B L Draper
The Smell of Honey
My childhood smelled of honey.
Grandpa kept bees; they were his delight and his obsession. He knew every piece of folklore and every bee-related piece of history. He especially believed in telling the bees events that affected the family. He said his own grandfather warned him about the consequences of neglecting to keep them informed; they'd leave you. They'd swarm and disappear and their hives would lay empty, your fields unfertilized.
Grandpa left a slice of wedding cake at the hive after telling them when mum and dad got married. Dad went with him to tell them when I was born. And we all went when he whispered to them of grandma's passing.
They said that if the bees disappeared, the Earth would be barren of life within five years. So I told the bees. I warned them. Grandpa said to tell them about all important events. The total decline of life on Earth seemed pretty important to me. I told the bees. And the bees listened.
Of course, I'd also told the bees when my baby was born. That's how they knew to come for him. That first morning of spring; that last morning of life as I knew it.
The Queen bee buzzed as she held my baby. Her forelegs reached out to tenderly wipe his brow and she left behind a sticky trail of honey that made his chubby face glisten in the sunlight. Then she held him out to her companion, who arched his furry body before plunging his stinger through my son's chest.
There wasn't time for even a squeal, and the worker's corpse and the baby's curled side by side on the ground at the Queen's feet.
She buzzed as I screamed, and she licked the honey from my dead child's face.
* * *
My baby was the first of many. Children chosen in the night, torn from screaming mothers, violent fathers, gently taken from the cold hands of parents who realized the futility of fighting the bees. One quick sting and it was over, child and worker bee buried together in the embrace of death. With overtones of pollen.
They were the lucky ones.
No honey-fuelled nightmares for them. Endless toil collecting pollen, turning eggs. Their grieving parents, hollow-eyed, tended the fields of flowers. Death and despair wore a riot of colour in this new world. Endless fields of bright blues, raucous reds and perfect pinks. The droning of the bees no longer heralded lazy days and sticky desserts.
The stories at night amongst the emaciated survivors were darker even than their days. Women chosen to groom the bees, clean their fur of pollen and honey. Comfort them. Humans and bees? What comfort could there be? Certainly none for these women.
I dismissed these as rumours, horror stories grown from nightmares in a world that was too dark to be frightened by the old tales. Until the day I was chosen to join their ranks. These silent women who worked at night. The bees spent their days collecting pollen, creating honey, directing people about their tasks. At night they returned to the hive and attended their Queen. But with one thousand drones competing for Her attention, there were lots that needed comfort. We human women were the flavour of the day.
Eventually I could no longer work around my swollen belly. I was excused from my duties, rewarded with a soft bed and a solitary room. If reward it was. One night of pain and I was again a mother. But unlike my first child, my heart's child, this one did not bring joy. The bees took it from me and I was glad to see it go. Its furred hands and alien eyes made a mockery of the memory of my true son's birth.
I was sent back to the fields of flowers and the joyless buzzing of the bees. It was a relief after the nights of despair with their mockery of comfort. The sunshine warmed my back and the fresh air was a balm against my sorrow. But one thing had changed forever.
I could no longer stand the smell of honey.
B L Draper
lives in northern Australia where she teaches by day and writes by night. She has stories published by Youth Imagination Magazine
and hopes one day to complete her novel before she's too old and senile to enjoy it.