(Warning: This post contains horror elelments)
Bartholomew was showing a disinterested audience how to feed a mottled bee-eater, and getting progressively more irritable about it.
‘Eat the nice, crunchy bluebottle please!’ he said through a forced smile, waving said snack, dead and impaled on a cocktail stick, under the bee-eater’s nose. The creature was far more interested in escape, or maybe rifling through the visitors’ bags to see if they had any actual bees.
‘I guess she’s not hungry!’ he said, trying to be heard over the chattering group. ‘I’ll put her back in the cage and… ‘
Honestly, why were they even here if they didn’t want to listen? He rubbed his brow, trying to banish the beginnings of a headache.
‘Okay, come on,’ he said, when the noise just increased. ‘Chanting, really? Is now the time—‘
Okay, in hindsight? Perhaps he should have been a bit more alarmed by the chanting.
He caught a brief glimpse of the chanter before everything went to hell: young man, gaunt, sickly looking, eyes bloodshot, black sweater with a red decal on the front.
Their eyes made contact. Bartholomew was going to say something witty about not needing a note to leave his class.
But instead the guy’s chest burst open and a swarm of moths emerged, which changed the mood considerably.
The sheer force and volume of the moths knocked everyone off their feet. He could see nothing but a whirl of bloody wings, soft fluttering bodies knocking against him all over. His mouth and nose burned with a smell he couldn’t begin to identify.
He hardly noticed the bee-eater claw herself from his hand and, with a delighted shriek and a gaping mouth, dive into the fray.
Bartholomew covered his face with his arms, and tried to move to where the door should be. Maybe. He thought? He tripped on something- on someone, nearly losing his balance.
A man stared up at him, a cut on his forehead and unfocused eyes, wheezing for breath against the godawful stink. His hand grasped at his shirt pocket. Probably where he kept his soul, Bartholomew thought, coughing as he hauled the man up onto his feet. Protecting their soul was normally the first instinct in a situation like this.
Bartholomew touched the locket hanging against his chest beneath his shirt. It was little comfort.
Bartholomew shoved the man in front of him, hoping he was steering in the right direction. The moths made it hard to tell what way was up, even, with all their swirling and diving and black spots yawning like mouths coming to eat…
Hmm, no. That part was probably him losing consciousness? And that would explain why the floor was suddenly under his back instead of his feet. It helped with the spinning for a moment, but then he realised the moths were landing on him, on his face and his mouth and the smell, the smell…
Everything was silent. Had he passed out? His head was throbbing, but he’d had worse hangovers. He opened his eyes, and at first thought he’d gone blind before realising that, no, it was just that his face was covered in bodies. Moth bodies.
Bartholomew made a noise somewhere on the whimper – shriek scale, and scrabbled to his feet, brushing at his body with his hands and oh god they were in his trousers, what if they were in his BOXERS good lord, he’d cry.
Upright, though, he could see the full scale of the damage. The stacks, full of books and files, were over turned. There was a carpet of ashy gray on the floor, thousands of dead insects covering up where the other people had passed out- he hoped they’d passed out. What if they were dead?
He nudged a lump, and it groaned reassuringly. He brushed moths off their face.
The creatures in their crates for the demo were cowering, shivering, except the Grinn which was throwing itself around the box. Bartholomew stumbled over, unearthed a blanket from a drift of dead moths, and covered it up to calm it down.
Naturally, it was this point that Evelyn and Lesley burst in through the door all heroic like, just in time to find the day had apparently saved itself.
Or… probably not.
They didn’t find the body of the chanting man.
They swept up the moths, and sent some of them off to people who would hopefully discover why they died. They found an inky black stain on the floor that wouldn’t wash, that Bartholomew was sure was round about where the man had stood.
‘Maybe,’ he said hopefully, ‘we could get the floor done down here? Maybe a carpet?’
‘Yeah, if you pay for it.’
Worth a shot.