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Sylvia and the Fly

by Arthur Cox

1997

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This little story of two chapters was inspired by watching Sylvia’s fight against some biting flies that are found on Mediterranean coasts. We were on the island of Alonissos in 1995.

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CHAPTER ONE

Sylvia is feeling happy.

She has arrived at her destination for a long awaited holiday and is now really looking forward to getting to the beach for a good swim. All she needs now is a rest period to recover from the travelling. Is it really worth it? She wonders if it is worth all that bother of packing, the early morning start to drive to Gatwick, the waiting around there before the flight actually starts and the cramped seating on the plane. But as soon as she steps out of the plane at her destination and feels that beautiful warm air on her face, she knows that it is worth it all. She can now forget the travelling for the next two weeks and really enjoy life. Here she is once more on a pleasant Greek island and away from the rainy cold climate of the UK.

And now it is the morning of the next day. This morning, Sylvia is feeling fine. She has been to the usual “welcome meeting” and heard all about the things that are now becoming much the same wherever she goes in Greece. She has thought about the organised trips, wondered about them and finally decided not to bother. It is the beach that she is really after.

She makes her way down a sandy track that leads through the pine trees. She has her beach things, the mask and snorkel, the underwater camera and a good book. This year she is quite determined to get a tan, especially on her legs, but is equally determined not to overdo it at first and so end up with a peeling sunburnt skin. The rather heavy knapsack she has on her back contains the factor 15 sun cream and a hat.

After about twenty minutes she emerges from the trees and before her she can see the clear waters of the sea.

A short slope down a rocky little pathway and she reaches a delightful beach set in a small bay. There are only three other people there and they are at the far end. It is all delightfully peaceful.

She is very quickly in the water with her snorkel and mask and spends a pleasant relaxing half hour slowly exploring the sea bottom. The next time she swims, she will take her camera with her and try to get some good pictures of all those fish and plants. After all the hassle of travel, which she hates, she is at last feeling very happy with her life,

She returns to the beach and has just settled down on her towel when she is aware of a sudden sharp sting on her leg. Looking down she sees a biting fly, a Divania. Shouting “Oh no! Not a Divania!”, she slaps her leg quickly and the fly is gone. What a sudden disappointment; she had forgotten about them. Why does she always seem to be on holiday at this season? She muses on about her hatred of these flies that can land so quietly without any warning buzzing. She wonders how they can do it. Other flies buzz or land heavily enough to feel them there. But not the divanias.

She keeps a sharp look out for more flies as she settles down to have a little read of her new book. All seems quiet, She is completely unaware that the fly has been knocked into the water and is now struggling just a few feet away.

She enjoys the pleasant feeling of the warm air blowing in over the water and is happily enjoying the sunshine.

Life is good.

But just a few moments and once again there is a sharp stabbing pain, this time on her hip. A shout of annoyance, a sudden jump up and the book is flung aside on the sand.

The fly has gone. She delves into the bag and finds the tube of lotion. She knows that these bites can sometimes swell alarmingly and stay for a week or more, She curses to herself. Why didn’t she search for that fly and really kill it. There is no thought in her mind that it could have been a different fly. Sylvia knows that they appear to be almost indestructible and that her skin attracts them particularly,

How can one get away from them? There are not swarms of them, just the odd one or two that appear to hunt over the beach at this time of year.

Sylvia has now lost her place in the book and decides to leave reading for a white. She dozes a little and then wakes up and realises that the sun has got much hotter.

Time has passed quickly and she is not being as careful as she intended.

Shall she go swimming again or not? Yes, she shall. Once in the water, those flies will leave her alone.

She has a good long swim, off to the large rock and then to the headland at the near end of the bay. She enjoys looking down at the sea life and takes a few photos. Then feeling a little tired, she slowly makes her way back to the beach. Off with the fins, snorkel and mask and up on to the sand.

Suddenly she is aware once again of a sharp pain. This time it is on her thigh and she lashes out with a hard blow that actually causes her more pain than the insect bite.

Those damn flies! They come looking for warm, wet skin. They come looking for Sylvia. Emerge from the water and there’s not even a chance to get a towel around you before they get you.

Sylvia searches around looking for the fly but it seems to have gone. She remembers the last one; better be careful. No, it has not gone, she sees it at last; it is upside down on a large stone only a few inches away.

It looks completely dead but clever Sylvia knows from past experience that these apparently dead flies can recover surprisingly quickly.

This time Sylvia is determined. It is not going to bite her again. Sylvia doesn’t like using the insecticide lotions and sprays because she has learnt that some of them will dissolve fabrics and you simply end up with holes in your bathing suit. Especially so if you are too lavish with the application. And in Sylvia’s case, she is always too lavish; she hates these flies more than she hates anything else.

She needs a weapon and looks around her for something handy.

She picks up her sandal and smashes the hard heel down on the fly. The fly is now squashed completely without any hope of recovery. Sylvia triumphantly shouts, “Got you, you devil!”. She scrapes the remains of the fly off the rock and buries them in the sand.

There is a smile on her face.

Sylvia is feeling happy again

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CHAPTER TWO

Doreen slowly awakes.

She is tightly enclosed and must escape. She pushes and pushes until the enclosing skin bursts open and Doreen emerges from her larval stage, What a struggle! And what an exciting place lies before her large eyes. Overhead there are dark moving shapes. Doreen is in a wood. She likes the delightful stimulating smell of the pine trees. She has a completely new world to explore a new life ahead of her. It feels very good.

Doreen moves around among the trees, flying, resting, and smelling. So many new sensations! Why is she here? She doesn’t know but she feels content.

Doreen is feeling the hot sun and the energy that it gives her. There is nothing to do but to enjoy this Life. Doreen has a happy day.

Later on, Doreen realises that it is not quite so warm and she is not so strong. What is happening? The sun’s light is fading. Doreen is puzzled and wonders if this is the end of her life. No, no, there must be more than this. She decides to rest and settles on a leaf.

Hardly has she been there when a very dark shadow sweeps over her and in sudden alarm she flies off. It was a bird and it very nearly got her. There are unknown dangers around that she is not aware of. She must be careful and she settles down on the ground and hides away under a bush. It should be quite safe here, thinks Doreen.

It becomes really dark. The hot sun has gone and Doreen stays where she has hidden. Once or twice she thinks she ought to move but finds that she has no energy. Perhaps she is dying and this is the end. Doreen feels frightened but cannot do anything.

She becomes aware of a faint light and then it slowly gets brighter and brighter. Doreen crawls out from under the bush and suddenly feels that delicious warm sensation that she felt before. Her energy gradually returns to her and she looks forward to another day. Soon she will be able to fly again. She crawls up on to a flat stone and rests in the heat of the sun.

A sudden rustling noise alarms her. A quick glance around and a sudden jump up into the air takes her away from a sticky tongue and the snap of sharp jaws. A lizard who was basking in the morning sun moves away in disappointment.

As Doreen flies around she becomes aware of a queer feeling inside, Whatever is happening to her? A powerful urge to get away from the trees comes over her and she flies strongly towards the patch of light that she can see ahead. She emerges into a different and new environment. Here is different vegetation; grasses, low shrubs and sandy patches.

Here also there are many more creatures like herself. She rests a while and watches them. They are like herself in many ways but they are all a little different. Some are large and fat, some are very small and slim, some are very noisy and fly about with a loud buzzing sound,

Doreen has a curious feeling that something is about to happen but she doesn’t know what. She feels that she is waiting for something. How strange! What can it be?

The leaf beneath her feet suddenly shakes. Oh no! Not another bird or lizard after her! She flies off at great speed but finds that something is following her closely. She darts about left, right, up and down. It is still there chasing behind her. She is being hunted. She is grabbed and held tightly. Over her shoulder she can see that it is a creature just like herself but rather larger and very powerful. Doreen has an odd sensation that this creature is the one for whom she has been waiting.

Oh, what is happening to her? It is very pleasant she thinks although it feels rather strange. But then just as she is beginning to feel very happy, the other creature has gone again and she is alone.

Doreen has an odd feeling inside. She also feels rather weak despite the hot sunshine. She smells a sweet smell and tracks it down to a colourful flower. Alighting, she investigates and finds inside a delicious sweet tasting liquid. She drinks her fill and flies off searching for more flowers. And thus Doreen spends another happy day. When the dark comes she is no longer afraid because she knows now that the light will return.

The following day, Doreen finds that she feels heavier and she has a strange urge to seek water. After many hours she arrives on a flat stretch of sandy beach with a few scattered rocks here and there. She rests awhile.

What is this strange feeling she has? She is seeking something but doesn’t quite know what.

An extremely attractive smell sweeps over her, She flies around and it gets stronger and stronger. It is coming from a large shape. She alights and starts to probe the surface.

A sudden and unexpected force catches her on her side and she is knocked through the air. Doreen finds herself in a strange substance that clings around her. She struggles and struggles to fly but cannot do so. Her strength is giving out when, with a last desperate push, she is free and in the air again.

Immediately there is that strong warm smell that she finds irresistible. Searching around she sees a flat white surface and realises that the attractive smell is coming from it. She alights as softly as she can. She is feeling a little wary. She waits, all is quiet. Doreen pushes hard and quickly with her proboscis and as she does so, she tastes a warm rich juice. Instinctively Doreen knows that this is what she has been searching for. She starts to suck hard. But alas, there comes another of those dreadful blows and she is knocked aside and falls unconscious on to the sand.

Some time later, Doreen awakes and rests on the hot sand recovering her strength. That attractive smell has gone. Doreen knows that she must find it again and flies around. Back and forth along the water’s edge she flies but cannot find it.

Doreen is feeling very odd inside and is also keenly aware that she has become heavier and heavier as the day wears on. Something is happening to her and once again she has the feeling that there is something that she must do urgently. She feels that this is her destiny.

Doreen is just on the point of giving up her search when, suddenly, she finds that smell again. There in front of her, it is that white surface. She will be extremely careful this time. She flies around exploring this shape. All the time Doreen expects to be hit but is also aware that on each of the previous occasions it only happened after she had alighted.

She feels fairly safe just flying round. Doreen wants to take her time but the attraction is too powerful and she alights once more and waits. Nothing happens, there is no dreadful force set against her. Doreen relaxes and prepares for a meal.

This time she will probe slowly and carefully. She pushes and pushes. The same warm juice is found and Doreen rejoices. This is the life for her.

Bang! A sudden blow again. Doreen is unconscious and aware of nothing.

A faint light appears and Doreen slowly awakes. She is far too weak to move. She must rest a long time.

Then a terrible pain overcomes her and the faint light disappears forever.

Doreen is no more. All has ended. Her eggs will never be laid and all her struggles and endeavours have been in vain.

End

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Notes.

We were told that the Greeks call these flies Divania.

After seeing Sylvia destroy a fly in triumph, I started to think about the life of the fly and its existence. It was really only trying to live. Its behaviour was simply a struggle to survive in the only way that it knew how.

The actual details of the fly’s life style may not be entomological correct; I cannot find any reference to such a fly in the books that I have available.Perhaps even the name is wrong, But they certainly exist. To Sylvia the word divania is equal to the word devil.

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A note from an email from friend David C. who visited Alonissos in 2013.

For some reason any type of biting insect seems to be instantly attracted to me. This year stepping off the ferry from Skiathos at Patitiri, I was duly bitten (about a dozen times) by various insects. One of the bites did indeed blister and swell to such an extent that I could scarcely pull my shirt sleeves over it. Of course insect repellent was unavailable because it had to be packed in the hold luggage due to the restrictions following 9/11 or should I say 11/9. Another minor victory for the terrorists! I suppose I could have brought some repellent at the airport but they don’t seem to stock the type that works most effectively for me because it needs to be 100% DEET.”

 It seems that those damn flies are still around.

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