Seth jimmied through the old gate to reach his trash cans. A swarm of angry wasps greeted him as he lifted the lid to the compost. “Fuckers!” Seth yelled, batting them away as he dumped fruit and vegetable waste into the bin. He caught one with an open palm, swatting it into the wall. Another wasp’s stinger found a home in his neck.
“Goddammit!” Seth banged back through the gate, fleeing the swarm as he turned into the garage. He rubbed at the back of his neck; the skin was tender, a bump already forming.
The garage door whirred closed as Seth entered the house, grumbling under his breath. His wife, Nichole, was humming away in the kitchen, slicing some apples for their three-year-old son, Gavin. The sound of Blippy giggling and chatting away like some puerile idiot on the TV didn’t help Seth’s mood. He grabbed a clean dish towel, soaked it in warm water, and held it on the sting.
“What happened, hun?” Nichole said.
“Damn wasp got me by the trash cans.”
“Sorry. Let me see.” Nichole moved close as Seth lifted the towel and wet it again. “Yikes, babe. That looks pretty angry already. Are you sure you aren’t allergic?”
“No. The wasps here are just freakin’ huge.”
“We need to do something. An exterminator, maybe? If one of those stings Gavin, he’ll cry for a year.”
“Yeah, well, the property managers aren’t going to do it, and I’m not paying some imbecile in overalls to do something I can do myself…” Seth stormed out of the room before Nichole could reply. Gavin didn’t even blink when Seth walked past, too transfixed on the orange bow-tie-wearing fool.
A few minutes later, Seth stomped back down the stairs wearing a thick coat and canvas work pants. He had a Buff headband around his neck, a beanie pulled low, and clasped some old ski goggles in a tight fist.
“Wha you wear-in, Dada?” Gavin asked with a giggle, his mouth half-full of chewed apple.
“Exterminator clothes, little man,” Seth said.
“Wha dat, Dada?”
“Someone who kills bugs.”
“But Gavin like bugs!”
“Some are bad and can hurt you. That’s why Dada’s gonna stop them!” Seth quickly slipped on the goggles, pulling up the headband to cover his face, then did some silly karate kicks and punches. Gavin threw his head back and laughed like it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.
After Nichole finished laughing at Seth’s getup, too, he told her to stay inside while he handled “The Great Wasp Genocide.” He went back to the garage, put on his boots, some leather work gloves, and pulled out his vapor torch, wishing he had a full-blown flamethrower instead of a garden tool. Still, Seth could hit the wasps and their nests with an over two-thousand-degree flame and stay about four feet away by holding the end of the handle. It would get the job done.
Revenge on the yellow and black pests by the trash cans came first. Seth pushed through the gate and only slightly melted the trash cans as he torched a few dozen of the flying menaces from the air. They popped and crackled on the ground under the direct heat, and Seth stomped out the small fires, satisfied at all the charred insect corpses lining his boot sole.
He then located two nests. One under the house’s west eve, another filling a window sill at the rear of an old storage shed at the back of the property. All his skin covered and protected, Seth was able to use unconventional methods. He wrapped the nests in thick contractor bags and broke them loose, quickly sealing the swarm of angry wasps inside the bags and forcing them into an old steel trash can he’d found behind the shed. Then Seth doused the bags in lawnmower fuel and used the torch to set them aflame. He cackled like some maniacal villain as the blaze rose in this backyard, imagining he could hear the smallest screams fill the air beyond the snapping, sizzling flames. Certain he’d annihilated all the wasps from their property, Seth put away his equipment, returned inside, and disrobed from his protective garb; Nichole was singing Gavin a lullaby as she put him down for his nap.
Later that evening, the family sat on the back porch table amongst the remnants of dinner; chicken leg bones and meat scraps lay upon their plates next to overcooked broccoli crowns and new potatoes. Nichole took Gavin inside for bath time as Seth began cleanup, feeling slightly feverish. Seth returned outside for more dirty dishes to find three large wasps hefting chicken scraps off a plate; instantly, Seth was furious, yet he stood transfixed at the sight of the wasps picking up chunks of chicken twice their size and flying away. He’d never seen such a thing and didn’t think an ordinary wasp could carry something heavier than its own weight. Seth gathered some more items from the table and went back inside, formulating a new plan of attack against the yellow and black pests. He returned outside just in time to see three cleaned leg bones and an uneaten drumstick floating off towards the trees, carried by wasps that made all those he’d seen previously look microscopic.
As a chill washed over him, Seth began to think he was having some reaction to his earlier sting, or maybe some kind of flashback from taking too much LSD in college. It took three whiskey sours for the real or imagined buzzing to fade from Seth’s awareness. By his fifth, he’d exhausted all viable resources Google had provided on wasps and was happily drunk. Nichole was reading when Seth stumbled upstairs and climbed into bed, too woozy to acknowledge her concern.
“Baby! The back of your neck looks terrible!” Nichole said, gently touching the inflamed skin with the back of her hand. “It’s hot! We should put something on it.” The single red prick on Seth’s neck now stood center on a raised welt the size of a tennis ball. Thin, purple-black veins spidered out from the point, and Nichole was sure it was infected.
“S’fine…” Seth mumbled as he nestled down into his pillow. “Night…”
He was snoring within seconds.
Nichole snapped a picture of Seth’s sting and began scouring the internet for a similar reaction but found nothing. Deciding that her husband’s lack of complaint was a sign it was less severe than it appeared, Nichole turned off her light and went to sleep, Seth still snoring away.
Sunday morning, Seth awoke at dawn, his head throbbing from all the whiskey. His mouth was dry, and his uvula was swollen from the open mouth snoring. He’d forgotten to bring a bottle of water to bed, so he made his way to the kitchen and filled a large cup from the tap, quickly downing it, refilling, and then sipping again to swallow some Excedrin. The sun cast the front yard in gold as it rose above the tree-lined horizon, and Seth stood appreciating the view for a few minutes as he continued to hydrate.
He rubbed the knot on the back of his neck, finding it still sore but no longer hot to the touch. As the sun broke above the tree line, its golden light spilled into the street, and Seth caught sight of the carnage at the end of his drive. “It finally happened,” Seth said morosely. “Poor thing…”
The street running in front of their house was too busy for a residential area, and trucks cutting toward the interstate often sped past at forty to fifty miles per hour. It was scary. The first disappointment Seth and Nichole had discovered about their new house after moving in the previous month. They’d never let Gavin play our front, lest he join the neighbor’s mottled Australian shepherd, Dundee, now a mangled, bloody mess at the edge of the drive.
Seth’s hangover fell to the background as he realized what he must do. He’d have to go tell Blake Winslow next door so they could clean up Dundee’s carcass. The last thing he wanted was Gavin or Nichole seeing the lifeless dog.
Seth returned with his robe and house shoes and gasped as he swung open the front door; Dundee’s body was gone. Seth scurried toward the end of the drive. Was he hallucinating again? How could the body have disappeared so fast? As the red stain came into view on the concrete, Seth felt a few droplets fall upon his head and neck, and knowing the skies were far too clear for rain, feared he’d caught some bird shit.
“Jesus Christ!” Seth yelled, looking up. He collapsed upon the drive, quickly scooting away from the terrible sight; Dundee’s carcass slowly hovered far above the driveway, cutting a path through the morning sky toward the woods beyond Seth’s property. A faint droning sound was perceptible in the still air as a cluster of giant insects carried the dog’s body up and away.
Heartbeat pounding in his temples like a drum, Seth stood on wobbly knees as the repulsive and inexplicable sight faded beyond his perception. He barely made it inside in time to wretch into the downstairs toilet and immediately swallowed some more Excedrin to replace the ones he’d thrown up. After rinsing off in the shower, Seth returned to bed, convinced something very abnormal was happening to him, and contemplating a trip to a psychiatrist.
Seth managed an extra two hours of sleep before Gavin awoke, jabbering on the monitor. After pouring a cup of freshly brewed coffee, a knock came at the front door, and Seth sauntered over to find a concerned Blake Winslow on the porch, wringing his hands. Seth slid out the front door and closed it behind him.
“No, I haven’t seen Dundee,” Seth said.
“God! I better get the hose.”
“Yeah, probably a critter. Some early morning walker must’ve seen it and called someone to carry it off…”
“I’ll definitely keep an eye out for him, Blake.”
“Really sorry, I hope he turns up.”
Seth returned inside, fighting guilt for not being upfront, but knowing his story about angry wasps carrying off Dundee’s corpse wouldn’t be well received. He dropped into his favorite recliner with his coffee and began mindlessly flipping through apps on his cell phone to take his mind off everything.
Seth had learned to despise the Nextdoor app––all the absurd complaints and posts from neighbors got on his nerves, and he didn’t want to taint his perception of the ones he’d eventually meet in person. Yet, today, a few of the posts were ominous, foreboding, and seemed beyond coincidence.
HAVE YOU SEEN HAMILTON? (A picture of a panting black lab with a bright red collar.)
KELSEY IS MISSING. PLEASE HELP! (A gray tabby staring up with a cocked head.)
TWO LOST GERMAN SHEPHERDS. ANSWERS TO ROBO AND COP.
HOW DOES AN AFRICAN TORTOISE ESCAPE A FENCED-IN BACKYARD? IS THERE A PET THIEF ON THE LOOSE?
Seth shuddered as he closed his emails. He set his mug of coffee down and filled a large glass with ice. Nichole came into the kitchen just in time to see him adding a bit more vodka on top of his screwdriver.
“Sunday Funday?” Nichole said, her disapproval shining through the playful comment.
“Uhh… Just the one, babe.”
“It better be; remember we have the Hollister’s BBQ at three. You don’t want to already be lit before we show up and you drink all their beer.”
“Shoot. I forgot about that.” Seth grimaced as he sipped his spiked OJ.
“How’s that sting today?” Nichole asked, sliding behind Seth and gently pulling down his collar.
“Still a little sore, but not bad.”
“Looks like the swelling’s gone down. And those veiny lines are gone, that’s good. I’m going to take Gavin to the backyard. Can you make us some breakfast?”
“Of course, babe.” Seth gave his wife a vodka-glossed kiss on the mouth.
Nichole made a raspberry and wiped her lips with the back of her hand. “Gavin, wanna play outside?”
“Ya!” Gavin toddled by with outstretched arms tilting side to side. “Wooooooosssshhhh! I’m an airplane, Dada!”
“I see that buddy,” Seth ruffled Gavin’s bedhead.
Nichole and Gavin went outside; Seth downed half his screwdriver and quickly topped it off with one sneaky eye on his family out in the yard. He pulled some turkey sausage, eggs, and milk from the fridge, grabbed a loaf of bread from the pantry, some cinnamon from the spice rack, and began whipping up some of his legendary French toast.
Nichole did her best to be attentive to her son as he frolicked through the grass, clambered up and down his play set, and yelled “butter-fye!” every time one fluttered in his general area. When Gavin excitedly proclaimed, “Momma! Yook! Da kitty’s fly-ying!” jumping and pointing to a stretch of sky she couldn’t see, Nichole lazily looked up from her phone and replied, “how neat, baby.”
Seth called them in for breakfast about twenty minutes later, and Nichole commented that his drink looked suspiciously full. After breakfast, Seth lounged on the couch while Gavin watched some cartoons, and Nichole made pasta salad to bring to the BBQ. A flash of anxiety hit Seth when Nichole asked him to take all the produce scraps out to the compost bin.
His buzz fading, Seth opened the garage and snagged a badminton racquet from a jumbled trunk of old sports equipment. Cautiously, he worked open the side gate, the racquet poised to smash any angry wasps out of the air like sinister shuttlecocks. The trash can area seemed clear, so Seth cautiously lifted the compost lid and dumped his scraps, expecting a sneak attack at any moment. As he closed the lid, three successive zipper noises came behind him, and he quickly spun around. Atop the gate sat three wasps the size of small birds, wings flitting around; bulbous black eyes focused upon him.
“What the fuck?” Seth murmured. He dropped the bowl previously containing the produce scraps and clasped the racquet in both hands, thinking one quick swing and he’d sweep all three massive insects off the fence to certain death. As he slowly drew back for his swing, the center wasp seemed to quickly jut its head to each side as if signaling its partners. “Die, you bastards!” Seth screamed and lunged forward as his racquet-wielding arms uncoiled.
Despite their considerable size, the wasps moved quicker than hummingbirds; all three exploded off their fence perch as Seth’s racquet whistled through the air, missing them by inches. Then, the three massive wasps dove in an eerily perfect Vic formation. Seth screamed and attempted to raise his hands in defense, but the wasps were on him like three big brothers there to dole out retribution for “The Great Wasp Genocide” of the past day. The en echelon wasps somehow caught Seth in the crook of each arm, their giant stingers plunging directly into his median cubital veins. The apex wasp pierced his throat, its venom pumping into Seth’s thyroid gland and locking up his vocal cords.
Seth fell to his knees as a tingling electric buzz filled the air. He caught sight of the two wasps flitting at his arm nook, felt a faint tickle at his throat. The last thing he saw before his eyes rolled back in his skull and he fell back upon the rocky earth was a swarm of normal-sized wasps hovering like spectators above him. The three gargantuan wasps withdrew and rose to the head of the black and yellow multitude.
Fire seethed through the veins of a body he couldn’t see as Seth hovered in a sea of black. A distant pinprick of light danced in the inky distance. An odd, melodious thrumming noise came from everywhere and nowhere, wrapping Seth’s incorporeal form in a tingle of sound. Then, the speck of distant light was rushing forward, growing until the white light was all-consuming.
Seth gasped and quickly sat up as his surroundings formed and congealed. His slippered feet were surrounded by a badminton racquet and a plastic bowl flecked with lettuce scraps. He looked up at the melted edge of his recycle bin, confused. Did I fall? Pass out? Seth didn’t even remember coming outside. He stood, and a hand went to his throat. Seth coughed and hacked, became lightheaded and faint; a giant wad of yellow phlegm flew from his mouth to splat upon the gate and begin oozing toward the ground. He rested his hands on his knees to catch his breath while the dizziness passed. Seth saw a tiny droplet of blood nestled in the soft flesh between forearm and bicep. It wasn’t the first time he’d cut or scratched himself without knowing. Seth wiped it away, collected the racquet and bowl, and made his way back inside.
“I thought you got lost out there,” Nichole said from the other room as Seth closed the door to the garage.
Seth opened his mouth to reply, but all that came out was a faint wheeze. He stumbled into the bathroom, turned on the cold water, and slurped down some mouthfuls from an open palm. Splashed some water on his face and appraised himself in the mirror. His throat felt swollen but appeared fine. “What happened to you?” he said quietly in a laryngitis voice. Another coughing fit. The loogie that splat into the sink was bright yellow and spotted with red, but Seth felt better, and his vocal cords returned to normal function.
Nichole was on her laptop on the couch when Seth walked by, Gavin’s sound machine whirring from under his closed bedroom door upstairs. “I’m going to lay down upstairs and read, babe.”
“Ok, honey. Gavin should be up from nap time in about an hour, and we can leave a little after that,” Nichole said without looking up from her computer.
Laying down with a heavy sigh, Seth’s eyes blurred out of focus upon the white ceiling as his mind wandered. Memories came and went––swatting the wasp with an open palm, the crackle of wasps dying in the flame of his lawn torch. Terrible, inexplicable imaginings formed and reformed into incomprehensible shapes––the slack-jawed head of Dundee ambling up the drive on chicken bone legs, a hollowed-out turtle shell upside down and overflowing with small, severed limbs. Piercing insectile screams and shrieks rushed past like cars on a freeway. His limbs began pulsing with warm, tingling energy, and weightlessness came over him. Then a chittering voice rose in his perception, vague words and instructions uttered with click-clacking mandibles. Seth repeatedly mumbled in reply, “Yes. Yes. Yes,” as if caught up in some orgasmic rapture.
Then, Seth held Gavin’s hand as they walked the two blocks to the Hollister residence, the time between lying on the bed lost as if he’d slipped into a fugue. His eyes focused on the wonderful way Nichole’s butt filled her high-waisted jean shorts, and despite the abrupt shift in his awareness, Seth felt peaceful, at ease. He had not a care in the world.
Soon Seth and Nichole stood shoulder to shoulder in the sun swept expanse of the Hollister’s yard, ice-cold beers in hand as they listened to Blake and Jeanie Winslow express concern for their missing pup. Gavin giggled as he flung shovels of sand over his shoulder amidst a cluster of other toddlers, happy as clams in the giant sandbox by the fence.
“Still no sign of him,” Blake said with a turndown face. “Are you ok, Seth? You seem distant.”
The thrumming snapped away, and Seth’s vision came into focus on his neighbor’s face. “Oh, yeah, yeah. Just thinking… You were saying?”
“Animal control said they’ve been inundated with calls from our neighborhood about lost pets––”
“I saw a bunch of posts on the Nextdoor app, too!” Jeanie interjected.
“They said to keep an eye out for a mountain lion or coyotes,” Blake continued. “It’s usually the culprit if that many pets go missing in the same area.”
Seth’s gaze drifted beyond the Winslows to the woods looming beyond the back fence. The neighborhood formed a half-moon shape of semi-circle streets lining the edge of the old woods, and something deep inside was now calling. Nichole excused herself to settle a dispute over some sandbox toys between Gavin and a tow-headed boy screaming in agony; Seth drifted away from the Winslows without a word.
The Hollister’s yard was a sloping trapezoid, the parallel fences running from either side of the house to connect with an expansive diagonal line reaching furthest at its east end. Once Nichole had Gavin and the rabid two-year-old content again, she turned back toward the hubbub of milling neighbors, searching for Seth. She couldn’t locate her husband amongst the crowd. Thinking he’d gone inside to use the bathroom, Nichole dropped her half-empty beer in the trash and b-lined for a table covered in a large aluminum bin filled with ice blanketed bottles of white wine.
“What in the motherfuck?”
The vulgarity silenced the chatter for a split second before a barrage of gasps and whispered revulsion filled the air. Nichole turned to see every person who didn’t notice, nudged, and pointed toward the sight by those who did.
At the far back corner of the yard, the crowd of onlookers gasped in horror as an already shirtless man slid out of his pants and exposed his shining white ass to everyone at the party. Nichole shrieked at the sight of her husband, dropped her glass, and rushed across the yard. “Seth! Seth! What are you doing? Seth!”
The tumult of the party grew as Seth turned, fully exposing himself. Mothers rushed upon their children, turning them from the sight, and a few of the larger men, slowly advanced in preparation to thwart whatever other psychotic behavior may be coming next. Seth’s head snapped to the sky, and suddenly a metallic, nightmarish clacking noise filled the air.
Nichole skidded to a halt, now but a half-dozen steps from her husband. “Oh, God, Seth, what is happening? Wh––” Nichole shuddered as her words bled into strangled sobs.
Seth turned back towards the fence, his face raised to the sky, and Nichole now clearly saw the spidery veins upon his back. They were like the ones she’d seen around the welt at his neck the evening prior, but they wrapped his torso like mangled arthritic fingers, black and blue.
Suddenly the air was overtaken by a terrific buzzing noise, drowning out everything just like the sound machine Nichole used in little Gavin’s bedroom. A dark cloud rose out of the thick trees beyond the fence line, and as the swarm of angry wasps enveloped Seth, the crowd of onlookers erupted into a panicked upheaval.
A final, inexplicable clack from Seth’s heavenward face was cut short and replaced by a bloodcurdling scream. Nichole screamed next, a pure, agonized wail of terror. She watched as the swarm dug and burrowed under Seth’s skin, coating his punctured flesh in crimson. His skin crawled and burbled with the writing insects as his limbs gyrated and contorted into inhuman positions.
The Hollister’s back door was a traffic jam, the neighbors rushing to flee the scene, the parents screaming to allow them to get their kids to safety first. Blake Winslow was shoved out of the way by the mother of the tow-headed two-year-old previously fighting with Gavin. Blake’s heel caught the edge of a knocked-over lawn chair, and he went down hard, his grayed head smacking off the edge of an elevated stone path with the accompanying sound of a wet melon. Jeanie screamed and rushed to his side.
Gavin’s warbling petition for his mother snapped Nichole out of her awestruck terror, and she turned to see him wailing in the sandbox, tears streaming down his face.
Nichole turned mid-stride to see her husband’s now still body facing the fence, his skin splattered as if he’d been shot by a barrage of blood-red paintballs; his neck was folded all the way backward, the back of his head resting between his shoulder blades, and the abysmal expression on his upside-down face immediately caused a visceral reaction. As the surrounding cacophony of fright reached new heights, a dark spot filled the front of Nichole’s pastel sundress, her knees wobbled, and she collapsed a few steps away from the sandbox.
Jeanie Winslow wailed at Blake’s side, a pool of red growing where his ear rested upon the rock. She was the first to see the bloody, inhuman mass float out of the treetops. It was an amalgamation of bones, fur, flesh, shell, and cartilage; an effigy of death and carnage formed into a freakish ceremonial garb; an animal headdress flowing down into coverings for arms and legs, torso and crotch. And it was drifting out of the trees, carried by some unidentified black and yellow birds. But they weren’t birds; they were wasps the size of bluejays, and they were lowering the wicked mass of flesh and fur down upon the naked, blood-splattered man whose neck was folded back like it belonged in a Swiss-Army tool.
Seth’s body turned to face the rear of the Hollister’s home, where clusters of horror-filled faces crammed into the windows to see what there was to see. A few people vomited into sinks and trash cans, a few fainted, and those not paralyzed with fear cried.
“There’s a little boy still in the sandbox!” Someone yelled.
“And the Winslows! I think Blake is hurt!”
Jeanie recognized the headpiece as it was lowered upon the man standing with limbs spread wide by the fence; it was the open-mouthed face of Dundee the Australian shepherd, and below it was a chest plate made from the hollow shell of giant African tortoise. The garb fit perfectly, the giant insects flitting around to somehow fasten and secure, wrapping the blood-soaked effigy costume around Seth’s body. When Dundee’s jaws hinged open and shut, Jeanie screamed and fled her unconscious husband’s side to pound upon the back door. Only a few of the spectators saw the bird-sized wasps fly into Dundee’s open, bloody maw. Then the backyard was overtaken by CLICKS and CLACKS, drowning out Gavin’s cries, smothering the sound of Jeanie Winslow’s hammering fists at the backdoor.
The wasp-animated monster was suddenly alive, moving slowly at first, the giant dog-jaws opening and closing in some rhythmic fashion. CLICK. CLACK-K-K-K. CLICK. CLACK-K-K-K. It ambled forward, away from the fence, rounding a large shrub and gaining a sightline on the terrified boy in the sandbox, and his mother, now stirring slightly upon the grass.
CLACK-K-K-K. CLACK-K-K-K. CLACK-K-K-K. The dog jaws snapped and chattered; its eyes flashed with eldritch yellow light. It began rising off the ground as an electric buzz returned to fill the air.
Gavin was now at his mother’s side, grabbing at her clothes, her hair, pulling in an attempt to rouse her. Nichole’s eyes fluttered. They opened.
“Momma-momma-momma-momma!” Gavin pleaded.
Nichole’s vision focused as the creature glided over the ground to stop at her feet. At first, she didn’t understand what she saw. Then the previous sights rushed into her memory. Her gaze drifted away from the glowing yellow-eyed dog head, past the turtle shell chest, and she saw a swatch of the exposed torso in the creature’s midsection. The skin was glossed in crimson, but a scar was visible, and she recognized it immediately––Seth’s appendectomy scar.
CLACK-K-K-K! CLACK-K-K-K! The jaws widened and widened––wider than any canine jaw could naturally open, and a tiny point of light began to grow inside the blackened maw. Gavin’s wails faded to the background as words drifted into Nichole’s mind, like a psychic voice speaking to her and her alone: A family for a family. A community for a community.
Nichole muttered four words, barely audible: “The Great Wasp Genocide––”
The Seth Creature fell upon Nicole and Gavin.
Blood and gore rained upon the lawn.
The creature rose, glossed in blood, and turned toward the rear of the Hollister’s home.
The carnage continued.