Seymour Troffmok hightails it out of the baby barn like a scared rabbit with a hungry fox hot on his tail. Four angry yellow jackets, insect warriors, swarm his upper body for the first thirty feet of his escape into the open yard, their stingers dripping with venom. Their intention is to kill. Deeming the threat no longer remains, the determined protectors veer off from the fleeing intruder quickly returning to their hive satisfied the menace has been sufficiently warned.
Seymour is skinnier than a yard rake and the welt on his neck is a big as a walnut. He’s moaning and cursing, rubbing the sore bump. It feels as if someone drove a three inch nail in his neck, or at least he imagines it hurts that much. He’s scared too, his bulged out eyes search the yard around him where he stops running by the large pine tree at the edge of his property, fifty yards from the bomb laden storage shed. Confident there are no more of the horrible insects chasing him he rests his shaking body against the tree, eyeballing the open doors of the barn as they swing in the spring breeze.
The sun is behind him as it begins its ascension into the sky.
He sits facing the swaying doors. Turning his head slowly in circles trying to ease the pain he glares at the opening as several wasps appear, hovering briefly as if to decide which way they should proceed. Seymour freezes, wills his heart to stop beating, chilled with the thought they might be looking for him. The three bugs bug out to his left at full velocity, uninterested in Seymour any longer. His shoulders visibly droop in relief, an inaudible sigh escapes his lips. A snicker covers his nervousness when he whispers
“What in the blazes am I going to do? And my aching neck…ohhhh…those little buggers.”
Seymour’s fear turns to anger, that some small pest would chase him from his own property. He strikes up a little bravado directing his comment towards the unseen hive.
“That’ll be the friggin’ day!”
Almost in response to the verbal threat, two wasps buzz down from the inside ceiling, holding position in the open doorway, facing Seymour, for several seconds. Seymour gulps, his Adams apple moving up and down nervously. Before he can react to this new threat the wasps go off in the same direction as those that flew out moments ago. He sighs, trying to calm his jitters.
It’s the first Saturday in May. The yard is covered with dead grass, flattened by the winter’s snow. Small shoots stick up here and there between the brown dried up blades of last year’s lawn, a green promise. A promise that can be detected in the air, the old tree exuding its piney aroma, the clean earth after April’s rain, the dead seaweed washed up on the shore in front of the house. Breathing deeply through his nose, Seymour continues to rub his neck even though the pain is subsiding. The familiar smells have a calming effect on his nerves. He is embarrassed at himself for being scared to go over there. He hates them. All he thinks of is how he can kill them.
Seymour arrived early today, a little after 7am at his summer house. Normally his wife Zelda accompanies him as they “open up the cottage” but she and her three sisters are doing the May Run to Prince Edward Island this weekend. They packed tents, coolers, lipstick and gloss, some clean undies, hiking boots and compasses and way too much booze for four women, all in the back of Daphne’s minivan, she’s the youngest. Seymour decided to come to the cottage on his own.
Several wasps are returning to their hive as they zoom into the baby barn and disappear up towards the roof. Seymour realizes they aren’t paying attention to him anymore. Their arrival spurs him to action. He doesn’t bother to lock up, instead jumps into his truck to head out to Melanson’s general store. Knowing Gerry Gautreau will be working today, he’ll ask him what to do; the guy knows everything about outdoors stuff. Everybody calls him Goat, a short take on his last name. Watching the road as it twists along the shore, Seymour’s thinking about the wasps, his animosity growing by the second. Seven miles later he turns into the cracked parking lot.
He loves the smell of the old store, ripe bananas and produce to the right, popcorn by the movie rentals in the back, new shoe and glove leather down the center, an open can of paint and boxes of nails in hardware to the left. The floor creaks as he heads to the left where Goat looks after the nuts and bolts. Seymour finds him at the paint counter hammering the cover back on a fresh can. He’s chatting up the young lady he’s serving while Seymour waits off to the side studying the man he only knows sparingly. He can’t remember ever seeing Goat without a smile, just about the friendliest grin possible. Full head of white hair, eyebrows and moustache to match, make him look wise. He’s saying something to his customer while he comes from behind the desk to hand her the can of paint and Seymour can’t hear him. The woman blushes a little and thanks him for his help. I step up to catch his attention.
“Hey, hey Seymour, comment ca va?”
“I’m doing great...except for one thing.”
A look of concern crosses Goat’s features. “What’s the problem?”
Seymour relates what happened at his house and before he can finish his story, Goat is heading towards the back and disappears to the right. “Follow me.”
Scurrying around the corner he finds him by a bunch of spray cans, insecticides, pesticides, six sided birdhouses and garden tools. Goat picks up a tall red can from the top shelf. Shoving it towards Seymour he says, “Here’s what you want.”
On the main body is a giant hornet. The image makes Seymour’s neck throb. The can is a foot high, as big around as a coffee mug, graced with the words in bold black letters, Wasp & Hornet Exterminator. There is a five inch straw-like plastic taped to the side.
“What’s the little straw for Goat?”
Goat retrieves the can and pops off the top. Pointing to the tiny pore where the spray comes out he says,
“Stick it in there and you can spray in tiny holes…” His eyes take on a mischievous glow, his words a bit of a dare. “…or you can stick it right into the hive if you’re brave enough to get that close. Good luck!”
Twenty minutes later Seymour is standing in the garage door. He’s wearing a one piece gray winter snowsuit with a big silver zipper in the front. A blue Toronto Maple Leafs toque covers his bald dome and is pulled down to his eyebrows. Oversized safety glasses with an amber tint cover his eyes. A red neck warmer graces his neck and face up to his nose. He is wearing black mechanic’s gloves and in his right hand is the large red can. It’s a mild 18 degrees and he’s dressed for a blizzard. Sweat runs from every pore because he’s hot and nervous. His glasses keep steaming up when he breathes. He counts to ten.
“…eight, nine ten!”
Heading directly to the baby barn which is between the garage and the house set back towards the property line, he enters, turns and immediately sees the hive in the apex of the gable end. He can reach it quite easily. When he lifts the can, a lone wasp escapes from the hole in the bottom of the hive. It attacks Seymour, harmlessly stinging the padding on the snowsuit. Seymour stumbles backwards, scared and swinging his free hand. Luckily he clips the defender with a swipe. The bug bounces off the right wall and slips down behind the lawn mower. Gathering all his courage he rushes forward, jabs the skinny red spout into the soft side of the hive and fills it with foam. Two or three more wasps have escaped before being consumed by the poison. They swarm about Seymour’s head and he runs.
Back to the big pine tree, only this time behind it. Seymour knows the bugs will be mad. Peering from behind the wide bole, he can see foam drip into the open doorway from the roof. A smirk crosses his face when he thinks of how he filled the hive, of how the deadly fumes are working right now. There’s almost a glee in his eyes as he removes the goggles. Several wasps have returned to the nest to find it uninhabitable, toxins emanating from its pores. They buzz about with no pattern. The chemicals in the repellant have eaten away a section of the fine paper the hive is made of, causing a piece to fall to the floor. The wasps flee as if in terror.
After fifteen minutes there’s no action, no wasps. Seymour dons his shades and walks hesitantly towards the open doors, ready to sprint in the opposite direction in a second’s notice. Making it all the way to the front, he can see several wasps on their back, on the floor, in a puddle of killing liquid. Each bug has three sets of legs that paddle uselessly in the air. Seymour feels a tinge of remorse, but only the slightest of shade.
“It’s either you or me boys. Looks like I win.”
Backing into the storage area, Seymour checks out the hive. A portion of the bottom, the size of a child’s fist, has been eaten away exposing a cone like inner structure. More dead bugs fall from the opening. With his foot he sweeps them all in the corner by the snow shovels. Returning to the garage, he tosses the toque, glasses and neck warmer on the work desk. Unzipping the large zipper, Seymour`s dark green t-shirt is sweat stained on the front. His bald head glistens in the sun. Even though he fells the menace has been effectively dealt with, Seymour decides to keep the padded garment on for a while as a precaution; otherwise he sets about setting up the summer furniture and cleaning up. By mid afternoon, he’s forgotten about the wasps.
Just a bit before 7pm Seymour has showered, changed clothing and is attending to a 10oz sirloin that hisses on the hot grills of the barbeque. The Montreal steak spice and the rich meat flavour fill the air about the bonnet. Seymour has peeled and sliced a couple of potatoes and placed them in an aluminum pan along with butter, garlic, onions, a little water and shredded cheese. The pan sits to the left of the cooking meat on a low burner. All the food sizzles in harmony. The cooker is at the far corner of the deck across from the sliding patio doors. Disturbed by the pleasant calling of the birds gathered at his neighbor’s feeder, Seymour looks around reflecting on what he’s accomplished today.
The new yellow chairs add some color to the weathered wooden Adirondacks in the sitting area to his left, equally spaced around his new fire pit, a flat black toad-like thing on legs. The gazebo is up on the right: the uprights drilled to the floor, the screens tied back neatly, the cloth on the roof is taut. The glass dining table is inside, accompanied with the six complimentary chairs that have fat olive cushions. The yard is raked and free of winter’s mess, the screen is replaced on the back storm door, and the water is back in, the dripping faucet is fixed, the kitchen appliances all cleaned, his bed changed and the sheets washed. He’s beat.
“I’ll sleep like a dead man tonight”
Laughing at his quip, he fills his plate with the cooked meal. After turning off the gas, he retreats to the kitchen to fetch his glass of merlot and brings the bottle as well. There are no mosquitoes yet, the air is fresh with a tang of salt. The meat is tender, the wine dry and robust, the evening slightly warmer than usual. Seymour eats slowly, watching the shadows of night approach. The land is low to the west and the last rays of the sun reflect upon the water to the east, steel blue horizon with pink and orange wisps. The wine disappears at the same pace and by nine o’clock, Seymour is almost falling asleep. Gathering up the dishes, he leaves them on the cupboard, locks up the doors, makes a pit stop in the bathroom, sheds his cloths across the bedroom floor and crawls into the fresh sheets. He’s asleep in less than ten minutes. All evening he never once thought about the wasps.
In the middle of the night Seymour shifts restlessly upon the bed, the clean sheets tangled about his lower body. Tossing and turning he moans in the darkness, his dream turning into a nightmare. In his mind he has fallen on the middle of the road in front of his house and he’s naked. He tries to rise but his movements are sluggish as if the air is as thick as molasses. Spying a swarm of insects rushing towards him, he is panicking, knowing with a dire certainty that they are coming for him. He urges his body to move more quickly but every effort is useless as if a terrific weight is upon him and he can’t understand why. The insects, closer now, are huge, each one the size of a baseball, they are bright yellow with glossy bodies. Their stingers are visible and poison drips from the sharp points. He can see this as clearly as if they are only inches away. The large wasps are rushing towards him, closer and closer they come with what seems like unbelievable speed and yet, he himself can barely move.
Just before the swarm reaches him, one giant hornet escapes from the buzzing horde, a mini dive bomber propels itself towards Seymour’s exposed body. The stinger is long, gleaming in the sun like a brand new sword. It hovers briefly above Seymour, points its wet dagger towards his prone body and attacks.
Seymour is startled from his sleep, sitting up suddenly in his bed. He is covered with perspiration, his heart pounding and he is shaking from the fright of his dream.
He opens his eyes and can’t see anything, the room has never been so dark, no starlight, no moon light, nothing. His neck throbs where he was stung yesterday morning. There is a terrific noise, like the sound of a dozen circular saws running at the same time. And then he can feel them. Something or some things are all over his body.
He reaches for the switch to his night light. The 60 watt bulb casts a mellow yellowish light and once his eyes focus he gasps. The room is full of wasps, hundreds and hundreds of them. They cover everything. They cling to the walls, to the open door, to the bed; they cover the floor so deep that he can’t see his clothes he shed last night. The room swirls with a cloud of yellow jackets. Staring at the mass of moving insects he screams.
The buzzing stops, every wasp stops moving except those in the air. He feels every insect eye upon him. He experiences an impending doom. He knows they mean to kill him. Reaching for the magazine on the night table, he curls it amid the frenzy of the insects and starts swinging it in the air. The hornets assail him. Trying to untangle his legs from the sheets he swats at the mass, killing a dozen every time he swings the curled paper in his hand. They sting him all over his body, the pain is excruciating. Rising on the bed, his head near the ceiling, he swings with both hands. He needs to escape from the bedroom. When he tries to jump, his tangled feet cause him to fall. He lands on the floor crushing another twenty or thirty wasps. Scrambling to his feet he makes for the stairs. The wasps set upon him even more vigorously, this time about his head. He’s blinded; he slams into the bedroom wall. Feeling with only his hands he finds the open doorway and turns towards the stairs. He can’t see the steps and plunges into the darkened stairway. Missing the first step he falls.*
Zelda returns home Monday afternoon. When she enters her house, there is no one home. She finds this odd as Seymour told her he would be returning Monday morning because it is her birthday and he promised her dinner at her favorite restaurant. He is never late. She tries his cell phone only to discover that there is no answer and his mailbox if full. Seymour is meticulous about clearing his messages, almost obsessive with deleting useless data. Immediately she knows something is wrong, a dread she can feel. She leaves her bag and camping gear in the middle of the kitchen floor, hurries to her car and heads to the shore. Forty minutes later she unlocks the front door. Calling out his name and getting no response she heads towards the stairway. Turning the corner from the living room, she freezes in her tracks and screams.
Seymour Troffmok lies at the foot of the stairs, his neck and arms twisted in an unnatural position. From the pallor of his skin, it is obvious he has been dead for some time.
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Next week guest writer, Susmita Bhattacharya will share her short story - The Mango Season.
Susmita is originally from India but now Lives in Cardiff, Wales. She spent three years travelling around the world aboard her husband's oil tanker. Her writing has been showcased in many publications and featured on commuterlit.com.
A talenter writer that you won't want to miss.