Paper Wasps

by Hall Jameson

The dewy air clung to Hannah as she rolled onto her stomach, mattress crinkling under her weight. A persistent drone hung in the air, not quite mechanical, almost musical.

What is that damn noise?

Was it the air conditioner? Was it broken again? The sound did not hesitate like something broken – it churned with intention.

Hannah sat up and blinked, her rump sinking into the mattress. The top of her head brushed the ceiling, warm beneath her palm, the texture, like newsprint. Her legs dangled through a hexagonal opening, her backside nested in another. A neat pattern of geometric sections fanned out from her resting place, some vacant, some housing plump, pulsing larvae.

Hannah shuddered and looked into the empty compartment on her right. It faced downward, providing her with a startling view: a cascading series of horizontal combs filled the interior of a large chamber.

She crawled, wary of slipping through one of the hollows, or worse, into an occupied space. As she descended, the hum increased. Dark forms weaved in and out of the hollows around her.

The first of the workers crawled toward Hannah on sunny yellow legs, its slender petiole trailed by a sturdy black-and-yellow-striped abdomen. Its antennae twitched and its jaw worked. Semitransparent, tawny wings rested over its back and sides like a cape.

She opened her mouth to say hello, or perhaps to scream, but all that came out was a choppy buzz. The worker passed by, its left wing brushing her thigh.

Hannah descended the comb, hands and feet becoming tacky with wax. She reached the bottom comb, precise in its circumference, and looked through the weave toward the exit. The walls surrounding the opening glowed amber and were hot to the touch; her eyes stung as she navigated the last few inches and poked her head into the daylight.

A batting of smoke hung in the air. She crawled to the exterior of the hive, her limbs the jointed yellow legs of a wasp. The spring leaves of the oak tree at the back of her yard surrounded her. The wasp’s nest, her new home, constructed from curls of bark, saliva, and woody strips of vegetation, hung from a thick arm of the oak.

Hannah crawled back into the heart of the hive. A worker approached and guided her gently into one of the empty compartments. It covered her with wax, sealing her in, protecting her from the smoke, but she was not afraid. The other workers joined in.

Thank you! Thank you! She tried to whisper. Once again, it came out as a buzz, but they seemed to understand. The voice of the hive swelled.

Hannah woke with a start. She was in a cot in the high school auditorium, the room filled with buzzy snores, raspy breathing, and soft crying. Cots lined the room in tight neat rows. Bundles of personal belongings clogged the aisles.

She recalled her dream and shivered, and wondered about the massive wasp nest at the edge of her property. She chose to leave it there, because paper wasps kept them themselves unless threatened. She wondered how they would react to the smoke and fire. Surely, they would not abandon their home as she had done, they would stay behind and fight. She wished she could help them; take them in, as they had taken her in.

Hannah rounded the final curve and her mailbox popped into view, untouched, the red flag still in the upright position. The drive had revealed a checkerboard of burnt properties, the husks of houses eaten by the flames, and perfect green lawns and shingled structures the fire had spared. She was sure her own home would be gone as she pulled into the driveway, but it was still there, untouched. The surrounding woods, however, were charred and skeletal.

Hannah rushed behind the house, to the corner of the lot. The fire had stopped there, at the hem of her back lawn, her deck still intact.

‘No!’ she cried, when she saw the blackened stump of the oak tree, its precious leaves devoured by fire, the wasp’s nest evaporated.

Hannah dropped to her knees, fingers sifting through the ash, the curled, charred bodies of wasps falling from her fingertips. She discovered a small chunk of comb in the ash, the only thing that remained of their home. She cradled it tenderly and took it inside.

– Hall Jameson is a writer and fine art photographer who lives in Helena, Montana. Her writing and artwork has recently appeared, or is forthcoming in Crossed Out Magazine, Post-Experimentalism, Redivider, and Eric’s Hysterics. When she’s not writing or taking photographs, Hall enjoys hiking, playing the piano, and cat wrangling.

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