:: Article

The Flies

By Horacio Quiroga.

“Las moscas” (The Flies) from Más allá y otros cuentos (Further Still and Other Stories)by Horacio Quiroga (Ediciones de la Sociedad Amigos del Libro Rioplatense, Buenos Aires, 1935), original translation by Elisa Taber.


While clearing the forest, the men felled this tree last year; the entire extent of its trunk lies crushed against the ground. Its companions have lost most of their bark to the clearing fire, but this one’s is nearly intact. The slight carbonized band along its length clearly speaks to the action of the fire.

It occurred last winter. Four months have passed. In the midst of the clearing lost to the drought, is the fallen tree, which lies forever­ in a wasteland of ashes. Leaning against the trunk, my back resting on it, I also find myself immobile. At a point along my back the vertebral column is broken. I fell precisely there, after lucklessly stumbling on a root. I remain, as I fell, seated–better said, broken–against the tree.

An instant ago I started sensing a fixed hum–the hum of the spinal cord lesion–that floods everything, and into which my breath seems to course and dissolve. I can no longer move my hands, can barely stir the ashes with one finger or another.

From that same instant I acquire the clear and capital certainty that my life grazing the ground awaits the immediacy of a few seconds to extinguish itself entirely.

This is the truth. Never has a more decisive notion materialized in my mind. All the others float, dance in a distant reverberation of another I, in a past that does not belong to me either. My only perception of existence, as blatant as a blow delivered in silence, is that I will die an instant from now.

But, when? What are these seconds and instants during which this exasperated consciousness of living still courses through a placid corpse?

No one approaches this clearing: no forest trail leads to it from any property. True for the seated man and the trunk holding him, successive rains will drench bark and clothes, and suns will dry lichen and hair, until the regrowth of the forest unites trees and potash, bones and shoe leather.

Nothing, nothing in the serene atmosphere denounces or clamors for such an event! Rather, peer between the trunks and black segments of the clearing, stand here or there, regardless of the perspective, anyone can contemplate the perfectly delineated man whose life is about to stop on the ashes, attracted like a pendulum to gravity: the place he occupies within the clearing is so small and his situation, so clear: he is dying.

This is the truth. As to the dark animal resistance, the beat and the breath threatened by death, what is it worth before the barbarous disquiet of the precise instant when this resistance of life and tremendous psychological torture implode like a rocket, leaving a former man with his face forever fixed forth as the only residue?

The hum grows ever stronger. It now hangs over my eyes like a veil of dense fog through which green rhombuses are delineable. And immediately I see the fortified wall of a Moroccan bazaar, a herd of white studs escape through one of its double doors, while a theory of decapitated men enters through the other.

I want to close my eyes, and I no longer can. Now I see a small hospital room, where four doctors I know strive to convince me that I will not die. I observe them in silence and they, following my thoughts, burst into laughter.

“Well,” says one, “the last test to his conviction is the cage of flies. I have one.”


“Yes,” he responds, “green detection flies. You know that green flies sense the decomposition of meat long before the demise of the subject. They find the still live patient, sure of their prey. They hover without haste or losing sight of it, they smelled its death. This is the most effective prediction method known. That is why I own ones selected for their refined sense of smell, which I rent out at a moderate rate. Where they entersure prey. I can leave them in the corridor when you are left alone and open the door to their cage which, I mention in passing, is a small coffin. Your only task is to open the keyhole. If a fly enters and you hear it buzz, know the others will find the path that leads to you. I rent them out at a moderate rate.”

“A hospital?” Suddenly the small white room, the first-aid kit, the doctors, and his laugh fade into a hum…

And abruptly, the revelation takes shape within me, too. The flies!

They are the ones that buzz. Since I fell, they found me without delay. The flies dozing in the forest, due to the effect and range of the fire, awoke aware of the sure proximity of prey, I do not know how. They smelled the ensuing decomposition of the seated man, perceiving qualities imperceptible to us, perhaps the fractured spinal medulla exhaled through the flesh. They found me with immediacy and hover without haste, measuring the proportions of the nest which luck offers their eggs with their eyes.

The doctor was right. His profession cannot be more lucrative.

Yet it is here that this desperate yearning to resist placates and yields to a blessed unknown. Now I no longer feel rooted by grave torture to a fixed place on earth. I feel the lightness of the misty atmosphere, the light of the sun, and the fertility of the hour pour out of me like life itself. Free of space and time, I can go here, there, to this tree, that liana. I can see, far from me now, like a memory of a remote existence, I can still see, a doll with unblinking eyes, a scarecrow of glazed gaze and rigid legs, at the foot of a trunk. From the core of this expansion, dilated by the sun which pieces apart my consciousness into a billion particles, I can pick myself up and fly, fly…

And fly, and perch beside my companions on the fallen trunk, under the rays of the sun that lend their fire to our work of vital renovation.


Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937) was a Uruguayan playwright, poet, and short story writer. His stories with their jungle settings, employ elements of the supernatural and the bizarre to show the struggle of man and animal to survive. An essay translator Elisa Taber wrote about his work for 3:AM Magazine can be found here.

Elisa Taber is a writer and anthropologist. She explores the ontological poetics of Amerindian literature. Her stories and translations are troubled into being, even when that trouble is a kind of joy.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, October 9th, 2019.