With each passing minute the smoke cloud expanded and closed in on Victor, as he waited like a sniper in the grass, watching, listening. Above him, in the suspended wall of ash, the heavy hum of insects swirled. Sweat dripped from his face. He adjusted the towel over his mouth and nose. Eventually, the hum above began to falter. Out of the smoke cloud a single drowsy wasp spiralled and landed on the floor tiles near Victor. He took hold of the book. Getting to his hands and knees, while still keeping close to the ground, he crept over to the staggering bug, laid the book on top of it, and then pressed down. He leaned his weight upon it, until he heard a crack and a squish.
He lifted the book and checked its underside: squashed wasp. He removed the fishhook stinger and cast it aside, then scraped the bug’s remains onto the floor. Another wasp made its drunken descent; Victor met it at its landing point and flattened it. The wasps began to fall—a slow-motion rain of stupefied killers. Victor darted here and there to acquaint them with The Early Years of the Australian Gold Rush: A Comprehensive Guide. The book was effective. The next ten minutes saw Victor partake in a tense, twisted version of Whac-A-Mole, where the object of the game was much the same, only in this version the player had to beware of flying fishhooks and smoke inhalation.
Victor’s knees ached. His eyes were red. His left palm bled where he had set it down on a stray fishhook. Twice he opened the bathroom door and stuck his head out for some fresh air. He was horribly thirsty.
When the wasp plague seemed to have abated, he removed the comic books from the grill. A few of the more resilient insects floated down, and Victor clubbed them to death with sixteen hundred pages of bland literature. As he laid on the refreshingly cool tiles and waited for the smoke to clear, the odd straggler would drop down to meet its death. When the cloud had dissipated enough to allow some visibility, Victor walked the room, coughing and spluttering, and routinely mashed any wasps clinging to the walls. Two had fallen in the bathtub, one in the sink. He squashed them too. When he heard no more buzzing of wings or tapping of fishhook stingers, he opened the door slightly and used a comic book to fan smoke from the room. After just a few waves of the toasty yet unburnt 1965 issue of failed superhero comic, Blue Meteor, Victor’s shoulders slumped and he sat down. He hacked like an old man, wiped his face, and then laid down on his back on the floor. He closed his eyes.
Twenty minutes later, he gave a disoriented grunt and looked up at the ceiling. The smoke was mostly gone, revealing the circular glow of the electric light like a lighthouse through the mist. He abruptly sat up, rubbed his eyes, and unravelled the sweat-soaked towel from his face. He snatched up The Early Years of the Australian Gold Rush: A Comprehensive Guide, then stood up and opened the door wide; the hallway ceiling wore a thin cloak of haze. The bathroom was still and eerie, littered with scores of squashed bugs, and in the corner a small pile of fishhook stingers that Victor had removed.
“It’s still cursed,” he said. “Maybe I got it wrong. Or maybe some wasps escaped.” he looked out into the hall and sighed. “They could have flown anywhere.”
He tossed the gold rush book to the floor; it thudded on the tiles. With dragging feet and hanging head, he walked to the toilet and sat down. A crackling squelch sounded beneath him; he shifted his posterior and looked down to see a long insect wing protruding from between the toilet seat and lid. A blob of orange goo seeped out and dribbled down the side of the bowl.
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