HORNS OF THE APOCALYPSE
by Matthew Pitman
I was trying hard not to breathe as I gingerly extended my arm deep within the untidy shrubbery that flanked my home. Aside from not wishing to move unnecessarily and end up scraping my arm to pieces among the thorny branches, there was the small matter of avoiding anything that might disturb the football-sized lump of what at first sight might have been papier-mâché.
The advice I’d been given by a gardener friend of mine suggested strongly that I should have left this job until it was actually night-time, rather than the near-dark of early evening. Circumstances, sadly, were not in my favour, and as it turned out I was more worried about what might happen to me if I told two dozen of my nearest and dearest that the 42” telly I’d promised them to watch their beloved national side was out of bounds than the reaction of the inhabitants of a hornet’s nest when they found out they were being unceremoniously evicted.
I should have trimmed back these bushes years ago. I’ve never been one for gardening, but given that this particular annoyance was located to the rear of the property, combined with the fact I lived just far enough away from town to be considered “a bit of a trip”, there never really seemed much point. I’d copped a number of earfuls from assorted girlfriends, relatives and the one insufferable – and thankfully now long-gone – neighbour who considered my relaxed attitude to horticulture an affront to the refined tastes of her guests whenever she threw one of her la-di-da garden parties.
The memory of that old bat had me unconsciously gritting my teeth as I leaned in closer, trying to stretch my arm far enough in that I could reach the nest without lacerating my face against the bush. In my gloved hand I held an old broomstick, the end of which I had liberally plastered with a syrupy poison that the man in the shop had assured me was potent enough to get the job done without alerting the entire nest to my presence at ten metres away.
As I inched closer to the single, tiny entrance to the hive, my head was full of the advice I had been given from various quarters. From the moment I first realised I had unwanted guests, the childhood horror stories about people stung until they resembled humanoid raspberries had prompted me to thoroughly research my opponents. As such, I had covered every inch of skin I could with makeshift protective clothing and had a huge bottle of tea tree oil on hand, should the unthinkable happen. Common sense dictated that I should avoid excessive movement or noise, because heaven forbid those poor hornets think that I might disturb them in their own home! I had told my guests that they should leave it until the last minute to arrive, but inevitably there had been one person who had not listened, and whom I had explicitly instructed to sit down quietly in the lounge, patiently awaiting the arrival of the other guests. To his credit, at least he’d offered to help, but unfortunately the words “subtlety” and “grace” are as alien to Simon’s vocabulary as the words “white wine spritzer”.
It was going to take almost the entire length of my arm plus the broomstick to reach the mouth of the nest – Her Majesty the queen hornet had clearly put a lot of thought into how best to avoid the unwanted attention of disgruntled homeowners. I could feel my arm starting to get tired, and while I had a little room to move around in, I couldn’t let the stick touch the bush for fear it might set off a mass exodus of incredibly angry, fiercely territorial stinging insects in the approximate direction of my face. I also knew I couldn’t rush this, because if I accidentally knocked a hole in the delicate skin of the nest, there would be no way for me to keep all the bugs inside while the poison worked its magic.
I was close, now. Just another couple of inches and my heart could get back to its normal day-to-day activity. I knew the guests would be arriving very soon, but in my present predicament I could hardly check my watch and make sure. What was worse, I had the itchy, light-headed feeling that I needed to sneeze. Remaining calm, I eased the lethal weapon across the final stretch, towards the mouth of the hive.
came the unmistakeable roar of Simon’s voice from somewhere inside the house. I froze, but thankfully did not jump at the shock. There was a fleeting moment where I lost myself in the soothing mental image of jamming the entire colony of hornets onto his blaringly idiotic head, but I quickly regained my composure as I heard the first tell-tale hum of discord from somewhere deep in the hedge.
Wasting no time, I channeled the ghosts of Bruce Lee, Harry Houdini and Neo from The Matrix, slotting the business end of the poison-stick neatly into the hole from which the now-buzzing hive threatened to erupt. As I did so, the noise intensified, causing the nest to vibrate angrily. I could feel the motion being carried down the broomstick, and worried the whole thing might explode. I’m pretty quick on my feet, and while I may not have been able to out-run them, I would have had at least a chance of reaching Simon and giving him one last kick in the family jewels before the pair of us were stung to death.
“Oy, how’s it going out here?” came a voice from behind me. “You sorted out them hornets, yet?”
“Can you not keep that cavernous gob of yours shut for just ten minutes, Simon?” I hissed at him, still fixated on the vibrating ball of insectoid fury that was, for now, indirectly connected to my arm.
“Hey, relax!” he said, as I continued to do anything but. “I just got a call from Parkie. Him and Mary are about five minutes away, and he’s only brought his PS3 with him! We can have that Pro Evo rematch we’re always talking about.”
“YOU’RE always talking about. I don’t even like that game!” It was true. I hated football simulators almost as much as I hated football itself, but I was routinely goaded into playing whenever the console was turned on. Either Simon got a kick out of letting me win, or he was genuinely awful, but since I always seemed to beat him, there was forever the excuse to get me to play again. “Anyway, can’t you see I’m busy trying to avoid becoming hornet target practice?”
“All right, all right. Don’t get in a mood with me! Anyone would think I put the nest there myself!”
I let this thought linger perhaps a little longer than I should have. I knew he was too much of an oaf to have carried out such a diabolical master plan, but all the same I didn’t think there was anything outside the realms of possibility wherever such concentrated block-headedness was concerned.
“Make yourself useful, would you?” I said. “Get in the kitchen and put the kettle on. They’ll be here soon, and I’m going to need at least a gallon of Glengettie to make it through the next few hours.”
The noise and movement from within the hornet’s nest seemed to be dying down now, but I was still hesitant to withdraw. The man who’d sold me the poison had said no more than a couple of minutes, but I wanted to be absolutely certain. It’s possible that after 90 minutes of watching 22 overpaid cavemen run from one side of a field to the other while honing their acting skills, I’d actually welcome the sweet release of a bloodstream full of insect toxin; all the same, I’m not sure my guests would entirely agree.