“We’ve had a miserable spring, but today is the first day of summer, and the sun is shining,” said Bradley.
“So?” asked Rob.
“Yeah, so what?” asked Tina, Rob’s little sister.
“I thought it would be great to enjoy a picnic. If your mum will knock up a few sandwiches?” Bradley looked across at his new wife.
“Yeah, right, I’ve got nothing else to do,” she answered sarcastically.
“Come on, pet. It has rained every weekend since we got married. This is our chance to get some fresh air.”
“Robbie, Tina, what do you think?” Trish, their mum asked.
“Do we have to?” they whined.
“Okay, up to you lot, I’m going on my own. And I’ll make my food.”
The children and their mum sniggered. They all went their separate ways, Rob and Tina went to their bedrooms. Trish tidied the kitchen, Bradley snatched The Express and skimmed the news.
“Lunch,” shouted Trish. Rob and Tina arrived phones glued to their noses.
“We were told it is now summer, so you all got a salad.”
“It could have been Wagyu steak or dog food, for all their care,” said Bradley.
His comment was unanswered.
“Look, it’s lovely out. I’m making sandwiches, last chance, who’s coming?”
The children ran up to their rooms. Bradley looked hopefully at their mum.
“I may come later with a flask of coffee, okay?” said Trish.
Bradley made an extra round of sandwiches in case. He grabbed a couple of chocolate buns and wrapped them in clingfilm.
He showered and changed into shorts and a fresh t-shirt. Tightened his trainers and called an unenthusiastic, “Cheerio.”
Bradley and Trish had known each other since school, growing up in the same village, and sharing the same friends. It was no surprise that they wed. But, fifteen years later than their mates expected.
Trish and her children moved across the village to Bradley’s home. He loved his house, positioned near a cricket ground and ‘the woods’.
“When do ‘woods’ become a forest?” He meant to find out, never did. It was big enough for him.
He ploughed deeper, past the craters left by German bombs in WWII. He ducked away from the footpath, deeper and deeper to his favourite spot. Trish would find him, they had been there together, many times over the years.
His spot was a circle of grass surrounded by oak trees. Most trekkers missed the most beautiful patch, thanks to the oak covering.
He flattened the square of cloth. Positioned his bag of goodies and pulled out today’s crossword puzzle.
“Seven across starts with a ’T’ ‘floating iron, sunk.’ Got to be Titanic.” Bradley was pleased with himself.
“Stinging pest, fourth letter, ‘Q’, no idea?”
He swatted at a buzz in his ear before reaching for a sandwich.
The WIZZ and the SWIZZ got louder, more flying insects were drawn to the honey-pork snack. He slapped his cheek. Again and again, he swatted his face, puffy welts burst against lips and nose.
“Christ, look at them. Little monsters, Jeez, that stings.”
The crossword in his paper was forgotten, his newspaper, now a weapon. He thrashed and battered, killing scores of his enemy. Mosquito, the answer to the clue he was stuck on, came to him as a needle pricked his ear lobe.
Throwing his sandwich as far as he could, his action did little to halt the attack. Red boils were appearing on any uncovered skin. Itchy lumps grew and multiplied. He hoisted his shirt over his head.
“Better to save my eyes than the skin on my back,” he mumbled aloud. A mouth was full of wings his prize. He was spitting lacy bomblets as his lips swelled. Breathing was harder. His bloated nostrils filled with pus. He fell to the grass, curling into a ball, leaving his back and lower legs unprotected. Ceaseless was the attack. Robin Hood’s arrows and Zulu spears couldn’t feel worse.
“Bradley, Bradley, whatever is the matter?” Trish gasped.
Her husband was rolling, slapping the earth.
She crouched and hugged him to her, slapped his cheeks and shook him until the colour returned to his eyes.
“What is wrong?”
His focus returned, his quaking lessened. He felt his face, looked at his fingers, expecting blood to be dripping. No blood, no lumps, bumps, or scars. Only scratches left some skin under his nails.
“Did you see them?” he asked.
“What? There is nothing here, your plastic bag and a blanket. Oh, and there is your crumpled paper. You shouldn’t leave your waste here you know?”
“What are you talking about, I was attacked by millions of flying insects.”
“Honey, relax and calm down. You must have dropped off.”
“No way, I felt every jab,” said Bradley.
“How come there’s no mark?”
“Uh, I don’t know, Jeez, that was scary.”
“What did you have in your sandwiches?” she laughed.
“Over here, look.” He bent and lifted a slice of ham from the ground.
“A few flies attracted to the honey, that’s all.”
“It is not a few flies, there are hundreds if not thousands of mosquitoes covering my filler.”
“So what? It is summer.”
Bradley stopped talking, still, he looked over her shoulder.
“Now what?” she asked.
He pointed and turned to look between trees.
“There. See him? A man covered in flies.”
“It is a rotting tree trunk.”
Bradley bounded through the gap to confront the black mass. His head collided with a rotten branch, he collapsed to the weeds.
Trish ran to him, rested his bruised head in her lap.
She fingered her mobile, considering calling for help, as he stirred.
“Come on darling, we had better go home and put you to bed.”
“But, but, I saw him,” breathed Bradley.
“Yes, dear, you’ll be better after a good night’s sleep.”
She grabbed the blanket, shook off a few dead insects, then arm in arm they wandered home.
The house was quiet; the children were in their bedrooms, all normal. Bradley checked each room, opening doors, peering in and moving on. Finally, Trish got him settled, she tucked him in. Gave a peck on his forehead.
“I’ll watch a bit of television, see you later. Have a good sleep.”
A buzzing woke him. In the corner was a black shape, an arm raised, and a finger pointed at Bradley’s face.
“Leave my wife and children alone. My little friends will come back, only for real, next time.”