THE NEWSCASTER, looking very serious, stared into the lens of the camera during the news flash.
‘It has been reported an unusual amount of daffodils have been sighted in the Lake District. One observer told the B.B.C. he saw at least ten thousand of the plants, apparently putting down roots beside one of the lakes. In Roman times, daffodils were thought to have special healing powers but scientists later proved they did in fact have the opposite effect, as their sap contains crystals which can severely irritate the skin.’
Bill immediately started itching and was transported back with horror to his time at boarding school. There he’d been subjected to the ridicule of the class clown, Simpson minor, who’d put sap crystals down his back. This had caused Bill to be thrown out of history class and given detention for ‘extreme fidgeting’!
‘It is believed the bulbs,’ continued the Newsreader, ‘having been brought to this country from the Mediterranean regions, have mutated in some way and Scientists believe an invasion is imminent. We are all asked to be vigilant and to report any daffodil sightings immediately. Police advise anyone coming across these plants not to go near them, as they are thought to be dangerous. We will be reporting more on this topic in our ten o’clock news programme.’
Bill Wyndworth, a daffodilologist, listened angrily to the news – his unruly red hair flopping over his solemn face.
“This is exactly what I warned the government would happen months ago!” he shouted angrily at the television screen. “The yellow monsters have begun their invasion. But no one would listen to me, would they? I was just written off as a clumsy, absent minded, eccentric old fool – and now they’ve left it too late!”
Bill had become interested in the small trumpeted invaders, when he’d been wandering alone in Grasmere. He had witnessed so many daffodils growing there that he’d had to shield his eyes from their acid brightness. They appeared to be doing some sort of ritualistic dance, accompanied by a mind blowing hum, rendering him temporally paralysed and deaf as a post for some weeks.
While incapacitated he’d spent time researching the plant, finding that many years ago the flower was supposed to symbolise friendship. However, it appeared something had annoyed them, causing a personality change. Bill was intrigued and determined to find out what had provoked their anger.
During his research he discovered Roman soldiers carried the bulb of the plant into battle with them and if mortally wounded would chew upon it. Its narcotic tendencies, it was believed, would allow them to die painlessly. He also read that if enclosed in a room the pungent scent of the daffodil could induce extreme headaches – hardly an act of friendship surely! However, what worried Bill most of all was the theory they were a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings!
“Have they decided to change their ways and become reborn?” he mused. “Is rebirth the reason they’re amassing on the banks of Lake Grasmere? Could they be missing the role they played in the hippy ‘Flower Power’ culture of the late 1960’s?”
Bill read aloud the words of activist Abbie Hoffman.
‘We shall not die, let a thousand flowers bloom’?
Did they wish to rekindle that popularity? Or were they just fed up with being referred to as dancing, head-tossing, twinkling effeminates and wish to change their image?
After the news report people began ringing the BBC’s switchboard with reported sightings.
“I’ve seen a crowd – no, more like a host of um! They were all marching across the field in a huge swathe. It was like a river of gold, coming towards me, closer and closer! I was terrified and ran home like the clappers!” said farmer Giles MacDonald, who was obviously still traumatised by what he’d seen.
“I saw hundreds and hundreds of them, fluttering and dancing in the breeze, while I was taking my little dog for her walk this morning,” said Millicent Lilley, a very nervous little old lady. “They seemed to be gathering in strength as more and more appeared, tossing their heads as they moved along. My little Tilly started whining and hid under a bush. It took me ages to coax her out!”
Plumber Kevin Leake, with his girlfriend Tracy standing lovingly by his side, was next to ring and tell of his encounter.
“Because of their size we didn’t see um coming. They sort of crept up on us. We were having a kiss and a cuddle beside the lake and beneath the trees. They were all but on top of us when we saw um. There was ten thousand of um at a guess. We just had to grab what clothes we could and run, didn’t we Babe?”
Before long the switchboards were jammed, as more and more sightings were reported. The yellow armies had been seen all over England and soon outnumbered the human population of Great Britain. As they nodded their way down the country, eventually entering London, people locked their doors and hid behind their curtains, terrified these head-nodding spring assassins would enter their homes. Those unfortunate enough to be caught in their pathway were found lying in the streets chanting helplessly.
“I’m dancing with the daffodils! I’m dancing with the daffodils!”
Over and over again their words poured out, gradually driving the poor powerless creature insane. Covered by the sticky substance ejected through the daffodil’s trumpet-like corona, they were left stuck wherever they fell, a tasty meal to be saved for later to fertilise the new developing bulbs.
The army was useless. When interviewed on television one soldier admitted, “If we fire down on them their trumpets turn bright orange and they return a volley of golden yellow powder, which fills the air, choking anyone within range. We tried using gas masks but they just blocked up. Our goggles clouded over until we couldn’t see! Pesky little beggars! They certainly pack a punch for something so small!”
“Are they really shooting at eighteen inch high daffodils?” thought Bill, “Really? This is bizarre!”
Next morning Bill set off to catch the train to the capital, armed with a briefcase, which held a lunch box containing his sandwiches. He was dressed in the only suit he owned, a brown Harris Tweed check. This he’d teamed with a stained mustard coloured waistcoat, with a crumpled yellow cravat tucked into his neck. Once in London he passed bodies littered along Oxford Street and draped over the sides of the fountain in Trafalgar Square. He’d long given up trying to give aid to these poor helpless people, as he knew if he touched them he too would become adhered. Those not totally stuck waved their arms about like chanting maniacs, as the sap began to do its work.
“I’m dancing with the daffodils! I’m dancing with the daffodils”.
Their repetitive, zombie-like refrain could be heard all over the city. It was as if they, like the daffodils he’d seen in Grasmere, were joining in with some type of ritualistic dancing, as the irritating powder stained their skin, leaving the helpless victims the colour of a banana, itching incessantly and begging with wild, red-rimmed eyes, for release.
Bill noticed a young girl, distressed by what she was witnessing, go across to try and help someone in trouble. In a flash he had quickly rugby tackled her to the ground to prevent her from getting glued down too.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing!” she shouted as she tried to release her ankles from his grasp.
“I’m sorry Miss – but if you touch them, you’ll stick to them too. I was only trying to protect you.”
Realising Bill only had her best interests at heart she forgave his over enthusiasm – although she thought if he’d restrained himself a little more, it would have avoided her new trousers being ruined!
“I’m on my way to the University of London my dear, to try and find a solution to this problem. Some sort of deterrent is needed to protect these people from these confounded daffodils. Why don’t you come along with me? It’s really not safe to be alone on the streets at the moment.”
After giving it some consideration she agreed and they set off together. They looked an ill-matched couple as they walked along the London streets. Bill looked rather like Mr Toad, with his mad professor air and ruddy country squire complexion – while the young trendy girl by his side was dressed in a smart business trouser suit, high stiletto heels, perfectly quaffed blonde hair and impeccably applied make up.
They found the university busy with other folk, also trying to come up with a solution – learned folk! A tall, grey haired man, standing on a platform was speaking to a group of people crowding below him.
“It’s been decided those of you trying to get away from town are to be put into male and female pairs, as we believe it much safer to hide out in small groups, rather than one large one. Each woman will then have the strength of a man beside her if needed, and she can also play her part by supplying nourishing food to keep up her male’s strength.”
Bill heard the girl by his side whisper something about sexual discrimination, but chose to ignore it. The proposal had also caused other arguments. One man shouted about all the pretty, desirable women being used up. He was obviously not satisfied with the woman he had been allotted.
“Some of us wouldn’t have chosen the men we’re tethered to either!” shouted the angry woman standing behind him.
As they’d arrived together Bill, and the girl he now knew as Mary, chose to become a pair. Having the agreement of the grey haired man they decided to make their way to the Royal Horticultural Society at Kew, hoping to find a way to kill off their enemies – domestic weed killer was clearly not working! They realised a far stronger deterrent would need to be used on these yellow perils.
Mary ditched her stiletto heels for a more sensible pair of borrowed trainers and then, taking a couple of old bikes found abandoned outside the university, they set off. For a while it seemed like fun as they cycled through the country lanes chatting and laughing. They looked even more ill-suited, as Bill wobbled along on his upright ladies bicycle, complete with a wicker shopping basket, which now precariously held his briefcase.
Soon it became dark. It had been a long day and they were tired. As they cycled into a deserted village, they saw a farmhouse.
“Bill, I’m exhausted! Can’t we stop here and start off again in the morning?” begged Mary. “We need to rest somewhere and this place looks totally deserted.”
They got off their bikes and looked around. The owners appeared to have left in haste as the front door stood wide open. Fear was rife and people were taking their families as far away from the city as they could.
Hesitantly they peered inside the farmhouse. Once they’d cautiously looked around and decided it was safe, they began making themselves comfortable. They were both ravenous and Bill remembered the cheese and pickle sandwiches in his briefcase, which they shared. Mary looked in the fridge for milk, in order to make a cup of tea – which Bill managed to spill down his waistcoat, adding yet another stain to the mustard coloured garment. He then undid his shoe laces as he prepared to settle down for the night. It had been a long day and, after securing the front door, it wasn’t long before they were both fast asleep in the armchairs, with Bill accompanying the ticking clock with the sound of his snoring.
At about 3am, Mary, who had been woken several times by Bill’s noise, suddenly shook him awake.
“I can hear something Bill!” she whispered urgently.
Bill looked out of the window and couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Good heavens! There are hundreds of them!”
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of daffodils surrounded the house, humming and swarming like angry bees disturbed from their hive. They were pounding against the doors and spraying a sticky stream of thick yellow acid, which was dribbling down the window.
“Upstairs, quickly!” shouted Bill. They took the stairs two at a time – well Mary did – Bill tripped over his undone shoelaces and had to recover his composure before heading upstairs on all fours like an overweight bulldog. They barricaded themselves behind the bedroom door – just in time before one of the downstairs windows smashed!
“They’re in the house!” yelled a frightened Mary, “They’re coming up the stairs!”
They could hear sniffing and shuffling outside the bedroom door.
A sudden shrill noise made Bill nearly jump out of his skin, causing him to knock over an ornament and send it crashing to the floor. Mary let out a scream of terror – as the high-pitched, ear-splitting sound of the alarm clock on the bedside table went off loudly behind them!
In that moment everything seemed to change. First a deathly shocked silence – followed by agonised screams from the daffodils – and then nothing!
They waited for a while, not daring to venture from the safety of the bedroom.
“I can’t hear anything. Do you think they’ve gone?” whispered Mary.
“There’s only one way to find out, my dear, are you prepared to take a look?”
Very slowly they opened the door and their two frightened faces peered out. The staircase was littered with dead daffodils. Hand in hand they picked their way through them and over them, frightened at any moment one of these wilted weeds would come back to life and devour them. Once outside the house, they found the rest of the yellow army had disappeared. They raced for their bikes and set off again, cycling at top speed.
It wasn’t long however, before they found where the army had gone. They were drinking from a stream about half a mile away. They raised their trumpets as they picked up the scent of Bill and Mary and became very angry again, nodding their heads madly and wildly dancing. Then they began hissing and spitting, as they sprayed yellow pollen into the air in an attempt to choke them. Bill and Mary were coughing and struggling to breathe as the angry mobs humming noise filled their heads. Sticky acid syrup was spat out at them and now hung in threads from their bicycles. As soon as this golden goo hit the metal handlebars it sizzled as its acid reacted with the bikes metal.
“If we stay here we’ll be covered in the goo ourselves! We’ll have to leave the bikes here and try to make a run for it!” shouted Bill.
They began to run but could see the daffodils drifting swiftly after them, a turbulent golden river, spitting out their vile smelling secretions.
Suddenly another sound filled the air and they saw a battered, brightly coloured old car, pop music blaring from its CD player, come into view as it rattled around the corner, displaying a pop band logo on the side of each rear passenger door.
“Get in!” shouted the long blonde haired driver, who was dressed in denim jacket and jeans. With the car still moving, Bill and Mary leapt in the back and were off. “Hold tight!” he yelled as the car jerked forward.
Beside the driver sat another young man, dressed all in black, apart from the red handkerchief worn pirate style around his forehead. Behind him was a dark skinned, designer-stubbled lad, wearing Bermuda shorts and enormous sun glasses – obviously a Will-I-Am devotee.
The car seemed to disturb the flowers that shook as if in a frenzy. They tried to hide their heads as if to retreat from the awful sound.
The driver turned the steering wheel this way and that, hurling Bill from one side of the back seat to the other. At first he was being intimate with Will-i-am and then with Mary, but there was nothing he could do about it, apart from shout his apologies as he crashed first into one and then the into the other.
As the car passed through the yellow mass it parted like the Red Sea to let them by. They were obviously shaken, but by what?
“We’ve had no trouble with them,” said the young driver, who could only have been about nineteen. “They seem to either like us or to fear us, we haven’t hung around long enough to find out which!”
“As long as we stay in the car and keep playing our music, we seem to be left alone,” said look-a-like Will-I-Am.
Bill thought back to the sound of the alarm clock going off in the bedroom – and then to the car’s excruciating music – could it be? Could it? Could it be sound that triggered the daffodils fright?
He decided not to go to the Horticultural Society.
“We need to double back to London University – Music Research Department. Will you take us there young man?”
The three young musicians’ were only too pleased to take him and Mary back to the city, particularly when they knew they had probably hit upon the way to save the world!
“I’ll need your CD in order to have it analysed,” Bill told them. “We need to find out what’s in your sound that causes such a dramatic reaction from the daffodils.”
Once the sound had been researched and its sound waves analysed, the musicians were quickly taken to a recording studio and CD’s were made so their sound could be broadcast all over London – and every other city where it was needed.
Bill became a hero – and the three boys (who changed the name of their band to ‘Lost Direction’) were delighted when they became an overnight success. It didn’t matter to them the reason people wanted to play them was because of their dreadful sound.
Soon hosts of golden daffodils were seen to wilt and crumble all over Britain, as their sensitive ear trumpets struggled to cope with the boy bands decibels. At first, they’d tried to combat the sound by raising their own trumpeting qualities but they soon realised the boys vibrations were too much for them and they gradually withered and died.
This had all happened 40 years ago and Bill often reflected upon it.
One day, as he lay upon his couch, in a pensive mood, his daughter Jonquilla entered the room. He looked at her beautiful blonde hair and was reminded of meeting her mother for the first time, all those years ago.
His vacant, daydreaming eyes drifted over to the window and he looked out upon the vales and hills of Grasmere once more.
The vase of daffodils that Jonquilla had placed upon the windowsill then caught his eye – and he smiled. He then screwed up his eyes and frowned. Was there a draft? Or did one of those daffodils really nod back at him?