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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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THE BEE KING

 

by Stacey Faulkner

 

 

When Amos McLinktock died no one told his bees. Perhaps other bees wouldn’t have noticed and the practise of telling the bees could have been passed off as a silly superstition but Amos’ bees craved his face the way other bees wanted lilacs. Amos loved his bees in return. They’d been there throughout his life always building, making honey, moving forward.

 

                Amos was a New Irving celebrity. Every year at the county fair he won a prize for his beard of bees; his was both the heaviest and contained the highest number. Amos had fifty-two consecutive wins, the trophies to prove it were dotted throughout his yellow farm house, the brass bee on top of each wooden hexagon well-polished and shiny. For forty-eight of those wins his wife, Ellie, stood beside him wearing dresses in every shade of honey, mustard and canary. Her wheat coloured hair braided, twisted and for a few years poofed into a fashionable beehive. Amos wooed Ellie with his ability to steal honey, unharmed, from a wild hive. But it wasn’t the danger that impressed her, it was his ability to be still with the bees and let them land on his arms without flinching.

 

                When Ellie died Amos went outside at first light to tell the bees. He pressed his cheek against the hive.

 

                ‘She’s gone, my darlings, she’s gone,’ he told them, his voice tired from promises of love. When he told them they stopped buzzing for a few seconds. A moment of silence for his loss. Bees understand grief.

 

                Amos knew bees were the only creatures with a language that humans could understand. They danced to tell each other where the best supplies of nectar were. Figures of eight, waggles, vibrations, explaining distance and direction. With time a person could learn the language of bees. Amos liked to imagine them in the hive learning the ways of people, laughing at the strange things humans did, which is why he always gave them important news.

 

There was just one stray bee at first. A distracted forager pulled from her path by the memory of Amos’ face. The forager flew through a car window making a toddler scream and causing the driver to swerve into the wrong lane. Luckily the driver of a blue ford pick up on the other side jumped on the breaks in time to avoid an accident. Mitchell Benson, who was on the verge of turning eight, saw the almost crash but didn’t notice the bee. He was sad about Amos dying, the old man would give him pocket money for little jobs. He knew that Amos spoke to the bees and sprayed them with sugar water but he didn’t know why.

 

                Soon bees were sneaking into houses, searching living rooms, kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms for their lost king. They were unnoticed at first, caught under glasses and ushered outside by some, swatted with newspapers or carelessly stepped on by others. Pollen remained untouched, honey was unmade and the bees kept coming.

 

Mitchell’s second grade classroom was filled with bees one Thursday morning. The students and Miss Hatten became so hysterical that they all had to be sent home. Mitchell figured that must be why someone was meant to tell the bees about Amos. He listened to them rattle and groan in the air vents but an afternoon off school was such an appealing prospect that Mitchell stayed quiet. By the morning the whole school was closed and the following week the high school was shut down too.

 

                Bees filled the baker’s on Pine Street and the hardware store around the corner had more bees than nails. They swarmed into Mindy’s Diner at lunch time on Wednesday, Amos’ favorite day to visit. They swarmed at glasses of banana milkshake, grilled cheese sandwiches and lemon meringue pie. They chased the customers away. Mindy was so furious at the loss of business that she started swatting the bees with a dishcloth and running after them down the street. She suffered several stings but stood there triumphant in her yellow striped uniform, her hands on her hips, glad those that had stung her would die.

 

                The bees missed the rough grain of Amos’ stubble and the safe warm foot holds of his dimples. They missed his greeting of ‘Good morning, darlings’ as he approached their painted hive with no protection below his elbows. He used to sit near them on a deck chair beside the primroses. He’d doze by the hive until his bald spot was sunburnt and pink. The bees settled on him as they pleased, he liked the tickle of their feet and their gentle hum. On the days he wanted them to form a trial beard, he encased the queen in her little cage.

 

                ‘Your carriage, your highness,’ he said and fastened it below his chin and the other bees, her children, subjects and slaves all in one, would gather to her, covering Amos’ chin, face and chest in a glorious gold and ebony beard.


The bees invaded town with no intervention for three full weeks, but still no one told them that Amos was gone. There were so many bees that the humming became a heartbeat; a pulse that made the whole town grieve. The buzzing hypnotized the residents of New Irving until it wasn’t just teenagers who wouldn’t get out of bed in the mornings. Hard working men who’d never taken a sick day started cashing in personal days. Women forgot the way to the store. Children forgot the words to songs and the simplest of sums baffled them. Lovers argued, sick of the constant drone of the bees and their doubts.

 

                Mitchell’s eighth birthday fell during the weeks the bees took over the town. His mother hadn’t planned a party, his friends didn’t visit and the mailman hadn’t been by since a mini swarm frightened him in the early days of the invasion. Mitchell was feeling sorry for himself without any cards or presents. He sat on the porch eating ice cream from the tub with his sister, Lucy. Their parents stayed in bed long after noon and no one had cooked a real meal in what felt like forever. Lucy rested her arm on the unpainted railing without seeing the bee and it stung her. She screamed and started crying. Mitchell hated when Lucy cried. It reminded him of when she was bought home from the hospital and made that terrible sound all night for months. He stood up and stomped over to the yellow McLintock farm house. Half a dozen bees crawled over the white wood. Mitchell kicked the hive as hard as he could.

 

‘He’s dead you stupid things,’ he shouted.

 

He imagined his mother at home pulling the sting out of Lucy’s arm with tweezers. Then he noticed the buzzing had stopped.

 

‘He’s gone, bees. Amos died,’ he added as softly as he knew how.

 

                The bees began to return to the hive. Mitchell walked home, the bees forming black and gold cloud around town, pouring back to the hive. They started searching for nectar again and the bees who had known Amos began to die. Soon it was only the queen who remembered him and grieved, missing the smell of Amos’ aftershave and her carriage below his chin.