Justin Jay and Armande Benoit rose early that morning, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. 

“The sun surely rises early up here this far north,” a sleepy Justin said as he stretched.

Armande looked at his watch, and he yawned.

“Three o’clock in the morning, eh?” he said in a French-Canadian accent.

At that time of day, the air was still chilly in the valleys of northern British Columbia, even in June. The two outdoorsmen were exploring the northwestern province, hoping to get some fishing done as well as see some of the legendary wildlife.

Justin clipped his bear repellant to his belt, and exited the tent. He walked a few clumsy steps around the campsite, looking for the privacy of a tree. As he finished relieving himself of last night’s coffee, a strange sound made him freeze. Somewhere, in a very faint voice, he heard the sound of a song. 

“Who’s singing way out here?” he thought as the sound grew gradually louder, but never quite loud enough to hear clearly. “Must be another camper.”

He looked around, held his breath, but the music died away. Looking hither and yon, up and down, and turning around several times, he couldn’t see any person anywhere near. He muttered to himself and wandered back to the campsite. 

“Did you see anyone walk past?” he asked on his return.

Armande looked up from the fire pit, over the smoke of the bacon sizzling in the pan.

“What are you talking about? No one’s here but you and me,” he said with a grumpy hiss. 

Justin sat down on a nearby log, and looked at his friend. 

“Are you sure? I swear I heard someone singing while I was using the outdoor washroom.”

Armande cocked an eyebrow and gazed at his friend. 

“You heard someone singing...out here?” 

“Yeah,” Justin replied, suddenly less sure of himself. 

He decided to let the subject drop, and he turned his attention to the breakfast. After they ate, the campers packed up the camp, watered the fire until cold to the touch, and loaded everything into their truck. 

Once inside, they started on the way. Unbeknownst to them, though, a passenger had entered the truck. No one noticed until they had started down the road, and the 2-inch-long hornet landed on the steering wheel. Bright green and yellow, hornet stared at the driver, tapping her abdomen on the steering column. 

Armande and Justin were lost in conversation, until Armande looked down and saw the giant insect. He momentarily froze before letting loose a frightened scream.

“What are you screaming about?” Justin asked from the passenger seat. Just then, his eyes alighted on the beautiful but fearful bug. 

“I can’t get stung; I’m allergic to bees,” Armande said.

“It’s too big to be a bee,” Justin said with a knowing nod. “Plus, it doesn’t have the furry body. It’s smooth instead.”

“I don’t give a crap what it is! I’m allergic to anything that stings!”

Suddenly the creature flew from the wheel directly to Armande’s forehead. His eyes followed the bug, and he saw the green and yellow abdomen rest on the bridge of his nose. It tapped once, twice, and Armande closed his eyes in expectation of a painful sting. But nothing happened. No stinging sensation raced through his body.

He looked confusedly at the bug, still tapping its back section on the bridge of his nose without stinging. Unfortunately, since he had taken his eyes off the road, he missed a big curve, and the truck slammed into a deep ditch.

The truck flipped over, throwing Armande forward, breaking his neck instantly. Justin was also tossed forward, and his shoulder smashed into the front of the cab. He lay there in painful terror, watching as the bug flew over to him and landed on his exposed arm.

The insect slowly crawled up the arm, staring at the injured passenger, whose eyes grew wide with fright. She continued to tap her abdomen on his skin, and every time Justin winced in anticipation of a painful surge.  

With a whimpering whisper, he said, “Please don’t sting me.”

The hornet, still tapping her abdomen, tilted her head, opened her mandibles, and (as Justin gasped first in terror, then in confusion) started singing. With a perfectly clear voice, and in beautiful melody, she sang, “It don’t mean a thing, ‘cause I ain’t gonna sting.” She then flew out a broken window, scatting as she flew, as Justin fainted.  

A few days later, Justin awoke in the hospital, still woozy from his medication. An officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had discovered the wreck, and Justin’s life was saved. He had a severe concussion and a few broken bones, to go along with his separated shoulder. He had been in and out of consciousness, and doctors had wondered about his strange story of the musical hornet.

Most of them attributed the story to the results of a concussion, but one nurse, descended from the native peoples of the Canadian north, made a call. Her people had often told the legend of a peculiar insect that didn’t sting, but liked to sing. Word got around, and a retired entomologist showed up at the hospital.

Thus it was that Justin groggily looked that day at a sun-burnt and wind-chapped gentleman with a white fuzzy mustache and a cheery smile.

“Good morning, young man,” he said, in a delightful tone. “I hope you are feeling better now. I’m excited to talk to you.”

Justin winced as a headache flushed through his forehead. 

“Who are you?”

“I’m an entomologist specializing in rare insects,” he said. “I heard you have made contact with Vespidae cariatunis, more commonly known as the Melodious Hornets of the Great Northwest.. I’d love to hear your encounter.”

“Melodious Hornets of the Great Northwest? I’ve never heard of them, Mr……”

“No one has heard of them. They’re not commonly known,” the cheerful scientist replied. “And forgive me for not introducing myself. I’m Dr. John Reginald. 

“The Melodious Hornets of the Great Northwest are indeed rare. In fact, not many scientists believe they exist. But we have found some strange fossils, and the First Nations people further north had a strange legend of a singing insect. So, I’d be thrilled in my late age to find a confirmation of the species.”

“Well, it was kind of strange,” Justin began. “When I was camping, I thought I heard someone singing, very faintly, but I couldn’t find anyone. When we got into the truck, my friend and I saw a large hornet, green and yellow. 

“It looked like it would sting Armande, because it kept tapping its abdomen on his nose. Then, after the wreck, it came over to me, and it walked on my arm. I was terrified. It kept tapping its abdomen on my skin, and I expected it to sting, but it never did. 

“Then, it did the strangest thing.”

“Yes?” the doctor prompted impatiently.

“It started singing. It sang, ‘It don’t mean a thing, ‘cause I ain’t gonna sting.’”

“Those are the wrong words! Duke Ellington would never allow that,” the doctor said in horror.

Justin looked confused a moment, staring at the doctor in bewilderment. 

“I apologize for not correcting the blasted thing,” Justin said angrily. “Besides. Irving Mills wrote the lyrics.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Forgive me. I just am passionate about music,” John said. “Please continue.”

“Well, I fainted after that, so there’s not much more to tell.”

Dr. Reginald looked at the injured invalid with a cheerful smile. 

“This is fantastic!” he said as he slapped Justin on his shoulder, forgetting it was in a brace. He never even noticed Justin’s scream of pain.

“This is a great development! You’ve actually seen the creature many doubt exists!”

Justin looked confused, and in pain. 

“Why would I have seen this creature?” he asked the doctor, who was still dancing around the room.

“Normally, they have been restricted to the far north, making prey on mosquitoes, assorted insects, and even the occasional small fish,” Reginald said. “But they’ve only been seen rarely, by the First Nations people, and their habitat is small in comparison with the rest of the world, but it’s rather large in terms of land. Canada has a lot of open territory, so it’s easy for animals or wildlife of any kind to hide in the vast expanse.

“But they may be moving south for any number of reasons, from habitat disturbance, to global warming, to a lack of exposure to new music.”

“Well how do they sing?” Justin asked.

“Simple, my boy,” the scientist said. “Bees buzz, and hummingbirds hum. Even some birds can be taught to speak languages. Why can’t a hornet learn to sing?”

“So you don’t think I’m crazy?” 

“I have no knowledge of that, pro or con,” the doctor said. “But I do believe you. The tapping without stinging, the perfect melody; these all suggest a real encounter.”

“Why didn’t it sting me?”

“Oh, that’s easy. You see, these hornets have evolved a metronome in place of a stinger. So when you saw her tapping, she was keeping time. It all makes perfect sense!”

Justin wondered if any of this made sense, but he was thankful to finally talk to someone who believed him.

In only a matter of weeks, though, the whole world would believe him. As the summer months gave way to autumn, the strangest stories started to be told. Children raking leaves heard “the wheels on the bus go round and round” while they had nobody near them. Beekeepers saw large flying insects hanging around their beehives, but instead of killing the bees to rob their larvae, they sang sweet serenades so the bees shared their honey. Exterminators got calls from confused angry people, seeing large insects in their windows. But when they arrived, they would see swarms of large insects singing, “Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.”

These encounters, though frightening at first, never involved pain. The children never got stung; the beekeepers never lost a bee (except for the occasional one that tried to sting the musical hornet), and despite these bugs landing on window ledges and inside apartments, no one reported any aggression..

Despite being mostly female, the hornets had an amazing range. One music professor reportedly jumped from his seat when he heard the unmistakable sounds of a castrato ringing through his office. He was disappointed to find that it was only a singing insect and not a discovery of a lifetime.

Widows sat teary-eyed as old songs from their dating days flew through their gardens. Old songs that once meant first dates, first dances, or first loves now echoed through their gardens or lawns, and more than one sat weeping from long-forgotten emotions. 

It wasn’t just Canada. Eventually the swarms invaded the United States, and the insects started learning new styles of music. When they hit the Midwest, they started crooning country tunes. Some of them went to Texas to look for those unfaithful exes.

In the Seattle area, they started singing grunge. More than a few ended up floating in a Starbucks cup, whether from love of the coffee or the hopelessness of life was never determined. 

When they hit the inner city, they learned how to rap. The metronomic stingers helped them tremendously, and when they teamed up, they even became experts at beat-boxing. 

A few insects hooked a ride to Hawaii, and the islands were flooded with Braddah Iz versions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” even miles outside the nearest radio station coverage. 

Christmastime across the continent was a most marvelous season, as carols rang through the streets and into the countryside. Valentine’s Day was especially romantic that year, with young lovers serenaded on park benches, on country roads, on front porches, where green and white crooners hung tightly to the porch screens.

These insects, having originated in the cold, harsh winters of northern Canada, had an advantage over their cousins across the continent, because they didn’t die off in the fall. Instead of only the queen emerging each year to start the colonies over again, the entire group floated along the winter time, picking up whatever food they could find. 

Sadly, though, the joy they brought was short lived. No one knew exactly why they burst onto the scene as they did that year, and no one really knew why they disappeared. Some considered them a conspiracy, a plot by Russia or China or one of the many abbreviated names of the clandestine US forces. Democrats in the United States couldn’t figure out a way to use them to add taxes, so some thought they found a way to drive out the creatures. Others simply feared them, because they didn’t trust musicians who didn’t beg for money. And others, especially the older crowd, simply thought they were too loud. 

Whatever the cause, early in the summer their numbers started to die off. Slowly but surely, their great migration turned back the way it had come. Before long, people started to forget they had ever heard of these musical creatures. They faded into memory, even as they faded back into the cold, cruel north. 

But some people remembered, and they looked forward to the day they would return. Until then, they kept the music in their hearts.

May 10, 2020 03:05

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