Celeste pointed them out to me, when we were sprawled out in the sand, underneath the moonlight.
“They’re called strand wasps,” she remarked, reaching down and scrubbing the heel of her foot furiously, brows furrowed. I had never heard of them before, and so she pulled out our grandfather’s gold-rimmed magnifying glass, which she always kept in her purse—just in case. She pointed it at the ground, where the organisms were to be seen scrambling away, then took a long drag on her cigarette. The insects had blue, close-to-translucent-but-not-quite wings, a pinkish torso with eight legs on the left and then six on the right, and a narrow stinger on its bottom. “That little thorn thing there attaches to your foot and hangs on like the damn thing won’t ever touch earth again. But that’s when they mate with your foot. Know that orgasmic feeling you get when you walk on hot sand—that’s the stinger breaking your flesh.”
I stared at her, in horror and disbelief. “What?”
She laughed, loud and high-pitched. “That’s why your foot goes numb afterwards! After their stinger goes in and stuff, the strand wasps insert their eggs—fertilized and everything.” I leaned back. “When your foot starts to feel kinda like static—like electric and stuff—that’s when the baby wasps hatch and squeeze out of your skin and fall onto the ground. Most of them go and find their ways back to the shore. Like turtles. Did you know that strand wasps can be grown fully born? Depending on how long it takes for the human to take off their shoes?
“The wasps, I guess, were ‘created’ when Dean Martin made a burger and didn’t cook it all the way on the grill,” she said, tucking the magnifying glass back in her leather purse from Nigeria. “The burger actually caught fire the second he put it on there, so he threw it off and tried pouring bourbon on it—he was drunk; it didn’t work out. But then he just left it right there. Eventually the flames went out. Some regular old ants—dark red, not pinkish like the strand wasps are—crawled onto it and started munching away. That damn raw, bourbon-infested burger mutated those poor little ants into the strand wasps. Kinda like Spider Man but then again not at all.”
I said I didn’t believe a word, and she shook her head slowly. “But I haven’t even gotten to the good part yet, the part where they become THE STRAND WASPS.” She howled, coughed out cigarette smoke, and blinked the tears out of her eyes. With a finger, she poked the sand and more wasps appeared, little legs twitching and sharp teeth glittering like their multiple eyes. “After the mutation of the regular wasps occurred, these ones were suffocating. Like dry-drowning, almost. Anyway, Dean Martin walked out onto his patio to let his dog out or something and stepped in the half-rotten burger; the mutated ants clasped onto his heel and bred like wildfire. Everybody’s first instinct is to survive. So where’d our Mr. Martin go to after that? To the goddamn beach.” She blew smoke out of the corner of her mouth, rolling her eyes. She seemed genuinely pissed off about it. “Oh yes he did,” she said, bitter. “By that time, the mutated ants had gone, impregnated Dean Martin’s heel, and then died—and by that time, he was on the beach itself, playing tennis with his wife… I forget which one he was married to then… Whatever. The insects hatched and squeezed their fat bodies out of his foot, making it go all numb and stuff like they did with mine. And thus the strand wasps became the strand wasps. Isn’t that a charming little story?”
She tossed her cigarette onto the ground and lit another. The sand seemed to inch away from the butt, away from the dying bright light. She offered me one, and I accepted, stretching my legs out past the end of the white beach blanket we both sat on. I ran a match against the bottom of Celeste’s empty tennis shoe, and the sand shifted again. We waited there under the white moon until both of my feet were numb, and we sat there and watched the baby strand wasps squeeze out of the flesh, bloodless and fat. In a way they were kind of cute.
Spring Grove, Virginia
Molly Sperry doesn't know what she's going to do with her life, but she currently enjoys writing fiction (for the most part), reading books (LOTR, Ted Hughes' Crow poems, British mysteries), and playing with her dog, Nani, and her always irritated feline, Baloo.