Part One: On the importance of familiarity with native insects, and the surprising perils of peculiar nesting occurrences.
An acquaintance, Roy, is an actual horse trader. He’s tall, sturdy, red headed, and square jawed, the image of an avid outdoorsman. He buys, sells, and rides horses, coaches baseball, and lives his life on his feet and in the sun. As you might imagine, Roy is no stranger to injuries of the sort you might reasonably expect. Roy gets hit with baseballs, kicked by horses, and might be known to fall down drunk on any given day. On one particular day last summer, however, Roy returned safely home to his apartment, eager to cool off. Upon returning that morning from a week-long out-of-state trip to meet a buyer, Roy had gone straight to the stables. The day had been hotter than he expected, and he was grimy and worn out. He went straight from the front door to the shower to wash away the sweat and stable muck.
Stepping out again twenty minutes later onto the cool tile floor, Roy smiled, content. His tense muscles had finally relaxed under the lukewarm water. He pulled on his shorts and strolled into the bedroom, selecting a dark t-shirt from the closet. Sliding it on, he stepped back towards the hallway and immediately felt a sharp pain in his back, followed by another pinch on his shoulder.
“What the…” Another jab and searing pain shot through his back, a little lower this time. Roy ripped his shirt off, flinging it to the floor. He flipped the light on and stared down at the folds of fabric. It only took a moment to spot the movement of a pair of glossy amber wings. A long, yellow and black body scuttled from beneath the crumpled collar. Yellow jacket.
“I’ll be damned…” Roy slipped a shoe on and crushed the insect to the floor. He picked up the now-smeared t-shirt and scraped the mess into the toilet. Then, he returned to the bedroom and tossed the shirt into a laundry bag.
Roy was hot. The surprising encounter had disturbed his calm, and new sweat felt damp on his back. He reached up to pull the chain on the ceiling fan, but stopped mid-yank as he noticed another flash of yellow and black on the ceiling next to the fixture. “These bastards must have a nest somewhere close.” He stood on his bed with the shoe and made short work of the second wasp. After cleaning up, he still felt warm, on edge. He walked to the fan again, but thought better of it. There might be others in the fixture. They like the high places, and the last thing Roy wanted was an enraged wasp flying out of the fan body.
He reached instead for the button on the window air conditioning unit. Roy pushed “Power” and had barely heard the fan kick on when he heard a different, angrier sound. Wings. In an instant, hundreds of yellow jackets came pouring out of the window unit and into his bedroom. He had found the nest. The vicious hum of beating wings filled the previously quiet space, and the air turned dark. He could hear individuals hum loudly as they zipped past his ears like bullets. This was the stuff of nightmares. Roy flailed with his arms wildly, and shouted to be heard above the din. Pain coursed through his body as sting after sting found its mark.
After twenty seconds of bewildered, misery-filled terror spent groping through his throbbing, buzzing apartment, Roy’s hand found the doorknob, and he stumbled into the hallway. He jerked the door shut on the swarm and began to swat furiously at the still-clinging wasps, and the dive bombers who had followed him into the hall. He ran desperately down the corridor and into the parking lot in his shorts, swatting and brushing as he went, and cleared the last yellow and black insect off of his body before scrambling into his car.
Roy was trembling. His body was running with adrenaline and his heart was racing. Worse, he felt a tinge of embarrassment creeping up on him. He had run away completely licked, after all, driven from his home by a hoard of egg-layers. Roy had never been one to back down, and he didn’t like the feeling, but he also knew discretion to be the better part of valor. What else could he have done in the face of a dirty sneak attack? He needed to regroup.
Roy took stock of his injuries, counting the bulging, swollen wounds on his skin. 22 on the front. He felt more on the back of him, from the base of his neck to his calves. He was pretty sure he felt a welt on the back of his head, in his hair. He checked the mirror. Remarkably, only one on his face. Shaken, battered, and still disoriented, Roy put the car in drive and headed for the hospital.
When the damage was assessed, Roy had been stung no fewer than 34 times. He was advised to stay in the hospital for overnight observation, but Roy figured he wasn’t an “observation” kind of guy. He had bigger fish to fry. Wearing only a pair of gray sweatpants given to him by the hospital staff, he drove to a nearby motel, checked in, and laid down gingerly on the lumpy double bed. Staring up at the white popcorn ceiling, Roy brooded. “They may have won the battle, but they haven’t won the war,” he grumbled to himself. This resolution focused his uneasy mind, and a shade of a smile sneaked silently into the corner of his mouth. Roy closed his eyes. The time had come to plot his revenge.