My husband Shaun and I love… well, loved, camping. We would go all year around, snow and rain was no object. We didn’t have kids and our trips didn’t have to be long, we’d pack up on Friday and be back on Sunday night when we couldn’t get any time off.
Last July we’d managed to scrounge up enough PTO for a whole week trip. We were heading down to Tennessee and it was going to be one of our best trips yet.
Our campsite was right smack dab in between two others. The family on our right were the Schultz family. They were the new to the whole camping thing, I had to end up going there to help the guy out with his fire. Greg was grateful though and he could grill with the best of them. His wife Anna was mostly fussed with taking care of their four year old daughter Genesis, but their son Ace was a treasure. He kept coming over to our campsite to tell us stories about giant bears that they’d seen while driving here. Shaun took to him and would swap even more ridiculous tales with the creative six year old.
On our other side was a group of young men out for one last trip before one of them got married. I only really talked with two of them, Brian and Phil, the husband to be and his best friend. They were a bit rowdy but they kept it to the daylight hours and they weren’t being gross so for the most part we ignored them.
There was one trouble maker though- fucking Gavin. Gavin is to blame for all of this. He was the one who kicked the hornet’s nest… literally.
The Schultzes had joined us for dinner on the third day, we’d gone fishing with Greg and Shaun had the kids captivated with a big fish tale when I heard a giant hullabaloo coming from the guy’s camp.
“The heck?” I murmured as I got to my feet, craning my neck to get a better look. I could only see that the guys were wigging out over there.
Shaun waved them off. “Ignore the kids, they probably saw a squirrel or something,” He said.
I frowned. That didn’t sound like excitement, it sounded like… anger. “I’ll be right back, if they’re pissy drunks then I’m gonna say we’re moving our campsite tonight,” I said, stepping over the log I’d used as a seat and walked on over.
One of the guys was giggling like a maniac and I could smell weed on him. The guys were all gathered around something on the ground and Phil was scowling. “Gavin, kick that shit back into the woods!” He said.
Gavin giggled again. “But dude! It’s sooooo big man! Greg’s really gotta see this!”
“He can’t see it you fucking idiot! He’s allergic!”
“Doesn’t he have an Epipen?”
“Oh my god I want to kill you.”
I got closer and finally got a glimpse of what they were freaking out about. It was a massive hornet’s nest, probably a bit bigger that a soccer ball, sitting at the guys’ feet. I could faintly hear the buzzing inside. “Guys, can you please get rid of that thing? You’re lucky none of you have been stung yet,” I scolded.
Phil looked up and threw his arms up in the air. “I’m trying, believe me,” He said through gritted teeth, “but Gavin is an idiot.”
“Awwww, but look at it!” Gavin gestured at it. “It’s soooo cool! The bees are cool too man, one was like, crawling all over my hand and didn’t sting me or nothing! Greg would be fine!”
Phil looked ready to sock Gavin in the mouth before I stepped forward. “Knock it off, I’ll get rid of it.” Wondering if the nest was just konked out from all the smoke from our campfires, I knelt next to the nest and gently lifted it in the air.
A cherry red hornet crawled out of one of the holes. My skin crawled as it gently brushed against my hand, I was lucky I didn’t drop the damn thing. It didn’t seemed particularly offended as I carried it past the treeline and carefully sat it down. I know, that was the stupidest thing I could’ve done, but I thought the nest was either mostly empty or this was a bizarre species of hornet that was really hard to piss off.
I headed back to camp and told them all about it. Ace immediately demanded to see it, his mom shot that idea down and then Greg said dinner was ready, and the easiest way to distract a kid is with food. By the time we’d finished dinner, Ace had all but forgot about the nest. So had I, until I heard shouting again.
This time I could pick out about every third word. I could tell it was Phil, losing his shit on Gavin for bringing the nest back into camp. Gavin kept whining and said the nest was friendly and that the hornets could be their pets. I looked over in time to see Phil shove Gavin and Gavin to drop the nest.
I heard that thing crack when it hit the ground.
I smelled something like sulfur and suddenly that quiet buzzing I’d heard earlier was magnified a hundred fold. It was deafening, I could almost taste the sound. Ace and Genesis immediately started screaming, clapping their hands over their sensitive little ears as the rest of us instinctively ducked. As if that could protect us from what was about to happen.
The sky turned red with the bodies of thousands of red hornets. Far more than could possible fit in the nest. Then they dive bombed. I felt one light on my arm before its stinger jabbed in. I screamed and crushed it with a single swat, but the damage had been done. My arm seized up and exploded in pain. I had broken my arm before. This was so, so much fucking worse.
With the last semblance of sense I had, I dragged myself to the tent and hurled myself inside. Shaun ran up, I saw hornets crawling in and out of his shirt as he dragged Ace along. He pushed Ace into the tent before running back to where Anna was crouched, she’d thrown herself over Genesis to shield her from the stinging.
Ace was wailing, rocking himself back and forth as I held the tent flap up to prevent any wasps from getting in. I felt my arm randomly spasm, and whenever it did I felt another wave of pain hit me. I couldn’t ask Ace if he was okay, if he’d been stung, the only thing I could do was scream at the top of my lungs.
The tent door was shoved back open and Genesis was tossed into the tent. Before I could move, Shaun collapsed on top of me and began to bawl like a baby. I managed to crawl out from under him and zipped the tent door shut.
After that, I let myself fully succumbed to the pain.
I don’t know how long it went on. There’s no way to fully describe how bad this was. Time didn’t make it any better. If anything it got so much fucking worse. I could sometimes hear Anna screaming but those stopped before it was dark outside. The buzzing never stopped. It seemed like it would never stop.
I vomited on myself sometime during the night. I swear I saw things from how bad the pain was. Dark figures moving past the tent, walking trees, the tent catching on fire and burning poor Genesis alive… then I’d blink and the fire would be gone. Genesis would still be crying and there was nothing outside the tent but the goddamn hornets.
Passing out was a mercy. When I woke up, the buzzing had quieted down to almost nothing. The two children were asleep on each other, snoring quietly.
Shaun’s lifeless eyes stared up at the ceiling of the tent, several swollen purple and red bumps covering his entire body to the point he was barely recognizable. I think he’d been stung a few dozen times saving Genesis and Ace. And he’d paid with it with his life.
I tried to shake him awake, I begged him to wake up with my voice hoarse from all the screaming, but he didn’t. He was gone.
I slipped out of the tent and nearly tripped over Greg’s body. He’d tried making it into our tent, his sting covered hand was still reaching for the zipper. Anna was at the forest’s edge, slumped over a tree stump.
I almost wished Gavin was still alive so I could wring his fucking neck, but he was a few yards away from where I found Anna. The bachelor party laid in various positions on the ground, all covered in uncountable stings.
But I wasn’t alone.
I tripped over Phil and a few others, seeing if any of them had survived when I saw her.
For a second, she looked… normal. A red haired teenager, no older than fourteen or fifteen, wearing a teal t-shirt and cargo shorts. I nearly sobbed as I hurried to her, babbling out nonsense about the hornets.
Then I saw she had a few dozen of them sitting on her shoulders.
I came to a stop as the girl cocked her head to the side.
“… You didn’t mean to hurt them. But they didn’t know that,” She said softly, blinking and dark brown eyes turning into black compound. Translucent crimson wings protruded from her back, occasionally twitching.
I couldn’t believe my eyes as she came closer, I saw even more hornets crawling on her skin, flying in and out from her pockets and shirt. She knelt by my side and her soft fingers brushed the swollen sting on my arm. Without a word, she squeezed it and it popped. I screamed and nearly passed out again before it all went numb.
A brand new hornet crawled out from the popped wound, cleaning off its antenna and wings of blood. The girl smiled and took it into her hands, placing it in her mouth.
“Many of my family died today, but yours will provide replacements.” She winked, as if she was sharing a joke, and whistled a tune as she walked away.
Every body burst at that moment. The air was filled with a soft hum as hornets rose from the corpses, following the winged girl into the forest, where they all vanished.
No, I was never given an explanation when I was taken to the hospital. They didn’t bother. No one had a clue what happened out there. From what I heard, Ace and Genesis have both gone completely deaf. I don’t know if it’s a psychological thing or a physical one, but there’s hope with hearing aids and therapy they can recover.
I can’t move my right arm anymore. I’m still in therapy but it’s looking like I’ll never be able to use it again. I ended up quitting my job, I get by on disability. I can never sleep because my dreams are just of buzzing and screams. Occasionally I’ll feel stabs of pain in my dead arm when I wake up from these nightmares.
And sometimes when I wake up, I think I see that winged girl standing at the foot of my bed, smiling with scarlet hornets crawling over her teeth.