The Halloween Project 2019 Story 2: For the Love of the Hive
The most important living creature on the planet? I recently read - the bee. We all understand instinct, but perhaps there is a hive intelligence. And if so...hive emotion? Hive feelings? This is dedicated to my son-in-law, the beekeeper.
The bees weren't right. Tyson didn't know exactly what was wrong but he read all the books, went online, talked to people, even took a couple of classes. Being a novice beekeeper he proceeded with a mixture of bold confidence, tempered by concern. He wanted his bees to thrive, for his yard, for the honey, even for the planet. He invested time, care and money in his one singular hive. Mostly a lot of care. All summer they buzzed and careened from flower to flower. Leaving and returning, an industrious swarm dedicated to existence, sheer and basic life. Tyson had grown to the point that he could take a folding chair, prop it a half dozen feet away from the tan and yellow plastic enclosure and just watch them.
His wife, Olivia, would call from the house, "Tyson! Dinner!"
His reply was always, "Five minutes more, Liv."
If his mind wandered and a second call came he would jump from his reverie and quickly jog inside.
"Sorry, babe, they're just so damn...I don't know...purposeful. If human beings were just half, hell no, one hundredth as dedicated to each other as they are the world would be in much better shape," he announced.
"I know, you just love those bees," Olivia replied as Tyson sat at the table. Linguini and clam sauce, bread, a salad.
"I wouldn't call it love, but I do care about them. This looks delicious. How about a glass of wine? A nice Italian white, maybe that bottle that we saved when we came back from Cinque Terre?" he asked.
"I don't think so Ty. Not tonight," she answered.
"Oh, come on. Lighten up. I know it's the middle of the week and we both have to work tomorrow," he stopped abruptly and looked directly into her hazel eyes.
"Do you love me as much as you love your bees?" she asked.
"More...or at least as much," he joked as the grin on his face widened.
"We're going to have our own little bee," she smiled back at him, "maybe we'll start a hive."
The next day, walking on air and barely attending to office work, Tyson checked the hive immediately when he arrived home. He noticed the problem. Mites. Varroa mites. On the backs of a number of bees. He could see the tiny pod- like creatures that could weaken and kill or even wipe out his entire hive. Back in the house he checked several treatments online, but hesitated a moment.
He decided to drive down the road and see old man Krieger. Krieger was a curmudgeon, to say the least, but he did keep bees and had done so for years. Tyson first met him in the hardware store in town while he was purchasing beekeeping equipment. Krieger was a mean-spirited old bastard, but after Tyson pestered him enough he allowed Tyson to come back to his house to pick up some pointers. After that Tyson sought him out for advice two or three times. Never pleasant, Krieger was a wealth of knowledge. They now stood 20 feet from a standalone hive that Krieger was tending. Another dozen hives were 40 yards off on the edge of a field.
"You got to spray the hive with formic acid," Krieger almost snarled. "And you better do it damn soon. Those little shits will get transported on the back of one of your bees and invade my hives." He pointed the bee smoker at Tyson as if he meant to do something with it.
"Formic acid, I didn't read about that online. There's all kinds of strips and vaporizers and treatments I can buy," Tyson countered.
"Screw online and screw your money if you want to spend it. I'll mix up a formula and show you how to apply it. I'll double the potency to make sure you get rid of those shits."
Later that afternoon in full beekeeping protective gear Tyson was applying Krieger's treatment heavily to the open hive. The mites had to go and if this is what it took, so be it.
The next morning Tyson looked out from the kitchen window and saw a darkened, massive moving shadow around his beehive. He quickly pushed the door open and ran out to see better. Bees were massed on the outside of the hive in a huge undulating, throbbing coating the size of a large mask four inches deep. They appeared sluggish, unable to fly. Many were dropping to the ground, immobile.
He worried himself all the way to work and returned early to find devastation. Thousands of bees lie dead outside the hive. A deep pile of desecrated wings, antennae and bodies were strewn close in at the base of the hive, a last protective effort while perishing. A few dozen survivors hovered in the air nearby. Olivia, not yet home from the school where she taught third grade, allowed Tyson the license to jump in his car and speed the two miles to Krieger's house. He wanted to curse out the old man.
He spoke aloud to himself as he drove, “You bastard. We killed them. You and I, Krieger, we killed my bees. You doubled the dose! To protect your bees! I listened to your angry advice and poisoned my own bees. What a fool I am and what a spiteful, piece of shit old man you are. A beekeeper my ass!”
As he pulled into Krieger's long winding driveway he made out flashing lights through the trees up ahead. Closer still revealed two police cars and an ambulance in the drive. He jumped from the car and made his way across the yard toward a small throng of people. One officer, a strong looking young woman brandishing a tight grimace and a tattooed forearm turned to him smartly.
"Can I help you sir?" she asked flatly.
"I'm here about my bees. I think Krieger killed my bees," with an equally flat tone, yet tinged with anger. The cop turned back to look at her partners.
Two other police officers parted their huddle to reveal Krieger's wife at their center. She was sobbing into a balled handkerchief. Thirty feet beyond them two EMT's knelt next to a splayed figure. Krieger.
She looked up at Tyson. Her face a grimace of anguish.
"He's dead!" she wailed, "The bees! His own bees killed him!" She buried her face back into her hands. One officer, older and graying, turned away from her and sided with the female officer.
"Sir, would you mind stepping this way, I believe we need to ask you a few questions," the officer asked, raising a hand as if directing him to a seat.
An hour later Tyson was back in his Subaru returning home, subdued and thoughtful. The instant alarms that had fired in the police officers' minds had quickly been allayed. Tyson explained his anger at Krieger. A call to his work verified where he was that early afternoon. Then the police explained. His bees had stung Krieger dozens of times. "Hundreds!" the older officer corrected emphatically.
"Did he run?" Tyson asked.
"He tried, but it was no use. They attacked his eyes and nose. The EMT's found a couple dozen dead bees in his damn mouth. He was unrecognizable. Is," he corrected himself this time, "Is. Unrecognizable."
Tyson looked up and scanned the yard, the house, the tragic scene. And then he realized, "Where are the bees?"
"Well, that's another damn thing we can't figure out. There's a slew of dead bees around the yard and a couple seemed confused buzzing around here and there but the hive is empty."
"Empty," Tyson repeated, not so much a question as a need for confirmation.
"Empty,” he said again for confirmation, then added, “Give or take, there would have been around 8,000 bees in that hive," he declared.
"Empty. Bone without an ass empty. No one home. Empty," the cop shook his head.
Tyson drove home slowly; sad, chastised. He certainly didn't like Krieger, but now he was dead. Not dead. Killed. By his own bees. And the bees were simply gone. Tyson couldn’t make that out. It just didn’t fit. He pulled his car into the driveway and jammed the brakes.
In the middle of the yard was a cloud; a milling, buzzing maelstrom of movement. Concentrated and dense, it vibrated like an atomic storm. In the middle of this acute activity was Olivia. She stood monument still, utterly still, with arms outstretched shoulder high. He moved with intense control crossing the distance to his wife. Thousands of bees rotated and flipped, caressing the air millimeters from her profile. Surrounding her legs, arms, torso, head, they danced between her splayed fingertips, swirled about her neckline, played at her ankles, caught in her hair. The sound was dark, deep, a tympanic bass of wings.
"Olivia?" he questioned, using the gentlest, whisper voice he could muster beneath his panic. And again, “Olivia.”
Through the darkly moving swarm in slow motion she turned her head toward him. He could barely make out the hazel brightness in her startled, yet ecstatic, eyes.
"Tyson," her voice almost silent, measured, "They're not stinging me."