A Beekeeper’s Short Story

Reader Contribution by Ron Lane
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The troops were all dead.  It was a killing field, or maybe the detonation of a small nuclear device, befitting the size of a bee, smuggled in on the back of some non-descript illegal; maybe a yellow jacket, or a hive beetle perhaps? The top bars were covered with dead and not a single one stirred when their home was taken away by wheelbarrow.

A cool breeze sifted through the lifeless tan and bronze bodies and found none worthy of flight. The weak sun, its honey colored glow serving only to highlight the disaster, failed in its effort to muster even one to attention. 

It had once been a thriving city, this emerald in the desert. Its Queen was held in the highest esteem and the little city was known far and wide for its royal jelly. So cheerful and productive were its citizens that the city burst with growth, ever expanding until its walls hummed with the buzz of good cheer. Guards were stationed at the front gate, ever alert and attentive, while the citizens came and went on their busy errands. Some brought nectar to honor the Queen while others brought stores of pollen for her workers.  The Guardian thrilled at the sight of them approaching the gate, laden with their weighty loads of plunder and landing heavily on the deck before going inside to present their gifts to the Queen.

As the supplies came in, waves of other bees would leave for the fields to gather from crocus, daffodils and hyacinth. This golden pollen and sweet nectar would not be enough to feed the masses, but the season was early and it was only the first fruits of the season. A cry had gone out from the Queens attendants that food supplies were running low and every available worker was needed to bring in the fuel that would feed and heat the castle.

Alas, their efforts failed.

On the eve of a bitter, frosty night, with temperatures hovering near 8 degrees, the heat had gone out in the castle. All hands gathered around the Queen to protect her and keep her warm. They worked their wings like they did every night, striving to maintain 90 degrees in the castle, but one by one, they fell away. The food supplies were exhausted and the workers, already weakened from lack of nourishment, could not keep the heat on throughout the night. As they perished, the remaining few worked harder than ever to maintain warmth in the castle, causing them also to fall aside with exhaustion.

Prowling, baying and ever present, the Queens greatest enemy crept through the unguarded door. First to the far reaches of the castle, then down the halls and through the doors to the inner chambers where it’s cold, frozen fingers immobilized the guards and reached the young brood snuggled in their beds. Quietly it stilled them before proceeding to snuff out the workers and subdue the Queen herself. The castle fell silent.   

This is how the Guardian found them the next morning. Searching throughout the castle, not even a single bee was moving. It appeared all was lost and the thriving little kingdom would perish.

Resting on a stump, reflecting on his loss, the Gaurdian watched the workers in a nearby lesser realm working the same fields of spring color the now perished kingdom had once worked. They would have known workers from the lost kingdom and he was sure that word had already spread throughout the land. It was then the Guardian felt the pangs of loss again.  He looked back toward the empty gates of the now silent hive. No longer were heavily laden flights landing like newborn birds learning their craft. It seemed impossible, that just hours before, this flourishing little empire had been silenced.  The Guardian mourned the loss of a dear friend, a friend closer to his heart than he had known.

The world could never know what he had celebrated with these miniature friends, for few can know the intimacy shared between man and beast, however small, except those that occasionally choose to leave this world and become part of theirs.  He had walked the halls of their castle, known the inner sanctum and shared its secrets like no other.  The weight of it all brought not just tears to his eyes, but the burden of knowing he had broken the bond of trust shared with the keepers of this little fortress.  If only he had brought food to carry them through the spring until natures nectar flow filled the hive with nourishment.

The Guardian remained there on the stump, pondering his mistake and longing for another chance.  The incessant buzz of workers coming and going on their appointed rounds in the nearby realm were digging at his reminiscence of the times he had shared in the now silent deep before him.  One of those workers, struggling under its load came to rest upon his knee.  It paused long enough to rest its wings and he longed to carry it to the deck of its hive and spare it the effort to finish its trip.  Instead he simply watched while the bee looked up and appraised him with suspicion, before adjusting its wings to absorb the warmth of the sun.  Then, after a couple short buzzes, lifted off and lumbered to the landing deck of its own castle, the bright yellow pollen gleaming on its legs all the way.

As that single bee moved on with its life, the Guardian knew he must do the same and with one last glance at the still and lifeless bodies lying atop the frames of the bottom deep, he turned to go. The sun was gaining strength now and he felt its warmth reaching through his jacket as he passed the swelling buds on the peach tree. Then, upon approaching the upper half of the castle he had brought back to the house in his wheelbarrow, he could not believe his eyes. Surely he was mistaken, but the top of the hive, all across the top bars, was moving, slowly, but moving none the less.

Quickly he returned to the bee yard with this piece of the hive and restored the castle. He found blankets in which to wrap their stronghold in an effort to keep out the wind and restore warmth. He brought feed in the form of warm sugar water and soon the workers drank deeply. A quart and a half in one day! Now the fight was on. Were their enough workers remaining to heat the castle? Would sugar water be enough? Was all the brood dead? Was the Queen still a live? Long live the Queen!

Surely honey would be better than sugar water and the Guardian knew just where to find it.  Off he went, but before he could return the weather turned sour, the wind grew strong and drew the cold northern air down across the desert. As the flower blossoms closed, the Guardian made sure the castle was wrapped tight so no drafts were allowed inside.  Were there enough bees remaining alive to fight off the cold?  There was no way to know if their diminished numbers could accomplish the task.

The following day the weather continued to deteriorate and the Guardian dared not open the hive lest he release any heat the bees had managed to sustain. Once again he adjusted the blankets, making sure the little castle was protected from the wind and returned to his own castle to wait out the storm. The storm brought with it dashes of snow and a light rain. The odds were working against the keepers of the deep and he feared for their lives.

But in the morning blue sky had broken free and the wind abated, the Guardian approached the front of the hive where the sun now bestowed its warmth. They were there, busily making their trips to the field and in greater numbers than he had dared to hope.  Still he restrained his hand from opening the hive and allowing in the cold. Hope was alive and he dared not kill it for lack of patience. He busied himself in the garden for much of the day while making frequent trips to the palace of the Queen to watch in amazement at the life now returned to these once lifeless bodies.

Late in the day the sun burst forth in a brilliant display of its strength and beauty. Its golden glow brought life to all who reveled in its warmth to shake off the cold damp chill that had ruled the land. Now was the time. The Guardian rushed to the castle with a frame of pure golden honey in his hands. After removing the roof from the top of the castle he was thrilled and amazed at the activity within. The killing field had returned to life. Though mountains of dead bees lay upon the bottom board in the basement of the castle where the workers had cast them aside, it appeared enough of the once lifeless forms had returned from the dead to make a go of it.

Gently he removed an empty frame and replaced it with a full frame of the honey he had acquired. Now they would have the fuel they needed to run at full strength. A number of the workers and guard bees bombed him and dove at his veil, but it only served to draw a warm smile on the Guardian. Happy to see them alive and busy going about their jobs, he had not used his smoker to subdue their activity as surely they had been through enough.

As the days passed, a procession of even more dead bodies consisting of workers bees and many, many young, killed in their slumber by Jack Frosts icy blue hands were added to the growing graveyard at front of the castle.  But the surviving bees, once brought low by the same winter cold, carried on. They ate the honey, fed the Queen and she produced more young. The workers brought in the abundance from the field. Soon the glory of the old kingdom returned and with it, the glow of satisfaction in simple things, return to the Guardian.

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