3 min

Hello! My real name is Julia LaFond, and I'm a grad student in Pennsylvania. I enjoy creative writing in my spare time, especially sci-fi and fantasy.

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Creative Nonfiction
My family liked the campsite at first: plenty of trees, level ground for our tent, a short walk to the bathroom. Though we didn’t like that buzzing sound. We chalked it up to the nearby power lines like the clueless horror protagonists we were.

Right on cue, our harbinger of vague doom arrived in a golf cart. The park ranger asked the normal questions. How are you? Have you been camping before? Would you like to buy firewood?

Then he noticed the mesh canopy we’d pitched over the picnic table in case of rain. We knew it was a matter of when, not if, it would rain. When we joke about the family curse that causes at least one torrential downpour per camping trip, we’re only half-joking.

"That’s a good idea,” he commented fervently.

Mom and I thought his enthusiasm was odd, but we didn’t question it. It was only with hindsight that we realized it was a warning, not a compliment.

That night, the shelter kept out the mosquitos and the rain the clouds threatened. But that wouldn’t stop us from enjoying the campfire. It crackled nearby, close enough to warm us but not close enough for any stray embers to spread it.

The four of us were playing Yahtzee when something thudded against the mesh. We looked over, confused, in time to witness another collision. An enormous wasp hurled itself against the fabric, trying to dive-bomb our festivities. It buzzed up and down, nearly getting in through the crack between the cloth wall and the ground. It eventually gave up.

I don’t think we stayed up much later. But when we left our mesh shelter, we realized we weren’t safe yet. The wasp was attracted to light. It rammed into anyone unwary enough to be illuminated by the lantern or flashlight. Dad said it was like being hit by a bullet. Luckily, pointing the beam onto the ground was enough to distract it; we ran as the wasp fruitlessly attacked the ground. We finished going to bed in darkness, on edge but unharmed.

The next morning, we spotted something in the trees. The whole family gasped.

“Oh my God, is that one of them? It’s huge!” Mom shrieked. “It must be a queen or something!” Then we looked closer.

“It’s just a hummingbird.” Mom shook her head and we all laughed, scaring it away.

We finally asked questions at the nature center/gift shop, and learned the name of our new nemeses: Eurasian Hornets.

“They’re invasive,” the ranger informed us. “We’re actually thinking of bringing in an exterminator.”

A North Carolina state park bringing in an exterminator. That should have told us all we needed to know. And yet:

“Can they sting?” my parents asked innocently.

“You do NOT want to get stung,” she replied emphatically, paling a bit.

We went for a hike, enjoying the sunlight. At the peak of the trail, even as we admired the view, we saw one of those red, 3-inch-long hornets basking in the sun. When we returned to our buzzing campsite, it finally dawned on us that we had settled next to a nest of those monstrosities.

Evenings became tense affairs, a countdown to darkness. Nighttime required strategy and stealth. We used flashlights as diversions when we traveled. We panicked if we hit ourselves or each other with the beams. Dad bore the brunt of the slip-ups; luckily he has good reflexes.

One night I climbed into the tent by myself. As I sat alone in the dark, the buzzing seemed too close and irregular to be from outside. I rushed out, distractedly leaving the tent flap open.

“I think it’s in the tent,” I announced.

“If it wasn’t before, it is now!” complained my sister She’s always had a thing with bees, wasps, and hornets. My parents weren’t too happy, either. But they joined the search for the intruder. We never did find it; either I was wrong, or it escaped as we tried to pin it down.

I didn’t rest easy that night.

Then we did the one thing horror protagonists never do in the movies: we left. I don’t remember whether or not we cut our trip short. Maybe we’d always planned on a short trip. I do remember that on the drive back, we joked about adapting the experience into a 50s-style horror film about giant bees. We could even say it was based on a true story!
When we got back, it was just like the aftermath of any other camping trip. Unpack. Comfort the cat. Get back to work. We just had a few more stories to tell as we showed off all our pictures of landscapes and wildlife.

I’m sure it’s a coincidence we never went camping again.

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