Prompt: “Write about your greatest childhood fear.”
They boiled up out of the ground in a loud thrum that was primal in its rage and awakened something in me I’d never felt before. Fight or flight blossomed faster than thought could process, and of course there was only one right answer. You can’t fight a swarm. I ran.
My bare feet pounded concrete, packed dirt, grass and pavement alike. I felt none of it, not the sharp rocks, nor the shards of glass I picked up along the way, skin souvenirs of a horrifying time. I could hear them over my panicked screams. There was no escape. Bright gold bodies flashed before my eyes, in and out, all around, living constellations that kept pace with me no matter how many times I changed directions or doubled back. You can’t out-think a swarm. They’re pure reaction, their instincts faster than decision.
In my naked terror I fled into my friend’s house and startled her mother in the kitchen. I can still see her mouth’s perfect “O” of surprised fear. I brought them with me. There was no safety behind civilized walls. I made a loop and ran back the way I had come, lungs burning, agony blossoming along my back, on my head. It sliced through my shock with ease. They were under my clothes and in my hair, tangled and stinging. And stinging, and stinging. They weren’t bees. They hurt me more than themselves.
I might have run until I dropped if not for my friend’s mother’s quick thinking. She grabbed the hose in sure adult hands and used the nozzle’s strongest spray setting to drive them back. I stood, soaked and shivering, inhaling water, snot, and tears. I hugged myself in empty comfort and allowed the stripping, the picking through my bedraggled hair to rid me of a couple of tangled hangers-on. I told her I was all right, but it was a lie.
The unreasoning phobia born that day still has the power to turn me into a quivering mess if I’m taken by surprise by a buzz pitched just so or the flash of poisonous gold in the corner of my vision. You can’t forget a swarm, not once you’ve been in the thick of one. My worst monster didn’t live under the bed. It lived in the ground, and yellow jacket was its name.