fiction

Book Worm*

Zahara’s jaw fell open. Her book slid off her knees and hit the floor. She scrambled for it and flipped to find her page, all the while shaking her head in denial. Page found, she pored over the words once more. Unconsciously her hand went to her throat.

Zahara let the book fall in her lap and looked around. “Is this a joke?”

The empty room didn’t reply.

Zahara turned the book over. It had the library barcode sticker and an ISBN number. It was wrapped in clear plastic to protect the hard backing, as all library books were. The author was one she’d never read before, but he came highly recommended by the librarian who’d helped her the day she picked it out.

Each time Zahara looked at the words on the page, her stomach clenched tighter, her heart beat faster. She mouthed the last line. …throat closed completely, never to open again.

“I’m allergic,” she said to no one. Her EpiPen was probably expired. It was jammed so far down in the folds of her purse, Zahara doubted she’d be able to extract it, should she be stung.

The short story was one of a collection.

The character, “Z” and her friend Tony happened on a hornet nest. It hung low in the tree, and if you climbed on the roof of Z’s trailer, you could easily hit the thing with the landscaping rocks Z’s mom had arranged around their petunias. All this Tony breathlessly told Z. In no time they had gathered an arsenal of smooth stones and put them in a heap on Z’s roof.

Tony threw first and missed. Z took a shot and it grazed the nest. A cloud of buzzing erupted, then quieted. Tony threw again. A hit. The grey pod that looked like a misshapen Christmas ball swung a little and leaked a flow of hornets.

“Your turn.” Tony said.

Some hornets buzzed angrily around them, far away as they were.

“I think they know,” Z said.

“That’s ridiculous. You chicken?”

Z was, in fact, chicken. Tony wasn’t allergic to bees. Z batted at a hornet circling her head.

As if reading her thoughts, Tony said, “You’re allergic to bees, not hornets.”

Z shrugged. No way was she throwing another rock.

“Fine. Watch this…bunch of sissy hornets.”

“Wait.” Z put up her hand, the stone still in her grip. “How do you know they’re hornets?”

“Aw, Z, you’re sucking out my fun.” Tony did a pitcher move, and the stone, a big one, hit the nest dead on, swinging it crazily and touching off a buzzing rage. A horde of pissed off hornets flew right at the girls.

As Z clambered down the ladder she felt a prickle in her shirt, in the hair at the base of her neck, then pinpricks of pain, more and more. Z screamed and tore her shirt off. Tony, still halfway down the ladder, yelled at Z to roll in the grass. Z dropped to the ground, but not in obedience. Her airway closed up. A fire began inside her throat and consumed her face, her head.

As Tony stepped off the last ladder rung, Z thrashed in the grass. Her throat closed completely, never to open again.

Zahara closed the book. “That’s exactly how it happened.”

Back in 1977, Tony had run home and got her mom to call the ambulance, just like in the book.

“But my throat did open again,” Zahara said as if she had someone to convince. She studied the book. “What’s going on?”

*This is an excerpt from a short story I’m working on. It’s doing double-duty as my assignment for 5000 Words. Our focus this week is to create tension.

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