A little bit of slipstream, I guess you’d say, here on Day 4 of Thrilling Fiction. Perhaps a touch cosmic and Lovecraftian here, a bit “bad women” trope-y there, and yet eine kleine science fiction-y over there. But you be the judge. I put most of this story together today from a cutting room-floor scrap, on the fly as it were (ha!), so do let me know if you think this skirts too close to any of the boring old tropes.
The Wrong Half-Halictid
Julian was ecstatic.
Katie, his hot, honey-pot of a study-group partner for Women’s Studies class, had finally shared her number with him. Specifically, it was a “well, I suppose so” when he’d asked, but he would take that for an affirmative.
As far as the class, he’d only admit he was in it if forced to—such as, for a strategic advantage. It’s a bae-magnet class, he’d gladly brag to the bros he knew if he thought it would elevate him in their opinions.
They’d exchanged a few texts before he’d formally asked her to hang out, mostly of the “hi, watcha up to today?” variety. She texted she enjoyed reading mysteries and thrillers, volleyball, Sudoku, chemistry, and Romantic poetry by Keats and Shelley. She said she might pursue a degree in microbiology. Never having heard of the Romantics, Julian fibbed: “Luv me sum rmntk poems! Roses r rd, IM blue, I think ur sugar and I need u.” She thought that perhaps he was being satirical in a side-wink, in-the-know kind of way. Being curious about human nature, she said yes to the first date.
He was meeting her Tuesday afternoon outside the university garden entrance, where a stone worthy of Sisyphus’ struggles was tattooed by seventy-odd years of frat-fiti exhorting a pledge to this group or that. Then he figured they’d stroll over to the Eagle Grille and let the evening swell from there.
The die was cast.
That Saturday evening, as Julian sat reading the reprint of a 16th-century herbal text for his Medieval Botany class, an idea began to bubble up and take form.
That flowery stuff hits most girls in the feels. So if I give her an actual bouquet of sunbeams . . . Katie will be beyond impressed.
He began to look out the third-floor window of the university library; an electric necklace of crows hung, swaying nearby in a steady April drizzle, but he pushed his eyes back to the page and what he thought was his best girl-getting scheme yet.
A trip down the patchouli section of the local green earthery shop. A few strategically placed hand mirrors, your garden-variety cucumbers, some cider vinegar, some plastic wrap, a lighter, and I’m set.
Even if his metaphysical plan didn’t play out in the next couple days, he could always swing by the Super-Dealie and pick up the real thing.
No eye of newt or toad skin required in either case! He snickered aloud.
Katie was almost going to leave. She could have been studying them, gathering information, imparting data, doing something far more fruitful than sitting. It was not in her nature to sit around on her hands, as it were.
Yet, sit she did, tilting occasionally sunward and skyward to check the time. The air pressure and taste of the easterly wind told her the truth, at least: He’s about 14 minutes late.
Lifting from the bench near the small wooden creek-span she began to walk out of the garden area, threading through the now-shaded path.
This is where Julian almost smacked into her. In contrast to him, she was striding with purpose and vigor. He merely sauntered, or she got that feeling from his posture and silly grin.
“Hey, honey, got something especially for you.”
“I know, Julian. I see it there in your hand. And please do not call me that; we hardly know one another.”
He cringed at her declarative comments. Who the hell’s she think she is, my bitch-robot overlord?
“Um, yeah, sweet—uh, I mean Katie. Anyway, I did bring you something I hope you’ll enjoy.”
He didn’t mention being late, much less any rationale.
Gesturing animatedly, he then led and she walked the 50 meters with him back to the more scenic and secluded bridge area, shrouded in redbud and maple trees.
Both were so quiet, you could hear the sputterings of whoosh-hum-honk from Interstate 99 about seven miles away. At least she had detected the noises on the air, amid the steady gallop of his heartbeats.
He put his palm up and swept it out at the bench, which she interpreted, she thought correctly, as let’s sit down.
She knew he was coming up the path before he’d even taken the fork strolling toward her, of course. She knew precisely what he held, and even what it contained within.
“I, uh, made you this. Well, um, I tried. I mean. It’s, um, you know, a bouquet.” He’d unpocketed his cell phone and seemed to read from a prepared speech or report of some kind as he held up the flowers. She honed in on him, to take in every sensation, from subtle undulations in color to striations in the scent clouds he was emitting.
Katie heard the perspiration rolling down his flanks, under his shirt with the little green reptile on it. From his sweat’s pheromonal markers, code smells as it were in some of her species but a different caste, she could discern that he had eaten chicken wings with buffalo sauce and celery sticks, and he had drank at least four to six shots of Jose Cuervo Gold in the past thirty-four or so hours.
He continued reading from the medieval text. “Sun beams may be extracted from cucumbers, but the process is tedious.”
Looking up, he found her expression more blank and confused than he’d have liked. Neither the flowers nor my head is gonna end up in her lap anytime soon. Shitfuckshitshit!
Somehow, it was beginning to dawn on Julian that he had not chosen wisely or well. He supposed that they were not only on separate wavelengths, they were the opposite sex on oppositional or at least different planets and of diametric species. Never mind that Mars and Venus trash! Maybe a peanut meets a time-bending monolith beyond human comprehension.
But there was also something else he had failed to understand. Aggression would be met with a robust defense.
He didn’t just let the flowers drop so much as he crumpled the rigid stems and hurled them groundward, ready to storm off and sulk, as far away from her as possible, in his dorm-kingdom. There’s still a six-pack in Jay’s fridge and Minecraft’s waiting.
As for the being posing as Katie, she was devoid of emotion as the trio of fist-sized hornets, upended in the half-dozen flowers sprawled like a teepee, swarmed in a brilliant black ripple toward him. Although he was down the path about twenty feet within seconds, it didn’t prevent his tongue from swelling to the size of a microwaved marshmallow in his mouth as he ran, creating a tracheal block and dropping him to helplessly writhe around in the dirt.
He could smell something. Honeysuckle? Rotting cucumbers? What? as he lay convulsing and frothing saliva. His bloodshot eyes threatened to telescope from his sockets as the glade became bee-loud.
Then, as in a halo, he saw her alone, aloft, definitely above his body. His form—wet, wavering on the ground—his heart acting as a crash cymbal against his triverring ribs.
Mouthparts puncture stubbled neck-flesh as he pummels the air fruitlessly, clutching at the last strands of the individual self: Of course, it’s never as easy as the goddamned book says it is.
This time, she responds in kind, hive queen amid hive mind, to hive drone: You picked the wrong half-halictid to stalk, you puny Horny sapien.