Danny and the Distant Sound
The boy’s head snapped up at the sound of the distant, rising buzzsaw whine, his eyes as wide and blue as the summer sky. “Uncle Jon,” he asked. “What is that?”
His uncle peered down the highway, his hair and red-brown beard ruffled by the breeze. “Nothing to fret about, Dan-o. That’s just a motorcycle.” He pronounced the last syllable of the word like the farm implement.
Danny winced. He hated when his uncle made himself sound like a hayseed. Uncle Jon was a smart man, maybe the smartest man in the whole county, but he hid it under wild hair, an overgrown beard, and simple talk that made him look and sound like some old hermit. It bothered Danny. He wished the rest of the world could see his uncle like he did.
Uncle Jon was the best, the smartest, the most fun. He knew all kinds of things like which clouds were which and where to find the best rocks for skipping across Palmer Lake. But he knew new things, too, like how to speedrun through a Super Mario Brothers level like the guys on YouTube. The days he spent at his uncle’s house in the summer were the very best days. He loved staying with Uncle Jon and Uncle Jon loved having him. In fact, it was Uncle Jon who had argued so hard with Danny’s mother — Jon’s younger sister — to let him stay for a week.
She watched the news almost all day, every day, and read the stories all over the internet. The world was burning, every headline seemed to say, or dying of some perilous disease, or in the path of an asteroid or three, or about to be overrun by murder hornets, or whatever new peril some newsroom millennial could slam onto the TV screen in screaming boldface with the barely-read subtitle of “some say…” Jon scoffed at all of it. He told Danny’s Mom that Danny would be just fine. There wasn’t a neighbor within a half-mile and he had just stocked up the place on food and drink and even a gallon of Danny’s favorite ice cream. His generator was fueled, just in case one of those Climate Change Tornadoes wandered by, and he could handle any murder insects pretty well, too. Eventually, she relented and Danny practically bounced in his seat all the way out of the city and the twenty miles to Jon’s house. He was going to have the best week of the whole year.
Except now he wasn’t very sure at all. Uncle Jon had said the sound was a motorcycle and Danny had seen and heard them come ripping up and down the road. Uncle Jon’s place sat by a flat section of highway that was a sure temptation to anyone with a fast set of wheels, but…this sounded different. The noise kept climbing higher and higher in pitch as it grew louder and seemingly closer. Danny shifted closer to his uncle and looked up the road as far as he could. There was a rise behind which the highway dipped off into the distance and Danny couldn’t see past that. Whatever was coming, it could come over that rise quickly, he figured. A heavy ball of anxiety grew in the pit of his stomach that he couldn’t quite explain but which felt far too real to ignore. A stray thought popped into his head. It has wings. Whatever is coming has wings.
Uncle Jon apparently had fully heard the odd noise as well. Danny felt his muscles tense as he started to rise. The noise swelled into an angry whine so loud it hurt Danny’s ears. It seemed to be everywhere. He clapped his hands to either side of his head and whimpered in fear, though he never took his eyes off that rise in the road.
Just then, a silver-blue motorcycle crested the hill, its engine screaming like a tortured beast. The driver looked back, just for a moment, then hunched down over the handlebars as if urging even more speed from his ride. The bike shot past the house so fast it seemed to have a tail behind it, like a comet. Danny cried out and Uncle Jon put his hand on the boy’s shoulder as he came to his feet. “A hunnert twenty, I’d bet,” he said, with a little tremble in his voice. The sound of the motorcycle’s engine still reverberated across the fields the way it had gone, a low and insistent buzz. “Man, I hope there’s a statie down there shooting radar. They’ll get them a real prize. Did you see that, Danny Boy?”
Danny Boy nodded. He had indeed seen that, but he had seen more than just a speeding motorcycle. He had seen the driver’s face and that split-second glimpse made the ball in his stomach grow five times bigger and a hundred times more heavy. The driver’s eyes had been wide and wild, his mouth opened as if to cry out. Danny had seen fear on the face of that man, and not the fear of someone driving too fast on an unfamiliar road. No, Danny thought. He was terrified of whatever was behind him. Like something worse than the Devil was after him. Hot on the heels of that thought came another. That sound isn’t gone. And it wasn’t. The low buzzing he had thought was the motorcycle’s engine fading into the distance wasn’t fading at all. In fact, it was growing louder.
Uncle Jon took a step back and said, “What the…?” Danny felt himself pulled back a step by his uncle, then another. He felt it too. He had to. Something was coming. Something that made Danny more afraid than he had ever been in his life.
His uncle tried to push him into the house, but got himself tangled up in Danny’s feet and fell back hard onto the porch. There was a dull sound of pain. Danny nearly fell as well, but caught himself on the porch rail. Uncle John groaned and shifted behind him and Danny nearly turned to check on him, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. Something was coming over the rise that commanded his entire attention, something that buzzed so hard the very air seemed to thrum around him. Danny gasped as the first flash of orange and black came into view, then he lost the ability to breathe for a moment altogether.
It was a great flying insect, like a wasp but the size of a cargo van. Its four wings tore at the air and propelled it forward at a speed Danny thought impossible. Seventy? Eighty? A hundred?? Danny’s mind yammered at him as his eyes took in the stinger the size of a fencepost slung under it. The tip glistened with venom.
Venom?? Run, Danny. Danny! Run!
He tried to listen to the fear-voice in the back of his mind, but his feet wouldn’t move. The giant hornet growled down the highway, its antenna twitching and tasting the air. Danny gasped a thin sip of air through a throat that felt squeezed shut. At the sound, the horror stopped in front of the house and swiveled in the air, its entire body turning toward them. Its multifaceted black eyes, as large as manhole covers, looked right at him.
It was hungry.
Danny moaned aloud and the hornet, unlike any hornet that ever existed, flew straight toward the house. It sees us. Oh God no. Help, please! Help! Uncle Jon help! Mommy help! He wanted to cry out but he couldn’t, not under the alien gaze of that horrible giant insect. He simply stood, frozen in terror for the few seconds it took to reach the house, then he knew no more.
The Murder Hornet had arrived.
I don’t often write stories “ripped from the headlines”, so to speak, but this one was right there in my wheelhouse, so now here we are. This story is a bit longer than I’m used to writing, but that’s good for me. The short story world likes stories bigger than 100 words and I’d better get used to writing them. That’s not to say I’ll give up the shorter flash form. Oh, no! I have far too much fun with them to give them up!
(Photo Credit: RyanMcGuire on Pixabay)