One day while Winston Dixon was tending to his flowers a bee stung his hand. He jumped back spitting out profanities and danced from foot-to-foot as he clutched his throbbing hand. Elizabeth Wren burst into a fit of laughter from the window overhead where she had been secretly watching him. This made him furious.
"What are you laughing at?" he shouted, scowling as he looked up at her. "Don't you have something better to do than sit up there spying on me like that?" His hand began to swell like a water balloon and throbbed as if it had been struck with a meat mallet.
"You poor old fool," she crooned. "I swear I'll die laughing . . . you'll be the death of me. I swear it." She continued to snicker and snigger, putting a hand to her bosom as she tried to catch her breath, quickly inhaling from a respirator to stave off an asthma attack.
"Don't you forget it, you old bird," he said, shaking his fist at her for emphasis. "Perhaps it'll be sooner than you think." His hand was pulsing with pain and he decided that it needed some special attention. "I was just stung by a bee," he said, holding out his swollen paw for her to see. "Would you be so kind as to come down here with some tweezers so I can remove the stinger?"
"Oh, okay. I'll be right down," she said, and then disappeared from the window. Moments later she banged through the security door and galloped down the stairs.
"Aren't you chipper this morning," Winston commented. "What are you so happy about?"
"Just you never mind," she said, placing a hand on her hip. She held a pair of tweezers and sterile alcohol strips in her other hand. "Here," she said, reaching over and holding his swollen hand. "Let's get that fixed up . . . shall we?" Poking and prodding, she examined his hand. "You mustn't squeeze the stinger because it will release more venom into your hand. The trick is to scrape"--she quickly pressed down and then scooped the stinger out with one quick, practiced movement--"the stinger out. There we go . . ." She opened an alcohol sterile strip and dabbed the swollen area; Winston winced and grimaced from the pain. "You're as good as new," she said. "Would you like me to kiss it and make it all better--"
"That's quite all right," he said as he snatched his hand away from her. "Thanks, but no."
"Suit yourself," she said. "You know where to find me if you ever change your mind . . ."
"Not today," he groaned.
"The flowers are marvelous," she said, bending down and inhaling the sweetness of a fragrant rose. "Oh, I just love the scent of a rose. May I pick one?"
Winston stiffened, eyebrows raised in surprise. "Not on your life. Frankly I'm shocked that you have the gall to ask." Something else was bothering him, lingering just on the tip of his tongue; he scratched his head, straining his brain for an answer.
Venom . . .
The word struck him like a wrecking ball, echoing with thunderous force. "Did you say venom? The stinger has venom?"
She didn't hear him; she was still too deeply engrossed in the roses. "Hmm? I'm sorry," she said, looking up at him. "What did you say?"
"You said the stinger has . . . venom in it." The word tasted sour on his tongue.
"Yes. I did say that. The stinger has poisonous venom in it that is harmless in small quantities, but in larger amounts . . ." She shook her head side-to-side at the thought. "In larger amounts it can be deadly--especially if you are allergic to it. People have died from bee stings." She leaned closer to him. "You're not allergic, are you?"
"Heavens no," he said. "My hand feels better already."
"Good," she said. "I wouldn't want to lose you." She turned and started slowly up the stairs, stopping halfway and looking back at him. Her expression changed to one of dismay and her complexion turned pasty white. After a long awkward moment she said: "You know they'll probably be here today . . ."
"What? Who?" he replied, puzzled by the statement.
"Them," she said. "Those evil--bad . . . no good rotten heathens."
It was as if a bell went off inside of his head as he realized what she was talking about.
"Hush," he whispered, looking around to see if anyone had overheard the conversation. "Just you be quiet. Forget about it. Do as you always do and everything will be okay. You hear?"
"It just makes me feel so . . ." she groped for a word. "I feel like a coward--not doing anything about it."
"What can you do?"
She contemplated; deep in thought she turned and went to the door. She pulled a ball of jingling keys from her pocket and unlocked the door. Before entering she turned back and gazed at him for a moment. "Someday they'll have to answer for their actions. It can't be tolerated."
He remained silent and watched her enter the building. The door slammed shut behind her with a bang.
Venom . . .
The word penetrated his mind much like the stinger had punctured his hand. He noticed that there was a fresh patch of bullet holes that riddled the surface of the metal security door.
"Damn punks," he said, spitting as though he had been chewing on something disagreeable. The spittle hit the ground, glistening in the morning sun. He looked down and saw the bee that had stung him squirming and buzzing like a jumping jack near his feet. He raised his foot to stomp on the sputtering insect, held it in the air for a moment, then decided not to squish it. The bug was just doing what came naturally, he reasoned. He was a pacifist of sorts and had never been able to kill flies or spiders or even a flea; killing was against his better nature and he would always find an alternative method to the fly swatter or bottom of his shoe. Bugs had a right to live too, didn't they? He thought they did and he lived by it. He had even made a few of the critters into pets when he was younger--a black widow he kept in a jar had lived for a couple of years before it finally died from what appeared to be natural causes: old age. He cringed at the thought of old age and dying. He bent down on one knee and examined the dying bee more closely. It looked like a big honeybee, but it had some unusual colors and markings that were almost iridescent in spots like the wings of a fly or the stickers those disrespectful kids liked to put on their skateboards, bikes and car windows. The colors changed with the movements of the bee, rays of color glimmering like a prism in the sunlight. The bee buzzed loudly, quivered in the throes of death, then was still.
Winston fished through the contents of his pockets, found a piece of folded paper--the receipt from his social security check-and leaned down and scooped up the bee. He felt sorry for it in a strange way, suddenly struck by the thought of his own mortality. "We all have to go sooner or later," he said to the dead bee. "Sorry little fella." He folded the paper around the bee and walked over to the trash can, paused, then put the package in his shirt pocket instead of in the trash. He couldn't explain why he did this . . . it just seemed like the right thing to do. Maybe, he thought, I should bury it in the garden-
Suddenly, down the road, there came a thumping and rumbling like the loudest drums from the jungles of Africa. He recognized the sound immediately, for it was all too familiar: it was music that was all bass and drums coming from a car stereo with speakers so large they could be used for trampolines. The explosively loud music made his bones vibrate. His heart jumped into his throat, fear tingling up and down his spine, paralyzing him as he tried to move; his feet were stuck to the ground as if super-glued into place. He watched in terror as the 1979 mint green convertible Cadillac sedan crept along the street like a predatory dinosaur. It was them; they had come, right on time.
The white ragtop convertible roof was down and Winston could see the driver and passengers as clearly as the stars on a cloudless winter night; there were five of them, all told, four males and one female-she always sat in the middle, cuddling close to the driver. All but the driver wore dark black sunglasses. The driver had eyes as blue and as cold as frozen ponds in the middle of January that were set deeply into his sunburned face. He wore his blonde hair short and neatly combed, slicked back with some form of grease or cream. He was skinny but muscular in a paradoxical way, and covered with tattoos that depicted naked women, booze, drugs and death. Winston couldn't help thinking that the kid had more ink on his skin than the Sunday edition of the L. A. Times. The girl sitting next him had long black hair and a tan complexion, obviously Hispanic in origin, and the kid next to her in the passenger seat had skin as black as coal with a blue undertone. The two kids in the back seat were either Mexican or Indian, but Winston could not tell. The driver's name was Chico; Winston knew this from overhearing his name in previous meetings with the teenagers. They were all very dangerous, as far as Winston was concerned, and he dealt with them accordingly. He knew all too well what was about to take place: they were going to rob him. But if he paid them to go away they wouldn't be violent (he hoped) and he would be able to sleep easy at night, along with the other tenants in the building.
The car pulled up in front of him so close that he could almost reach out and touch it; the smell of cologne and cigarettes filled his nostrils. The girl turned off the music. All of the occupants jumped out of the Cadillac, landed smoothly on sneaker clad feet, and then strolled casually toward Winston.
"Hey old man," the driver, Chico, said. He put his hands into his baggy khaki pants. He was wearing a white tank top T-shirt--commonly known as a "wife beater"--and expensive gold chains glittered around his neck. He smiled, exposing teeth like white chips of marble, big and straight like the keys on a piano. "How's it hanging, you old fart?" He pretended to hit Winston on the chin then pulled away, slicking his hair back with the palm of his hand. "Psyche! Scared you, didn't I?"
Winston nodded, his knees knocking and hands trembling and shaking. "Please don't cause any trouble . . ."
"Shut up!" Chico shouted into the old man's face. "I didn't say you could talk, did I?" He looked to the other kids for approval. "Did I say the worthless old cocksucker could talk? Huh?"
They murmured and nodded in affirmation. The black kid said: "Kick the old geezer's ass, Chico. I could use some entertainment."
Chico smiled, then snapped his strong teeth together repeatedly, nearly biting Winston on the nose. "What do you think, you old turd? You ain't got no teeth left to knock out . . . maybe I could break your arm, or something . . ."
From overhead the sound of a window slamming shut caught Chico's attention. He looked up and saw the curtain's closing in Elizabeth Wren's apartment.
"Oh, no," Winston moaned.
"What's that? You say something to me?" Chico slapped Winston squarely across the face. "Don't speak unless you're spoken to. Where the hell are your manners?" He looked back at the window. "Are you worried about that wrinkled old bag upstairs? You couldn't get your limp noodle up to do anything even if you wanted to . . . so what the hell you worried about her for?"
The teenagers laughed at the comment.
"All you old bastards are the same," Chico said. "You're worthless, I tell you." He turned and looked back at the others, snapped his fingers and nodded his head toward the building. "You guys know what to do . . . get the money or kick some ass. Break the door down if you have to . . ."
Winston wanted to speak. A single tear rolled down his face. He was thinking about a time long ago when he was much younger and stronger-he could have whipped these punks with single handedly . . . but that was a long time ago. Now he was an "old fart" who grew flowers (which he suddenly envisioned would probably be decorating his grave, shortly thereafter). The thought made him swoon. He needed to say something, anything, to speak and end this charade; it was dangerous, even insane, but he felt that he had to do it: "I don't have much," he said, urgently, "as you well know. But I can pay you. I can give you some money. How much do you want?"
Chico considered the offer. "You don't have enough, old man."
"I've got enough . . . just don't hurt anyone. Okay?"
"Maybe . . . maybe not. How much you got dickhead?"
Winston pulled out his wallet, opened it and removed all of the bills and then handed them to Chico. "That is all I have. It's about three hundred and fifty dollars. Just take it and go . . . please."
Chico passed the money to the dark-haired girl. "Count it, babe. If it's any less than what he said it is"-he pulled a stainless steel revolver from the back of his pants-"then somebody is going to get hurt."
She counted the money and said: "Three hundred and sixty-four dollars, to be exact."
"Well, lucky you," Chico said. He called the others back; they were in the process of prying open the door with a crowbar. "Come on you guys. The old man's paid for everybody . . . this time. Let's get out of here."
The black kid stopped, picked a bouquet of flowers and then, tucking them under his arm, proceeded to urinate on the other flowers growing in the garden. "It's good for them," he said, zipping up his pants. "It's like a natural fertilizer. They'll grow better now."
They all laughed.
Winston was furious but helpless and unable to do anything about the atrocity. He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth resisting the urge to attack. The black kid gave the roses to the dark-haired girl. "Here you go, lovely Maria. I picked them just for you."
She thanked him, smiling, smirking at the old man.
"Let's go," Chico said. "Everybody back in the car, now."
They all piled into the car, except for Chico; he raised the gun into the air, fired two shots and then brought the gun down like a hammer, hitting Winston's skull with brutal force. It knocked him unconscious and he fell to the ground like a bag full of gravel. "You know what happens to people who snitch," he said, putting the gun back in his pants. He was speaking so that anybody who was watching the event unfold could hear. "Nobody likes a tattle-tell. If anyone says anything at all . . . they'll die! I will kill them personally. Ya hear?"
He quickly turned, walked to the car, jumped into the driver's seat and put it into gear. As the car rolled away the music was turned on again, loud bass and drums thumping and blaring into the distance, fading out by degrees as the car drove away and out of sight until it could no longer be seen nor heard.
The witnesses closed their curtains, afraid to go outside. Elizabeth, who had watched the whole event, was intimidated and scared but she felt that she had to help Winston. She met Chester Perkins, an elderly black man with salt-and-pepper colored hair who lived next door, (he had been watching too) in the hallway and they went outside together to see how badly their friend had been injured.
Venom . . .
Winston was swimming in a sea of darkness, stars swirling and spiraling around him, a mist like acidic gas stinging his eyes and causing them to water. He could see a bright light overhead, piercing the darkness and mist, and he could hear familiar voices. Somebody said what sounded like the word "venom" and he sat upright with a jerk, shouting out like a madman: "Venom!"
"Are you all right?" Elizabeth asked.
Chester helped Winston to his feet. "Come on, Champ," he said, holding his friend in case he should fall down. "Steady, Old Timer . . . you took a mighty hard blow to the head. You're bleeding a little . . ."
"Venom-poison!" Winston said, drunkenly. He swayed back and forth like a boxer getting up after being knocked down.
Elizabeth examined the wound on his forehead. "Let's get you upstairs and clean up that cut. You might need some stitches."
"Nonsense," Winston said, pushing her probing hand away. "I'll be fine. Just help me to my apartment. I'm tired. I need to lay down."
They helped Winston up the stairs, through the security door, and up two flights of stairs past walls covered with graffiti and gang tags. The numbers on his door were missing leaving bare spots in the yellowed paint in the shape of a B and a 9 above the peephole. The hallway smelled of urine and sweat and cigarettes. Chester asked if Winston had his keys. He did, in his right pocket. They opened the door and led him into the kitchen, sitting him down in a chair by the dining table. Elizabeth wetted a paper towel in the sink and then cleaned the wound on his head. It was a superficial wound and was easily mended with alcohol and an adhesive bandage. The alcohol stung, causing him to squirm in the chair.
"You're very lucky," she said, throwing the blood soaked paper-towel away. "You are also a fool to be confronting those . . . juvenile delinquents all alone like that."
"I didn't plan it," he snapped. "They caught me off guard."
"Somebody has to speak up," Chester said.
"And get somebody killed?" Winston added.
"I'm going to call the police," Elizabeth said. "I don't care about their threats anymore-something has to be done."
"Are you crazy, woman?" Winston snapped. "It can't be stopped. It's just the way kids are nowadays. If you put them in jail they'll just come back someday. And there are always more to take their place. It's and epidemic. The youth of America have no respect for anything-especially their elders--let alone themselves. And they're extremely dangerous."
Chester coughed into his hand and cleared his throat. "I bought me a gun. A brand new forty-four magnum. I've got a little surprise for those assholes the next time they come around here. Hell, I was gonna go out there this time, but . . . I don't know why I didn't. I'm sorry I let you down, old friend."
The statement agitated Winston; he shook his head in disagreement. "You can't stoop down to their level. Only God can stop these crazy kids . . . and sometimes I wonder if even He can or will."
"I'm gonna get them," Chester said, matter-of-factly. "I don't care what anybody says. I'm gonna put one right in that skinny little punks chest."
"You'll get yourself killed, you know," Winston said, rubbing his throbbing temples. "I'm feeling weak . . . I need to lay down. Just forget about it. Okay? Promise me that much. Please. Now leave me alone and let me get some sleep."
Chester and Elizabeth said goodbye and hesitated as they left the apartment.
* * *
Winston awoke from his deep slumber late in the afternoon. His head still hurt, and there was an intense, dull throbbing underneath the bandage. He took two aspirin and washed them down with a glass of cold water. Stretching and yawning, he crossed the kitchen and opened the window to let some fresh air into the room. There was a flower box outside on the window ledge; he smelled the French marigolds, nasturtiums and pansies suspended high above the pavement. The flowers made him feel better.
He suddenly remembered the dead bee in his pocket; he sat down at the table and removed the folded paper from his pocket and opened it. The bee rolled across the paper and onto the Formica surface of the table. For a single instance Winston expected it to fly away, but it only rocked back and forth, then sat deathly still. He examined the insect closely, marveling at the vivid colors on the wings, thorax and abdomen. It was crouched in a fetal position. The eyes stared at him blankly, sparkling like two finely cut gemstones. It was an unusual specimen, to be sure; a bee unlike any he had ever seen before. He touched the tiny carcass with the tip of his finger causing it to roll over and over, coming to rest on its abdomen, wings up, hunching down as if ready to spring up at any given moment. He jerked his hand back with ancient reflexes, afraid of being stung again, but realized that the bee was definitely dead.
Outside he could hear children playing in the distance at the park, spinning around and around on the merry-go-round, swinging back and forth on the swings, rising up and plummeting down on the teeter-totter. Oh the joys of youth-he longed for the good old days when he was young. The skidding and scraping of skateboards rolling across the pavement bellow his window meant that those incorrigible kids were out there smoking cigarettes and probably molesting his flowers. He rose from his chair and hurried to the window, poking his head outside he scanned the perimeter. There was a group of young kids riding skateboards along the sidewalks; they liked to perform stunts and tricks on the stairs to the apartment building. He didn't mind the recreational skateboarding so much, but it was the disrespectful attitudes of the kids and the cigarette butts and empty beer cans they tossed into his flower gardens that really angered him.
"Hey!" he shouted down at the kids. "How many times do I have to tell you to stay away from my flowers?" He shook his fist at them in frustration. "I'll call the cops"--Winston started to say, realizing his mistake in mid-sentence. He found himself wishing that he could take the statement back.
They left cursing and vowing revenge, but were gone as quickly as they had arrived.
"What is wrong with the young people today . . .?" he wondered aloud, talking to the flowers in the windowsill. The flowers swayed in the breeze as if shaking their heads, unable to give him an answer. "It's lack of discipline. That's what it is. They run loose and nobody can stop them." The flowers nodded in response, agreeing with him completely.
Abruptly, a bee buzzed past his head through the open window and into the apartment like a speeding bullet, ricocheting off of the mirror in the living area. It became angry at its own reflection, climbing up and down the mirror as it tried to sting the reflection of itself. After a while it left the looking glass and flew around the room inspecting the contents therein, stopping here and there, hitting the overhead light-bulb then circling again until it noticed the dead bee on the table. It dived down like a kamikaze, hitting the table and skidding to a halt, wings vibrating, legs out like landing gear. It nudged the dead bee as though it hoped to revive its fallen comrade. The bee bowed its head in a knowing posture, then it looked over at the old man with an accusing glare.
"I didn't do it," Winston said, feeling foolish for talking to the bee. "It stung me . . . but I didn't kill it. I swear I didn't."
The bee folded its arms; a cross expression on its face, it tapped its fingers as if demanding more information.
"I-I-I didn't mean to hurt him," he said, pleading. "You've got to believe me."
The bee did a little dance around the dead shell of its brother like a medicine man in a ritual. A smell like bananas filled the room. Another bee flew through the window, then another and another, each of them joining the dance. Soon there were hundreds of bees circling around the dead bee on the table--and more were flying in through the window. Winston thought he could hear a chant rising up from the ever-expanding circle of dancing bees. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief, taking a second look he saw the dead bee twitch and squirm, then roll over in a somersault as it sputtered back to life; the other bees stopped circling and joined hands, still chanting. The bee was truly alive again, reanimated by the strange dance.
Winston felt his heart jump with joy and happiness, a smile brimming face.
The bees jumped up in unison, a little cheer rising from the interlocked circle. They each took turns greeting their resurrected brother who was dead but had risen, and then each in turn took flight, zigzagging past the old man and out the window. The last bee to leave was the undead; it flew over to the old man and hovered only inches away from his nose. Winston almost swatted the bee away as it tickled his nose, but he stayed steady and still. The bee joined its front legs like a priest in prayer and bowed its head in a gesture of gratitude, saluting the old man like a samurai warrior. It made a series of strange squeaks and clicks, barely audible, and then flew out the window and was gone.
Dazed and confused, Winston had to pinch himself to see if he was dreaming; perhaps he was still fast asleep and this could all be explained away when he woke up. The pinch hurt. It was no dream. He shook his head, amazed by what he had just witnessed. Strange, he thought, such strange behavior coming from a common honeybee . . . maybe they were no ordinary, or common, bees after all. He knew that bees were intelligent in their own way, but this was beyond anything he had ever heard about these busy little flying insects. And the sting . . . it had hurt like the dickens with its venom and all-the recollection of the unusual colors came back to him: silvery, almost metallic, but shimmering with all the colors of the spectrum. He remembered reading somewhere that honeybees lost their stingers and died afterward, but wasps didn't. Maybe they were wasps . . . but he didn't think so, for they didn't look like any wasp he had ever seen. His curiosity was piqued and he aimed to find out exactly what these bees were and where they came from.
During the following week he made a trip to the library checking out several books on beekeeping, insects, and anything else he could find on the subject; he rented video tapes and watched them again and again; he even consulted experts and quizzed them thoroughly about the specifics on bees. They answered all of his questions but none of them could tell him what kind of bee he was dealing with; it was probably a wasp, perhaps a hybrid, but it might be a honeybee. As far as the strange dancing behavior the experts were a little perplexed, even amused, treating the old man on the phone as if he were senile, even a lunatic: bees do dance, but once dead they could not come back to life. Perhaps, they suggested, he should consult a psychologist.
The bees came back to visit the old man everyday; he left the window open and a plate with sugar and pieces of fruit out on the table. After the bees were comfortable with him they would accept bits of sweet stuff from his hand, even landing on his outstretched finger like a pet bird. Golden pollen dust would rub off on his hands with a pungent, fruity odor like bananas. He read about their ability to emit pheromones and mark their territory or send distress signals when they were in trouble; he wasn't sure, but it appeared that they were making him an honorary member of their colony.
Even after hours of close examination, he still could not pinpoint exactly what species of bee they were, while comparing them to the pictures and illustrations in the books. The closest ones that he could find that resembled the dancing bees were hybrid honeybees from Africa, also known as Africanized bees or "killer bees" that were imported by researchers in the 50's and 60's and escaped captivity and mated with local drones. These bees were extremely aggressive and if the hive were disturbed they would attack in large numbers, stinging anything that moved. A typical colony, he read, consisted of one queen, tens of thousands of workers, and hundreds of drones. They had spread through much of South and Central America, Mexico and had even reached Texas in 1991; they attacked other bees, animals and humans, even killing when attacking in large numbers.
Winston found it hard to believe that the bees he was dealing with could be so vicious, but who was to say . . .? They fit the description to a T, except for the color patterns, but they were certainly hybrids. He was excited by the idea of finding a new species. He would have to find the hive, perhaps catch the queen, but that meant that he would be betraying their trust, and they were secretive about the location of their hive, thwarting all of his attempts to follow them back to its location.
Day after day he followed the bees until he had determined that their hive was located somewhere in a condemned apartment complex some three city blocks away. The buildings were scheduled for demolition in the near future and this heightened Winston's anticipation and anxiousness to find the hive for he knew that the city workers would exterminate the bees without a second thought. The buildings were boarded up and it took some effort for him to pry open the plywood that blocked the entrance to where the bees were going. They recognized him, circling around his head as he entered the abandoned building. They didn't seem to be bothered by his presence. Up the stairs and down the hallway he found the hive in an old pine dresser. It was swarming with what he estimated to be thousands of bees. The rooms in the building were empty, littered with trash and debris, and graffiti covered the walls. Everything that was not nailed down had been removed, scavenged, or pillaged, but no one had dared to disturb the broken down pine dresser, and if they had there would surely have been Hell to pay. Now that he knew were the hive was located it would take some intricate work, he realized, to relocate the hive. He would need special, protective clothing and a container in which to capture the queen; the bees would have to be forced to swarm in order to make them move. He decided that he would gather the necessary items and come back later.
He left the building, pondering how he would go about the dangerous task, when his thoughts were interrupted by a terrible sight awaiting him outside: the mint green convertible Cadillac was parked in front of the building at the bottom of the stairs. Much to Winston's dismay, the five teenagers were leaning against the car, obviously waiting for him to come out. His heart sank as he stopped and looked down at them. They must have seen him enter the abandoned building.
Chico crossed his arms and leaned way back. "Well, well, well," he said. "Look what we have here. What are you doing so far away from home you old bastard? Are you lost? You're in my playground now. This all belongs to me . . ." He pointed out the surroundings with an outstretched arm. "This is my garden . . . and you're trespassing. You know what that means?"
Winston didn't know what to say. "You don't own this--"
Before Winston could finish, Chico sprinted across the distance between himself and the old man, grabbing him by the throat and pushing him against the wall. He gritted his teeth, talking with his jaw locked tight, putting his face close to Winston's. "You just fucked up, royally. I don't like you and I'm going to enjoy tearing you up." He dragged Winston down the stairs and onto the pavement, punching him hard in the face. Blood trickled from Winston's nostrils.
"Please . . ." Winston pleaded. "Please don't hurt me."
A bee buzzed past Chico's head as he continued to beat the old man. "It's time to pay the piper," he said, throwing him to the ground. He kicked him in the ribs. Maria joined in, kicking the old man in the face and causing his dentures to fly out and clatter across the pavement.
"Please," Winston pleaded again, raising his hands and begging them to stop. "I'll give you whatever you want. Anything. Please . . . just . . . stop . . . hurting me--"
"Whatever I want," Chico chimed, kicking him again. "Hmm, let's see . . . what-could-that-be . . .?" He kicked the old man with each stressed syllable.
"Maybe to see you dead you piece of shit. Can you give me that? I want to see you dead!"
"Why?" Winston gasped, a rivulet of blood running down his chin. He was lying prostrate on the ground, barely able to lift up his head.
"Why? Because we want to," Chico said, stomping the old man's head. "Because we can. Because you're old and weak and we are young and strong. Because it is what we do. Now you die you old prick. Come on everybody . . . join the party." He motioned for the others to join the savage beating.
They each took turns kicking Winston, whom was unconscious now and lying on the ground like a bag of refuse. Maria picked up his cane and used it to bash his head repeatedly until it turned to mush. One of the quiet kids pulled a switchblade knife from his pocket and stabbed the old man in the chest more than a dozen times. Even after the victim was obviously dead they kept on beating him. A pool of blood welled around the body, globs and chunks of gray brain matter oozed from his fractured skull.
Another bee flew down and stung Chico on the chest. "Ouch! Shit!" he exclaimed in surprise. Several more bees stung his arm. "What the . . .?" He swatted at the bees that were swarming around his head. Bees were shooting out of the entrance to the building like bullets from a machine-gun.
"Let's get the out of here," Maria shouted, running for the car. She jumped in first, followed by the others who were swatting wildly at the angry bees.
"Close the top," Chico screamed, jumping into the driver's seat. "Quick, damn it! Close the goddamned top!" The convertible ragtop started to slowly close. "Roll up the windows . . . now! Shit!" He started the motor, put it in gear and stomped the accelerator to the floor. The tires sparked and squealed, leaving black smoking lines on the pavement; they caught traction and the car shot away like a rocket, the top finally closing as it skidded around the corner and down the road at full speed. The bees did not follow; instead they went back and buzzed over Winston's dead body, circling around and around. Other bees followed, they began their strange dance, more bees joining in until there were thousands of bees circling, chanting, jumping up in unison, then circling some more. The chant grew louder and the dance more frantic.
Winston's fingers twitched, one of his eyes rolled around like a spotlight, the other dangled loosely from the socket. As he got to his feet the bees began to swarm on the old man; the queen flew out of the building and into his open mouth; she sat inside of the protective shelter of Winston's gaping mouth like a pilot in a cockpit. He closed his mouth gently to protect the queen. The other bees covered him in a living, writhing blanket that was at least six inches thick. There were thousands upon thousands of bees covering him until he became a walking human swarm. He had quadrupled in weight and mass, a lumbering thing that rippled and buzzed as it lurched away toward the park.
Meanwhile, the mint green Cadillac stopped at a red light at an intersection.
"Fucking bees," Chico said, rubbing his chest. Did any of them get into the car?"
"I don't know," Maria said. "I'm allergic to bees."
"Man, those vicious little bastard were pissed," the black kid said. "That was too weird. It was like they were after you, or something."
"I need something to drink," Chico said, turning the steering wheel. He parked half-hazardly in front of a little convenience store on the corner of the block. He went inside and picked up a bottle of Canadian whiskey, a case of beer, and a pack of Camel cigarettes. He got back into the car and drove down the road, turning into the park and stopping near the basketball court. The park was empty as the sun set and the high-pressure sodium vapor and halogen lights clicked on along the street and around the perimeter of the basketball court. The palm and oak trees shimmered in the gentle summer breeze as night set in across the city. The group of teenagers got out of the Cadillac and sat on the hood; two of them took a basketball from the trunk and played a game of one-on-one while the others drank beer and whiskey and smoked cigarettes and crack cocaine. They carried on as usual, already forgetting about the murder they had committed, not a bit concerned--it wasn't the first time they had killed (and after the first time it became much easier to do it and forget about it without any remorse). Life and death had no meaning nor worth to them and the only really important things in life were drugs, sex, money, and power. That was the spice of life: to be powerful and respect no authority.
Chico was getting drunk; the pain in his chest slowly subsiding as the alcohol depressed his system. They drank beer and toasted to long life and much money and to never growing old. None of them noticed the dark, lumbering shape that lurked in the shadows just out of reach from the overhead lights, or the buzzing sound of thousands of tiny wings flapping and fluttering as the massive swarm of bees crept closer . . . closer . . . closer . . . always watching from the shadows and waiting for the opportune moment to strike.
Chico was the first to see it and he couldn't believe his eyes as the hulking mass stepped into the light. It looked like a giant man-thing-covered with . . . something like . . . bees. It was moving fast toward them, smooth and deliberate, the bees rolling and squirming like maggots on a corpse. Chico pulled his gun from his pants and shot at the swarm: once, twice, and thrice. It didn't even phase the inexplicable thing.
"What in the hell," Chico said, firing the gun until it was empty. He threw the useless weapon at the strange swarm of bees and turned and ran.
The other kids watched, awestruck and paralyzed as the bees exploded into the air in a horrendous cloud, dimming the lights as they swarmed around the car. The youths ran in different directions, the bees stinging them hundreds of times. Maria managed to get into the car and drive away even while the others tried to get into vehicle. She ran one of her companions over (she wasn't sure, but it looked like Chico) the body rolling under the car with a thump. The bees were so thick it was impossible for her to see; she stepped on the throttle and sped away, turned onto a back street by mere chance, the bees stinging her all the while until her eyes swelled shut. The bees inside of the car stung her until she was an unconscious, dying mass of swollen flesh. Her foot was still on the accelerator and the Cadillac crashed through a chain link fence, flew over a small embankment and then slammed to a sudden stop, bursting into flames.
The other youths in the park were stung to death, lying like silent victims of war. Everything grew calm and still. The steady buzz from the bees swarming around the old man slowly faded as they journeyed away together into the cover of darkness.
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