……………………………………………….(First published in the WicWas Press anthology “Safe to Chew” ( 2015))
Harry was back! Fruitus charged up our hill, tail wagging, grass and cosmos flattening in his wake. Dew soaked the hems of my overalls and cut my ankles as I scampered after him.
But the guy standing over our neglected bee box wasn’t Harry. He was shorter. Stockier. And there was no way Harry could afford that crazy opalescent bee suit.
This was the Bee-Thief.
I’d thought, as had the police when Janet reported her hive stolen, that the Bee-Thief was only a rumor, an apiary legend striking randomly across the planet, giving shoddy beekeepers an excuse for colony-collapse, “No Varroa Mites on my watch; it was the Bee-Thief!” But here he stood. I owed Janet an apology.
I looked down at the road and didn’t see any tire tracks in the soft earth. Nor was a truck or car parked anywhere. The Bee-Thief hadn’t been tramping through the woods. His suit looked immaculate. He seemed to glow in the morning light.
I’d been alone a long time.
Fruitus lay down exactly fifteen feet from the hive and growled. “He always does that.” I lied. I wasn’t afraid. Yeah, thieving is wrong but there’s plenty right about a guy who can’t resist bees. Janet says I’m too trusting. Janet also says I should meet new men and here’s a guy who shares my passion for mellifera! Plus, nothing’s happened in my life since Harry left. This was something.
“Need some help?” I asked, stepping closer.
The Bee-Thief threw himself over the hive like an accountant sheltering his computer in an earthquake. Even under the mask, I saw his eyes swell with fear. I switched to the voice I use at the dog shelter when a hound pins his ears. “Shhhh. Shhhhhh.” The Bee-Thief relaxed a little, but he didn’t let go of my bee-box. I snapped my fingers to bring Fruitus to my side. Fruitus whimpered and stayed where he was. Once stung, twice shy. Coward.
Changing color in the light, he Bee-Thief’s suit gave the illusion of transparency. Harry would be so jealous. “You don’t have to steal,” I said thinking of how expensive that fabric must be, “I could help you. You could come to our meetings.” The Bardonia Bee Keepers meet once a month. Janet would love this guy (I mean, after he replaced her bees.) By now I was a few feet away from the Bee-Thief. I felt the magnetism that passes between the unmated. The morning mist condensed into a light drizzle. I wondered what he did with his stolen bee boxes.
“If you can afford that–” I started, jabbing a finger at his gleaming bee veil. The Bee-Thief hefted up my box and took a step backwards. I hadn’t meant to accuse. Mirroring his body language, I stepped back too.
“Habla Espanol?” I tried. “Po-Russki? Parley-Vous Frances?” What was the harm? I had my dog. The Bee-Thief’s hands were busy with fifty pounds of hive. He couldn’t hit or grab me. He couldn’t draw a gun. He might have dropped the box and sent bees everywhere, but I didn’t think of that. My instincts said he was harmless. Maybe a little mentally deficient, but good. He loved bees. “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” I smiled my warmest smile. It began to rain.
The Bee-Thief looked skyward and started hopping from one foot to the other.
“You don’t want to do that!” I warned. Vibrations upset bees. I gestured toward the house, “It’ll stop in a minute. You can come inside.” He kept jumping. “Slow down.” I imitated his dance at the pace of a sway, but the Bee-Thief gritted his teeth and stamped harder, shaking the hive, rattling the trays inside, bruising workers, smashing larvae. Fruitus barked. The Bee-Thief jerked around so violently that his veil lifted and caught on his beard.
“Stop!” I shouted. It was too late. Honeybees are non-violent, but even Carniolan will defend their hive. Bees blazed out of the box opening and attacked the gap between the Bee-Thief’s veil and his collar.
The Bee-Thief wailed and dropped my hive. It fell on its side, but seemed intact. Something snaked through the sky. I thought it was lightning. Thunder cracked and rain poured which quelled the bees or I don’t think the Bee-Thief would have survived. He writhed in anaphylactic seizure. Once muddy, his gleaming suit stuck to and outlined the Bee-Thief’s muscles. He was slowing down. Stiffening. I didn’t know how much time we had. I’m not allergic to beestings, but I always bring an Epi-pen with me when I’m working on the hive, just in case. Now it was in my kitchen.
I rolled the Bee-Thief down my hill. Fruitus chased him like a ball and licked his neck. Good. Dog spit is anti bacterial.
The Bee-Thief was semi-conscious as I dragged him to my couch and pulled off his helmet. “You’re a Yeti!” I cried when I saw his fur covered face. I wasn’t sure whether his neck was swollen or if it was always that thick, but the red welts blistering his downy cheeks scared me. His breathing grew labored. “A Yeti. That makes so much sense.” Except the clothes. I didn’t think Yetis wore clothes. I lifted my Epi-pen, looking for a good place to stab him then froze. How would Yeti blood react to human medication?
The topic at our last beekeepers’ meeting was “Propolis.” Bees repair their hives with it. It’s a natural poultice. Janet brought samples for everybody and I still had mine in my coat pocket. I parted the Yeti’s beard and picked the dead bees from his long golden hair. I made sure to find one welt for every bee corpse and squeezed stingers out with my fingernails. I rubbed the propolis on his wounds and was amazed how quickly the red calmed. (I am totally going to start harvesting propolis.)
Then I got a jar of the honey Harry and I had extracted the day before he left and spooned a little into the Bee-Thief’s mouth. His face was human, but kind of beaky. His nose thrust forward and blended smoothly into his cheeks like a pollen eater or a fleshy duckbill. His general fuzziness looked friendly. And he was handsome. Not because I like hairy weird faces; handsome because he was intrepid. I brushed my fingers through the hair around his face and discovered small clean ears. Really cute.
He started breathing better. I spooned more honey into his mouth. He slurped. Slowly his eyes opened. An impressive golden brown under heavy lids. I forfeited English and just smiled. The Yeti smiled back. The universal language. Fruitus licked his face again and the Yeti laughed.
I couldn’t wait to show him to Janet and prove I’m not just sitting around missing Harry. But it wasn’t to be. One minute my Yeti was barely awake, patting Fruitus on the head and watching the rain out the window; next moment the sky cleared and he ran out the door.
“Where are you going?” I sprang after him, still holding the honey. Halfway up the hill my Yeti stopped. My heart leapt. He was staying! But he wasn’t. My Yeti started his dance again, this time keeping a safe distance from the hive.
Just when I recognized his moves as a waggle dance, like bees do to tell each other where the nectar is, a translucent hose dropped down from the sky. In the post rain brightness, I almost couldn’t see it, but as that luminous tube drew nearer I knew I was about to lose my Bee-Thief.
“Wait!” I ran up to him and pressed my honey-jar into his gloved hands. Then I fell back and grabbed fistfuls of grass as a great sucking pulled everything toward the shimmering hose. It vacuumed up my Bee-Thief, then twisted up the hill, swallowed my bee-box, and drifted away.
It’s happening all over the planet. It happened to Janet. Our bees are disappearing. Now I know how, but I don’t know why. Do the Yeti-men just like honey, or did they maybe, in their quest for technological advance – on their way to intergalactic travel – do something that killed the bees on their planet just like we’re doing here?
Maybe we’re not killing our bees after all. Maybe it’s all Yeti-piracy. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Our bees are vanishing. We have to replenish them. So, I’ll start a new colony and guard against mites and bacteria, monitor the shade and sunlight. Janet’s right. Harry’s never coming back, but I hope my Yeti will.
MFC Feeley’s recent work has appeared in various on line and print publications. Last June they attended the Wesleyan Writers Conference on a scholarship and is now a fellow at the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. The Tishman Review is nominating Feeley’s story “Kendra” for the Best Small Fictions 2016 anthology. Their novel “Birdie” was a 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist. Feeley is a volunteer judge for Mash Stories and Scholastic.