Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 54
I have to use the camera on my phone to see inside the bathroom vent. The disconcerting buzzing sound had been a nuisance for weeks now, and I was finally ready to investigate the source of the noise more closely.
I can hear it; a dry, scratchy rustling coming from inside the walls.
I’ve lived here less than a month. The bathroom is shocking in how small it is. The unit is only a studio, but they could have allowed more footage for the room. I feel like I’m in an airplane bathroom in there.
I’m thinking the sound is a bee’s nest. It is an angry humming sound I hear from the vent. The things inside the vent look dusty, smeared with grease that has probably been here since the building’s inception.
I hate bees. All varieties of them. Hornets, wasps, bumblebees, sweat-bees, ugh.
None of the camera images turn out. Probably because I still have the flash activated. I switch the phone’s flash off, try again. I snap a picture and wait the milliseconds it takes for my phone to process, record, and then render the image. I place my thumb and index finger on the screen, then swiftly draw them apart.
All I see is a shiny, black hardness.
This could be anything. Almost certainly metallic.
I pan out a bit.
I nearly drop my phone in the commode. The texture to the left of the screen is not metallic or hard; it is feathery and soft. Not unlike a wing, a wasp’s wing.
I look away from my phone, consider the flimsy-looking plastic vent that sets upon the wall to my left at head height. I guess it may have been a snug fit in the past, but the whole assembly looks as though I could pull it right out of the wall without even a single tool. The drywall is receded and cracked where it meets the plastic vent housing cover.
I try a different tack. I pocket my phone and retrieve my flashlight. One I’d ‘borrowed’ from a retreat center – several years ago.
I switch it on and aim the beam into the darkness within the vent housing.
The feathery bit I saw before? I nearly collapse as it trembles and vibrates. That’s a wing I’m seeing. But it’s practically 7 inches long. And I get the sense I’m not seeing the full size of this thing.
I can pretend no longer; what I’m seeing in the bathroom exhaust vent in my new apartment, is the biggest wasp I’ve ever seen. Even larger than the nauseatingly named ‘murder hornets.’ If I had to venture a guess, I would estimate the flying insect currently inside the wall is a foot long, perhaps longer.
As I look in again, I sense it sensing my presence, as an ungodly high-pitched squeal comes out of the vent. I nearly drop the flashlight into the toilet.
Okay, calm yourself. Breathe, breathe.
What do I know?
There’s an indeterminately huge wasp in my bathroom vent.
It seems distressed or in pain from the high pitch squeal.
The brushing of its wings against the internals of the vent makes a distinct noise. A noise that didn’t alarm me until I noticed how it was being made. The wasp is trapped in the wall. The wing fluttering is an involuntary reaction to free itself from the tight quarters it finds itself.
I warily shut my eyes, try to focus on the sounds coming from the vent.
I sense the creature’s distress; the wings brushing against internal vent structures, but then I hear a fainter, distinct third sound. A constant, high-pitch hum could be the fan, but I notice the exhaust fan switch is in the off position. Experimentally, I flip the fan switch on; immediately the wasp wing fluttering, and vocalizations double in intensity.
I switch the exhaust fan off, but only after making a mental note – the exhaust fan, somehow, hurts the wasp within my walls.
Two days pass in my apartment. I’ve made some modifications to how I live in my rented space.
For starters, the bathroom had been declared ‘off-limits.’ I shoved washcloths under the door, pulled the door tightly closed, and duct-taped the whole mess shut. This alteration has created ‘ripples’ in my behaviors. No longer do I use the toilet or bathtub within the under-sized room. I’ve not entered the room since sealing it shut Monday afternoon.
I wash up at the kitchen sink, wash my hair under the too short kitchen sink tap. And I never urinate or defecate at home anymore either. Well, at least not in the bathroom. I have an empty coffee can (which I have used a handful of times these past two days) and a bucket (which, thankfully, I’ve not had to resort to using – yet.)
I made some more ambitious movements early on. To be rid of the menace, I bought a can of wasp spray.
The label boasted, “SHOOTS SAFELY UP TO 20 FEET.” Well, that will not work. Anything that shoots twenty feet will not be ideal for a tiny 25 square foot bathroom. The splashback from the stream in such an enclosed area would inevitably hit me, and as much as I hate wasps, I hate the idea of being doused in a liberal spry of wasp spray almost as much.
Then there were the knives. Butcher knives. I imagined shoving them into the vent, through the wasp’s hard outer layer, and killing it. But the more I examined the assembly, the less convinced I became of the viability of such a plan.
I am Hamlet.
Instead of ‘To be or not to be,’ my paralyzing dilemma has been ‘To kill bee or not kill bee.’
I am frozen by indecisiveness.
I logged onto the apartment maintenance request application three separate times. Yet, in all my digging, I could not locate ‘gigantic wasp has taken up residence in my bathroom walls.’
Every day, the buzzing seems to double in volume. I can still detect three seemingly distinct sounds. The third is the one that causes me the most anxiety, as I don’t have a story for its origin so far. The high pitch thing is distress in the huge wasp. The brushing sound of wings against whatever else is in there with it is far more intermittent. It is an instinctual response. But the third sound or sounds? I’ve got no narrative to describe them in some comforting lie, I can tell myself. I don’t know what the third sound signifies, and that is maybe the scariest thing about this situation.
I get up and use the coffee can. I step out on my patio and seeing no one is about; I fling its contents into the green grass below. The downstairs neighbor’s yappy dog yipping begins even before liquid meets grass. I return inside and wash my hands at the bathroom vanity, which sits just outside the still taped-shut bathroom.
The humming sounds are even louder this morning. This is an untenable situation. I should have taken more forceful actions already. I should have resolved this by now.
I switch the vanity light off. That’s when I first notice it.
How did I not notice this already?
This wall is next to the bathroom exhaust vent. The other side of that wall, keeping the wasp against its will.
With the vanity light off, some of the natural daylight filtering in from behind me shows me the plaster dust sinking slowly to the vanity below.
The wall is being slowly vibrated to dust. Soon this wall will be no more. What will I tape shut when that happens?
Incredibly, as I look at it, as though the weight of my gaze added more of a load for the disintegrating wall to bear, the wall collapses, covering my hands and the sink in dust and moist plaster particles.
The wasp is even bigger than I had thought. It spreads its long-dormant wings.
It looks to be almost two feet long. The stinger – I shudder – is almost three inches.
Without thinking, I grab the butcher knife that I had left lying on the other side of the sink.
I stab the knife into the monstrosity before me. Over and over and over, I plunge the knife through the thick outer skin of the insect. In its attempts to evade my stabbing blows, its wings brush against my forearms, and I nearly gag at the revulsion this loathsome creature causes within my being.
“Die, die, die already goddamn it!” I shout at the dying bug.
It has positioned itself between two 2×4 studs. When it topples out of the wall and lands dead in my sink, the space below it is unplugged.
From it, I finally learn the source of the third sound; her brood. This had been a female wasp, apparently, and I just murdered a mother.
Luckily for me, they aren’t as large as the mother. Each ‘baby’ is barely six inches long, but there are dozens of them, swarming out of the hole. Their stings find me. Over and over. I make it to my bed, and they descend en masse upon me. In the end, it’s a far slower death than I’d hoped.