The Fly (George Langelaan) - Plot Summary

Plot Summary

The story begins late at night when Francois Delambre is awoken by the telephone. On the other end of the line is his sister-in-law, Helene, who tells him that she has just killed his brother and that he should call the police. He does, and they find the mangled remains of his brother in the family factory, his head and arm crushed under a hydraulic machine press.

Helene seems surprisingly calm throughout the investigation, willing to answer all questions except one: she will not give the reason for killing him. Eventually she is sent to a mental asylum and Francois is given custody of his brother's young son, Henri. Francois goes to visit her often, but she never provides the explanation for the question that he most desperately wants to know. Then one day she inquires how long a housefly's life span is. Later that evening, he hears Henri mention something about a fly with a funny white head. Realizing that this might somehow hold a clue to the murder, Francois confronts her with the news that Henri spotted a strange fly, and Helene becomes extremely agitated at this news. Francois threatens to go to the police and give them the information about the insect if she does not tell him what he wants to know. She relents and advises him to come back the next day, at which time he will receive his explanation. The next day she gives him a handwritten manuscript, and later that night he reads it.

His brother, Andre Delambre, was a brilliant research scientist who had just found an amazing discovery. Using machines that he called disintegrator-reintegrators, Andre could instantaneously transfer matter from one location to another through space. He had two such machines in his basement, one being used as a transmitter pod, the other as a receiver. Helene's manuscript reveals that at first Andre encountered several flukes, including an experiment in which he transmitted an ashtray that reintegrated in the receiver pod with the words "Made in Japan" on the back written backwards. He also tried transmitting the family cat, which disintegrated perfectly but then never reappeared. Eventually, however, he ironed out the mistakes and found that the invention worked perfectly. Then one day Andre tried the experiment on himself. Unbeknownst to him, a tiny housefly had entered the transmitter pod with him, and when he emerged from the receiver, his head and arm had been switched with that of the insect.

Andre tells Helene that his only hope of salvation is for her to find the fly so that he can transmit himself with it again in the hopes of regaining his missing atoms. A search of the house proves fruitless, and in desperation Helene begs him to go through once more in the hopes that the transformation might reverse itself. Not believing it will work, but wanting to humor her, he agrees and goes through. When he steps out of the receiver Helene excitedly pulls off the cloth sack that he has been covering his head with, and she is greeted with a truly horrifying sight. Not only is his head now that of a fly, but some of the missing particles from the family cat were also mixed in with his scrambled anatomy during the last experiment. Now realizing that he has been transformed beyond all hope, Andre destroys the pods and all of the work in his lab and devises a way to commit suicide while at the same time hiding from the world what he had become. He shows Helene how to operate the hydraulic press and then places himself under it. Obeying his last wish, Helene pushes the button to lower the press and kills her husband.

Francois goes to see Helene the next day but receives heartbreaking news. Unable to live with her memories, she committed suicide during the night. Later that evening Francois invites Inspector Charas, the policeman in charge of the case, over to his house for dinner. After finishing their meal, Francois allows him to read Helene's manuscript. After reading it, Charas declares that Helene must have been mad, and they both decide to destroy the "confession." But just as the story ends, Francois tells Charas that earlier that day he buried a fly at his brother's graveside. It was a fly with a white head and arm.

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