Kristen Houghton is the author of nine novels, two non-fiction books, a collection of short stories, a book of essays, and a children’s novella. The first four books in her best-selling series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation, are now available in a box set. The series has been voted one of the top five mystery/thriller series by International Mystery Writers. Book 5, The Hawaiian Word for Murder is due out this month. She is also the author of the Horror Book Club award-winning Quick-Read, Welcome to Hell.

Her latest book, The Hawaiian Word for Murder, book 5 in A Cate Harlow Private Investigation series, was released in March, 2020.

Kristen Houghton has covered politics, news, and lifestyle issues as a contributor to the Huffington Post. Her writing portfolio includes Criminal Element Magazine, a division of Macmillan Publishing, The Horror Zine, Flourish Magazine, senior fiction editor at Bella Magazine, interviews and reviews for HBO documentaries, OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, and The Style Channel.


by Kristen Houghton


The property surrounding the old house looked like something out of an episode of The Addams Family. Dead trees and foliage made up the area. Everything seemed to be dead or dying and a heavy rainstorm the night before, instead of making the air fresh and clean, seemed to have left a slightly rancid smell.

Jessica had been told not to bring her car to the house since there would soon be heavy cleaning and landscaping equipment scattered on the property as well as the street and nowhere for her to park. She leaned in the passenger’s side window of her colleague’s car and thanked him for the ride. He said he’d pick her up in three days.

Three days without a car would be annoying. Thank goodness the water and electricity were turned on and she’d brought a large cooler with food and juices. She’d also brought some cleaning supplies just in case. Some form of normalcy.

Her colleague worried about her being alone in the old house, but Jessica reassured him. She was a professional and did this sort of thing all the time. She watched him drive off and felt confident in her ability as a real estate agent specializing in historic properties.

She picked up her overnight bag and stepped toward the house. An annoying, whining buzz followed her as she surveyed the piece of land and the building.

Mosquitos, probably just mosquitoes, thought Jessica nervously as she walked in the yard. Hope there aren’t any beehives near here. She shuddered as she looked carefully all around her then let out a long-ragged sigh of relief. No hive as far as she could see, yet the whining buzz continued. She cringed. Has to be just pesky mosquitoes.

She had an obsessive fear of bees. As a child of eight she had witnessed her older cousin get badly stung by a bee from a hive in her backyard. Later that night she had happily helped her father douse the hive with gasoline and set it on fire killing every single bee. Jess was certain she heard what sounded like screams coming from the hive. She shivered at the memory. Sometimes she still heard their screams in her head, especially on a hot summer night.

She had no time to worry about bees. Almost half an acre in size, the property was scheduled to start being cleaned up starting today with landscaping set to begin in a day or two. And the house—well the house was going to be refurbished inside and out, with all the bells and whistles homeowners wanted today.

Not only was it going to be made habitable again it was going to be listed as an historic site. It was a sure sell for someone interested in that stuff. This was prime property.  She was an estate developer for a prominent realtor, a title that meant she detailed and oversaw modernization and needed improvements to old houses. Jessica was going to make sure that she implemented the best and newest updates for the house and get the highest price she could for the realtor. Her commission would be huge.

Of course, there was the matter of a covered well at the far end of the property. Was that rancid smell coming from there? There had been a rumor that, over a century ago, it had been contaminated by the toxic chemical waste runoff from some long-gone sweat shop factory. The highly poisonous chemical acrylonitrile, used to make dyes for yarn, had seeped into the ground water. An old news article from 1919 had written of residents of the area seeing insects that were born with strange and monstrous physical defects. She’d read the article online at NewspaperArchive.com

A poisonous substance has been polluting water sources in our area causing strange defects in insects. Locals have reported seeing a creature that resembled a moth but was nothing like that harmless insect. This one was the size of a baseball and had razor-sharp teeth. In another incident, a fly had attacked two girls on their way home from church. It followed them even as they ran away. They described it as having an overly large head and sharp wings which it used to batter the children leaving them with cuts and bruises.

But the county assessor had assured her that the well had been drained and sealed years ago and the contamination taken care of by ‘experts in the field of industrial seepage.’    

 “Absolutely nothing to worry about. Nothing at all.”

She continued walking toward the house. She noticed that there was a piece of paper stuck under the bottom of the back door leading to the basement. Half the paper looked like it had been torn away. Jess picked it up and opened it. One word, all in caps, was at the top of the page: CAVEFACIO.

Cavefacio? What’s a Cavefacio? Probably a person’s name, a note of instructions left for someone in the cleaning crew. Jess looked around for the rest of the paper but saw nothing. Maybe the wind from last night’s storm blew it away.

“Ouch!” Something had landed on the back of her head and pulled hard on her hair—something with a strong, vibrating buzz. She put her hands on the back of her head and came away with strands of her hair, sticky with some type of liquid. What the hell?

She ran her hands through her hair and was relieved to find no buzzing insects. But something had been in her hair. Maybe she should call an exterminator to spray the property.

Inside the old house, she expected creaks and odd sounds when she crossed the scarred wooden floor in the large living room but oddly enough there were none. The floors had a solid feel to them. A little strange in a house this old. Good bones she had been told. Strong, sturdy. Sure. But still old. There should be some sag to the floor, right? They seemed solid, almost as if they were brand new, like something was bracing them up underneath the floorboards.

Because the floor was so unusual, she decided to look underneath it before she explored the rest of the house. She went downstairs to the basement, leaving a dusty trail of her own footprints. The area, divided into two rooms, was okay as far as basements go. Like most old basements, it was dusty and smelled moldy. Sheets of old plywood were stacked against a far wall. Jessica looked at the plywood and squinted.

Wait a minute. What was that stuck to a pipe hanging above the plywood? It looked like a clump of hair.

As she approached the pipe, she heard that loud buzzing sound again, except this time she saw a flutter of wings coming from that clump of hair. The winged creature flew straight at her head. She shrieked. It landed in her hair and again she felt a hard tug.

Quickly she slapped a hand over her head and this time withdrew it to find a very large squished silvery insect on her palm, oozing a grayish liquid. Her hair was stuck to its body. Terrified, Jessica shook the bug off her hand and onto the floor. “What the hell are you?”

“It’s a, well it was, a rather large Houdinia Flexilissima Vespa,better known as the Houdini Wasp. I’ve never seen one this big, though.”

Jessica jumped when she heard the voice.  It was a man from the cleaning crew. “You scared me!”

The man was tall and powerfully built. Carefully he picked the dead wasp up from the floor with his thumb and finger and looked at it with a practiced eye. He seemed to marvel at the size of the squished insect. “Sorry, I thought you knew I was here. Listen, if there’s one of these wasps, there’s more.”

“I’ll call an exterminator right away.”

“Good luck with that,” he told her, and she wondered what he meant.


The workers had left an hour ago and she was glad to be alone. She had so much planning to do to get the house ready for the architect. Without access to her car, she was going to spend the week in the house and had brought her old sleeping bag with her. Placing it in the empty living room, Jessica went back outside to sit on the steps and get some air.

She Googled exterminators in the area on her phone. There were three close by and on one website, the exterminator promised to come by within twenty-four hours of a call. His business was now closed so she’d call tomorrow. Next, she Googled the Houdini Wasp. The worker had piqued her interest in that large insect.

Adult Houdini Wasps are one of the few wasps who make a high-pitched whining buzz that has been compared to the sound of motor. Coupled with an impressive wingspan that can go beyond 20 inches, seeing them and hearing that singular buzz can be unnerving to anyone encountering them.

Unnerving was right.

These wasps have been known to be attracted to animal fur and even human hair and use it as nesting material. They will stick the hair with a glue-like secretion from their bodies to the metal pipes of old buildings. Like the legendary Houdini, they seem to simply vanish into thin air by burrowing so deeply inside the hair nest that they seem to disappear.

Jessica bit her lip. Great. Now there’s a possibility of a whole swarm of them living in this house. Okay, first call that exterminator. After he puts down his poison to kill those creepy things, she’d spray everything down there with a strong bleach solution.

She would destroy the Houdini Wasp and its progeny just like she and her father had destroyed that beehive.

In the meantime, she was alone in the empty house. She used her phone to look up myths and legends surrounding wasps. One sentence jumped out at her.

In folklore, wasps are typically viewed as a symbol of death.

Suddenly she lost the confidence she had felt earlier. I’m alone in the house, it’s dark, and I’m overtired. Next thing I know, I’m going to start to imagine that I’m seeing those ugly wasps flying everywhere. I really just need to get into that sleeping bag and get some sleep. I’ll call the exterminator first thing in the morning.

But sleep didn’t come. As soon as she put her head on the pillow of the sleeping bag, the whining buzz seemed to intensify. She lay awake listening to the sound. She felt itchy almost as if she could feel the wasp crawling in her hair. The sound seemed to be coming from everywhere. Even the floor and the walls throbbed with it. Her heart beat faster with fear. Am I crazy? She felt as if she were surrounded.

Every minute was an agony. Things seemed more real in the dark; she kept thinking she saw things flutter by. She kept thinking that she felt the soft breeze of unseen wings.

Finally she sat up and turned on her flashlight. She sat, immobile, on top of her sleeping bag until the sun’s first light reached the windows. But in the morning, the whining sound was louder and seemed to be outside as well as in the house. Jessica mustered enough courage to get up and look out the window, saw nothing. Not a single flying bug, yet the whining remained. She couldn’t wait for the workers to arrive.

She called the exterminator but, unlike what the website had advertised, he was unable to come out to her house today. He said he’d be there in two days. That was the best he could do so she made the appointment. Then she went to find the box labeled household products where she found her bottle of bleach. Let’s see what some of this stuff can do to this family of wasps.

With her hair covered by a scarf, she started down the stairs to the basement. Halfway down something flew up the steps, wriggled under her scarf, and into her hair. She felt the tug and quickly smashed both hands against her head.

Throwing the scarf onto the steps, she saw a silver wasp, larger than the one from yesterday, stuck to it with a gray liquid. Its large wings flapped frantically trying to free itself. A chunk of her hair was caught in its pointed tentacles. A primal fear took over her and she screamed as she sprayed the wasp heavily with the bleach solution and watched it die. A long, loud screeching buzz from the dying wasp echoed and hung in the air like a death rattle.

Like the screams of those bees when she was a child.

She caught her breath and looked around the basement for any other nesting places. Except for that one pipe over the plywood, the rest of the basement seemed to have no nests, no hair stuck to anything. Jess sprayed the spot where the dead wasp had come from and anywhere else she felt might be a hiding place for wasps.

She eyed the old pieces of plywood stacked in the corner and decided to spray them as well, moving them one piece at a time. When the last piece of plywood had been moved, she saw it.  Water stains. Water must have been dripping onto the plywood from that pipe. There was that same rancid smell as yesterday when she had walked in the yard.

A sound coming from the pipe drew her closer. What is that? A new type of whining buzz was starting, louder than before and at a different, more frantic pitch.

She backed away in horror. The whining buzz grew louder and there was the sound of something beating hard against the inside of the pipe. Beating hard to get out. She knew the pipe was filled with wasps.

Dropping the spray bottle and covering her ears with her hands, she ran up the stairs. Once there she slammed shut the door to the basement and turned the lock. The door seemed to rattle and the whining buzz swelled through the living room. Almost as if they know I’m here!

She waited near the basement door until the sounds ceased. It’s just an old house, old and with lots of creaks and of course there would be some insects. I’m just tired and my imagination is working overtime. She desperately tried to convince herself that there were only a few wasps and she could deal with it.

And then she felt her stomach drop. There was a vibrating sensation under her feet. It was coming from the living room floor!

The floor! They were in the floor. The pipe ran along the ceiling of the basement and that ceiling made up the floor in the living room. That’s why the hardwood floor felt so firm and new, why there was no sagging or creaking sounds. It was solid because it was a honey-combed nest. A large nest of Houdini Wasps.

They had been waiting in the floor.

Waiting to get to anyone who dared enter their territory.

A floorboard cracked open and a very large silvery wing appeared followed by another. The winged creature worked its way upward and was followed by another. And another and another!

Their wings were attached to bodies that were as big as rats. But it was their faces that were the most frightening. Their eyes were bulbous and hideous to look at, their stingers long and deadly. They hissed and when they opened their mouths, Jessica saw teeth.

These were no ordinary wasps. These were creatures created by poisonous pollution, like the ones described in that old newspaper article. What terrified her the most though, even more than their stingers or teeth were their tentacles; they were sharp and reached toward her in a grasping manner. Reaching for the hair on her head.

Her screams echoed in the empty old house.


The house had been empty for a few years now. The real estate agent was hurriedly doing a quick check of the rooms to make sure they were clean for his new clients. Outside the yard looked dead and barren. What a place! The only sound was the constant annoying whine of mosquitoes.

He looked around the property and saw nothing but a piece of paper, some type of note, that had fallen out of the barrel of junk the cleaners had taken from the basement. He picked it up.

His clients weren’t due for an hour and to pass the time, he decided to read the note. What the hell. Opening it he saw that it was in Latin and he laughed. He’d suffered through four years of high school Latin! Oh well, let’s see.

Cavefacio mallefatte vespa.

Interesting. The real estate agent searched his memory for a translation of that dead language.

Cavefacio mallefatte vespa.

Oh, yeah, wait. Cavefacio—that is the Latin verb for beware. Now mallefatte, mallefatte, hmmm. Okay, got it. That means evil. So, vespa, vespa. What is vespa?

He was on the verge of checking the translation of that word online on his phone when he heard a car pull up. He walked around to the front of the house just as his clients parked their car and waved at him. The agent stopped trying to remember what the translation was for vespa, put the paper in his pocket, and went to greet them.

“Hi there. You’re gonna love this place!”

The woman swatted at something buzzing near her face as she walked up the driveway. There was the soft sound of whining, almost like a person crying, carried on the breeze from somewhere nearby.

Later as he watched his clients do a final walk-through of the house, he took the opportunity to translate the word vespa on his phone.

Wasp. vespa means wasp? He translated the sentence in his head.

Cavefacio le mallefatte wasp. Beware the evil wasp.”

Well, that makes no sense, he thought as he looked around the yard again. No wasps here. Just some damn mosquitoes. Crumpling the paper, he walked to the back yard and threw it back into the trash barrel filled with junk from the basement.

A buzzing whine followed him as he walked into the house.