A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
It was a well known fact that ants could lift up to a thousand times their own weight (actual research puts that at around a hundred times which is still an astonishing amount!) I’ve always had a slight unsettling feeling toward ants, not quite fear, but close to it. It was their hive mentality, similar to that of bees (God I hate bees). I live in a home with a backyard, which means that they invariably broke into my home daily in search of food and shelter. And everyday I could see them marching across the floor with crumbs of food dancing deftly above their tiny heads, the larger morsels being dragged behind them like luggage wheeled by a passenger at an airport. Imagine lifting a hamburger a hundred times your body weight – for me that would be a cheeseburger weighing in at an obese 18,000 pounds! I would typically stamp them out with my finger or toe, ending their short, hard life in a hundredth of a second; as if the finger of God suddenly appeared out of the clouds and stamped you out as you exited a McDonald’s, no time to reflect on your life, your decisions, or steal one last tasty bite of that delectable Big Mac.
One hot day (I had the aircon blasting in my one room studio apartment) I was eating lunch: a scrumptious ham and cheese sandwich I had made at home with a fresh loaf of 12 grain bread, and the ants were having their own feast at my feet. A miniature feast to my eyes, but then again what is the world but how every individual and living being views it? To the ants it must’ve been early Thanksgiving! It was like watching construction men at work; they were hoisting, lugging, carrying and transporting food back to their anthill to feed their gluttonous queen ant. Did you know she is the mother of every ant in her colony?! (What a succubus!) Watching these tiny workers, slaves, perform their labor always reminded me of Aesop’s famous fable The Ant and The Grasshopper – The ants busy from spring to fall foraging for food, whilst the grasshopper enjoys his life. When winter comes he has no food, yet the ants welcome him to feast with them, the lesson being, “work hard play hard” or something like that. I always looked up to the grasshopper, and his free-spirited, laid back view on life; the ants didn’t really experience life in my opinion.
Like the proverbial child burning ants with a magnifying glass, I enjoyed squishing them as they tiptoed by me, Jack trying to sneak by the giant, a costly mistake on their part. Some I would torture by dropping crumbs next to them, waiting till they pilfered their prize, then moving the crumb an inch away so they’d have to repeat the same exhausting routine again.. Ow! I dropped my sandwich on its plate and looked down – my left big toe started bleeding. What the fuck! I said out loud. I looked for the critter that could’ve caused such big bite – there! A large ant, clearly much larger than the rest, she did it, she looks like the queen (I thought the queen never left her dirt palace, which is why they lived up to ten years): her bulbous body was much bigger than her workers – it had to be for the breeding she did; one queen could produce up to a hundred million workers! I wondered if she could tell them apart… I stopped the bleeding with my napkin and used the same napkin to squish the queen before she could get away back to the safety of her sandcastle. I lifted the napkin to see if she was still moving – one of the bulbous sections of her body had exploded, ant guts smeared on the tissue, and I snickered to myself, satisfied I had my revenge. But she was still moving, thrusting her remaining upper abdomen forward, legs skidding left and right like she’d had too much ant wine (she was a queen and I imagined her loyal guards fanning her with grass and pouring sugar water into little goblets made out of clay). I had to give it to her; she was a tough little bitch, and I decided to let her hobble back to her hole and live out the rest of her days paralyzed, a crippled ruler, never again desired by any of her winged suitors or envied by her slave daughters, ha!
I went back to my sandwich and episode 4 of Game of Thrones (Season 6) and forgot all about the bite on my foot (do black ants bite? I filed away the thought for now). After about five minutes I could feel a throbbing in my foot. My left big toe had swollen up quite a bit, so I put some Neosporin on it and cursed aloud at that queen bitch. I lay on the couch, just getting into episode 7 (the joys of binge-watching on a lazy Sunday) and at some point I must’ve passed out because I awoke to the familiar theme song – daaa daaa da-da-da daaa da-da-da but I felt strange for some reason. It felt like something was crawling on me… I went to swat my legs and pressed down on something squishy. I was still half-asleep and imagined it being Jello, a cool, jelly-like texture…I slowly came to and suddenly my heart sank– it couldn’t be Jello! I was eating a ham sandwich– I looked down at my legs and almost spewed – my whole left leg was black like I had gangrene, but the blackness was moving… in a way that looked eerie, like hundreds of nano-bugs crawling, surging together as one… I let out an unnatural scream.. Jumping off the couch, swatting at them, just wanting to get them OFF OF ME!!! It seemed like hundreds (it seemed like a nightmare) of ants were on me, crawling over my leg like a stump, covering every inch of skin like molasses….
Swatting at them was doing nothing, so I had a thought: I could pour boiling water on them–no that would take too long to boil the water–I wanted them off me NOW!!! I ran to the cupboard, opened it and reached up to the top shelf to grab the Raid. I unleashed what must’ve been half the bottle and ants started falling off me like miniature rock climbers on an ill-fated mountain climbing expedition, trapped in an avalanche of poisonous fumes… One by one they fell away, and as I ran toward the porch door they left a trail behind me like breadcrumbs in the fairytale Hansel and Gretel. I leapt outside toward the garden hose, turned the handle and blasted them with forty pounds of pressure, the equivalent of what must’ve been a tsunami and typhoon rolled into one for those teensy fuckers. Almost all of the ants were off me now, though I could feel a few crawling around in my pants.. I stuck the hose down my crotch and blasted the remaining gnats off my skin. I started to feel better, but could now feel a throbbing pain across my entire leg. It felt like I was stung a hundred times and I could see scads of red bites with red swelling encircling each bite, each its own micro anthill, tiny active volcanoes….
I needed to cover my leg in ice immediately. I ran back into the house to the freezer, took out the ice cube tray, and popped every cube out into a plastic bag, quickly rubbing it all over my leg to soothe the (by now) excruciating pain, it’s cold temperature an ecstatic relief. I limped back to the door and bent down to see how the hell they were getting in. I noticed a small slit under the door, barley noticeable, but to an ant it must’ve been like a highway underpass. I got some tape and sealed it shut. The remaining ants indoors I took my revenge on, squeezing the life out of their black bodies, popping each ant like a blackhead on your forehead. That night I rubbed aloe vera on my body, usually used for burns, soothing the burn up my leg, cursing at those fuckers loud enough so they could hear me outside in their shanty hills. I had popped a couple painkillers and felt euphoric as I lied back on my bed, covers off, enjoying the cool air on my moist skin. I must’ve passed out quickly cause I didn’t remember falling asleep…but I awoke suddenly from a nightmare. I dreamed that I stepped into a giant anthill and starting sinking, ants slowly covering my whole body… I opened my eyes, but the room remained dark like the moon had fallen out of the sky. In my half-dream state, I thought I could feel my skin tingling, almost like my body had goosebumps, goosebumps that were spreading… Suddenly I had the horrifying thought that I didn’t just dream I was covered in ants– that I actually was covered in ants! I swat at my eyes and brushed them off so I could see…. I wished I had kept them closed…I started screaming like I was in an ocean being attacked by a shark. It was the only natural response to what I saw: my blanket had turned black, except it wasn’t my blanket – it was a living thing, writhing sheet of black ink, teeming with a thousand ants crawling over each other, seemingly unaware of each other’s presence…
At first I felt frozen, unable to move or even attempt to brush them off my body. Then the real world returned and I jumped up and started dancing frantically like my body was on fire (stop, drop and roll! my brain was telling me). I dropped to the floor and started rolling wildly around but I wasn’t actually contacting the surface, the ants acting as a buffer between me and the hardwood floor – it wasn’t working. It was like trying to remove an ever-tightening straight jacket that even Houdini would’ve struggled to get out if. I got the can of Raid and blasted myself. That was working; ants started falling off me me like dead skin. I was starting to get dizzy, inhaling the noxious fumes, but it was working. When enough had fallen off that I could see my clothes, I tore off my t-shirt and jumped in the shower..I’d deal with the pile of ant corpses afterward. The remaining ants on me were scalded by the hot water, like acid rain, causing them to writhe in pain as they plummeted a thousand feet into the pool of water at my feet, swirling around till they disappeared down the black holes in the drain…
By the time I got out of the shower, the survivors had made their way back outside. The remaining carcasses I swept up into a dustbin and flushed them down the toilet. I decided I was going to have to get an exterminator to rid of these fuckers. In the mean time, I would start the the extermination myself – I went out in the yard and spotted the anthill. I picked up a branch that had fallen off the tree and stuck it in the the hole, shoving it as deep down as possible, then tore up through the dirt until I had destroyed what was once a formidable sandcastle. I knew that there were labyrinthine tunnels below, so I went and got the bottle of bleach. I poured it down into the hole, imagining every ant getting bleached white till it dissolved their tiny fragile bodies, disintegrating into nothing… I could see a few ants emerging from the top, stumbling out of the hole like drunken sailors out of a tavern. I felt like a ten year old again, feeling a sense of pleasure torturing these motherfuckers. They deserved it! They attacked me firs– I stopped what I was doing. One ant struggled out of the hole (or what remained of it) and it was missing it’s lower abdomen… Damn she’s a tough lady! I thought. It was that damn queen bitch ant, somehow she was still alive… I could see how she was walking and it was horrific; there were two worker ants beneath her propping her up being used as legs, transporting her, keeping her mobile even with her disability… Although they were staggering now, losing balance, the bleach already dissolving their black guts like sulfuric acid poured on steel, melting them from the inside out… She lost her prosthetic legs but continued crawling, struggling over the top of the mound, trying to save herself…How is she still alive?? is all I could think to myself. I had an idea – I went and got my pliers, again feeling an overwhelming sense of delight that surprised even me (maybe all men felt the same, never losing their adolescence, their inner boy, harboring the same curious, sick, surprisingly evil tendencies… ). I found her halfway down the melted hill, struggling at every step, at every last breath… I trapped her in the plier’s prongs and said, out loud: I have the ant-idote for you (I know, a little over-the-top) and squeezed easily; her head popped, leaving just the upper half of her body, still jerking, until it too finally came to a standstill, the end of her reign, her kingdom overthrown by a man-boy, a violent coup…. What I couldn’t have known is that she had already laid a hundred million eggs just below my feet, all embodied with her genes, each encoded with one mission: To attack when ready.
Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things weird and creepy cbrtnik.com
A Sharp Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
There was an awful, revolting smell, like decaying flesh mixed with meat that had gone sour…
The butcher was hard at work slicing meat – purple and sinewy, like slicing into fresh veins. Sometimes I couldn’t believe we put that stuff in our mouths. “We’re no better than cannibals”, I always told myself. I had a respect for vegetarians – I had recently gone on a health binge myself and invested in a juicer, juicing fresh fruits and veggies every morning and feeling better than usual – and felt that they had made a respectable choice; “Save the animals, save the earth,” all that stuff. The only problem was all the usual hippie crap that went along with it, “washing” their hair with olive oil leaving their hair looking “healthier”, although I thought “greasier” was a more fitting description.
The butcher (I never got his real name) was a nice enough fellow, quiet and dedicated to his meat. “Good morning”, “Three pounds of beef, three pounds of bacon,” and “Have a good day,” were the only words I ever exchanged with him. He had impressive skills with his butcher’s knife – I had the feeling he could slice through anything like those informercials you see: “Sharpest blade on the market! Can cut through vegetables! (SLICE!) shoes! (SLICE!) and even tires!!” (SLICE!!) Like anyone would ever be slicing off a sole of shoe with a side of tire for Thanksgiving dinner. He offered a variety of meats: beef, pork, lamb, ham, pastrami, pepperoni, chicken, duck, goose, and had freshly hung pig, sausage, and all the innards you could desire: liver, heart, kidneys, lung, gizzards, and entrails galore. I couldn’t stomach looking at most of it, let alone imagine eating these strange things. I liked sausage, but knew the ingredients were a mystery to most of us…
He plowed his knife into the slabs of beef, blood splashing his apron like he’d just sacrificed a cow to the butcher gods. He wrapped the twelve ounce slabs with pieces of brown paper, the juice immediately being soaked up by the semi-absorbent paper. Next his thick knife sliced through the chunks of frozen peameal bacon like a hot sword through ice. I was already in heaven just thinking of the bacon entering my mouth when we got home (a Sunday tradition in our family, bacon and God). We had already been to church, and we always stopped by the food market on our way home. “Tommy! What are you doing?!” I heard myself automatically yelling. As usual he had wandered off, and was prodding the door to the “meat shed” to get a glimpse of the frozen animal carcasses inside. He was immediately by my side, “Nothing daddy”, the butcher not even batting an eyelash, his unwavering focus on slicing the perfect slab of peameal like that of a scientist researching some unknown matter through a microscope. The door was left open just a crack, and I was hoping he wouldn’t notice.
Tommy pulled me down – well as much as a twelve year old kid of his strength can, but somehow manages to do – to whisper in my ear, “There’s a kids in there daddy.” My heart stopped, but for just a second. I realized the meat man must have a children too, and probably has to bring them to the market on Sundays cause, well I guess he’s divorced (who could stand the stench of a husband, crusted by blood and sweat, bloody apron, coming home to his untainted wife and making love in their clean bed), and he’s probably showing his kid the ropes so he can proudly take over his father’s successful meat business one day. “Did you you say hello?”, and for a moment, I couldn’t be sure, I think I saw the butcher glance up, then go right back to weighing the meat on the scale like it was an exact science, measuring the atomic weight of a bacon atom. He pulled me down again to whisper at a close distance, “No dad, I think he’s frozen!” and this time a felt a chill up my spine. I stood up and attempted a conversation with the quiet butcher, a single droplet of cold sweat running down my forehead. “So, you keep all the frozen animals, or carcasses back there?” I managed uneasily, trying to sound like it was a normal question (“So did you catch the Yankees game?”) The butcher raised his eyes to meet mine – they were slightly bloodshot, probably from waking up early in the morning to get a head start on the all the prep work – but didn’t answer. “$55.49”, he finally said. I reached into my wallet, paid the man, thanked him, then grabbed Tommy to go. We walked around back to leave, and to stifle my curiosity, I peaked in through the crack in the door. I was suddenly frozen, and found my feet glued to the floor. There, like Tommy said, was a boy of about nine, hanging, upside down, completely frozen… At first I thought my eyes must be playing a trick on me me, that it must be a calf that, through our childish imaginations, resembled a human boy. But, through the frost, you could clearly make out a blue jacket, brown corduroys, and a human face. I felt for the first time in my life what could only be described as horror…
I panicked. I felt literally frozen to the floor, unsure what to do. Tommy was trying to pull me away, but I didn’t budge. “We gotta do something” I whispered, more to myself than anything. I told Tommy to go wait in the car, and he apprehensively scampered off. I decided to go in to see if there were any other bodies. I went in, slowly shutting the door behind me so the butcher wouldn’t see me. There was an awful, revolting smell, like decaying flesh mixed with meat that had gone sour, and I had to hold my gloved hand to my nose. I turned on my phone’s flashlight, and suddenly the world fell from under me…. Bodies, frozen bodies, all young boys, hanging from hooks, dangling by their feet, all with frozen faces of horror, like they saw something coming at them…Shump! I heard this sound like a knife piercing flesh, and at the same time felt something cold and metallic enter my back. I tried to scream, but a calloused, bloody hand wrapped around my face like a bear’s paw and I couldn’t even croak. I felt the hook (was it a hook??) shove deeper into my spine, and all I could think of was Tommy, and Sarah, my beautiful- Riiip! the sound of torn flesh as I felt the frigid air hit my spine, the skin of my back dangling, like velcro hanging off a shoe. I felt this bear of a man pick me up easily off me feet, and pierce me onto a sharp, rusty hook. I saw the tip of it penetrate the front of my shoulder blade, dripping with blood, consciousness starting to fade, and I was convinced this was all a horrible nightmare, that I’d wake up safe and sound in church while the priest extrapolated on what the bible means, how the Lord is looking after us, how God is good….
Cameron is a Toronto-born writer of short stories and lover of all things gory cbrtnik.com
The Beggar Woman
A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
The Beggar Woman
The beggar woman brushed briskly by us with her shopping cart: trash, empty Taiwan Beer bottles, old, stained t-shirts, water-damaged books, magazines with their covers torn and corners curled in, tin cans rattling around inside like they were thrown in a dryer. This, even though it’s a common sight in Taiwan, this woman made me feel uneasy as she passed us; I felt she looked right at me even though her head faced forward and her eyes remained on the prize (I’m assuming a junkyard to exchange her hard-earned junk for some coin), I feel like her eyes, like a frog’s eyes, were multidirectional, like her vision was 360′. I really felt like she stared straight into my face as she passed… And then she turned the corner and she was gone. I felt a surprising sense of relief – I didn’t mention this to my girlfriend who was walking independently, unaware of the woman’s intrusive (or imagined?) gaze. As we walked another block, on our way to a local cafe to while away our Sunday, suddenly she appeared again from a side street (damn she must’ve been hustling!) Her cart was still full – maybe she had veered off to pick up some other junk, a discarded tire, pieces of a broken chair – and she was staring straight ahead (to our left). I looked over and my girlfriend, who was texting away, either letting her BFF know how exciting her day was going be sipping coffee and playing Candy Crush, or already playing Candy Crush, didn’t notice the lady, and I decided to point her out this time. “Hey baby, doesn’t that old lady look weird?” I asked, trying to sound oblivious and unconcerned. She looked up, saw the lady, shrugged, and went back to crushing candies. We were nearing her again, and I could sense the lady somehow observing us without looking directly at us, like one of those new 360′ cameras that were becoming all the rage. I started to slow my pace, reaching my hand out and grabbing Julia’s, feeling safer like putting on a seatbelt in a taxi, when the lady suddenly bolted forward, cutting off a car who had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting her – she didn’t flinch. She made it across and disappeared down another side street. I knew the cafe was coming up on our right, and was looking forward to sitting down with a warm cuppa coffee and reading my new Stephen King novel Under The Dome. We arrived – I’ll admit I looked over my shoulder to make sure the lady hadn’t suddenly crept up behind us – and we got our usual table on the patio. We ordered our drinks, opened up our book and Candy Crush respectively, and fell into our lazy Sunday routine. Our drinks arrived, and I nearly forgot about that creepy old woman when suddenly she appeared in front of the cafe… (Wasn’t she on the opposite side of the road?) She reached over the railing, towards our table, and my heart jumped into my throat – my girlfriend didn’t even look up from her candy-filled screen – and grabbed the receipt off our table. I breathed a silent breath of relief. The woman shoved the receipt into her pocket, but didn’t move. I tried opening my book to give her the hint (“Hey lady, we’re trying to enjoy our Sunday here, leave us alone okay?” I could hear myself saying in my head, but because I didn’t speak Chinese I kept silent). I peeked over the pages and she was still standing there, like in a trance, or waiting for something…”Can you tell her to go away?” I asked my girlfriend. “Zou kai!” she replied, without looking up from the colorful candy sprites. The woman didn’t budge. “Zou kai!” I attempted, but it sounded even weird to my ears. Suddenly my girlfriend put her phone down, stood up and yelled at her in what I can only imagine consisted of insults, expletives and curses. And the woman (I’m not sure if she could even understand any of it) slowly started pushing her cart away, wheels screech screech screeching from not being oiled in years, her tired, bruised, atrophied legs following behind like the cart was her master, her body its slave. Now she was muttering something, to herself it seemed, in neither English nor Chinese, just unintelligible gibberish. And just as soon as she had appeared, she was gone, on to her next plunder of trash and treasures. I turned to thank my girlfriend– but she was gone. “Baby?” I said, loud enough to hear on the patio. No response. I waited a few minutes, assuming she had gone to pee or complain her latte wasn’t frothy enough. When a few minutes passed I started to worry (why??), so I got up and went inside. “Have you seen my girlfriend?” I asked in my broken Chinese, horrendous but passable. “Mei you”, the waitress replied. I knocked on the bathroom door and received a knock back. “Baby, is that you?” I asked, slightly embarrassed. No answer. I went back outside but she wasn’t on the patio. I walked to the sidewalk and looked up and down the street. I couldn’t see her, but out of the corner of my eye I saw the old woman parked at the end of the block, her back facing me. Almost like she could sense my eyes, she turned, her cart leading her body in tow almost like they were one; a human centipede. And I could make something out in her cart, something that hadn’t been there before: a large, dark shape, almost large enough to be a…human.. her hair….Julia…….and she was gone, turned down another side street like a million before, to fill her cart and survive another day.
Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things macabre cbrtnik.com
A (very) Short Fiction
by Cameron Brtnik
“Magic! It’s magic!!” He said again. I didn’t believe him, nor did anyone else in the room. Mike had borrowed my pencil, held it between his fingers, shook it and – as if my magic – it “turned into rubber.” “It’s just a stupid illusion!” yelled David. “You’re not fooling anybody!” “But it’s real, I swear…” but by then nobody was listening, and had moved on to the next item of interest, in this case Gordy happily picking his nose and eating the boogers, enjoying the grossed out reactions from all his classmates. “Eww! Disgusting!!” Everyone exclaimed in unison, but I knew deep down they enjoyed watching it. The same way people enjoy watching some poor kid fall into a tiger cage and get mauled, all while the cameraman stands there filming rather than helping.
Mike (“Mike The Magnificent” his full name) remained at his desk, uninterested in the childish antics of the other “less-developed” (in his opinion) kids. He was on to his next feat of the impossible: floating a straw in a bottle. All the kids knew it was done with a string – you simply tape a string to the centre of the straw, attach the other end to your body, and pull the bottle outward so the straw “floats” magically out of the bottle (this was 101 in any kids’ magic book). But as usual, Mike proclaimed this illusion “real” and some of the kids threw paper balls at his head. Although I never actually caught a glimpse of the string myself, I went along with the other kids (isn’t that what all kids do?) and made fun of him. “Weirdo!” “Loser!” “Freak!” all the kids taunted in unison. Even though I went along with it, I never actually said the words, but rather mouthed them (which I suppose was just as bad).
Suddenly, Mike stood up, not visibly shaken (although I believe, deep down, all the insults bothered him) and walked defiantly to the corner of the class room. He clasped both his feet together, raised his arms in the air and…rose into the air!…about three centimeters. I was dumbfounded. But once again I joined in the jeers of my classmates: “He just stood up on his tippi toes!” “What a faker!” “My fish can fly higher than that!” But I wasn’t so sure he was faking… All of a sudden Mike started shaking, his whole body turning red, and an angry grumbling sound escaped from his lips…”Arghhhhh!!!” and he started rising into the air, a good three feet this time, and yet still some kids dismissed it as “a stupid illusion” but I wasn’t so sure this time it- Mike was a full six feet off the ground now! Some kids stood under him and grabbed his feet, attempting to yank him down. “It’s just a string!” Kevin, the little asshole, yelled. “A string attached to what, the ceiling you idiot?!” Liz retorted, and suddenly Mike fell from heaven, into her arms, with a big grin on his face and smiled up at her: “You believe me! Magic! It’s magic!!” No one ever made fun of him again.
Cameron is a Toronto-based short story writer and professional children’s magician cbrtnik.com
A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
Inspired by a trip to the Honey Museum in Yunlin county, Taiwan July 31, 2016
The bees….the bees were everywhere…and the Venus flytraps…
The trip started out innocently enough.
We went to the Honey Museum for our grade 5 class trip, led by Mrs. Shea. I brought my favorite Jose Canseco bat (at least it was signed by Canseco. I didn’t care either way; I could hit consistent homers with it over the schoolyard fence). I would randomly swing it in the air, pretending to hit balls out of the park, and sometimes – I always felt bad about this later – I hit butterflies as they lazily flew by me, unaware of their impending, disorientating death. We knew that an “educational field trip” really meant “another boring museum”, but it was always a welcome opportunity to miss school. As soon as the “bee keeper” (pfft yeah right, more like an overzealous honey saleswoman) led us on the sure-to-be-a-snore tour of the beehives, Jason snuck off down the hallway, and like loyal servants we followed: me and Robby, all the troublemakers in class, no doubt. Even though Mrs Shea had a watchful eye on us, she couldn’t possibly watch every kid in the whole class, 32 students in total.
We darted down another hallway. The first thing Jason did was open the fire exit – you know the kind that say ALARM WILL SOUND: Only open in case of emergency. Of course, Jason pushed it open with little affair. It led into another shorter hallway, and to another door that read WARNING: Employees only. “Jason, are you sure we should go in there?” “What are you, a pussy?” That always worked. We headed in after him. The first thing that hit us was the overwhelming noise of buzzing: a million tiny wings flapping at once, causing the air to fill up with an almost solid, palpable (even malleable) noise, and if you were to wave your hand in the air you could somehow control it, affect its path. I had to cover my ears for a moment. When my ears adjusted, we moved slowly into the hive – or hives in this case – deafened by the angry buzzing surrounding us from every angle like a perpetual falsetto choir singing with their lips pursed tightly together; A thousand – no a million remote control helicopters buzzing around in the air. I wasn’t afraid– okay I was a bit nervous is all, but you would be too if you heard what I heard at such close range. The bees looked like they were feeding on something (isn’t that what Mrs Shea called pollinating?). I could see these flowers in their glass-enclosed fish tanks – that’s really what they were, the bees a thousand flying minnows – but they certainly didn’t look like any kind of flower I’d ever seen, not in real life. “What are those things?” Robby asked in a curious, but cautious tone of voice. “They’re not flowers, they’re called Venus flytraps,” Jason confidently stated. “I saw’em in a National Geographic once. They eat flies..or anything they can fit in their mouths (is that what they were, mouths?!). “Oh yeah,” I said, pretending to be cool, but suddenly feeling nervous and scared being in this off-limits room for staff only. I’d seen them too in movies, but I always thought they were fictional, like some baddie out of a Super Mario Bros video game. We certainly didn’t learn about them in Mrs. O Brian’s biology class. I just realized something: The bees definitely weren’t eating – they were pollenating. But I thought they only pollenated flowers… Suddenly I heard a loud SMASH! and looked in time to see Jason pulling off the lid (in his guilty pleasure kind of way) to the glass hive, letting it fall to the floor. “What’d you do that for?!” I exclaimed in shock, probably letting on a little too much how scared I really felt. “What are you, a girl??” That usually worked. Not this time. “That was real smart brainiac! Now the bees are gonna get out…–but it already happened. In what seemed to be no more than ten seconds, Jason’s entire right arm was covered with bees. The rest were swarming him…. I suddenly thought of that scene from My Girl where the kid (played by then child superstar McCully Culkin) gets stung by a hundred bees and was allergic to them and died. It was the first time I cried in a movie.
I snapped out of it. We could hear Jason screaming, just barely, above the insane buzzing. “Get Mrs. Shea!!” he screamed. He was crying now, something I had never seen Jason do before. I was mortified..but a part of me, deep down, perhaps not that deep, enjoyed seeing Jason suffer.. It was a fleeting comfort. Robby and I ran to get help. Before we got to the exit, something inexplicable happened: another lid smashed to the floor, shattering into splinters of glass at our feet. How is that possible?? I didn’t knock it over, Robby neither (bees can’t be that strong can they?!). Then we saw it: one of those Venus flytraps had pushed the lid over the ledge, rising up what seemed like three feet into the air! Bees were everywhere now, and it was hard to see… We swiped at them, getting stung a few times, but not feeling any pain because of the adrenalin coursing through our veins… We were able to find the exit, but it wouldn’t open from the inside…It was a PUSH door from the opposite side and it must’ve locked when we entered stupid stupid STUPID!!! We screamed at the top of our lungs OPEN THE DOOR!!! but inside I knew nobody would hear us. The tour was probably in another building by now! And then I felt terror unlike I’d experienced ever before… I looked back to get a glimpse of Jason – Robby was still frantically pounding on the door – and couldn’t locate him, not through the sheet of bees in front of my eyes. Then I spotted him – well it resembled Jason, but only from the shape of his spiky hair – he was completely covered in stings, and his body had swollen to almost double the size… “Help me…” he whimpered, and I felt tears stream down my cheeks, sobbing for him and I think also for myself. Just then the Venus flytrap – it looked like a green taco with teeth – the one that had somehow nudged open the lid darted out of its hive, still rooted to the earth, and struck Jason on top of his head; it started sprouting blood, like the school’s water fountain, and I could see a look in Jason’s eyes, even though they were nearly swollen shut, that communicated one word: HELP. But it was too late. The carnivorous taco was tearing soft flesh – it must have been brain tissue – from the top of his skull and Jason suddenly teetered over, knocking over the glass hive, this time toppling the whole thing to the floor… The Venus flytrap started writhing on the floor – it must’ve been six feet in length! – snapping at the air around it. And all the time, the bees. I jumped back and helped Robby to pound on the door again. We were being stung more often now, and I could see Robby slowly losing his strength.. I was starting to give up.. my body was weak, my mind getting tired…
Like that time I went snorkelling with my bigger brother and the waves started getting choppy, pulling me into the surf, under the water, throwing me ever closer to the coral reef, no air, panicking, starting to lose consciousness, accepting the end, then suddenly….
The door flung open! Mrs. Shea was standing there in sheer shock, or terror, or both and quickly pulled us in. She went to shut the door, but not before a green tentacle-like arm shot through the narrow gap and grabbed her ankle. She screamed, loud. (Louder than she’d ever screamed at us in class.) Robby and I grabbed her arm and held it tight. We tried to break her free from the vice-like grip of the thorny tentacle, but it felt like arm wrestling my older brother – impossible. Her pantyhose started staining red, the result of the thorns digging into her leg. Other kids from our class showed up, but they weren’t any help; they just stood there, immobile, helpless to do anything… “Help us!!” Robby screamed in a voice I didn’t recognize. Suddenly Mrs. Shea was yanked back, breaking our grip on her arm. She was on her hands and knees now, pleading with us to run… She seemed not concerned with her own life but rather in saving our own, a noble gesture that I didn’t get until I myself became a teacher all those years later, understanding the bond you share with your students, almost like they were your own children… We slowly backed up, not sure if we should leave her, then suddenly turned and ran (something I feel guilty about to this day). We ran into the beekeeper in the hallway and she shouted, “This way kids!” We followed her out the corridor, nearly colliding with the security guards running in the opposite direction. The bees followed us, at first a slow trickling, then eventually a “funnel” of them buzzing ahead, faster than us, in the open space above our heads. We made it to the exit, but we all stopped dead in our tracks – the surface outside of the glass door was completely covered by bees, crawling on top of one another, seemingly feeling for a way in, at the same time blocking out the sun. “We’re trapped!” screamed Mike, a kid I was never particularly fond of. “Follow me!!” shouted the fake beekeeper (I didn’t care if she was a real beekeeper or not, just as long as she knew another way out). The alarm was blasting now – one of the security guards must’ve switched it on – and full-out panic set in. There was a sharp tapping sound on the door now (could bees’ legs be that strong?) and a scratching sound, and I didn’t want to wait to find out if the glass would hold. But it didn’t matter; bees were coming in all directions now, from the hallway, and now I could seem them when I looked up coming in through the vent… We ran upstairs to another fire exit. She threw it open with the force of her brawny shoulders and we all scampered through. We were in a glass corridor – like our own human hive – that connected two buildings with a view to the outside. “Where’s Jason?” one of the kids finally noticed. Robby and I stole glances at each other, and both of us guiltily looked down at our feet. “He’s gone,” I said. “Whaddya mean gone?!” Mike piped up sounding accusatory, like a jerk as usual. “He was stung to death by those damn bees! And, and another thing..” “Whaddya mean, other things??” he cut me off sounding like he didn’t believe a word I was saying. “Never mind!” Robby thankfully interjected. “Look!” he pointed. “They’re coming!!!” Now a swarm of what looked like a tornado of locusts was flying toward the corridor… It was all very much like a dream, but knowing I would’ve woken up in a sweat the first time I was stung… We didn’t stay long. We bolted for the opposite end, bursting through the other door just as we heard a loud splat! followed by a splintering sound – the sound of a large glass window being broken by a renegade baseball except this baseball was alive. The glass cubicle connecting the two buildings all but fell away just as Timmy, the slow kid, made it through the door. “Oh my God,” I heard the lady beekeeper mutter too loudly to herself. “How did this happen?” she asked no one in particular. “I think it’s because of those Venus flytrap thingies,” I said. “Impossible! They were supposed to be working together in a symbiotic relationship.. Each benefiting, and benefiting from, the other. The bees, we realized they were pollinating the flytraps, and in return the fly traps provided nourishment for the bees from all the digested plant and animal matter it consumes (so bees ate meat?!). They couldn’t affect the bees’ behavior or flight patterns, impossible! But, ahahah, look at at me, why am I explaining this to a ten year old?? C’mon, let’s go!” I wasn’t sure, but I think she was starting to lose her cool. We followed her down two flights of stairs, then out the door..outside. “Head for the bus in the parking lot!! We sprinted across a small field, but we could hear the buzzing sound in the distance getting closer, louder…
We ran into the closed-off street where the Chinese market was busy and bustling as ever. The bees..I thought. All these people..the bees are..- I turned to look over my shoulder- coming. All of a sudden I could hear screaming, coming from..- over there! A lady was being swarmed and her husband was trying desperately, not succeeding, to swat them away.. This going on while everyone else seemed oblivious – the woman’s screams being drown out by the noise of the usual activity: shop merchants selling honey water and fresh mangoes, tourists bargaining with them, street performers plying their trade in the beating sun, kids running everywhere chasing bubbles, like dogs chasing butterflies, Buddhist monks clanging together symbols and recanting citations to their God(s), enlightened by a fat man with a perpetual, cheeky grin… Over the chaos of bubbles and people now trampling over each other, the sound of that darned annoying bell the oblivious nun kept ringing DING DING DING and the low, guttural sound of the incessant incantations being chanted by the Buddhist monks Whoa ai hey ai eh whoa ai… I could hear, no feel the buzzing sound all around us. The bees had escaped their cages and the last thing on their mind was honey. They were agitated by all the commotion, and one more thing I noticed: they almost seemed hungry. Then the first of the victims was stung, on the leg. Stings aren’t so bad – we’ve all been stung at least once in our lives, usually as a stupid kid playing in the backyard thinking it would be a fun idea to whack a bee hive hanging, defiantly, in a tree and run away, finding out the hard way that it wasn’t so fun after all. I noticed there was a red mark on her leg that was quickly swelling up, much faster, and bigger than it should have. Did it inject her with some kind of poison? Perhaps contracted from those crazy Venus flytraps?? (Where were they indigenous to anyway? South America?? Certainly not from around here.) Is that what was making them so insane? I didn’t wait to find out. I grabbed my Canseco bat (I somehow managed to hold on to it this whole time) and started swinging like a wild man. They were fast buggers (no pun intended) and I couldn’t connect with any; the bat end was too narrow. Then I remembered the shop down the road selling electric rackets, the kind normally used for zapping pesky mosquitos. I ran to the shop, grabbed one, the lady yelling at me in some foreign language, turned it on. “Come and get me motherfuckers,” I heard myself say, thinking I said it out loud, but I can’t be sure now.
I swung like it was my birthday and my parents got me a bee shaped piñata – I must have zapped twenty bees at once. They fell from orbit like miniature meteors with with stinger-shaped trails. They became more agitated – but so did I. The other kids saw me and followed suit, even the beekeeper. By now the old lady selling the rackets joined in and helped zapping those mad bees with the precision of someone who had years of practice swatting pesky intruders. We made our way toward our school bus, swatting and flailing helplessly, the bees seemingly spawning in the air as we fruitlessly tried to diminish their numbers. The bus driver had already seen us panically running from across the parking lot and swung open the door, kids disappearing into its safe, yellow confines, a haven with the torn, green leather seats with stale gum stuck underneath. “Close the doors!!” I could hear someone scream – it was the pretend beekeeper. She was lagging behind, running lethargically, attempting to swat at the bees but barely striking the wind. It looked like she had been stung a few too many times, and suddenly she toppled forward, sending the racket flying out of her hands… She was being stung from every direction now. By now the bus driver had shut the doors and kids’ faces were planted against the windows, looking out in awe and terror. Robby and I stood next to each other, thankful we were inside again, but feeling guilty again as we stood and watched, for the third time that day, as another, poor soul fell victim to the bees….
The bees covered her entire body now…we could see her moving, struggling, to get out from under the tarp of bees, flowing and oozing over her body like black and yellow honey… We felt a jolt as the driver put the school bus into drive and hastily pulled out of the parking lot, bees splatting against the windshield, drawn to the big yellow bus like it was their mother bee… Robby and I looked out the window as the honey museum faded into the distance, like a a half-remembered dream, and as if he were reading my mind exclaimed, “I’m never eating honey again.”
Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things weird and creepy cbrtnik.com
The Dollhouse Cafe
A Short fiction? by Cameron Brtnik
7.30.16 Gukeng, Yunlin
Before reading WATCH VIDEO!!! https://youtu.be/FgEr1fXU6xI
WARNING: This is 90% true
The doll…the goddamned doll….
Why the hell would there be a doll in a cafe in the first place? What happened to this place??
Out in the ocean, wanting to go further (always further, why do you always have to go further you idiot!), the storm on the horizon, and the fear that a great white shark would come out of the depths and snatch my foot….
Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things creepy cbrtnik.com