That jacket was part of his identity and soul, but now it was gone!
He poured the water from the cup down onto the moth. The stream of water emptied into the drain, carrying the moth slowly down. He felt his anger begin to subside. The moth hung on the edge of the drain for a moment, so he filled the cup once more and poured the water back onto the moth. He watched the moth carried down into the swirling blackness, and then turned the faucet back on to make sure it washed all the way down.
It seemed like the right thing to do.
A.R. Benter: “I’m an emergent writer living in Tacoma, Washington. I graduated at the University of Washington in English Literature and Journalism and have held a variety of odd jobs over the years, including one on a newspaper. I’ve completed two short story collections, a few of which have been published individually, multiple flash fiction pieces, and a smattering of poetry. I’m also seeking representation for my completed historical novel.”
Bill Wolak has just published his fifteenth book of poetry entitled The Nakedness Defense with Ekstasis Press. His collages have appeared recently in Naked in New Hope 2016 and The 2017 Seattle Erotic Art Festival. Mr. Wolak teaches Creative Writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey.