THE NEWSCASTER looked very serious as he stared into the lens of the camera during the news flash.
‘Today the BBC have learnt that an unusual amount of daffodils have been sighted in the Lake District. One observer told of seeing at least ten thousand of the plants, which seemed to be putting down seeds 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 that can severely irritate the skin.’
Bill immediately started itching when he heard this and was transported back with horror, to the time when he, as a young boy at boarding school, was subjected to the ridicule of the class clown, Simpson minor, who put sap crystals down his back, causing him to be thrown out of a history class and given a detention, for extreme fidgeting!
‘The bulbs are believed,’ continued the newscaster, ‘to have been brought into this country from the Mediterranean regions of Spain and Portugal. It is thought they have now mutated in some way and their purpose is at present unknown. However, it is possible that an invasion is imminent and we are all asked to immediately report any daffodil sightings. Police advice is ‘anybody coming across these plants should not go anywhere near them as they are thought to be dangerous’. There will be more on this topic later 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. ‘The yellow monsters have begun their invasion! But no, they just wrote me off as a clumsy, absent minded eccentric and no one listened – now they’ve left it too late!’
Bill had initially become interested in the small trumpeted invaders, when he had been wandering alone in Grasmere and saw before him so many daffodils, that he 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.
Bill had then taken time out to research the plant. He understood many years ago the flower was supposed to symbolise friendship – but something must have annoyed them, causing them to change their mind and Bill was determined to find out what that was.
During his research he had discovered that Roman soldiers used to carry the bulb of the plant into battle with them, and if they were mortally wounded they would chew upon it, as its narcotic tendencies would allow the soldier to die painlessly. It was also a known fact that, if enclosed in a room with them, their pungent scent could induce extreme headaches – hardly an act of friendship surely!
However, what worried Bill most of all, was they were believed to be a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings!
Had they decided to change their ways and become reborn? Was rebirth the reason why they were amassing on the banks of Lake Grasmere? Could they be missing the starring role they had played in the hippy Flower Power culture of the late 1960’s? Were activist Abbie Hoffman’s words still ringing through their trumpets – ‘We shall not die, let a thousand flowers bloom’? Do they wish to rekindle that popularity? Or are they just be fed up with being referred to by poets, as dancing, head-tossing, twinkling effeminates and wish to change their image?
People were soon ringing the BBC’s switchboard with reported sightings.
‘I’ve seen a crowd – no, more like a host of them! They were all marching across the field in a huge swathe. It was like a rippling 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 had 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. They were tossing their heads as they moved along. My little Tilly started whining and hid under a bush and it took me ages to coax her out!’
Plumber Kevin Leake, with his girlfriend Tracy standing lovingly by his side, was the 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 just having a kiss and a cuddle beside the lake and beneath the trees, when they were all but on top of us. 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 they had 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 and over again their words poured out, gradually driving the poor powerless creature insane, as the sticky substance that had been ejected through the daffodil’s trumpet-like corona, covered them and left them stuck wherever they fell – a tasty meal to be saved for later, to fertilise the new developing bulbs perhaps?
The army were useless. When interviewed on television one soldier admitted, ‘If we fire down on them their trumpets turn bright orange and they return with a volley of golden yellow powder, which fills the air, choking anyone within range. We tried using gas masks but they just blocked up and 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!’
The next morning Bill set off to catch the train to the capital, armed with his briefcase, which held the lunch box containing his sandwiches. He was dressed in the only suit he owned, a brown Harris Tweed check, teamed with a stained mustard coloured waistcoat, with a crumpled yellow cravat tucked into his neck. When he arrived 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 too, like the daffodils he had 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 eyes for release.
Bill saw a young girl, distressed by what she was witnessing, go across to try and help someone in trouble and he had to quickly rugby tackle her to the ground to prevent her from getting glued down too. She was indignant at having been brought so unceremonially down by this odd-looking stranger and in such an undignified manner.
‘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 will stick to them too. I was only trying to protect you.’
She soon realised Bill only had her best interests at heart and so she forgave his over enthusiasm – although, she thought, perhaps if he had been able to restrain himself a little more, it would have avoided having her new trousers ruined!
‘I’m on my way to the University of London, my dear, to try to find a solution to this problem – some sort of deterrent we could use against 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 eventually agreed, so they set off together. They looked an ill-matched couple as they walked along the London streets – Bill, looking rather like Mr Toad, with his mad professor air and ruddy country squire complexion and the young trendy, sexy girl, dressed in a smart business trouser suit, high stiletto heels, perfectly quaffed blonde hair and impeccably applied make up.
When they reached the university they found it was busy with other folk, also trying to come up with a solution – learned folk! One tall, grey haired man was standing on a platform, speaking to a group of people standing below him.
‘It has been decided those of you trying to get away from town are to be put into male and female pairs, as we believe it will be 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.’
This in itself caused a great many arguments, as once all the pretty, desirable women had been used up, some of the men were not satisfied with the woman to whom they had been allotted – and indeed some of the women would not have chosen the men they were now tethered to!
Bill, and the girl he now knew as Mary, chose to be paired together as they had arrived together. They decided they would make their way to the Royal Horticultural Society at Kew, in an attempt to find a way to kill off their enemies – domestic weed killer was clearly not working! They realised they would need to find a far stronger deterrent to use on the yellow perils.
After Mary had ditched her stiletto heels for a more sensible pair of borrowed trainers, they took a couple of old bikes that had been abandoned outside the university. For a while it seemed like fun as they cycled through the country lanes chatting and laughing – and looking 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 was dark. It had been a long day and they were tired and as they cycled into a deserted village, they saw a farmhouse.
‘Bill, I’m exhausted! Can’t we stop here for a bit please 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 as they could from the city.
They went inside the farmhouse and once they had decided it was safe made themselves comfortable. After munching on Bill’s cheese and pickle sandwiches they raided the fridge for milk, in order for Mary 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 unable to sleep with the noise, suddenly shook Bill 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 that had been 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 he headed upstairs on all fours like an overweight bulldog. They barricaded themselves in behind the bedroom door – just in time before they heard one of the windows smash!
‘They’re in the house!’ yelled a frightened Mary, ‘They’re coming up the stairs!’
They could hear them sniffing and shuffling about outside the bedroom door. Then 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 and Mary to let out a scream of terror ! The high-pitched, ear-splitting sound of the alarm clock on the bedside table was going 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?’
Mary nodded. When they finally built up enough courage to peer around the bedroom door, the sight that met them was of a staircase littered with dead daffodils. They picked their way through them and over them, as they went down the stairs hand in hand, frightened that at any moment one of these wilted weeds would come back to life and devour them.
Outside the house, they found the rest of the yellow army had disappeared and they raced for their bikes and set off again, cycling at top speed. It wasn’t long, however, before they found out where the army had gone to. They were all drinking from a stream about half a mile away and as soon as they spotted Bill and Mary they became very angry, nodding their heads madly and dancing. They began hissing and spitting and spraying yellow pollen up 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 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 and, with the car still moving, Bill and Mary leapt in the back and were off. ‘Hold tight!’ he yelled as the car jerked into action.
Beside the driver sat another young man, dressed all in black, apart from the red handkerchief that he wore pirate style around his forehead. Behind him was a young dark skinned, designer-stubbled lad, wearing Bermuda shorts and wearing enormous sun glasses – obviously a Will-i-am devotee.
The car seemed to disturb the flowers and they shook wildly, as if in a frenzy, as they tried to hide their heads 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 out his apologies as he crashed first into one and then 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 either to like us or to fear us, we haven’t hung around long enough to find out which!’
‘We did lose one girl though who had gone for a wander on her own,’ said look-a-like Will-i-am, ‘but as long as we stay in the car and keep playing our music, we seem to be left alone.’
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 frightened behaviour?
He decided there and then 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’ in the car were only too pleased to take him and Mary back into the city, particularly when they knew they had probably hit upon the way to save the world! Bill needed their CD in order to have it analysed, to see what it was in their sound that had caused 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 the 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, not caring their dreadful sound was the reason people wanted to play them.
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 tried to combat the sound by raising their own trumpeting qualities but they soon realised the boys vibrations were too much for them to bear 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. As he looked at her beautiful blonde hair, he was reminded of meeting her mother for the first time, all those years before. 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 – and then he screwed up his eyes and frowned. Was there a draft – or did one of those daffodils really nod back at him?