Silhouetted Hero

The man crouched at the edge of the meadow, the wisps of his light brown hair barely rising above the tall grass and wild flowers. The forest loomed over the meadow. The bright almost blinding sunlight terminated in the trunks and shadows; only little streams of sunbeams filtering through the woody phalanx hinted at a way out.

The sticker on his soiled, torn shirt, which read Hi My Name Is and below that “John W.” in handwriting, was peeling. He was sweating, beads forming and breaking down his face. He needed to wipe his brow, but he did not want to give away his position. A light breeze made the grass sway a little every so often, but everything was essentially the same since he had chosen this place. He let himself blink, and then, only raising his forearm, he put the hot black metal of his pistol on one end of his forehead and slid it across to the other. It didn’t work well, but the sweat stayed out of his eyes. He wiped the pistol off on the thigh of his pants, still searching everything, still seeing nothing.

He waited. The meadow was buzzing with insect noises: the buzz of harried, hustling bees; the zip of flies; and the crackle and crinkle of dragonfly wings. It was, however the electric whine of some unknown insect, rising and falling but never quite dying, that dominated all other sounds. It seemingly came from nowhere but was everywhere. It gave the man a headache; it picked at his mind, at the concentration he fervently wanted to maintain. Surprising then throbbing, a thought struck him like a bee sting: he hated the insects. They were one more thing conspiring to take everything away from him. He told himself he already lost everything. He reflexively wondered when he would see Mary again. If she would see him. And he hated himself for thinking fairy tale thoughts.

The specter of actually being stung was augmenting his anxiety. The wasps with their pointed beaks seemed to enjoy buzzing right in front of his face. There was a cluster of fuzzy stemmed plants in front of him; they were topped with platforms of little white flowers that attracted many different bugs, but in particular, one kind of small wasp. There were at least three or four of them coming and going; each would hover on and off the flowers after they had presumably eaten. They were dark, fairly monotone in color except for three foreboding orange marks on the abdomen. What troubled the man was the thin, long needle-like structure (which plainly had to be a stinger) sticking out from the creature’s back end. He did not want to be stung — not now — but the wasps kept coming and going: it was a taunt and then it was torture. He had a visceral urge to swat or to spit, until it was a tremor in his head. The wasps and the waiting; the waiting and the wasps. It suddenly dawned on him that the tremor was in his hand. He gripped the pistol, as tightly as he could, and contracted his arms into his torso to stop the shaking. If he could stay still long enough, forever if necessary, it would stop. And it did stop, but it was because he finally saw what he had been waiting for.

On the far side of the meadow, a haggard form staggered out of the forest and into the unrelenting light: it was another man, perhaps a bit older, a bit taller. This new man dragged one of his legs as he came closer: his right eye was grotesquely closed under a round mass of purplish-red skin; his shirt was tattered, one sleeve completely absent; dirt on his clothes, his face, his hands. Dirt or blood. This beaten man was terrified, running from something, when he could barely stand. And he should be, the man lying in wait told himself; vengeance was ready to fall on his head.

The pistol ready, he was about to proclaim himself, when his hated target shrieked. It was as if he had swallowed the sound of death. And he might as well have. A large black bear was twenty yards from either man for a moment, but it was charging toward the crippled, exposed one. The doomed man fell down into the grass, out of his would-be assassin’s sight. The bear slowed down. Its head sunk into the grass. A paw moved, perhaps pushed at something. A moment passed, a moment passed. The bear raised its head back up and made a sound, muted, like a groan, before it sunk its head back down into the grass. A roar pierced everything but the sunlight.

The man with the pistol was stunned. He might have thought in horror how the other man was shredded. Or why there was no scream or even a murmur. He might have thought of what if the bear was coming for him. Instead he saw the bear leaving; it crossed the meadow unrushed and purposefully sauntered toward the mystery of the forest. But then it stopped and did a strange thing, or so it seemed to the man. It stood up. “John W.” was half-blinded, squinting into the sun. He could only see the silhouette of his master, but he believed without a doubt that it was looking directly at him. There were no proclamations, human or ursine; the bear returned to the ground and walked into the forest without looking back.

An hour ago, he would have bristled at anything, be it good or bad, for standing between him and his mission. Now, he was astonished. He was crouched, ever aching, in a meadow awash with the sun, not sure if he should laugh or cry. That was when he he saw the wasp on his knee. It appeared to bite its own legs and then rub them against one another. He had no idea how long it had been there, but it flew off his knee and onto one of the cluster of flowers.

Of course, it all seemed so silly now. The world came back to him, or at least the rolling whine, the electric buzz of the invisible insect orchestra. One small, different sound bubbled up, just strong enough to escape the background noise: a whimper. He set his gun on the ground and stood up. His joints creaked and cracked on the short journey. He stood over the beaten man, lying there on the matted grass, sobbing, tears dripping off his face, mucus off his nose, unaware that he was not alone anymore, until finally he cried out at the sight of the man dropping to his knee. He was proffering his back. It took a moment, but he reached up and around the man’s neck. It seemed impossible to the man that this was happening, that he could do this, but he was carrying the one he hated most.

He looked in the direction the bear had gone. That was not their way. They could not go back the ways that had brought them there. He looked ahead; there was only one direction left.

carrot wasp

A few notes on our featured wasp: this is one of the carrot wasps; they are in the Parasitica branch of the Hymenoptera. As far as humans are concerned, they are benign creatures. The projection that looks like a long stinger is actually a short, harmless ovipositor. The wasp pictured here is feeding on Queen Anne’s Lace, also known as wild carrot.The photos are some old PowerShot A620 shots I dug up. They have their flaws, and I had to crop two of them to make them work for this post, but I think they hold up all right.

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