My question is about a short-story with a surprise ending.

  • The story is about an atomic energy agency van that accidentally gets off the road down a steep slope and hits a small tree.

  • People on the road stop and look down. They identify the van to belong to the Atomic Energy Agency, and while they're watching, they see two apparently unharmed men exit the van, and desperately run like hell away from the it, disappearing far away downwards into the bushes, not even looking back.

  • Assuming some container with radioactive material must have been damaged in the crash, the spectators phone the Agency to come with help, and some time afterwards they watch the rescue team from the agency slowly and carefully descend the steep slope towards the van.

  • Unexpectedly, as soon as the group arrive at close distance, they also break in crazy running spree, and also disappear into the woods down away.

  • Presuming there is a real danger of radioactive contamination, the spectators get into their cars and skip away as fast as possible.

  • The next day, a 4-line back page news notice was published in the local newspaper, explaining that the van had no radioactive material whatsoever and the atomic group personnel had received intensive medical treatment for wasp stings.


1 Answer 1


This is "Critical Mass" (Wikipedia, ISFDB) by Arthur C. Clarke, first published in 1949. From Wikipedia:

This comic story describes the relationship between a village and a nuclear research facility located near it. On the day that the story takes place, a truck carrying a mysterious cargo has an accident, and the driver flees. The terrified villagers are about to begin an evacuation, when the narrator discovers that the cargo were merely hives of bees.

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