STINGER


By William Wilde



Harry Bowman couldn't move.

Lying in the bed, he had hardly any sensation left below his neck and his limbs seemed like remote, leaden things not even connected to the rest of him anymore. He couldn't even feel the plaid wool blanket covering his body, although he could see it plainly right below his chin. Oh, yes, he could still see well enough, even if the lid of his right eye was drooped halfway closed. He could breathe faintly and hear his heart thumping weakly away. But that was about all he could do just then.

Except that he could still think too, in a hazy, confused kind of way. At least enough to guess what had just happened to him.

Stroke. From the warm sogginess in the right side of his head, the diagnosis was easy. Big one this time, worse than the first one he was still recovering from. Bowman's doctor warned him another might be coming sooner or later. It turned out to be sooner.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the phone on the bed stand. Lot of good it did him. He couldn't even turn his head toward it, let alone reach for it. His right ear had gone dead, but with his left he could hear fuzzy voices downstairs. His wife, Audrey, and a man, what a surprise. She rarely bothered to check on him. Even if he was able to call out, would she even spare a moment from her latest male bimbo to come up?

Bowman tried to speak, but all he could manage was a weak, mooing grunt in his lower throat. His lips wouldn't work at all. The right side of his mouth was twisted down numbly at the corner.

So that was it. No help was coming for old Harry. All he could do was lie there and wait helplessly until somebody found him. A sixty-eight-year-old man in striped pajamas with gray stubble on his jaw and his mug frozen into a lopsided last grimace of indignity. What a way to go.

Propped up on the pillows, he could at least see the room around him one more time. The oak bookshelves with his entomology books. The glass-framed specimen collections hung on the walls with their mountings of tiny black, yellow, and orange creatures. Bowman's specialty was the stingers: hornets, yellow jackets, and wasps. The ones that everyone else was afraid of, but not him. They had always been his friends and now they would be there with him at the end. That was something anyway.

As Bowman's mind grew slowly dimmer, something flew into the room and buzzed close over him. He thought he saw bright orange stripes on a segmented body.

One of his pet wasps? He kept a colony of them living in a lumpy brown paper nest in the greenhouse outside. Species vespula pennsylvanica by name. Vicious little buggers if you annoyed them. This stray one must have got into the house somehow and found its way into his bedroom.

Audrey would have a fit if she saw the insect. She was allergic to sting venom and continually threatened to have all the nests exterminated. She never could stand to have Bowman's buzzing stingers anywhere around her. That was another reason why he enjoyed keeping them so much.

With that final satisfying thought, Bowman began to sink into blackness. The last thing he heard was the tiny drone of the wasp's wings skimming low over him again.

Some time later, Bowman came back to consciousness again. But when he got his eyes focused and looked around him, he got a shock. It was all suddenly different and he was disoriented.

Instead of lying in the bed, he seemed to be crawling on the wallpaper in a corner near the ceiling. The room below him looked huge, like a football stadium. Everything was refracted into multiple images and he realized he was looking out through compound eyes on either side of his head. He crawled some more, feeling his six spindly legs beneath him and the gentle rustling of his four wings on the top of his thorax.

It took Bowman a moment to recognize that he was inside the body one of his own wasps! It was only a bizarre hallucination, of course, created by his damaged brain as he lay stricken in the bed. But he had always wondered what the life of a wasp was like. Why not enjoy this cock-eyed delusion while it lasted?

As an experiment, he flexed his filmy wings and lifted off from the wall. He skimmed freely about the room, dancing across the shiny coolness of the window glass. It was exhilarating! He landed again, gripping the wallpaper securely with his sticky feet.

At the rear of his abdomen, he could feel the weight of his stinger. That meant he must have the body of a female wasp, since they were the only ones with stingers. The presence of that natural defensive weapon gave him a satisfying sense of security.

A sudden air current from below ruffled his wings and he felt the vibration of heavy movement. Through the doorway beneath him, two human bodies entered the bedroom. From Bowman's tiny insect perspective above, the figures looked enormous. He recognized them at once.

One was his wife, Audrey, with her blonde, Spaniel hairstyle and her thickening body wedged into designer denims and a half-unbuttoned blouse. Trailing close to her was Don Neely, an athletic, balding insurance broker in a polo shirt, khaki slacks, and mahogany loafers. He had been working hard lately to sell Audrey a full personal care policy and it looked like she was buying.

Audrey marched over to the bed. Bowman pointed his sensitive antenna to pick up the vibrations of whatever was said.

She bent over the bed. "So how you doing today, Harry? You're not looking so good, if I do say so."

In the cavernous room, her voice sounded huge and monstrous to Bowman.

Neely shuffled nervously. "Why is his face all purple and twisted sideways like that? He didn't look like that yesterday."

"Because he's just had another stroke, that's why. A pretty bad one at that."

"I don't think he can move. You better check his pulse."

Audrey put her face down closer. "Did Harry have another strokey-wokey? Yoo-hoo, Bowman, are you in there? What's the matter, got nothing to say?"

Neely swallowed hard. "For pete sakes, Audrey! Shouldn't we call an ambulance? At the hospital, they might be able to help him, he might —"

"He might live another ten years like a vegetable with me having to water him every day. Is that what you want? On the other hand, if we simply do nothing, pretend we never found him like this, he could go on his own at any time and we're rid of him."

"You mean just walk away and leave him like this?"

"Why not? It's not like we're actually murdering him, is it? We just let nature take its course. Once he's finally gone, the whole estate is mine, whether old Harry likes it or not. I've been waiting a long time for that money."

Neely chewed his lip. "Can he hear us talking? I don't like the way he's looking at us with that crooked smirk on his face."

Audrey snorted. "Who cares if he can hear us? What's he going to do about it? Come on, let's have another drink and climb into the hot tub. By the time we get back up here later, it may all be over with. If we're lucky."

From his place high up on the wall. Bowman heard it all. In a fit of waspish rage, he flew down rapidly toward them.

He circled behind Audrey's towering body, coming around the right side of her meaty, pink neck. The pores of her skin were gaping and lumpy. He lit atop the fat, throbbing rope of the jugular vein. He immediately penetrated the flesh with his stinger and empted his venom sacks. It took only an instant. He was already off her skin by the time her plump fingers smacked at her neck.

Her hand missed him and he flew past Neely's startled face toward the doorway to make his escape. But he wasn't fast enough. He felt a sudden rush of air behind him and he was struck by a heavy blow that knocked him downwards.

He tried to keep flying, but his wings were crippled. Something was broken inside his thorax and he knew already that it was a mortal blow. He spiraled down clumsily to the fibrous forest of the carpet. He was just able to crawl painfully under the protective base of the bookcase. An angry foot stomped behind him, but it couldn't get to him now. With the last of his strength, Bowman dragged his broken wasp body farther back into the dusty space where he would die with dignity as it darkened around him again.

When he regained consciousness once more, he was back in the bed as before, staring helplessly out from beneath the same drooping right eyelid. Audrey and Neely were still there, but they were moving around frantically now.

Neely waved a rolled-up magazine in his hand. "I think I got it good! I saw it crawl under there. Where did that damned thing come from anyway?"

"Nest of them in the greenhouse. Harry's stupid hobby. One must have got in here somehow... stung me!"

Audrey's voice was raspy. There was something wrong with her. Her fingers pressed her neck, which was already scarlet around a white circle of rapid swelling.

Neely stared at her. "Audrey, your neck! What is it?"

She couldn't answer. A violent wheezing fit seized her and she began to gasp noisily for breath. She sagged onto the bed.

Bowman remembered her severe allergy to sting venom and he recognized the ugly symptoms. She was going into anaphylactic shock as her immune system went crazy over the invading venom. That kind of over-reaction could be fatal.

He recalled the wasp he thought he had seen buzzing in the room just before he had that bizarre hallucination. The real insect must have got her, fulfilling Bowman's own furious desire to sting her himself when he imagined he was in the wasp body. One of his pet wasps must have done the job for him. Yes, that must have been what happened while he was unconscious. It was the only explanation that made any sense, wasn't it?

Audrey's whole face was red and sweating by now as she choked for air.

Neely looked frightened, his club tan suddenly gone pale. "Audrey, baby, what should I do?"

Her voice was a strangled croak. "Get help...call 911..."

He hesitated, looking toward Bowman. "But what about him? If I call them, they'll see him too and help him. I thought you didn't want that."

She clenched forward, starting to go into convulsions. "Call...them!"

Neely rushed to pick up the phone. His hand was so shaky he couldn't push the numbers right. When he finally got connected, he babbled wildly, stumbling over the exact address of the house.

Bowman watched the whole show patiently. He couldn't do much else, could he? He had heard of severe venom allergies, but he never realized they could get this bad. If he had known earlier that Audrey was this sensitive, it might have given him ideas. The way Audrey was flopping around now and choking, he didn't think she would last much longer. Her movements were diminishing, her last spasms getting weaker. No, it really didn't look good at all.

In the distance, he hard the faint whine of a siren. They would probably be too late for her and for him as well. Bowman's own vision was staring to go dim again and he sensed it was for the last time.

As the room got ever darker around him, he lay there and thought of warm summer breezes, sweet pollen scents, and flying free.


William Wilde's new suspense novel, THE TRIAL OF RACHEL WILLIAMS, about a modern day witchcraft trial, is published by Synergebooks. He writes the Suspense and Horror review blog Murder Beach at billsmedia.blogspot.com. He lives in Oregon and belongs to Willamette Writers and EPIC.


Copyright 2011 William Wilde. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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