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just a wasp

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Not sure about the ending. Any thoughts?

JUST A WASP

Richard wakes up when his girlfriend screams. He hears her hurrying through the house, saying, ‘Oh Jesus. Oh fuck. Oh Jesus. Oh fuck.’

Kirsty bursts into the room like she’s raiding the place and power-walks to the bed. She’s half-dressed for work: black trousers with a light gray pinstripe and a pale blue bra. She’s pulled her white-blonde hair into a ponytail, as she always does before she washes her face. Only this time something’s interrupted her.

She says his name, reaches down and shakes his shoulder, even though he’s lying looking at her.

‘Sorry,’ she says. ‘I know you wanted a long lie, but . . .’ She takes a breath. ‘There’s a wasp in the kitchen.’

He groans and rolls over. A wasp! Jesus Christ. Still, at least she had the decency to look embarrassed.

‘Oh come on, Richard. You know I hate the things. And it’s fucking huge, seriously.’ She grabs his shoulders again and nudges him. Once. Twice. ‘Pleeeeease.’

The door moves and Kirsty yelps and nearly hits the ceiling, but it’s just one of the cats. It jumps onto the bed and starts digging its claws into the duvet, purring like a Harley ticking over.

Kirsty laughs and says, ‘That’s it, Babbaloo. You tell him.’

Richard’s been dreaming about sleeping late for the last few days. He’s a computer security specialist and has spent the last three weeks installing firewalls and booby traps for a bank that’s been hacked, like, eight times. Fourteen-hour days, six-day weeks, lunch on the run. He’s freelance so he’d had to do it. Good money. But now he has a week off before his next job and he’d planned on starting his seven days of indulgence snoring at the alarm clock until the early afternoon and then going out for a couple of hours on his bike.

But now this. Bloody typical. Babbaloo puts her paws on his bare shoulders. He shrugs her off.

‘Hey, take it easy, she was only saying hello.’ Kirsty tickles the top of the cat’s head. The cat closes its eyes and arches its back. The purring grows louder.

‘She was going to scratch me,’ Richard says. He’s still got his back to her.

Kirsty sits on the edge of the bed. ‘Look, you could go into the kitchen, get rid of the thing and be back in bed in two minutes. I’m sorry, I know you’re tired. But I nearly had a heart attack when I saw it. I had the back door open and I was making a cup of tea and the fucking thing buzzed me.’

It’s his turn to laugh. He rolls back over and looks at her. ‘It buzzed you?’

She nods. ‘Uh-huh. Right in front of my face. Like Tom Cruise in Top Gun . . .’ She flattens out her hand and moves it through the air, making a high-pitched eeeyow noise. ‘I nearly shat myself. And, honestly, you should see the size of the thing.’

Kirsty starts saying something again but he throws back the duvet and sits up. The cat jumps off the bed and trots out the door. Richard stands and sticks his feet in his slippers in anticipation of the kitchen floor’s cold lino. ‘Come on,’ he says. ‘Let’s see this massive wasp.’

She leads the way, moving at a crawl and peering round corners like the wasp’s waiting to mug her. When they get to the living room, Kirsty stops. ‘Listen.’ But he’s already heard it: a furious thrum. Kirsty takes his hands and wraps his arms around her chest, pulling him close. Her skin’s clammy, her hands stone cold, and he’s trying not to think about her backside pressing against his crotch. Too late.

‘What’s that?’ she says. She shakes her head. ‘Such a boy.’

‘I need a pee, if you must know.’ He doesn’t say anything else for a second, then goes: ‘I’m lying. It’s actually my sting.’ He puts his lips on the back of her neck and blows a raspberry.

Kirsty freaks and runs to the other side of the living room. She turns back to him with her small fists waving around in front of her and her legs clamped together, bending at the knees as she sort of runs on the spot, making noises that let him know she’s disgusted. He laughs at her twisted face.

‘That’s horrible,’ she says.

The wasp must have moved then, or something. The buzzing grows even more violent. Kirsty tears past him and when she stops and turns she’s got one hand in the middle of her chest. Eventually she waves him forward. She’s doing that thing where she’s pretending she’s about to cry.

‘Please, Rich, get rid of it. It’s doing my head in.’

‘Yeah, okay. Take it easy.’ But he doesn’t move right away. He’s not sure
why. Maybe he’s scared of the wasp. But there’s a bit of him that’s enjoying her distress. Not in a bad way, he doesn’t think, but more just liking the way she needs him to do this. But when Kirsty goes, ‘Come on, Richard, fucking hell, I’m going to be late,’ he starts moving.

He heads into the small dining area off the living room. The kitchen’s on the right. There’s no door but rows of beads dangle in a curtain of turquoise suns and crescent moons. He tries to spot the wasp through the gaps but can’t see it. There’s no sound either.

Then something icy touches his bare back and his heart bucks in his chest. But it’s just Kirsty’s hand. ‘Jesus,’ he says.

She doesn’t reply, too busy peering into the kitchen, her pale-blue eyes as big as headlights. Then she says, ‘Where is it?’

‘Fuck knows,’ he says, still pissed off that she scared him.

The buzzing kicks in again and they both take a half step backwards. Then it stops. Richard bends over and takes off a slipper.

‘Right, that’s it. I’ve had enough of this pish.’

‘What you doing?’

‘What do you think?’

‘You can’t kill it.’

‘Oh come on, it’s just a wasp.’

‘It’s a living creature.’

‘Outside it’s a living creature. In here it’s dead meat.’

She gives him a look. He puts the slipper back on.

‘Well what am I supposed to do?’

Kirsty looks about: at the bookcase where they keep bills and keys and everything but books and then down by the curtains at the pile of newspapers and stuff to be recycled. None of it makes itself obvious as a humane wasp removal device. Then Richard remembers this game him and his friends used to play when they were kids. He and Brian and Allan and this fat boy they used to let hang around because he always had money and sweets – Derek! That was his name – would take jars and catch as many wasps and bees as they could. You got a point for each, and five bonus points for those orange bumblebees. Richard thought they were cool. They’d told Derek they were African killer bees and he’d believed them so never tried to catch any. What a dick that guy was.

He tells her, ‘What you did was wait until the wasp or whatever landed on a flower then you put your jar over then slid the lid underneath. Then came the tricky bit: getting the flower out and the lid on without the wasp getting out. What I liked to do was first of all snap the flower’s stem then turn the whole thing over so it was the right way up. Then I would use my feet to hold the jar in place so I had both hands free. One would hold the jar by the lid, which was still loose at this point remember, then I would pull the flower clear. But sometimes the wasp would stay on the flower so you had to shake the jar till the wasp freaked out and started attacking the glass, then you could get the flower out before the wasp knew what was happening.’

She still hasn’t looked at him but he keeps going anyway. ‘Now all that was dead easy when you only had one or two wasps or whatever, but if you had like ten or even more – ’

‘Ten?’ She shivers. ‘God, I don’t know how you could hold a jar with ten wasps in it. I would die.’ She’s looking at him now. Her face is wide open. ‘Didn’t you ever get stung?’

‘No, none of us did. Except for Derek – what a fanny – he got stung every time we played. Fuck knows how he managed it cause he only ever seemed to have about four or five, but he always seemed to pick the most evil fucking wasps in the world.’ Richard’s laughing at the memory and Kirsty’s laughing at him laughing.

When Richard recovers he says, ‘So that’s what I was thinking: get a jar and a piece of cardboard or whatever, use it as a lid . . .’ He spread his hands. ‘Should be easy enough.’

‘Yeah, but guess where the jars are.’ Her attention’s gone back to the other side of the beaded curtains.

‘Shit.’ He can see them on the high shelf above the microwave, along with measuring jugs, kitchen scales and loads of other crap they didn’t use; fancy place settings and tablecloths for parties they hadn’t got round to having yet. And at the end nearest the window is a cluster of empty jars that Kirsty is always promising to use for the home-made jam she’s going to make.

Then the buzzing re-ignites, louder than ever. Neither of them backs away this time. In fact, Richard’s getting really annoyed. It’s just a fucking wasp. He’s just about to make a move when he and Kirsty see it, climbing the window right next to the shelf. He feels her flinch. Typical. It’s about four inches from where his hand needs to be to get the jar. He also notices that Kirsty wasn’t exaggerating this time. It’s a pretty decent size.

Okay, he thinks. Let’s go.

He parts the curtain with his head and the cool beads tickle his naked skin
as he steps into the kitchen.

‘Be careful,’ Kirsty says, like he’s going off to war.

The first thing Richard does is open the window the wasp isn’t on. Then he crabs to the back door and opens it as wide as it will go. He’s hoping the wasp will make it easy on him and just leave but it stays glued to the glass. It looks like it’s cleaning itself with one of its legs. Richard’s about to reach up for the jar when the wasp takes off. Kirsty squeals and he hears her say, ‘No, Babbaloo, you wait here.’

The wasp lands on the fluorescent strip light on the kitchen roof. Quickly Richard grabs the jar. But now he has to get the big bastard onto a flat surface. Plus the light’s too high to reach without a chair or something. He waits. The wasp doesn’t move. The cat’s making this weird growling sound.

Richard spots a piece of junk mail from the bank on one of the worktops. That’s his lid. But first he decides to see if he can use it to guide the wasp back to the window. He reaches up and tries to push the wasp off the light but it just flies round the envelope and back onto the bulb. Next try he gets the wasp onto the envelope but the fucking thing starts walking towards his fingers. In a panic he drops the envelope and beats a retreat to the back door. The wasp flies back up to the light like it’s taking the piss.

Richard’s well cheesed off now. He picks up the envelope, pulls back his arm and gives the wasp a good flick. He hears a slap as he connects.

Kirsty goes, ‘Oh God, you’ve killed it.’

‘Nah, it’s just stunned.’ But he doesn’t know that for sure, and he doesn’t
care.

He goes over to the window sill. The wasp is on its back. Its legs are moving and he tells her so. She seems relieved. With the envelope he slides the wasp into the jar then goes out the back door and drops the wasp on the grass. Kirsty creeps along behind him. Almost immediately the wasp rights itself then flies away. They hear the buzzing long after the wasp is out of sight. The sun is just beginning to burn through the clouds. It should be a nice day.

Kirsty looks at her watch. ‘Oh fuck.’ She runs back into the house.

But Richard doesn’t follow her. Babbaloo walks in circles around his shins and he picks her up and rubs the top of her head. She feels nice against his chest. And he just stands and stares into the distance.

Post Thu Aug 12, 2004 7:40 am   
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