Wendy C. Williford
Toward The Light
In the darkness, it waits alone, like a beacon to all that gather round. The warm, inviting light sends out its signal, unassuming to the masses that will come to it. It has a purpose to tempt them, bait them and to eventually destroy them. But to the masses that fly and buzz around, it’s simply a light in the night that sends out goodness. Surprising, isn’t it, what they simply do not know.
The machine, which I will call it, hangs off the eave of the garage, attached to an old rusty hook. It was placed there by my dad many years ago after realizing that the bug problem that plagued us ever summer was never going to get better, despite what the soothsayers of the weather service would always try to predict. The summer or two prior to that, my dad would tinker out in the garage, either working on his 1970’s pasty white Ford F-150 or on one of the various used cars my brothers and/or their friends had managed to buy from their teenage days sacking groceries at Kroger. The garage was the man’s place. A man’s home may be his castle, but something about the garage clearly told you it was his throne-room. Every tool imaginable resided in that garage - everything from the simple such as hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, socket-wrench sets (obviously three or four sets were never enough), to the dozens of coffee cans and mason jars full of nails, screws, nuts, bolts, keys to locks that were long gone and boxes of wires and cables. I’m not even sure if an electrician could have had as much use out of that old box of wire, but my dad always found a use for it, from securing the old bumper of my brother’s old car to holding up a small tree to another after it started leaning after a bad summer storm. The garage also held the big stuff – air compressors (why we needed more than one, I’ll never know), power drills, the weed-eater, lawn-mower and a plethora of other oddities that my female mind can neither name nor care for. After all, my place was in the house with my mother, so the realm of the garage was never my concern, as my dad saw it. But with all of the mysteries and complexities of that man-haven which was my dad’s garage, summer after summer it suffered the onslaught of a revered foe that my dad all too soon lost his patience with and sought out revenge.
As the circle of life has played out on this planet for the last billion years or so, I wonder if the bug problem in East Texas has remained just as consistent. It has strange cycles. A few consecutive summers it might be June bugs and mosquitoes, the next cycle will be those dreadful love bugs with their bodies stuck together in the heat of buggy passion, or pretty little ladybugs that inch their way along surfaces, not really bothering anybody but can cause just as much annoyance by their multitudes. That summer, it was the June bugs and mosquitoes. Their presence was not to be abided. The garage was sacred ground, so when the invaders came, there was only one option at hand.
The bug zapper, which I’m sure has a more technical name along with the brand of the manufacturer, came to our homestead. My dad hung it out on the outside corner of the garage. It had a little chain on the top, yet it wasn’t enough. With great care, my dad reinforced it with some of the wire from the box, ensuring that a great gust of wind would never knock it down from its new sentry post. A long extension cord stretched through the garage, giving it its power from the outlet in the back of the garage wall by the makeshift workbench that held the powered sandstone – a machine that sharpened everything from the axes, hatchets, lawnmower blades and my mom’s steak knife set.
The power cord hung down loosely along the garage wall, undoubtedly a danger to any East Texas animal that might come along and nibble on it. Once powered, the bug zapper emitted a low hum, detectable to anyone who paid close attention to it. The hum was hypnotizing, able to send anyone into a drowsy state if you stood by and concentrated hard enough, allowing all thoughts to linger out of your mind and just let that droll swirl around your mind. The subconscious reacted to it, strangely enough. Like a strange lullaby, it got into your head, relaxing the senses and body of anyone who sat outside on a dark summer night, resting in lawn chairs out away from the garage. It’s something about the transformation of raw, electric power into a killing field that resonates that purr of energy. Along with the hum, a pale, blue light was cast off, piercing the dark of night, casting shadows of tools and the workbench against the garage walls. The light played along the surrounding trees, sending its inviting coolness out to a 50 feet circumference. This light, too, had a hypnotic effect. You find yourself sitting there, staring at it, and struggling to keep your eyes open as strange, impossible images start clouding your vision. The imagination and the eyes, deprived of the moisture it’s refused when you don’t blink, started creating its own shadows and an entire menagerie of animals which haunt the night. Finally, the eyes gave in and you’re forced to close them, only for seconds before you open them back up, stretch your eyelids to their fullest capacity in a strange yoga-esque fashion, believing that your eye muscles can be trained as easily as your biceps and triceps. However, the cycle just begins again, the shadows played with you again and if you’re not careful you ran the risk of eventually falling asleep under the blanket of protection which the machine provided.
Yet, for all of its beautiful blue glow and tranquil hum that surrounded you, it comes back to mind that the bug zapper is a killing machine. It was created with one purpose and that is to not only kill bugs, but to cunningly lure them to their deaths. There’s something about the blue light and hum that attracts the bugs. Something about it gets into their subconscious, if a bug indeed has one, which pulls them toward the light. It makes me wonder what insatiable need they have to go towards the light, without doubt not knowing that they are about to meet their own demise. All along the metal mesh grate that surrounded the warm light are the carcasses of the victims that have already been seized. The dried exoskeletons hang on, capturing the last moments of the bug’s life. Beneath it on the ground is a miniature grave yard of all of the June bugs, mosquitoes and love bugs which have fallen from the machine after meeting their end. Yet their presence in the graveyard was very short lived, for the next day bluebirds and woodpeckers came along and scavenged what was left and filled their bellies. It might not have been the freshest meal, but it’s a meal all the same. The dusk would come, the machine was switched on again and the circle continued.
Out of simple curiosity or simple stupidity, feel free to take your pick, my brothers tested the power of the machine. Often times if boredom found them, they would pick up a fallen twig from the sweet gum tree and poked at the bug zapper. It was a real treat when the machine ensnared a particular strange bug. The huge moths, butterflies and dragonflies not only provided a lesson in entomology, but gave my brothers delight as they methodically peeled off the legs, wings and body of the unfortunate bug. In the evenings when the machine was powered up again, my brothers’ need for science further resurfaced. Only this time they bravely stuck their twigs against the metal grate that released the electricity. Nothing ever happened. Something about its design would not transfer its energy through the wood. A safety design, no doubt. I’m sure it only took one stupid red-neck to figure out that an electric killing machine is full of electricity. It wouldn’t surprise me if East Texas is full of people who have unwittingly proven Darwin right.
But that’s just the nature of the beast.
Now, while the bug zapper still hangs off the edge of the roof of the garage, it hasn’t been powered on for years. My dad’s garage lies in a state on constant dormancy, dust and cobwebs splaying over every inch of free surface. Over the last few springs and summers, the birds have found it a perfect hiding place for their nests and their hatchlings. And the June bugs, mosquitoes, love-bugs and ladybugs flourish, no longer feeling the irresistible draw of the light and the drone of the machine which had claimed so many of their kinsmen. The bug zapper is dead. The metal grate is nothing but a rusty cage flecked with remnants of the tiny bodies. The grate, which meant certain death to all who trespassed, now holds the delicately woven homes of spiders or the adobe-like cocoons of dirt dobbers. There is no more fear of the machine, if in fact it ever instilled fear in the bugs to begin with. Somehow I doubt it did since so many went willingly toward the light. The power cord hangs haphazardly, swaying back and forth against the garage floor, the tines just as rusty as the cage above. I wouldn’t dare try plugging it in for my own fear of the power it might still hold. To the eye it looks as dead as all of the creatures it once claimed, but like Frankenstein’s monster, it might only take one electrical spark to bring the monster back to life with a new promise of destruction.
Wendy C. Williford is a native Texan who began writing stories as early as the 5th grade. By the time she was 17, she had written her first unpublished novel and a broad collection of poems. Since then, she has written dozens of short stories, poems, experimental stories for friends and family and a screenplay. She received a BA in History with a minor in Creative Writing from Stephen F. Austin State University in 2007. Currently, she is working on a novel set during the Scottish War for Independence. She has works published in Ascent Aspirations (June 2013 issue), Children, Churches & Daddies Magazine (July/August 2013) and the Fall 2013 edition of Allegory Magazine. She also blogs about her experiences as a newly published writer here.