“Hornets” by Al Sarrantonio

Peter Kerlan is an author of books for youngsters.  If you have Goosebumps in mind, you would be on the right track.  He is tasked, by his agent, Bill, with writing a Halloween insert story for a magazine.  The trouble is he has a slight case of writer’s block.  Being unable to write something he should churn out in his sleep (his agent’s phrasing) puts Peter in a sour mood.

His sour mood does not help his strained marriage.  Peter is under the suspicion his wife, Ginny, is having an affair with Bill, or had at least one fling with him.  Peter’s attitude toward both of them is short and abrasive.  Ginny denies any extramarital indiscretions during her and her husband’s daily fights.  She knows she’s innocent and the real problem threatening to tear their marriage apart is Peter’s inability to write.  The writer’s block also fuels his drinking binges.

Peter keeps staring at the blank page on the computer screen as he hopes some part of this unseasonably warm October will light a fire of creativity within his imagination.  It is in his basement office where he first encounters the hornets that keep finding a way to crawl inside.  From a newspaper article he reads over breakfast, he knows the hornets are active later in the season due to the hotter-than-usual autumn.

All of the problems come to a head when Peter wakes from a drunken stupor to find Ginny has packed her bags with a genuine intention to leave.  She has a come-to-Jesus meeting with him and they have a breakthrough.  Peter only saw Bill try to kiss Ginny— he turned away before he could see his wife rebuff his agent’s lustful advances.

With the air cleared and the war at an end, their marriage is saved.  And Peter starts to write.  He crafts a tale of Sam (short for Samhain), the Lord of the Dead, and his sidekick, Holly.  A wellspring has opened and the creativity flows out of him like a flood.

Then he discovers Ginny is gone.  The odd thing, she didn’t take any clothes, her car, or her purse.

I initially read “Hornets” as the first few chapters of Al Sarrantonio’s Horrorween.  It originally appeared in a slightly different version (and I mean slightly, very few alterations were made) in Sarrantonio’s short story collection Hornets & Others.  I suggest reading the original version, but the Horrorween edition isn’t a bad choice:  it serves as the beginning of the Orangefield Cycle and it’s what got me hooked.

I read “Hornets” every year as part of my fall reading. It’s a good story with good writing and makes for a great seasonal tradition.