Bug Advisor started out as a place for stories about bugs found when travelling abroad. Now most of the reviews relate to restaurants and hotels. This short story by author Michael Collins redresses the balance.
As the title suggests, the story isn’t for the faint-hearted, especially those who have a phobia about wasps and hornets.
The story is written in the form of a script. The annotations used are as follows:
INT – Interior
ECU – Extreme Close Up
INT, OBS ROOM #1 – A police station observation room. Grey, drab, ill-lit by the thin energy-saving bulbs in the ceiling spotlights. Behind the viewing glass at a desk sit two uniformed officers – THE SARGE, tall and slim almost to the point of emaciation, and PC KENDALL, his strained uniform shirt showing the effects of too many burgers and pints and too few trips to the gym. KENDALL anxiously strokes the bristles of his salt and pepper beard as he looks through the viewing glass into the interview room itself, where the girl sits shuddering, wraith-like arms hugging herself, her eyes far away and full of horror. A large purple welt marks her cheek, making a mockery of her youthful prettiness.
She said anything yet?
PC KENDALL (shakes his head)
Not a word.
Better get back in there then, daylight’s wasting.
ECU on KENDALL, who nods in acceptance, running a hand through his thinning hair. The expression in his eyes displays a wary reluctance.
All right, guv. You know I hate interviews. And this one’s a waste of time, right? We know what happened.
THE SARGE (shrugging)
Gotta get a statement, either way.
INT, OBS ROOM #1 – KENDALL, holding his pocketbook in his hands, lumbers to the door, opens it and steps out into the darkened corridor that hosts all the interview rooms. He moves to open the door of the interview room itself. At the door KENDALL pauses; from the set of his shoulders and the studied, focussed expression on his face it is clear he is gathering himself for the task that awaits him. After a deep breath he grips the handle firmly and pulls open the door to
INT, INTERVIEW ROOM #1, which in sharp contrast to the obs room next door, is awash in the harsh, bright glare of the halogen strip lights, softly buzzing through their plastic fittings. One wall is the blackened glass of the one-way viewing mirror – the rest are off-white prefab. There’s a table in the middle of the room, with four basic chairs around it – steel legs and plastic bucket seats. A jug of water and two glasses sit on the table surface. Huddled on one of the chairs is the girl the two coppers were looking at. Her head is now down and her blonde hair hangs gracelessly over her face. She does not look up as KENDALL enters the room. He pulls back the chair opposite the girl, the scrape of its steel feet across the floor a harsh intrusion into the room’s silence. The girl neither moves nor speaks as KENDALL sits down in the chair.
PC KENDALL (aiming for brisk bonhomie, and missing)
All right then, miss. Let’s try to get to the bottom of this, shall we?
The girl is silent, her head still down and her arms still hugging herself. KENDALL can see her shuddering. KENDALL reaches for the water jug and pours into both glasses. He takes one, raises it to his lips and takes a deep draught.
That’s better. This summer, eh? So damn hot my brains feel like they’re frying inside me head.
Once again, the girl does not respond. KENDALL sits there for a moment, his unease clear on his face. Then he leans over slowly, one hand reaching tentatively towards the girl.
Look, I’m really sorry about – you know, about your boyfriend. But we really need to know what happened, ok? Please, love. Try and tell me what happened.
ECU on the girl’s face as she finally, slowly lifts her head. Deep scratches lie like tribal scars across her forehead and her high cheekbones. Her brown eyes are bloodshot, and very wide. In them KENDALL can see deep pain and abject terror. She tries to speak, but her voice cracks and she fails.
INT – KENDALL slides the untouched glass of water over to her. The girl clutches clumsily at it, sending it spinning and tumbling to the floor. Water spills across the floor but the glass, wondrously, does not break. The girl issues a soft, wordless cry of anguish. KENDALL leaves his seat and bends down to retrieve the glass from the floor as the girl weeps.
PC KENDALL (on the floor)
There, now. It’s all right. Didn’t even break, see?
ECU on KENDALL as he resumes his seat, refilling the glass from the jug.
Here you go.
KENDALL slides the glass over to the girl. This time, she’s able to grasp it, with his help – he keeps one hand on the glass’s base as she lifts it to her lips. The girl drinks thirstily, almost frantically, drops spilling down her chin as she drains the glass. With his help she sets it back down on the table.
The girl nods.
All right. Let’s start at the beginning, then. What’s your name?
ECU on the girl as she takes a deep breath. Then, finally-
A-Amy. Amy Bicknell.
And your other half? Your fella?
KENDALL nods, head down, making notes in his pocketbook.
Amy and Alfie. Been together long?
T- two years. Just over two years.
Lovely. And you two fancied a pub lunch today, did you, then?
AMY (nodding slowly, blonde hair fluttering around her face as she does)
Yeah. Alf’d finished a job early – he’s a carpet fitter – and he said ‘cause it was so hot he really fancied a pint.
PC KENDALL (bent over his pocketbook, scribbling)
I get an hour for my lunch at the hairdressers so we thought we’d go up the Inn On The Green ‘cause it has that lovely garden and the pond out the back. We could get something to eat and sit out in the garden and enjoy the sun for a bit.
PC KENDALL (with a slight smile)
I know the place. Does good grub.
We thought the place would be mega busy but when we got there it was almost empty, and there was no-one outside, Alf couldn’t believe how lucky we were. We got a nice bench right at the end of the garden, where the trees overhang the pond. It was perfect – a bit of shade but still lovely and warm.
Go on, indulge me. What’d you get?
If he’s trying to elicit a smile from AMY, he’s not successful. AMY, in fact, doesn’t even look at him.
ECU on AMY shows that her eyes are faraway, in the reverie she’s created for herself. Her and her man, safe and warm, before the horror. She continues to speak, her words coming more freely now as she loses herself in memory.
The sun was coming down through the tree branches, it was so pretty… Alf got himself a double cheeseburger and a pint. I ordered Caesar salad and I thought I’d treat meself to a gin and tonic seeing it was so nice, even though Alf says drinking gin during the day always gives me such a headache and makes me so grumpy later.
I get a lot of headaches.
INT on the room as the camera cuts away from her face to show that now, she’s smiling. Perhaps she’s hearing her boyfriend’s voice in her mind.
We sat there under the veranda waiting for our food and drink to come out. We talked a bit as we waited – we been planning a holiday for the end of summer, maybe the Algarve, and Alf’s mum ain’t well, he’s pretty worried about her.
INT on the room as AMY pauses, reaching for the water jug. She pours a glass and drinks, unaided this time.
God, I’m thirsty.
She returns the empty glass to the table.
The waitress brought our drinks out. As she put them down on the bench I saw her look behind us and kind of – I don’t know, like she shivered or something. Like she saw something she didn’t like.
Did you ask her what was bothering her?
Yeah, I did.
Her voice goes up half an octave. KENDALL realises she’s unconsciously impersonating herself. A woman from another life, one before the horror of the day landed upon her. The light fixtures above continue to buzz softly.
‘You all right, love? What’s up?’
AMY (resuming her normal voice)
She looked like she’d seen a ghost. She was so young – just a girl, tiny thing. Bet she was still in school. Her face had gone all white.
Did she answer?
Not right away. It was like she’d frozen or something. She just stood there. After a bit she pointed at the trees behind us. Alfie turned around so he saw it first. Then he kind of laughed and said, ‘Oh, I get it.’
What had he seen?
AMY (hesitant, shivering)
Go on, it’s all right. It’s over, now.
It was a nest. A wasp’s nest, hanging from a branch of the tree.
What did it look like?
AMY (struggling to recall)
It looked… It looked like… like a giant brown teardrop. It was huge. Much bigger than Alfie’s head. It hung down from the branch and you could tell it was heavy because the branch was sagging down above it.
How did you know it was a wasp’s nest?
AMY (head down, words inaudible)
Say that again, love. A little louder, please.
I could see them. And I could hear them.
INT the obs room, as THE SARGE leans forwards, staring through the glass. He can see the terror has returned to AMY’s eyes. The camera follows his gaze into ECU on her face as she speaks.
They were crawling all over the nest, up and down its sides. They were huge. Much bigger than any wasp or bee that I’d ever seen. They looked as big as the palm of my hand. They had these long thin brown bodies and big wings. I looked back at the girl. She said, ‘That wasn’t there yesterday.’ I couldn’t believe it. That these things had built something that big in a day? It didn’t seem real. I hate wasps. Always hate ‘em. Nasty little beasts they are. And that noise… that buzzing… it gets in my head. Gives me headaches. (She shivers)
So what happened next?
Alfie laughs. He says to the girl, ‘Don’t worry, darlin’, I’ll get rid of it for yer.’ And he gets off the bench and starts searching through the grass until he finds this big rock. He’s gotta dig it out of the ground, it’s so big. Sharp edges. Alfie picks up the rock…
INT the interview room as the camera pulls back. AMY struggles to speak as the enormity of her grief and terror assaults her again.
AMY (fighting back tears)
I knew what he was gonna do before the girl did. Typical Alfie, doing something without even thinking about it! Oh God, he was the sweetest, loveliest man I ever met, but he was such an idiot!
ECU on AMY as the dam breaks and the tears fall like a flood. KENDALL looks away, embarrassed and unsure, as the girl puts her hands to her face and weeps.
INT, the Obs Room to show THE SARGE, grim-faced, watching through the viewing glass. Eventually the girl’s weeping storm subsides.
What did he do, Amy?
Alfie’d played cricket when he was a kid, so I knew he could throw. He had the rock in his hands and was staring at the wasp’s nest. He threw it up in the air a couple of times – testing its weight, like. Then he launched it at the nest. His aim was good, and the rock hit right at the part where the nest was attached to the tree branch. Bloody idiot!
Did it fall?
AMY (laughing bitterly)
Oh yeah – it went down like The Titanic. It hit on the rocks that circled the shore of the little pond, and it exploded. Bits of it went flying everywhere – a really hard, sharp piece hit me right here.
ECU on AMY’S face as she indicates a cut on her forehead.
Then it was like time stopped for a second. We all froze – me, Alf, even the waitress, who I thought would scatter when she saw what Alfie did. A cloud went over the sun. There was no sound in the garden, no birds singing or anything. It felt like those few seconds just after you see lightning. Just before the thunder comes. My head started aching. Then –
PC KENDALL (leaning forward)
INT of the interview room as the lights flicker and buzz.
We heard them first. We heard them before we saw them. There was this loud, angry buzzing, like a thousand chainsaws all being pulled at the same time. It was huge, louder than anything I’d ever heard before. It sounded like there were millions of them. Oh, my head, I thought it was gonna burst. But we couldn’t see them…
ECU on AMY as she shudders involuntarily.
It looked like the air was shimmering – you know, like it does on a really hot day. It was like a brown cloud that you couldn’t see through, a great brown curtain hanging over the pond, only it was shifting and moving in the air. The buzzing got louder. Then Alfie took a step towards the pond –
AMY stops speaking, holding her throat and gasping for air. Camera draws back as KENDALL sits there for a moment, then leaves his seat, kneels down in front of the distraught girl and awkwardly embraces her, smoothing one thick hand up and down her back, murmuring words of comfort that THE SARGE cannot hear. He can hear the girl’s anguished sobbing, however, even over the harsh buzzing hum of the light fixtures in the interview room. Presently KENDALL ceases comforting the girl and resumes his seat.
You’re doing really well, Amy. You’re nearly there. I know this is hard, but you’re nearly there. Tell me what happened.
AMY (wiping a dirty handkerchief across her eyes)
All right. Alf took a step towards the pond, and that set them off. The brown curtain split apart and hundreds of them – thousands, millions, I don’t know, every bloody hornet in England – flew across the garden like boiling water out of a kettle. Oh, the noise, their wings, millions of wings, that humming. They landed on Alfie, on every part of him – his face, his hair, his arms. I could see them crawling into his ears… he tried to scream and I saw one huge one, its brown body throbbing with poison, enter his mouth and crawl onto his tongue. Then more, and more… I heard a scream from behind me and I saw the waitress, her hair flying behind her, running for the back door of the pub. She didn’t get very far – she was covered in less than half a dozen steps. She went down and it looked like she hit her head on the edge of the patio. I saw a flash of blood and then they crawled all over her.
Why didn’t you run?
I dunno. Shock, I guess. My legs felt like they were stuck in concrete – I couldn’t move even if I wanted to. I saw Alf go down… his arms were flailing about and he was making these horrible noises, like muffled screams, like he was underwater… I could see them crawling all over him, there must have been hundreds of them. There were loads of them flying around the garden, and one or two of them landed on me and I scratched my face, slapped me to get them off, but that was the only move I made. I don’t even think I got stung once.
How did you get away?
I didn’t. They did.
AMY (eyes distant)
They all flew away. It was like they all heard a signal – they all flew up into a giant brown funnel all at the same time. They went up into the air and they were gone. Alf’s body was lying on the ground just by the water’s edge. His face… God, his face was all red and puffy, I could hardly recognise him. The skin on his arms was purple and swollen like a bruise. The girl was the same. I knew they were both dead. Poor Alfie…
So they all just… flew away?
Yeah. One moment they were there. The next… gone. I don’t know where they went.
Don’t worry, we’ll find them before they attack again. Burn ‘em all up, destroy them. We’ll get ‘em, don’t you worry.
ECU on AMY as she leans back in her chair. She looks drained, as if the recounting of her awful experience has physically tired her. She’s looking down at the table, her hair hanging down over her face again. KENDALL is bent over his pocketbook, writing studiously. Neither of them notice the two dark shapes that appear above the table, fluttering in the bright halogen glow of the lights.
AMY (looking up)
What? My head hurts.
Sorry, thought I heard something.
INT the obs room as the buzzing in the interview room intensifies. More shapes appear, darting about the room above their heads, flitting in and out of the shadows. From his vantage point THE SARGE looks up towards the light fixtures. A dark, seething mass has appeared surrounding the lights, blocking out the light somewhat.
ECU on the table in the interview room as something flutters into view and lands on the side of the water jug. It is a large insect, perhaps two inches long, perhaps double the length of the thumb of an average man. Its segmented body, quivering in the cold sanitised air of the room, is the colour of stained wood, with concentric rings of a dirty yellow. Its antennae twitch on the sides of its head and its long transparent wings flicker as it crawls along the side of the jug. Another joins it on its discovery of the jug, and another. Their movement draws AMY’s attention and the camera draws out to view her face.
AMY (staring at the water jug)
PC KENDALL, still jotting down notes in his pocketbook, doesn’t look up.
No, n-no, no, it can’t be… Oh, no, no, it-it can’t be…
PC KENDALL (finally looking up)
What is it?
AMY (pointing a shaking finger at the table)
ECU on KENDALL as he stares at the jug on the table, and at the hornets crawling over it. His eyes widen in fear and he bursts out of his chair to his feet. The chair tips over with a steely, echoing clatter. The buzzing increases in pitch and volume and the swirling mass hidden in the light fixture begins to move more quickly.
Don’t move! Stay still!
PC KENDALL (backing away from the table)
INT – the interview room. The camera draws back as KENDALL turns to run. He trips over the chair and falls to the floor. Immediately there is a crash and a tinkle from above as the light fixture breaks under the combined pressure of millions of wriggling shifting boiling bodies and the hornets flow into the room like deadly lava. They land on the table. They plop into the half-filled water jug and thrash about in the water, trying to free themselves. They land on the floor and squirm about. They land on the mirror, crawling over it and each other, obscuring the view. Mostly they alight with mindless viciousness on KENDALL and stingstingsting every inch of his exposed body as he screams his last.
INT – the observation room as THE SARGE helplessly watches KENDALL die as the girl sits there rigid. The view through the glass becomes murky and unclear as more and more of the insects cover it, but THE SARGE can see AMY sitting motionless, untouched by the maelstrom, tears falling down her face. All THE SARGE can see is the whirring brown haze of millions of hornets invading the interview room – but before the glass is completely covered and his view completely obscured THE SARGE hears three things. The first is the last words he hears AMY speak:
I can’t control them. I’m sorry, so sorry. I love you, Alfie, I never meant for you to be hurt. I tried to put them back but I couldn’t. Now they don’t listen any more… I’m sorry. Oh, my head, how it hurts!
The second thing THE SARGE hears, is the insane roaring buzz of a million angry hornets filling the observation room, that whirring humming buzz tearing through his mind. The third thing, the last thing he ever hears, as the camera fades to black, is the cracking of glass as the mirror begins to crack.
© 2020 Michael Collins. All rights reserved.