On Musca Domestica

Dear Uncle Istvan,

Thank you for sending me a box of flies, Musca domestica. I am sad to report that most of them perished in transit. The few that survived are recuperating, and I have put them on a vitamin-enriched diet. I hope they will soon be hale and hearty enough to serve as proper objects of study as I cram for my forthcoming entomology examinations. The Institute needs new blood.

The dacha is very comfortable, and the surrounding woods are beautiful. The silver birches are silvery and birchy and the spruces have been spruced up by Old Oleg. You remember Old Oleg, the groundsman? Even though he now gets about on one leg and a stick, he still has a spring in his step. I do not know exactly what he did to the spruces to spruce them up, and of course if I asked him I would not understand his reply, for he still talks in that loveable barbaric clickety-clackety language with lots of spitting. I do not think he has washed his hair since the last time you were here, in the twilight years of the Tsar before last.

Thanks again for the flies. I will put the box they came in to good use.

Your loving nephew, Zoltan.

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Dear Uncle Istvan,

It was extremely thoughtful of you to send me another box of flies, Musca domestica, but really not necessary. The survivors from the first batch are now almost fully recovered, their vitamin-enriched diet further enriched with anabolic steroids on the advice of Old Ma Kropotkin. You remember Old Ma Kropotkin, the housekeeper? She is now almost totally blind, but still as sharp as a button. It was she who suggested I punch a couple of holes in the box from the first batch of flies and loop a bootlace through them and wear it as a hat. I call it my dacha hat. I will have to ask her what to do with this new box!

Sadly, once again very few of the flies survived the rigours of their journey. I am going to write a stiff letter to the postal authorities. I have now been given the date of my examination, so I hope to be able to study the living flies, from both boxes, before then. Otherwise I shall have to rely on the rather blurred illustrations in the encyclopaedia, if I can find it. Are you sure it is at the dacha? The only book I have spotted is a guide to pursuing and shooting wolves from a helicopter.

The poplars and larches in the woods are looking as spruce as the spruces, thanks to Old Oleg. He is now getting about on two sticks, after a mishap the other day with a bear-trap.

Thanks again for the extra flies.

Your loving nephew, Zoltan.

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Dear Uncle Istvan,

Thank you so much for the box of flies you sent. I think that is now three boxes! Unfortunately, this time every single fly was dead on arrival. Clearly my letter to the postal authorities failed to prompt the root and branch reform of Musca domestica package handling I hoped for. Not to worry, however, because the surviving flies from the first two boxes are thriving, to say the least. Old Ma Kropotkin added Strontium 90 to their vitamin- and anabolic steroid-enriched diet, and they have now grown to an unseemly size. And where before they were sunk in lassitude, their energy levels are terrifying.

Almost as terrifying as the energy levels of Old Oleg, who has been sprucing up the yews and sycamores in spite of the fact that he has lost the use of one of his arms. Last week he had a mishap with a chainsaw. Old Ma Kropotkin has been rubbing one of her mysterious unguents into his stump. Oh, by the way, she came up with a splendid use for the second box. It has been cut in half, and the two halves glued to my dacha hat, one on each side, to act as earflaps. I expect she will think of something to do with the third box!

Thanks again for the flies, Musca domestica, although you really need not go out of your way to send any more.

Your loving nephew, Zoltan.

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Dear Uncle Istvan

Many thanks for sending me a fourth box of flies, Musca domestica. Thank God they were all dead! I implore you not to send any more. Luckily, just before Old Oleg’s latest mishap he still had the ability to wield hammer and nails and planks, and he kindly barricaded me into the pantry of the dacha. As he drove the last nail home I heard his loveable barbaric clickety-clackety language become a deranged and hideous screaming as he was beset by the flies. They are now enormous and frenzied and radioactive, pumped up by the vitamins and anabolic steroids and Strontium 90 Old Ma Kropotkin has been feeding them. The once beautiful dacha is now splattered with their noxious regurgitations. Old Ma Kropotkin herself has been feeding on the same diet and is half-housekeeper, half-fly, the blind queen of the swarm. Please send help as soon as you receive this letter. I do not know how sturdy the barricades are. I think the flies are massing for an attack. Oh God! They are breaking through! Under the flaps of my dacha hat my ears are assailed by their infernal buzzing! God hel

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Darling Istvan

I found the enclosed scribble in the dacha pantry and thought it might be of interest. You will be pleased to note that everything went according to plan.

Passionately yours, Old Ma Kropotkin.

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