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The Wasp Whisperer

Catfood's first part of a ten part serialisation of a new novel by Adrian Flopsydrivel, which is obviously going to be turned into a brilliant film really soon. Sherriden Lockstubble is the new insect tamer arriving on the bee farm of Anthea and her father, Mortimer Grouchump. He arrives one night with his natural rugged charm, and saves the family apiary from disaster with gentle handsomeness.

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Anthea and her father sheltered from the storm in the front porch, peering through the darkness, watching the road winding down the hill with anxious eyes for any sign of their new farm hand. The weather had been worsening all day, and now the wind blew and the rain cascaded down from the open skies like the tears of a thousand cherubs caught and swept down to earth in a heavenly Pegasus' gigantic flatulence. They had been waiting for an two hours, and had almost abandoned hope to the cruel winds of the storm when deep in the distance, two flickering coach lights showed, like two tiny fireflies daring the nightmare rain. "Is that him?" asked Anthea anxiously, her dark, long lashed eyes peering into the bleak chaos. "Probably just two fireflies daring the nightmare rain." replied her father, "lets go inside and have a cup of hot lard."

An hour later, there was a sharp rap at the front door, startling the farmhouse's occupants as if they were a couple of sleepy voles, hibernating in a burrow. When the old man opened the latch, the door sprang open as if blown by a gale force wind, which it was. A bedraggled young man stood in the doorway, his collar-length hair wet and matted by the rain. He was dressed in the sodden clothes of a country squire, his long coat buffeting around him in the wind. Anthea’s father showed him in.

"My name’s Mortimer Grouchump, and this is my daughter Anthea. Cup of hot lard?” Anthea’s father closed the door as he introduced them. "No, I'm Sherriden Lockstubble, the new bee tamer." The stranger's eyes flicked over to the fire and alighted on Anthea as he spoke. Anthea's heart had fluttered in her kitten-soft bosom when she had first seen him, and when his soft blue eyes met her own dark limpid pools, she felt an attraction emanating from this man she had never felt before. She was glad that her face was already glowing with heat from the fire, as she would have been unable to disguise her blush.

You must be sodden. Here, sit you down,” Mr. Grouchump addressed their new arrival, “Anthea will make you at home. The old man brought up another chair by the fire, and reminded himself he must stop vomiting furniture in polite company as it made it all sticky. Much to Anthea’s embarrassed alarm, he left her to make conversation, while he prepared a nutritious, hot, fatty beverage.

The man bowed courteously to her and sat down. Once again his gaze lit upon hers, and this time his eyes held it in a piercing, blue, manly gaze. A rush of intoxicatingly perfumed thoughts flooded her mind and threatened to drown her very thoughts as she considered his handsome, manly face fresh from the storm. It looked to her as if it had been carved out of alabaster by the very angels themselves and then had life breathed into it. Then it had been thrown around in a stagecoach for a while, covered in a bit of stubble and sort of rained on a bit. Unexpectedly flustered by his handsome attention, Anthea stood suddenly and announced "I am suddenly rather tired. I must go to bed. Goodnight Father, goodnight... Sir."

With that, she started from her chair. She hurried from the room and up the stairs in a flouncing sort of way that could be done really well by Helena Bonham-Carter if this book happened to be turned into a film. Except you’d have to do something about those huge beetling eyebrows she's got. They really spoil her face.

Some little while later, after the introductory pleasantries had been made, the two men relaxed in the warm front room. The stranger’s boots were still steaming by the fire when Anthea's father slowly lit his creaky, old, pipe with fingers wizened by the years and tarnished by nicotine and beeswax. The bowl flared with a rosy glow and he began to puff. He ceremoniously offered his tobacco box to the new farmhand for appraisal. The man took it curiously, and cautiously sniffed the contents as he took out his own pipe. "Old buggerlyroot", clarified the old man "And a fine specimen," returned the younger "youngest tobacco shoots, snipped from the bush on the dessert plains at sunrise after gentle rain. Rolled between the thighs of a Mexican virgin then stored under a MOT inspectors bungalow for two weeks while he’s on a caravanning holiday on the Isle of Wight."

"The traditional smoke of beekeepers." the old man said, nodding his approval at the youngster's knowledge. Anthea had crept down the stair behind them to see if they were going to get on. Her father seldom took a liking to strangers, and his respect was especially difficult to gain from the younger men who worked on the farm. But even from her vantage point it was obvious now that the spirit of the ancient craft of beekeeping had replaced the colder, formal atmosphere; a manly bond of great buzzing honey-making black and yellow stripeyness. She noticed her father nodding approvingly at the man, and realised now that in his own way, he had been testing the stranger.

Her father smiled approvingly as they started swapping stories about African killer wasps and the fire caught a twinkle in his eye like a stray sunbeam on a dusty old farmhouse window. Not really very much like it though, because if he really had old farmhouse windows hanging over his eyes he would have had to open them to eat through and they would bang on his chin all the time when he walked and if he sneezed it would be disgusting.

When the whisky was brought out, the talk turned to the more serious matter of bee training. Turning his whisky glass as he looked into it, the old man addressed his companion. “So, which method do you use to train a bee to recognise the right type of pollen? The mantle method, or the flower technique? Anthea watched the young man's expression from the shadows with interest. She knew that her father had strong opinions on the two methods, and herself knew the textbook definitions by heart.

The mantle’ was the term for harnessing the insect with the “bee bridle - a saddle-like fixture made from matchsticks to stop it from flying off. The tiny animal was then placed on a smooth tabletop and surrounded by the different kinds of plant it would be trained to collect pollen from. The instructor would then use a straw to blow the animal around the table from bloom to bloom. The bees usually enjoyed this method quite a lot because it was traditionally accompanied by music provided by a radio tuned to acid house music.

Training by flower’ entailed showing the bee a particular blossom, and then demonstrating the task to be undertaken, for example collecting nectar from a crocus. If the bee took the hint and took the nectar, it was rewarded with a drop of honey. If it refused however, it was repeatedly beaten over the head with the flower. This technique was probably the more cruel of the two, as could be testified by the many bees suffering bent antennae caused by a round of daisy battering.

The young man looked at Mr. Grouchump and smiled slightly as he produced a tiny, highly polished, black case from his inside pocket, which Anthea initially took to be a snuff box. "No," he replied, "I use this."” On pressing a concealed catch with his thumbnail the lid sprang open, and Anthea craned to see its’ contents. There, resting on a cushion of black velvet the size of a stamp, was a minuscule silver funnel with a finely wrought mouthpiece at the thin end. The craftsmanship of the trinket astonished her; the fine filigree of silver wire around the trumpeting end was matched by rows of curious intertwining symbols etched into the flute, that seemed to have been woven out of spun sunlight as they glittered in the firelight. Anthea thought that she had never seen anything so small, so delicate and yet so beautiful in her whole life. Only fairy hands could have made the whole article, her limp brain concluded.

"You're a wasp whisperer then." As her attention had been totally absorbed in the wonder at this incredible otherworldly article, she had scarce realised her fathers’ scornful tone, and now she was dismayed that after his initial favour, his opinion of the newcomer had soured. "I have never believed that stuff."” He eyed up the young man with newly mistrustful eyes. The gaze returned to him was steely with resolve, and the strong, firm chin jutted out proudly in defiance, in a way which reminded Anthea of other parts of the male body which she had read about in biology books. "Well I'll prove you wrong tomorrow." There was more than a hint of a challenge in the young man’s voice, but none of them could ever have suspected what form that challenge was about to take.

The next day was Sunday, which for Anthea's family had always been a day of rest, traditionally a picnic. Luckily for them, all traces of cold and dampness from the storm had completely vanished. Coincidentally this was good for the story too, all the readers were getting a bit bored with all this mimsying about indoors and were thinking a bit of action outside would make a nice change.

Sherriden was unpacking his things in his quarters. Mortimer had told him that he could demonstrate his insect training abilities on the job on Monday; Sunday was a day for settling in. The two men had said goodnight uneasily the previous evening after their verbal stand off, and as Anthea had quietly slipped off to bed herself, she was once again worried that her father would not take to the man.

Anthea and her father set out across the fields, the two of them heading towards their usual picnic spot in the bright sunshine. Anthea strode gaily across the downs, the wind catching her flaxen hair like a golden sail, and she was singing as she held onto her straw hat. Her father shuffled along some way behind, tripping over his moustache and mumbling that he needed to go to the toilet. An observer would have marvelled that such a beautiful gazelle-like creature could have sprung from the loins of such a rancid old gorilla.

When they reached their usual picnic place, beneath a shady tree in the corner of a field of wheat, Anthea set out the picnic on the red and white checked cloth she had brought. The radiant sun made everything look so pretty, the cutlery was laid out and as shiny as a new pin, but not so sharp, and quite a lot bigger. Except the teaspoons of course, which were only what, say, four times bigger but not nearly as pointy otherwise they’d be bloody dangerous. I mean seriously, if you forgot to take them out before taking a sip of tea you could impale your eye or something. Shortly, her father caught up with her, wheezing like an asthmatic dolphin. Sitting down on a plate amongst the assorted pies, sandwiches and preserves, he began happily munching through the contents of the hamper.

Neither of them could have noticed the danger crawling towards them on six spindly legs. From out of the shadowy recesses within a nearby bush, a wood wasp was homing in on the scent of Anthea’s home-made strawberry jam, its antennae twitching as it smelt the delicious odours wafting across from the open jar on the far side of the blanket. Wood wasps were known to be spiteful and evil creatures, and its tiny insect mind resolved to frighten off the humans and take the jam for itself. Abandoning its task of spitefully and evilly chewing some wood up, it crawled onto the end of a twig and found a broad leaf suitable to use as a launching pad.

The two picnickers could have heard the sinister buzzing of wasp wings powering up, had they not been engrossed in the delicious spread before them. The evil insect launched and climbed to ten feet above them and then began its’ aerial assault diving out of the sun.

Mortimer was the first to notice it and was instantly frozen with terror, still holding his delicious Fray Bentos pork pie up on its way to his mouth. The sight of the wasp hurtling out of the sky towards him had triggered a flashback to a bad experience in his fighter pilot days in the Battle of Britain, and he was petrified by fear of the Hun.

Anthea saw her father freeze in motion, his delicious Fray Bentos pork pie held aloft like an Olympic torch made out of meat products. Following his staring eyes she saw the striped fiend approaching and realised that she must keep a cool head and quickly decide on a plan of action.

"I must keep a cool head and quickly decide on a plan of action" she said to herself.

Unfortunately Anthea had forgotten she was a girl, and so instead ran round in circles spastically flapping her hands and shouting “Mneh! Wasp! Eeeergh!

The dive-bombing insect aborted its run on Mortimer and swooped over her head as it instinctively recognised the stupid-girl-avoiding-a-wasp dance. Hovering above the panic-stricken humans a new imperative crackled into its shiny black little mind. Anyone silly enough to jump around making these squeaky noises must be stung. It would zap the girl on the neck, raid the jar of succulent fruit spread in the ensuing confusion, then return to its’ nest laden with jam after stinging a gormless human, a swashbuckling hero amongst wasps. Sort of like Zorro only smaller and with more legs.

Anthea stopped prancing around for a minute and gazed upwards. High above she could just make out a gleam of light reflecting off the wasp's stinger as it sized her up. Realising its awful intention she became rooted to the spot with fear. Her father could not be counted on for help as he was still making aeroplane noises and cursing the Red Baron. The wasp started to plummet, its buzzing wings cutting the air...

And stopped. A tiny shrill whisper filled the air, at the same time hardly audible and yet all present. The faint, beautiful noise sounded like a thousand pixie piccolos, and was washing across the field like wave of gossamer. The wasp was caught up in the flow of sound, and it hovered, uncertain but mesmerised above them. From behind the hedge appeared Sherriden. Anthea was astonished to find that this wonderful lilting was coming from the tiny silver horn which he held up to his lips, probably because she hadn’t been paying much attention to the plot so far. The wasp slowly turned and floated down towards the man, and came to land on his raised hand.

Sherriden took the whistle away from his mouth and unpuckered his lips with his spare hand. Anthea was as spellbound as the wasp. "I finished unpacking and I thought I’d go for a walk." Sherriden addressed them with a wry smile; "I hope I haven't disturbed you." He looked down at the tiny beast in his palm.

"We wish you no harm, fellow creature." he said softly, "What do you want with these picnickers?" Sherriden looked hard and closely at the wasp. Anthea could swear she saw the tiny beasts’ antennae waving at him in some silent communication as he concentrated.

Still holding the insect in his outstretched hand Sherriden strode over to the pot of jam and dipped one of the really shiny teaspoons into it. He proffered the preserve to the tamed insect. As the other humans watched in wonderment, it tentatively took a minuscule serving of jam, and held it between its front legs. "Go now in peace, tiny friend, back to your nest." The wasp alighted from his palm, and almost seemed to nod at Sherriden before zooming off over the hedge.

It was Mortimer who broke the astonished silence, after finally coming back to his limited senses. "You really are a Wasp Whisperer." he said in wondering wonderment, "well, thank-you young man, you’ve saved our picnic from disaster!"

Sherriden smiled and clenched the proffered hand strongly. The sunlight bounced off the sculpted cheekbones of this chiselled lump of testosterone as he turned to look at her with gentle admiration. "Are you alright too, miss?" he asked.

Anthea simply smiled feyly, and gazed at him. She desperately hoped that the next episode would have some sex in it. fin

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