The bees always came to him at night. He had been scared of them as a child, when his father had kept them; low whirring wings, anger set in gold. His father had been ashamed that he had no interest in them. That’s when the nightmares started — he could always feel the bees crawling under his skin — and since his father’s death they’d come to him more often. That night, one month on from the funeral, was the worst.
He was in a meadow filled with corn and sunshine. A thin line of black cloud smudged the horizon. He was hungry for the faintest whisper of air but only the sun pulsated down upon him. Harsh, demanding. He began to walk, tall tendrils of corn brushing against his fingers, soothing them.
The black cloud rose and he became aware of a low moaning. He couldn’t tell where the noise came from. It might even have been his own voice, speaking to him of something he couldn’t yet name. When he glanced around, trying to sense where the danger lay, the cloud was already rushing upon him.
He started to run. A heavy wind sprang up and forced him backwards, although he struggled against it. Darkness swept over his body and it was at that moment that the corn around him began to swell and vibrate. First the ears of grain split open, long strands breaking through into elongated feelers, then on the other side hooked gauze floated free.
He knew by then what they would become.
Even so he watched, unable to look away, as the feelers consolidated into legs, six apiece, the rear pair dotted with stiff hairs and the front slotted for cleaning. The gauze patterned itself into four wings, hooked together for flight. Each corn fruit became a bee, thousands of them, their five eyes watching him. He was no longer the observer, but the observed. The field where a heartbeat ago he’d felt he might almost achieve a kind of peace became instead a sea of threat, billowing out in honeyed hatred around him.
He opened his mouth to scream, but found his tongue tasted venom and the sting of fear drew blood. Then he was falling, falling into the deadly golden embrace and could no longer breathe at all.
When he woke, drenched with sweat, the familiar bedclothes lay crumpled at his feet. He blinked upwards into the darkness and the silence, his heart a racing staccato.
It took him a while to gain the courage to get up. On the faded blue rug at his bedside he found one small bee, its body crushed and burnt as if destroyed by fire. Damping down all thought, he smothered the deadly corpse in tissues and padded to the kitchen to dispose of the tiny bundle. That done, he leant against the sink as the dawn drifted into day, feeling the chill enamel on his trembling skin and trying not to think of his father.
He had spent a lifetime trying to do that, but some things could not be forgotten.
Anne Brooke is the author of seven novels, numerous short stories and poems. She has been shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Novel Award and the Asham Award for Women Writers. Her three crime novels, Maloney’s Law, A Dangerous Man and Thorn in the Flesh are available from Amazon. Her work is represented by the John Jarrold Literary Agency and she is a closet birdwatcher. More information can be found at www.annebrooke.com and she also keeps a terrifyingly honest journal at http://annebrooke.blogspot.com.