the hive


Once you clear the fence, hit the ground running. If you’re quiet, it will take about ten seconds for the dogs to notice you and give chase and it’s only a 30-second sprint to the house. Think you can outrun a pack of savage mutts? Just Rottweilers and pit bulls mostly, only there to guard the estate from trespassers, asshats like you.
The brick wall is ten feet high, so you jump from a neighboring tree, right into the barbed wire circling the top. The barbs claw up your arms and legs like a shredder to cheese, the whole spiral bending with your weight and when you land awkwardly on your bad ankle, it takes some flesh with it. Once you clear the fence, hit the ground limping, bleeding, terrified.
Edging toward the house, you’re quiet, like the breeze that teases the weed-saturated lawn, kicking up pollen from wild flowers. If you duck low enough under the grass, maybe the dogs won’t see you, but it won’t be long before they pick up your scent, the stench of your fresh blood.
Barking. The sound of little paws racing invisible through the overgrowth. Your ankle’s complaints are drowned out by one word: RUN.
The beasts not far behind, the ancient three-story mansion just within view, you notice every window, every door, everything, boarded up, nailed shut, sealed like bank vaults. This is a dead end; there is nowhere to hide. As you run, you can feel the spittle of the dogs behind you. Then, your foot catches in the anaconda coils of a garden hose and you trip, tumbling headfirst into the hatch trap door to the basement, which snaps in two. Tumbling down into darkness, making sure to hit every stair on the way.
Too dazed to move or even assess broken bones, you stare up at the snarling mutts, growling at the top of the staircase. Then they whimper and turn away.
You pick yourself up, not sure what made the dogs leave. Not scared, are they? You can hear a slight humming sound, constant and steady, like an air conditioner. Limping up the stairs, you take the doorknob and pause. The hum is louder. And then, there’s a strong burning sensation in your leg and you look down to see a single bee with its ass stuck in your calf. A swift swat and it’s nothing but goo, mixing in with your blood.
You grab the doorknob again, noticing two more bees fluttering near your head. You shoo them away, pulling the door open. You’re in the kitchen, but it’s dark, so you hit your keychain flashlight. The walls seem to be moving, swaying ever so slightly, like a bead curtain. The air is thick with flies or gnats or something. Then your eyes adjust and you realize the flies are actually more bees, a lot more bees, thousands upon thousands and the walls are thick with beehive. You wave your hand at bees getting too close, the stale air making it hard to breathe and stumble through the swinging door into the living room.
The den is no better, every wall coated in honeycomb like a bad mold. And then, the truth dawns on you — the entire mansion is one giant beehive. You’ve got to get out of this place.
Back up. Before you run out the door to face the dogs again, remind yourself why you’re here.
It began back with your father on his hospital deathbed, but it was barely your dad anymore. The ex-military captain, amateur hiker and former jogging freak was now as shriveled and emasculated as a castrated bull’s ballsack. He was tangled in an assortment of cords, a steady pulse going through his heart rate monitor, his skin saggy like soggy fried chicken. Barely there, the indent in the mattress the only evidence he weighed anything.
He begged quietly for death, asking you to force the doctors to kick out whatever crutches he was standing on. But he was leaving you with his debts, the ruins of a mortgage company crushed in the latest economic scandal. Your frequent visits to the hospital were only to watch him suffer. You dragged some sick pleasure out of it.

You were there for his last moments when he finally gave in, when his breathing was mere gasps and he told you to remember the mansion on Cedar Grove, the one the bank snatched back, the one with the dogs roaming the grounds, just in case anyone tried sneaking in to steal back any of his valuables. He said, in the Red Room, the one painted as sanguine as a Ferrari, under the floorboards he buried one of those priceless Islamic vases he used to collect. One of those is worth a couple million at least, enough to get you out all that impending debt.
He told you to go to the house and you’d be fine, you’d be able to save yourself. Once you clear the fence, just hit the ground running.
When you asked him why he didn’t sell the fucking vase in the first place to save everyone from all this trouble, he merely shrugged, half a grin on his face. “I didn’t want to give it away.” Then his eyes closed and he breathed in less and less and then finally stopped. He died with that stupid smile on his face, like he did you some sort of favor.
Now you’re in this godforsaken mansion, worming through the corridors and high ceilings filled with millions upon millions of bees. You’ve heard stories of how swarms take nest inside houses. Their population can comfortably explode in a way nature couldn’t retain. Given enough time, a hive could potentially take over a whole building, right? Or perhaps it isn’t just one hive, but several hundred, each coexisting with one another. Either way, this house is alive with the numbing hum of countless tiny, flying, stinging, yellow insects.
Standing in the living room, tracing your flashlight beam across the walls, marveling at the complexity of the place, the sheer numbers, the perfect tessellations of hexagon honeycombs covering everything in sight, you can feel dozens of little insects landing all over you, investigating the sweet smell of your oozing cuts. You tremble as bees tickle your neck, attempting to remain calm so as not to startle the things. You remember your mother was deathly allergic to the venom in their stingers and that’s how she passed — the squatters built a makeshift kingdom in her bathroom and stung her repeatedly during the night. On some heavy-duty painkillers for back pain, she didn’t wake up, she didn’t feel a thing.
You don’t know if you’re personally allergic to bees — you’ve never been tested. You inspect the sting you got earlier, still smarting, but it looks fine. What do allergies look like, anyway? But still, you’re worried, hypochondriac that you are.
Some people say honey bees are disappearing and you could care less, but still, because of your mother, you know far too much about bees. You know that out of the 16,000 species of these insects, only eight produce honey. You know on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, the piercings from these bees rank at a 2.0, just above a yellow jacket (which feels like a cigar being extinguished on your skin) and just below a red harvester ant (which feels like someone drilling into your ingrown toenail.) Bee stings, including the one on your leg, feel like someone flicked the cherry off a cigarette and let it smolder into your flesh.
The faster you get out of this hellhole, the better. When a bee stings, the barb gets stuck in the skin and the result is an eviscerated insect, it’s tiny bee solar plexus tugged out like a popper on the Fourth of July. You know that when honeybees sting, they release pheromones, a battle cry for other bees to come and join in the melee. Better hurry before they notice and begin some Kamikaze attack on you.
As you climb the stairs, flashlight pointed down so you don’t step on any honeycomb nurseries, you hear the sound of a tractor firing up outside. You hear men yelling orders and the steady pulse of some large machinery backing up. Checking your cell phone, the battery almost dead, you realize it’s the 13th already, the day the bank threatened to tear down this mansion. Some zealous developer wants to buy the land and turn it into a theme park or a parking garage or a duplex complex or whatever, so as soon as your dad died, before his body was even cold, the mansion went up for auction. Like most other mansions in this housing market, it was sold cheap and quick. And from what you remember reading in the Sun, it’s going to be torn down today.
At the top of the landing, you peek through a crack boarding a window, getting your face up close and personal with the hive. Bees crawl on your face in circles, doing little bee dances, their antennae twitching back and forth like anxious metronomes. Outside, you can see the men with a gigantic crane and attached is a pear-shaped wrecking ball.
Now you’ve really got to hurry. If you get caught, assuming the dogs don’t come back and maul you, you’ll be charged with trespassing, not to mention theft.
You pass into the first room on the landing. You can’t remember which room is the Red Room. It could be any of these, all of which are so caked in thriving hives you can’t make out the color of the walls. The bees are living in everything in this room, which was probably a billiards room given the massive form in the center, a miniature city growing around the billiards and cues, hundreds of commuters flying out of the pockets.
So you dig. You reach your hand into the hive wall and slowly pull back. The honeycomb bristles and crumbles like a brittle plaster and bees swarm your hands so fast it looks like you dipped them into wet sunflower seeds. The wall is an eggshell white except for the dirt left behind. And then the stings come, hundreds upon hundreds, all over your hands.
You shake them off frantically, but even more land on you. Even more sting you. Your hands become gloves of wrathful punctures.
The next room is a bathroom and you thrust your bleeding, swollen fists into the dark, goopy tank of the toilet. Bees are evacuating the medicine cabinet, the shower cap, the sink, flying like some Great War-era fighter pilots, dog fighting, zeroing in on you.
The air is thick with bees and sometimes you breathe one in. At first you frantically try to spit them out, but that just results in stung and swollen lips, so now you crush them with your teeth before they have a chance to jab at your tongue. You soon have a paste of bees you’re half drooling out your bulging mouth and the taste is like a waxy, furry glue.
There’s a crash downstairs and the whole house shakes. You look down over the banister and see a fog of bees angrily swarming around some giant light. Then you realize the light is coming from a gigantic hole in the living room. This time you see the wrecking ball crash through the wall, taking out a larger chunk, throwing honeycomb and debris everywhere, angering the bees even more. The house shudders and starts to lean, collapsing into the hole.

You run into the next room, quickly tearing at the walls. They’re peach. You run back to the bathroom, dip your hands into the toilet and lather, rinse, repeat. The next room has beige walls. The stinging is so constant you’re getting numb to it, your hands, your neck, your face ballooning like elephantiasis mixed with chicken pox.

Sometimes the bees crawl up a nostril and you snort them out, but the swollen, throbbing stings in your nasal cavity remain. Bees are crawling in your ears, buzzing louder than jet engines.

You’re on the third story. Another crash from downstairs and the wall next to you rips off, revealing the hot air outside. The light is blinding, the bees flying out like bats at sunset, vainly trying to save their squatted home.

In the last room, your fingertips so fat and numb you can barely pry, you peel back the honeycomb and find that the walls are blood red. The wall behind you disappears, the wrecking ball retreating, and the ceiling starts to sag, the floor warping like a Dali painting. The bed, nothing more than a bee metropolis, slides past you and tumbles out the gap into the world. Followed by a beehive dresser, a beehive nightstand, a beehive bookshelf. Bees are crawling through your hair like head lice, stinging your scalp repeatedly. The floor splits in the middle, giving you the leverage you need to pry the boards back.

Just like good ol’ daddy promised, there’s a box there. With mushroom hands, you lift the lid and remove the priceless Islamic vase. You cradle it for a while, marveling at it’s intricacy, the hours of horned passion pressed into every groove many centuries ago. Its creator anonymous, but more precise than any artist alive today. There’s a kinship man has with craft of this magnitude – no wonder it’s so invaluable.

Another wall collapses, leaving you naked to the open air. The bees, perhaps giving up on their sinking Titanic, varnish themselves on you like those suits of bees you see performance artists wear. You can feel your breathing swell up and you’re still staring at the vase when the foundation of the house gives way, the floor beneath you bends like an accordion and you cascade with it.


[last updated April 23 2013]