Rusty Mitchum

Rusty Mitchum

I’m sure that a lot of you have probably never seen a hornet before. If you ever see one, you’ll never forget it. They’re big. Really big. They look like a wasp on steroids. And you talk about mean. Boy Howdy. They’ll eat your lunch.

But, that won’t keep a boy from doin’ what he does best, and that’s called livin’ dangerously, and back when I was a kid, that’s what my cousin Coy and I were famous for; livin’ dangerously.

One afternoon I saw my cousin Coy running across the field between our two houses. He had a big grin on his face.

“You ain’t gonna believe what I found!” he yelled to me from half way across the field.

“What!” I yelled back figuring it must have been buried treasure or somethin’.

“A hornet’s nest,” he said breathlessly as he approached.

“A real honest to goodness hornet’s nest?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said. “I was down in the woods and I heard some hummin’, and I looked up and there it was. Come on and I’ll show you,” and off we took.

Back then there were, I don’t know how many acres of woods behind our houses, and Coy and I spent probably more than half of our time roamin’ around them, armed with our BB guns for protection. We always had a BB gun in our hands. The only time we put the gun down was to put on a shirt, and if we could have figured out how to do that without letting go of the gun we would have. Anywho, back to the hornet’s nest.

Now, hornets don’t like to be disturbed, so more than likely they will build their nest off in the woods. Their nest looks like a giant spitwad stuck on a limb. And to have one in one’s room, was a bigger trophy than having a Cape Buffalo head hanging on the wall, because getting a hornet’s nest was a lot more dangerous.

“There it is,” whispered Coy as we hid behind a tree.

“Wow!” I wowwed. “That’s a beaut.”

“How are we gonna get it down?” he asked.

“Man, I don’t know. This is gonna take some plannin’,” I replied.

“We could cut the tree down,” said Coy. “No,” he said as if answering himself. “The first time we hit that tree with an ax they’d git us.”

“Yeah,” I replied.

We stood there deep in thought for a while.

“I know!” I said. “Let’s shoot them, one at a time until they’re all dead, then we can climb up there and cut the limb.”

Coy smiled. “That’s not a bad plan at all.”

Now, Coy and I were dead shots with a BB gun. That’s because we practiced every day. There wasn’t a day that went by that we didn’t go behind Mr. Dozier’s house to his trash pile and dig out bottles and jars to use as targets. I can still remember the pungent smell of old mayonnaise, as the jar would shatter under the onslaught of BBs.

“Okay,” said Coy. “How are we gonna do this?”

“You stay here,” I said, “and I’ll git behind that tree over there, and as soon as one comes out, we’ll pop him.”

“Sounds good to me,” he said.

I belly crawled over to the other tree. I sat with my back to the tree as I filled my rifle with BBs. Coy was at his tree doin’ the same. I slid down and rolled over on my stomach and peered around the tree at the nest. I rested the gun on a dead limb and aimed at the nest. Coy did the same. We waited.

“In comin,” whispered Coy. I looked at him and he was noddin’ his head in the direction to my right. I looked, and sure enough, here one came. He lit near the small opening of the nest.

I took aim, and squeezed the trigger. “Peeyow!” went the gun. Coy shot almost simultaneously. We watched in fascination as the BBs hit their mark ... then bounced off the hornet’s back.

Coy and I looked at each other, then back at the hornet. The hornet moved his wings around sort of like a person would do their shoulder blades when they have a stiff back. Then, I swear that hornet looked right at me, and went inside.

“Did you see that?” I said incredulously.

“Wow,” said Coy. “It didn’t even faze him.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “That had to at least hurt. I mean, I’d be like you or me gittin’ hit with a couple of bowlin’ balls.”

“Yeah,” said Coy, then he looked around. “What’s that noise?” he said.

The constant hummin’ noise that we had been hearin’ from inside the nest increased several decibels. Then, something that looked like a long black string shot out of the nest.

“Oh no!” cried Coy. “Here they come!”

Sure enough, that long string was not a string at all, but a squadron of hornets.

“Run!” yelled Coy.

Well, he really needn’t have wasted his breath on that one word sentence, because my legs had already taken flight. It took a good few seconds for my body to catch up with them, but when it did, we all started working together for one goal. And that was survival.

I chose to run a zigzag pattern, whereas Coy chose the straight shot method. Coy’s method got you to where you were goin’ faster, but you had to bounce off of a lot of trees in the process, of which Coy was doing a superb job.

I, on the other hand, was doing fairly well at missing at least the big trees. Then we came to the creek. Actually, it was the part of the creek we had dammed to make our swimming hole. Coy made it to the creek first.

You know when Jesus walked on the water? Well he’s not the only one who did. Coy did, too.

Well, at least for the first eight feet anyway. Then he went down. He did have the sense of mind to chunk (that means throw) his BB gun on shore before he went under. I dropped mine and dove in after him.

I stayed under water for what seemed like 15 minutes, but was probably no more than a few seconds. I bobbed up to get a breath and check things out at the same time Coy did. Hovering over us was a cloud of hornets. We sucked in a wad of air and down we went again.

We repeated this every minute or so for what seemed like an hour. Finally, I felt Coy poking my arm. Slowly, I stuck my eyeball above the surface of the water and had a look-see. Coy’s head was half way out of the water and he lookin’ around, too. I eased my head above the surface.

“They gone?” I questioned.

“I think so,” Coy replied. We waited awhile just in case. Slowly we emerged from the water, retrieved our guns and quietly as possible, headed home.

“Wow,” said Coy, breaking the silence. “That was close.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “I’ll never do nothin’ stupid like that again.”

“Me neither,” said Coy.

We walked awhile in silence, each of us deep in our own thoughts, knowin’ we just faced death and won.

“You know,” said Coy. “I was just thinkin’. If we went back at night, when they were asleep, we might be able to get a towsack over that nest.”

I stopped and looked at him. “You know, that might just work.”

It didn’t.

Rusty Mitchum lives in New Harmony, Texas, where he writes a regular column for The Lindale News and Times. He says the only reason he writes is to keep the voices away.