Colony Collapse Disorder

📅 Published on July 14, 2020

“Colony Collapse Disorder”

Written by Nick Carlson
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.57/10. From 7 votes.
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The air filled with smoke, but to Texan farmer Don Murphy, it was all part of his daily routine.

Unlike most men, Don lived for his workdays. Even at fifty-seven he never grew tired of the fragrant fog of burning wood, the vast blue skies, and the rich, biting taste of the honey his bees tirelessly produced. It certainly wasn’t the highest-paying job, but any job that involved going outside and interacting with nature was good enough for him.

There were other beekeepers in his town, but Don Murphy was a titan among them; he often joked that half his job consisted of supervising apiaries other than his own. Of all his peers, his colonies were the strongest, they accepted new queens most readily, and their combs practically bled the golden-brown stuff.

It always humored him how bipolar the attitudes people held towards bees were. Don knew full well that the very same people who bought jars upon jars of honey from him also complained on a weekly basis about the “swarms” of bees “invading” their backyards. At least they made up the vast majority of ill will directed at him; the ones going off about “their flowers, their honey” were the most difficult to manage. When all was said and done they were just folks looking to weasel their way out of another due in life. Don valued paying his dues with hard work, the timeless equation of input plus effort equaling output, the greater satisfaction of knowing his toils ultimately made a difference.

I’m one to talk, he thought with a smirk, as he smoked out his first hive. Is it really “work” if you enjoy it?

Ignoring the befuddled bees crawling around his mesh visor, he removed the lid from the hive and pulled out a raft, smiling as he saw both sides were almost completely capped over with beeswax. “First go, good job everyone,” he said, depositing the raft into a wheelbarrow. The remainder of the rafts were only half-capped; better to let them fill up entirely before harvesting.

Don covered the wheelbarrow with a tarp before moving onto the next one.

He pumped a fresh round of smoke in and around the openings before taking the lid off and lifting up a raft.

“Oh, Jesus, no…” The raft was also coated with beeswax, but only about six adult bees were attached. Instead of crawling among the combs doing their business, they merely hung on, antennae waving feebly, as if they’d simply lost the will to continue working. “Goddammit, no,” Don muttered, pulling out another raft, where he could only see two. The panic caused his skin to prickle as he removed a third raft and witnessed, with a plummeting heart, the nail in the coffin for this hive. The queen, recognizable from her plump size and painted thorax, likewise clung lifelessly onto the raft. Normally the queen was always surrounded by a convoy of worker bees, cleaning her, communicating with her. But aside from the defining traits, she might as well have been one more torpid bug in the hive.

CCD, Don thought with a sinking chill. Colony collapse disorder, the mysterious condition of bees abandoning their hives and venturing aimlessly beyond their range, where they all perished in purposeless confusion. The theories regarding CCD were as varied as the answers were few. The only certain thing about it was the frustration and fear that plagued any and all afflicted beekeepers.

“Why you all had to go,” Don sighed, before removing all the rafts and stowing them in the wheelbarrow. If the colony had truly gone its way, he might as well reap what he could from them.

As he moved to the next hive, a flicker of movement atop a distant hill caught his eye. Squinting through the mesh, he could make out a blurry dot skirting near the crest, obscured by a layer of dry scrub. Coyotes and badgers were the most common interlopers on his property, but this thing’s height and gait could only mean one thing.

Don dropped the wheelbarrow and drew his revolver from his waistline. “You are on private property!” he bellowed at the figure. “Get the Hell out of here! I am well within my rights to shoot!”

The thing stopped and shifted, as if turning towards him. Don inched closer, still unable to make out a face. “Turn back now!” The loss of one of his hives had incensed him to the point of spitting with fury, directing his rage towards the trespasser. “Three seconds!” The figure seemed to bend over… then straightened up again, rocking back and forth… a gust of dry wind punched in Don’s direction, and with it carried the sound of mocking laughter…

Don pulled the trigger and he fell into a split-second shock from the crack of the gun… but he ripped off his mask and stared wildly at where the figure once was. Breathing heavily, he tore through the apiary and up the hill, his bee suit catching on brambles and thorns. A stitch in his side, he arrived at the spot, looking around for any sign of an intruder… footprints, hair, anything.


Don emitted a ragged sigh and trudged back. Despite his anger he knew the trespasser had nothing to do with his hive; bees would first die attempting to deter an intruder before they went so far as to abandon their home. But as he maneuvered the wheelbarrow among the rest of the hives, he wondered off-handedly how much more strangeness he’d had to put up with.

* * * * * *

Later that evening, Don and his wife Jeanine oversaw the extraction of the harvested honey in their garage. A brief spin in a hand-powered centrifuge sucked the liquid from the rafts, which drained through a spigot and through a sieve to catch any errant bits of wax. Despite the drama from earlier in the day, it was a decent haul, nearly four jars’ worth.

“A-2 died today,” Don grunted, tying a signature red bow around the jar. “Opened it up and damn near nobody was home. Never knew a bee could look depressed, but… now I know.”

Jeanine lowered her head; she too knew of CCD. “Why do they do that, Don?”

“Wish I knew,” he replied. “If I did, though, they might kill me for ownin’ such knowledge.”

Jeanine set her jar aside. “I mean, if it ain’t parasites, or disease, or chemicals… could they just, up and decide to leave?”

“‘Decide?’” The word in that context felt like a foreign language on Don’s tongue. “There’s a reason it’s called a ‘hive mind’… bees have no free will of their own. They’ll stick to their queen until their dyin’ breath.”

“Apparently not. That don’t mean they’re not physically capable of leavin’,” Jeanine countered. “If they think something’s wrong, they’ll jump ship – that’s not ‘free will,’ that’s ‘instinct.’”

“Come off it, Jeanine,” said Don. “They have nowhere to go and they die soon after. What’s the point of that ‘instinct?’”

Jeanine shrugged, looking away. “Maybe some things are worse than that.”

Don scoffed. “Well, maybe when you get out there in the sun workin’ with me, you can lecture me about the workings of bees.”

“I’m not getting into this now,” Jeanine snapped, an edge to her tone. She tied off the last jar and strode back into the house. “I’m goin’ to bed.” Don heard her angry footsteps going up the stairs and settling in their bedroom. He shook his head and grabbed a beer from the fridge, figuring he ought to cool down even more before joining her in bed.

He walked out back and settled on his chair, overlooking the desert night. The stars never failed to impress him, a liquid wash of celestial fire in the sky above. The distant buzz of bee activity had finally died down; bees often worked into the night, but even they had to sleep at some point.

The porch light above him dimmed, and he heard the clatter of insect wings. “No, please no,” Don moaned, looking up. Bees affected with a parasitic maggot would often hurl themselves into lights at night, for similarly unknown reasons. Pathogenic brain worms were the last thing Don wanted to deal with after CCD.

But the thing smacking itself against the light was no bee. It was much larger, about the size of his thumb, its wings clacking sickeningly on the glass. It circled erratically, like a carp on a line, rendering it difficult to focus on. Don could make out a burnt orange color and black stripes, and dark, waspy eyes. Probably a western cicada killer, relatively innocuous despite the name. Regardless, the thing was interfering with his peaceful night, so Don reached over and switched the porch light off.

Silence came creeping back, and Don leaned back in his chair, taking a drink, savoring the beer’s sweet prickly pear flavor. Listening out, Don heard nothing in the bushes beyond. He smirked. Whoever that was would not come back after being shot at. Sometimes you just gotta let some things speak for themselves, he thought, going for another sip.

He shot up from his chair and sputtered frantically as the bottle touched his mouth – and three pairs of clawed legs grabbed onto his lower lip. He swatted at his face, dropping the beer, backing up and tripping over his chair – he made contact with something hard and sharp, but not before a shooting pain spiked the corner of his mouth. “Shit!” he spat, scrambling inside the house, slamming the screen door shut. He hobbled to the bathroom, turning the light on, examining his injured lip in the mirror. Blood oozed from the sting, which seethed on the sensitive skin. He cursed at his stupidity, remembering that pollinating insects were often attracted to fruity aromas. Now he would have to look forward to a swollen face in the morning. Serves me right for being an asshole to Jeanine, he thought bitterly.

But as he watched, the wound continued to sear, without the debilitating crawl of injected venom. Don stared at his reflection for a solid ten minutes, finally going to rub his lip. It hurt, but he concluded it was nothing more than a flesh wound. “Strange,” he muttered. Looking closer, he saw that instead of swelling, the flesh had been cleaved away, as if from a pair of mandibles.

“What bit me?” he asked himself. Cicada killers certainly didn’t bite… and Don didn’t know of any other insect nests in or around his property. Whatever it was, it was nothing he had seen before.

He washed out the wound with soap and water, squeezing the remaining blood out, before dabbing it away and heading up to bed. Everything that day had been so sudden, so… fucking weird. Don hoped he would find better respite in his dreams.

* * * * * *

A buzzing woke him up. Don shot up in his bed, yelping in panic, his lip pulsing with soreness – then realized his smartphone was merely vibrating on his nightstand. He picked it up and answered sleepily. “Don Murphy.”

“Don? It’s Carla.” His neighbor down the road was a regular who used his honey for baking. “I’m, uh, going to need another jar soon.”

Don’s brow furrowed. “We have plenty in stock right now, you can come on over anytime.”

“I did,” Carla replied. “I tried going up to your door earlier this morning, but your bees kept comin’ at me. One of them landed in my hair and I said ‘Nope’ and turned right around back home.”

“No, that couldn’t have been,” said Don, rubbing his temple. “My bees don’t attack people…”

“Well something did,” said Carla, rather sassily. “I’m not comin’ over there again. But if you’d like to bring a jar over to my place I’d gladly accept that.”

“Okay, sure. Goodbye.” Don hung up and immediately went for his bee suit, slipping into it. He had a pretty shrewd suspicion as to what it was that attacked Carla.

Jeanine peered drowsily at him from her spot in the bed. “What’s the matter, Don?”

“Hopefully nothing,” he growled, fastening his mask on. “I’m just gonna check something.” Before his wife could follow up, he was down the stairs and bursting through the front door.

The morning sun blinded him, but he couldn’t see anything flying around. He examined the potted flowers, the corners of the patio, the bushes out front. He looked up in the air to empty, cloudless skies. Then, on another gust of dry wind, came the sounds of his bees buzzing. They seemed louder than normal… and deeper…

“Shit!” Don hissed, rushing around the back of his house to the yard. He rounded the corner and halted when he saw that the entire apiary was storming with furious honeybees, battering Don’s suit, some trying to sting him. Don brushed them off and charged into the fray – they were all hopped up on defensive pheromones, driven wild with the desire to go after anything that resembled a threat. As to what that threat was, he stopped dead when he saw it.

His prize hive, A-1, had been bored with jagged holes, and bees were swarming in and out of them, looping erratically around a posse of bulky, demonic hornets that were chewing their way in. Their color and sound matched the mystery bug from the night before. As Don watched in horror, the hornets simply hooked bees with their legs and decapitated them in one fluid motion, discarding their wriggling bodies to the ground below. Don exploded with a scream when he saw what laid on the ground – a virtual carpet of dying honeybees, almost all missing their heads, crawling listlessly over each other, tangling in each other’s splattered innards.

The hornets were emerging from the hive now, their mandibles stuffed with honey and larvae, which they devoured right before Don’s eyes. Don bellowed and ran to the porch, where he grabbed a shovel and sprinted back to the hive, whacking and swinging with all his might. Solid metallic thunks assured him he had hit his mark, but the remaining hornets swirled up in a spiral and descended upon him like predatory birds. Their claws digging in, they bit into his suit and stabbed him with their stingers. Only a few hit skin around his ankles, but Don cried out in agony as the pain exploded in his feet, scorching like bullets of fire. He stamped and jumped, squashing the bugs, which burst their engorged guts over his clothes. He ran back towards the house, throwing open the screen door and slamming it shut.

“What happened? Don! Are you okay?” Jeanine screamed as she bolted down the stairs. Don fell to the floor, clutching his ankles, blowing air through his gritted teeth.

“Close the door! The glass door, close it!” he rasped. Hornets landed one by one on the mesh panel, burrowing their wicked mandibles through, biting lesions through it…

“Get out of the way!” said Jeanine, grabbing a hold of the door. Don scooted along the floor, groaning, as Jeanine finally slammed the glass door, locking it for good measure. The hornets gathered on the outside, their buzzing vengeful and devilish.

“Are the windows closed?” Don demanded.

“Yes, they’re all closed!” Jeanine confirmed. “Jesus Christ, Don, what the Hell are those?”

Don tried to bring himself to his hands and knees, but a wave of dizziness struck him and he fell back to the hardwood floor and vomited. The pain was shooting electricity up his bones, invoking spasms, clouding his head. His last flash of rationale told him he’d only been stung twice or thrice, not nearly enough to cause serious damage. As tears squeezed through his eyes he shot one last glance through the glass at his ravaged apiary… and saw a man standing among the swarm. He was barefoot and fully covered with animal pelts, his eyes were wide and white… and his mouth was unhinged in laughter, and the sound of it seeped through the glass, and Don convulsed again as he suddenly recognized that laugh…

The jeering noise followed him into unconsciousness, and he slipped away into a void of hellish black.

* * * * * *

On the couch, Don came around feeling as though baseballs had been stuffed under the skin of his ankles. He leaned up and saw both feet sported two swollen red lumps. Jeanine had pulled up the ottoman futon and was applying a hydrocortisone cream to his wounds. “Take this,” she said tenderly, handing him a pill and glass of water. Don swallowed the pill without taking a drink.

“The hives…” he croaked, looking at his wife.

She shook her head. “They’re… they’re gone. But… they were at it for hours.”

Don’s head fell back onto the cushion as he stared unseeingly into space. Ten years of management and upkeep, of connections and dealings… gone in the span of hours. “Those things were some kind of hornet…” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like them before.”

“I have,” said Jeanine. Don looked at her, and she blinked. “No, I’m sorry, I mean… I found them online. Look.” She unlocked her smartphone and showed the screen to Don, who craned his neck for a better angle. A blown-up picture of one of the hornets dominated the screen, its eyes black and sinister, jaws splayed in a threatening pose.

Vespa mandarina,” read Don. “Asian giant hornet… I… yes, I’ve heard of those too. But what are they doing in Texas? And so many of them? At least a hives worth?”

“I was doing more research,” Jeanine said. “You were out for a long time. They began turning up on the West Coast a few years back… Everyone thought they were isolated occurrences, but…”

“But now I’m payin’ for it,” said Don. “Those things showed up and destroyed my work. I…we’re ruined.”

“Don, I’m sorry… but, surely we can start over, can’t we?”

“No.” Don swung his feet onto the floor and yelped as he put pressure on them. “If these things propagate and spread, there won’t be anything to start over with. They were… systematic, how they butchered my bees, like… that’s what they’ve evolved to do. These things are a goddamn death warrant for people like us.”

“So what are we going to do then?” Jeanine demanded.

“We’ll have to get rid of them.” Don stood shakily to his feet, wincing from the burning agony. “Spread the word. Start calling people – friends, family, neighbors.” He began pacing in place, working the pains out of his feet, “If they’re really gone, we need pictures of the hives… that’ll get people talkin’, that’s for damn sure…”

“Don, there’s… one more thing,” Jeanine said softly.

Don looked at her. “What?”

Jeanine pointed behind him to the glass back door.

Overcome with dread, Don turned around and looked. Smeared on the outside of the glass were letters – sickly yellow, studded with black specks. Don inched forward down the hallway, staring in disbelief at the words on the door.


Don mouthed the words to himself, the image of that skin-clad man in the swarm suddenly striking through his mind. He turned and looked at his wife, who stared back at him, her expression one of unsettled confusion.

“Someone’s doing this to us,” he declared. “Someone’s set those things on us… I… But why?”

“Would you know this person?” Jeanine inquired.

“No – I can’t imagine anyone who’d do this to us,” said Don, resuming his manic pacing.

“We need to call the police then,” said Jeanine, pulling out her phone.

“No!” Don commanded. “That won’t do… there… we can’t pin him to the hornets. All I can say is that he was trespassing. And the police won’t do shit about the hornets, even if they could find out where they’ve gone.” Don hobbled to the glass door, pulling his boots from the closet. “I’ve worked too long and too hard to let this all go to waste.” He fondled the top shelf, feeling around until he found his revolver. “There’s no one to blame for this… but that don’t mean I can’t do nothin’ about it…”

“I’m going with you,” said Jeanine, walking toward him.

“No you’re not,” Don snapped. “What if it’s a trap? You stay here and watch the house, and if I’m not back in an hour, then you call the police.”

“Don.” Jeanine said simply. “You and me are in this together… I’m coming with.”

“That man’s a fucking psychopath!” Don shouted, advancing towards her. “I’m not gonna have you gutted or raped or whatever the fuck’s on his mind!” He tightened his grip on the revolver. “I forbid you!”

Jeanine’s face tightened. “I don’t need you to be a hero, Donald. I need you to be a husband.”

“I am.” He opened the glass door and slammed it in her face. “I’m takin’ back our lives. Because that’s what I have to do.” He holstered the gun and turned his back on her.

* * * * * *

Don had to fight back tears as he passed through the remains of his apiary. Half of his hives had been brutalized, each with their own mass killing of bees, long dead. The other hives appeared to have been untouched, but Don walked up to one and flung the lid off, lifting a raft. Just as he’d thought, only a few benumbed workers and a single queen remained.

“They left,” he said. “Rather die starving and alone than face what was coming…” He hesitated. How long had they been gone? During or after the assault? Or… he shuddered with foreboding… before?

A rattling emanated from one of the damaged hives. The lid jerked, as if something was pushing from underneath, and a single hornet crawled onto the top, coated in honey and the soiled corpses of baby bees, absentmindedly chewing on one as it stared blankly at Don.

Don stared back, then drew his gun and fired. The lid blasted off, and what little remained of the hornet’s mangled body fell softly to the ground.

That’s the least you deserve, he thought bitterly, pounding up the hill.

* * * * * *

The late afternoon sun beat down on him as he walked, scanning the vast, shrub-ridden desert, dyeing the rocks red and setting a haze in the distance. Don ruefully regretted not bringing a canister of water. He’d been more preoccupied with raining Hell upon the marauder than considering his own health.

His sweaty jeans chafed at his skin. His brain felt full of dusty air. But he kept his gaze on the horizon, determined to seek out the bastard, where he was hiding, and how he was controlling so many hyperaggressive insects.

Something buzzed past the back of his neck and he jolted, swatting reflexively. A hornet had zoomed past him and settled deep within a grove of desert scrub. The longer Don watched, the clearer he could hear a monotonous hum, as if hundreds of bugs were moving in unison.

“Let’s see what the fuck kind of hive you’re keepin,” Don said, turning and heading for the grove. The branches were thick and bunched up against each other; he had to grab and break them away until he could squeeze through a gap. He emerged into a stony clearing and startled, drawing his gun.

“I wouldn’t take that shot, or else it would be your last,” the apparition sneered.

Don stowed the gun and glared at the man before him. Up close, underneath the shroud of pelts, Don could see he was very old, with sunbaked skin and deep wrinkles. A rabbit-skin hood obscured most of his face, but Don could make out yellow teeth and those same crazy eyes.  “Who the Hell are you, and why are you so keen on destroyin’ us?”

The old man snickered, rocking back and forth in spastic laughter. “I have nothing against you, sir.”

“You –” Don leveled the gun again. “You… set those… murder hornets on our property and killed every last one of our bees! I am far within my rights to kill you dead!”

“Still your wrath,” the old man said. “No matter what comes out of this little powwow, I’m afraid you shall face the losing end. I suggest you see it through.”

Don kept the gun aimed at him, but his arm began to shake as fresh sweat beaded at his forehead. “Who are you?”

“That is immaterial,” the old man laughed. “But what I am… I am yee naaldlooshii. Only an agent of the inevitable. Caught on nature’s sweeping tide.”

“What the Hell does that mean!” Don shouted.

“Colonial arrogance at its most naked,” said the old man. “So concerned with molding this good Earth like children playing with clay. Woefully ignorant to the whim of the Great Mother.”

Don fingered the trigger. “Start talkin’ sense.”

The old man leered, eyeing him for an ugly moment. “You and I are a lot alike, in some ways,” he finally said. “I, too, loathed the arrival of these winged devils.” He overturned his hand, and a hornet crawled from inside his sleeve, settling in his palm. “When they came, when they enacted their scourge, I asked myself, ‘How could this have happened? What did we do to deserve such… unholy misery?’”

His head twitched, and his neck gave a gnarly crunch. “But I reminded myself, each action must have a consequence. And this is no more apparent than in the colonial arrogance I endure, each and every day.” He bared his decrepit teeth at Don. “When you spread your roots and shook hands with the rest of the world, did you really not expect to transmit a few germs?”

As Don listened with disgust, he realized that the buzzing, at first silenced, had begun to well up again. But the old man continued to talk. “When you dig a canal, the water flows, and things change forever. That is not a result of your ‘ingenuity.’ That is just nature taking its course. What is happening here, is nature taking its course… no matter how wicked and backwards that may be.” He grinned again. “And that is where you and I are very different. You are a suppressor. I am its emissary.”

“You… you did this because… we think we’re above nature?” Don figured. The buzzing had grown louder; he had to shout to make himself heard. “But I’m a beekeeper! Bees are endangered as they are! I keep them, they pollinate and thrive! How am I the bad guy? Why do I deserve this?”

“Swallow your vanity,” the old man snarled. “You did nothing to ‘deserve’ this. All I’ve done is ensure the consequences. Your bees were smart enough to leave their hives because they too went with nature’s course. And you, standing in its way, propped up tall with your pride, will suffer the humiliating indignity of –”

Don shot the old man.

He shuddered from the impact, his face frozen in mid-speech. Some yellow, glutinous juice frothed at his lips. His body gave an almighty tremor – and his pelts fell to the ground.

Don let out a piercing shriek. The old man’s bare skin from the neck down was peppered with a geometric pattern of holes, the texture of honeycomb – and crawling in and out of his flesh were thousands of hornets, the source of the intensifying buzz. His eyes degraded into jelly and two hornets burst forth from them, scuttling over his bald scalp, but the thing still cracked a smile. “I warned you. It would be your last.”

Don scooted backwards, distancing himself from the creature. But it shambled toward him, trembling at its knees. “I am chaos! Skinwalker to the winged devils!” His voice was amplified and garbled, as if filtered through the hornets themselves. “And while whittling through this powwow, I have unleashed chaos elsewhere! For such is its nature to strike with tenacious dispassion!”

“NO!” Don bellowed, realizing instantly what he’d meant. He turned and crashed through the bushes, his feet blazing with fresh pain, limping as fast as he could back over the hill where his house was… where his wife was…

The buzzing hit an ungodly pitch behind him, and he upped his pace, threatening to trip and fall forward with each step. The setting sun was plunging the rocks into formless shadow. His foot struck a cactus and he screamed, pushing forward against the spine in his toe…

The hill was just ahead. He clambered up it and threw his gaze down the slope to his house. And beyond his ruined hives, motionless at the corner of the house, a figure writhed on the ground, surrounded by a gyrating swarm of hornets.

“NO! JEANINE!” Don screamed. He tumbled down the hill in his haste, colliding with rocks and shrubs, sliding to a stop among a field of gravel. Broken, scraped, and in excruciating pain, Don crawled on the ground, blubbering madly, tears mixing with the blood in his mouth. “Jeanine! Please! Noooo!”

He arrived at her side, riddled with pain, enduring fresh stings, staring down in tear-stricken horror. His wife’s clothes were soaked through with red pinpricks, and every inch of her exposed skin was covered with swollen, necrotic sores. His hand reached for her head, but he stopped himself. He wanted to remember his wife’s face as it was, beautiful, clean, and unmarred…

As the venom pumped through his blood, he summoned a last jolt of energy and staggered to his feet, stumbling for the porch door – he grabbed the handle, leaning forward on it – and collapsed inside, finally kicking it shut.

Immediately a hail of hornets drilled into the glass, their durable exoskeletons resounding in sickening thunks. They chewed at the glass, so close Don could see their individual mouthparts flexing and glittering. Then they scurried beyond the door, onto the outside walls.

They’ll get in… If they want to, they will…

He hauled himself across the floor, his body racked with toxins, the furniture swimming freely in his vision. He ended up in the living room, next to the couch Jeanine had treated him on. The water and medicine still sat on the table. Crawling towards it, he splashed the water in his face and downed a handful of the antihistamines. It did nothing to quell the venom, but he could think clearer now.

“She was right,” he whispered, his eyes reddened from crying. “They knew… they fled… or at least some of them did…”

The hornets’ buzz echoed down from up the chimney. Don turned his head to stare at it. Slumped against the futon, the bones in his limbs tingled uncomfortably, then fell limp beside him. The scatter plot of stings around his body flared with an acid kick, signifying his flesh had begun to dissolve.

Something inhuman was creeping down the chimney, dripping its honeyed blood. A few scouts had already emerged, hovering slowly above Don’s shattered body, as if smelling his imminent death.

Illuminated in a shaft of moonlight, the skinwalker reached its gangly arms from the chimney, dragging its way up the wall, gripping it with slender talons. A convoy of hornets clung to it like spiderlings. It twisted its neck to peer down at Don.

“Pity,” it drooled. “You too tried to flee. Defiant of nature to your dying breath.” It emitted an insectoid chatter. “Ignominy will be your coffin.”

Paralyzed from the neck down, Don tore his eyes away from the skinwalker, laying them instead on the medicine and water, the last things he saw Jeanine hold in her hands. His lips tightened with grief. He could still smell her perfume in the air, underneath the putrid scent of carrion and peat.

Something laid on the floor next to the futon. Don squinted to focus on it. It was her smartphone. Don recalled the moment he had come to. She was there, showing him that phone, relaying knowledge to him in her angelic voice…she knew about the hornets, she knew about CCD…

She knew…

Don turned again to face the creature. He could feel the stiffness rising up his throat. Nevertheless, he spoke up. “End me, then,” he gurgled. “But one day… you’ll have to face the inevitable.”

“I am the inevitable,” the skinwalker rasped.

“You may have beaten me… but there are others out there… and like it or not, people are a part of nature too.” Don drew one final breath into his blackening lungs. “And when the chips are down, you’ll find that those others will come roaring back… once they know how to beat you. You think you’re some, frightening, higher being… but you’re a part of this, just like everything else… everyone else. And once we know how to deal with you… nature will, in due time, take its course.”

The skinwalker bared its teeth, its limbs trembling with the effort to hold itself up. Don stared it down, forcing himself to remain lucid until the end.

“Kill,” it hissed.

As the hornets descended upon him, Donald Murphy felt the stirrings of something inscrutable and intangible, but, somehow, necessary, and all too real in spite of everything that had happened.


Rating: 9.57/10. From 7 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Nick Carlson
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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