A Small Intrusion
Writer's Block with Alarms and Excursions
Horror? How hard could it be? pondered aspiring bestseller Maurice Berrington Grale, shivering a little as the wind whined through the cracks where putty had crumbled in the window of the cramped upstairs flat where his ideas gestated. First, set a credible scene, maybe with just a hint of tension. He tried to pull the curtains closer together, shutting out the hostility of the night, but as always they failed to meet properly because of the three hooks missing from the rail and the bulk of the antique trunk at their foot. The fitful flapping at the central gap irritated him. He grabbed at the old swivel chair he had rescued from a skip back in the summer, to the evident displeasure of his downstairs neighbour. It was worn, but serviceable, wobbling a bit on its castors as he sat down rather heavily, to face the bland grey screen. Now concentrate, he told himself sternly. Don't get distracted. He held his fingers poised above the keyboard like a pianist inwardly preparing to commit to the first note.
He waited for inspiration to strike. And waited. Nothing came. He resisted the urge to type random letters in the unlikely hope that they would somehow form coherent words. Something buzzed loudly past his ear, causing him to jerk his head back. The abrupt movement unbalanced the chair, which toppled sideways, spilling him in an ungainly heap on the floor. He swore, rubbing a bruised elbow. What the hell was that? Peering round the room he tried to identify the source of the buzzing, but it was masked by the bitonal shrilling of cold air from behind the curtains. Responding belatedly to the sound of movement from above, Mrs Feeney, the old woman downstairs, banged on her ceiling with what he presumed was her broomstick.
Setting the chair back upright, he noticed that the supporting frame below the seat had become slack, which meant that one of the retaining screws must have fallen out. He spent the next few minutes on hands and knees, searching the threadbare carpet until he found it, and then had to hunt in the toolbox under the desk for a matching screwdriver whose quartered tip had not been worn ineffectually smooth.
Maurice resumed his seat, scowling with determination. Where was I? Oh yes, setting a scene, before that damned insect got in. He fervently hoped it wasn't a wasp. He had a dread of wasps, remembering with a shudder what had happened in that pool when he was a kid. Thankfully, he didn't remember the pain, but his arm had swollen like a balloon. The kitchen door's closed, so it's still in the room somewhere! The conclusion was reinforced by the prickling sensation on his scalp and neck. Nevertheless, he tried hard to concentrate. Right, say the opening's finished, then you've got to lure the reader -no, (he chided himself) readers into the heart of the story, where something weird or gruesome probably happens, and then deftly weave your way towards the chilling shock of the ending. He sat back, carefully, and regardless of the fact he had not actually written anything yet, began considering possible scenarios.
Preferably not about wasps, taunted the inner voice.
Perversely, now convinced it was a wasp, he could think about nothing else.
A hot day, somewhere in southern Spain. Cornering sharply, a fruit truck overturns, trapping a hapless cyclist. Seemingly from all directions comes the sound of fierce droning.
Some adventurous children lever their way into a derelict barn. A dusty shaft of sunlight illuminates something the size of a football. Soon the air fills with piercing screams.
A quarantine zone is established in a fifteen-mile radius around an agricultural research station in northern India, following a series of unexplained deaths. There are emergency requests for antihistamine and other medical supplies from places scattered far beyond the specified area.
Enough, enough! He felt queasy and vulnerable. He knew he needed to get rid of the thing, or the thought of its lurking presence would continue to bother him. As a precautionary measure, he tucked the bottoms of his trousers into his socks. Now he must find something to protect his head and hands. The wooden trunk in front of the window held most of his clothing; there was no room in the flat for such luxuries as a wardrobe or a chest of drawers. Reluctantly parting the curtains further, he lifted the lid and pulled out a hooded anorak and a pair of leather gloves stiff with disuse. As an afterthought, he rummaged at the bottom of the trunk until he found the flimsy silk scarf printed with swirling patterns, a memento of a grandmother he had hardly known. It still smelled faintly of mould, talcum powder and lavender as he veiled his face, tucking the edges well into the hood of the anorak, and knotting the cord securely under his neck. He fumbled for the gloves and dragged them over his fingers. With his vision now clouded, his hearing muffled, breathing constricted and sense of touch impaired, Maurice felt slightly safer. He was armoured against the intruder. All he had to do was find it.
The torch. Get the torch. It hung from a strap behind the door, ready for emergencies. An old heavy duty model with a rubber casing. Maurice switched it on. The bulb emitted a weak gleam. He shook it. The tiny filament glowed orange for a moment, then died. Damn! He couldn't remember when he had last changed the batteries, but knew he had no spares. The only other source of light that was in any way portable was his desk-lamp - an unwieldy anglepoise with a solid base, but quite a long cord. It would have to do. The remaining problem was selecting a means of capture.
Swatting was an option he would rather avoid, for fear of aggravating the wasp. He looked around the room for a container of some kind. Cups and glasses were in the kitchen, behind the closed door, as were any plastic pots or tubs. On his shelves were books, a few ornaments, a shell or two, some mineral specimens, a small pile of coins: nothing remotely helpful. What about the desk? Aging computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, the lamp, a stack of paper, a stapler, a jar of pens and pencils. The drawers contained CDs, DVDs, other stationery items and the usual miscellaneous clutter that tends to accumulate over time. Had he missed anything? Of course, the jar! He stepped over to the desk, pulled open the stationery drawer, and a little clumsily (unwilling to remove the gloves) emptied out the jar's contents.
Lastly, something to cap it with... There were some old unused postcards at the back of the drawer. Fumbling awkwardly, he extracted one. Blurrily, through the veil, he recognised the blues and yellows of Van Gogh's 'Wheatfield with Crows'. Do crows eat wasps? He shook his head, trying to rid himself of unwanted images. 'Wheatfield with Wasps' would be just as valid. To avoid accidents, he put the jar and card on the floor beside the desk before unwinding and paying out the cord leading from the wall-socket to the anglepoise lamp. Cradling the lamp he carried it as far as the cord would reach and slowly began sweeping its beam systematically up and down the walls and furniture. It illuminated the neglected crevices where strands and webby clumps of dust had accreted. It found imperfections in the wallpaper, picked out the wood-grain along the shelves, revealed, on the topmost shelf, even through the haze of musty silk, the bright tremor of wings edging up the spine of a book.
A cold determination overrode his squeamishness. Maurice quietly set the lamp down, tilting it so that the light continued to shine upwards. Even at full stretch he was not quite tall enough to reach the shelf unaided. There was a short step-ladder at the back of the kitchen cupboard, but the only object of a suitable height within reach was the trunk. He would have to pull it across the room. Raising the lid for a second time, he hastily scooped out most of the contents with both arms, piling them haphazardly on the floor. He kept squinting back up at the top shelf to make sure the thing was still there, then, bent low, with all his strength he began to tug the heavy trunk over the carpet.
The tacks holding down the edges of the carpet soon gave way. Obstructive wrinkles gathered, making progress increasingly difficult. He thought of the builders of Stonehenge, lugging sarsen stones weighing up to fifty tons for twenty miles. I expect they had ropes and rollers, the lucky sods. He redoubled his efforts. With each indrawn breath the scarf was sucked over his mouth and nostrils. There was an unpleasantly stale taste on his tongue. From below the sensitive Mrs Feeney was provoked into a sustained fit of banging. "Shut up, you stupid old bat! " he grunted, channelling all his exasperation into another heave. Snagged on a ruck in the carpet, the trunk lurched sharply forward, sending Maurice reeling helplessly backwards into the unforgiving cast-iron solidity of the room's sole radiator.
Maurice was oblivious to the collateral damage as the lamp's jointed arm buckled, dislocating the springs and shattering the light-bulb. Mrs Feeney's peevish hammering faded to a thrumming vibration, faint but inescapable. At the core of his own encroaching darkness it sounded very like the susurration of a myriad insect wings.
© Les Sklaroff 2015 All Rights Reserved
Date and time of last update 18:27 Fri 31 Jul 2015
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