Hi Fellow Indies,
Exciting news! My short story ‘The Littlest Fury’ is available in the summer edition of The Horror Zine, in print, or Kindle. The story is about a Fury who is so bad at her job, she didn’t even make it into the myths. She doesn’t think she’s cut out for it, but when Hades threatens to fire her, and end her existence, she has to see if she can find a way to do her job without losing her own identity. The zine edition has a lot of terrific stories from a bunch of terrific authors, and the Horror Zine’s other editions are worth a read! Leave the lights on!
Like ‘The Littlest Fury’, it seems like identity has been a big theme lately, how people are defined by other people, how we define ourselves. I’ve been reading recently about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, or rather between the Israeli government and Hamas. Since that is who is really perpetrating the conflict. It’s not the everyday people trying to earn a living and take care of their families on either side. I remember reading about a project a while back in which Israeli and Palestinian schoolkids became pen pals. The program was reported as successful for a while, until there were more hostilities, and they were forced to stop the program, even though the kids and their families wanted to keep communicating. So the potential is there. But who can say what will have to happen to make those voices louder than the angry ones? My heart goes out to all the people who are getting hurt in this. I hope it stops soon. I say that even though I know that’s inadequate to express what’s going on.
Thinking about that reminded me of another story I wrote that I wanted to share. It’s a fun piece, because I saw a bee get drunk on beer once. I had no idea they could do that. So this started out as a goofy ‘bee gets drunk’ spoof, and turned into something else. Stories sometimes do that, hijack the writer.
by Rachel Coles
Jocular people wandered down the cobbled streets of Munich past patchwork buildings that were a strange mix of modern structures, soot-stained medieval houses and new light-colored buildings in the style of the old buildings destroyed in WWII. The effect was like a honeycomb.
The slow crowd headed to the new Ellsen Brauhaus in the park by Ellsen Street. It was mostly open to the sky, shaded by trees and draped with colored waterproof fabrics for when the weather was inclement. Hundreds of light strings danced and swayed overhead in the slight June breeze. To the patrons eager for the rich Dunkles and light Helles beers, and the smoky sausages trickling fat, they might have stepped into faery, loaded with the only riches that really mattered to them: meat and beer.
It was the dinner hour and the early evening sky shone in pinks and golds as Eva Worker ventured to the profuse flower boxes in the new human gathering place to explore. She was a new forager, finally old enough to swim the tide of magnetic waves with the older bees, into the forests of flowers in every nook of the enormous human city.
Near the flower box she chose, on a table like a vast wooden plain were a few glasses partly filled with a rich honey-like liquid. And the scent from the glasses was unlike anything she had ever encountered.
Bruna Worker, a pushy bee who thought she knew everything because she was one summer older, had warned her as they left the hive, “Stay on task. Just find the pollen and nectar and come home. That’s your job, do you hear me? Stop waggling. You don’t do that until you have your load back here. And look out for the wasps!”
Boring Bruna, Eva had thought as she flew away. How can I not look around? Everything’s so bright: purpley yellows and golds and blues! But after entering the human-packed enclosure, she pictured the disapproving flick of Bruna’s antennae. She diligently began filling her pollen baskets before finally giving in to curiosity some time later.
Just a little break before the next flower, she thought. She flitted down to the rim of one of the glasses, leaned over and tasted a sticky, drying rivulet at the edge of the glass. The human’s strange nectar flooded her senses with warmth and sweetness and a strange acidic tang.
Before she could get another taste, a gaggle of salty-smelling humans approached with plates of long fat tube meat. Under the smoky scent of the meat, she smelled two females and two males. They were enormous, but the aroma of the meat was so overpowering that she almost failed to dodge the giant hand that swatted at her. She landed warily on a cooled sausage at an adjacent table.
An angry buzz and sharp wasp scent warned her she wasn’t alone, as a flash of violent yellow and black blazed toward her. A stinger swiped by her abdomen and powerful black mandibles clacked near her head. She weaved and dumped herself into the nearest flower box, stinger at the ready.
“My meat tube, honey bee! Go back to your hive or you’ll be food for our larvae instead!” The yellow jacket called after her. Eva didn’t move from her defensive position.
A minute later, gnawing vibrations and the now-familiar smoky meaty scent wafted to her box, from where the yellow jacket fed, “Mmmm. Tasty meat tube. Maybe I’ll just save a little for myself.”
Eva’s wings trembled with fear. She exited the other side of the box as quietly as she could and started toward less hazardous pastures. So that was a wasp, she thought, her hairs still raised in alarm. She had been warned of the wasps from the time before she had grown wings. Her hive prepared for wasp attacks every season. This was the first time she had ever actually seen one.
Before she left, she noticed several workers from her hive sitting at the edge of some of the glasses of liquid. Every once in a while, the humans at the table waved them away, but the workers deftly dodged the waving hands and then returned to the glasses. The humans didn’t expend much effort to chase the bees away so it looked more like a dance where everyone was just playing a role. One human even took a drink of his liquid with a worker perched at the edge. And the worker drank from the glass right next to the human’s gaping mouth.
Wow, Eva thought, my sisters are brave.
That vision dominated her thoughts as she went pollen-gathering in a nearby woman’s garden. Instead of returning to the hive with her full baskets some time later, she chanced another pass by the human drinking place. She returned to the earlier site of her sisters’ brave foray into human interaction.
The humans and bees were still attempting to do their mutual swatting and flying dance, but the waves of the giant hands were barely flops now. And the workers weaved and teetered at the edges of the glasses as though they might fall in. One of them did. She plunked right into the liquid, and instead of fighting to climb out, she took a long drink from the fluid.
“Jurgen, you have a bee in your beer. And I think it’s drunk.” One of the human males told the other, who picked up his glass with Eva’s floating sister.
“Awww. Poor bee. She’s had too much to drink. Here, let’s dry you out.” He fished her out with a spoon and dumped her on the table, laughing. Hilda Worker, the swimmer, appeared to be laughing too, as she preened the liquid from her wings and legs.
“Hey, there’s pollen in my beer.” Jurgen exclaimed without very much concern.
His fellow clapped him on the shoulder, “Drink it, it’s good for you.”
Jurgen upended the glass into his mouth.
Eva drifted closer to make sure Hilda was all right. The other bees didn’t appear to be worried as they stared at Hilda in a stupor. What in the Hive is going on?, Eva thought.
“Eva, sister, come here! You must try this. It is wonderful. It is a new nectar and it comes in giant tanks. The humans drink great rivers of it and they don’t seem to mind us sharing.” Hilda’s mandibles clacked happily and her eyes seemed… muddled. Her pheromones also smelled of the sweet rich nectar.
“What is wrong with you? Why are you not taking your load to the hive?” These bees, like Eva, were all first season foragers, new to the outside world. Surely someone would notice the absence of a bunch of new foragers.
“We will. Come join us first, Sister Eva!” A chorus of striped behinds waggled at her. One of them waggled so enthusiastically that its owner also fell into the glass she had been perched on.
“Oh, another one down.” Jurgen Bee Saver smiled. In went the spoon to his friend’s drink. He dumped Sister Dagmar unceremoniously next to Hilda. As Dagmar consumed the liquid beaded on her legs, a larger black and yellow shape wobbled toward them in the air, from another table.
Eva zipped into the air, her stinger ready. But the yellow jacket that had chased her earlier, waved her off now with a wiggle of antennae and a surge of the same tangy scent that drenched Eva’s fellow bees.
The intoxicated wasp landed uncertainly on the edge of the table, almost fell and then righted herself, turning back to Eva. “Ah, little bee, I’m sorry about earlier. You want some of my meat? It’s still all chunky but I could chew it for you.” She offered a partly-digested piece of meat . “You want?”
“No thank you.” Eva declined quietly and sank down to the surface of the table. She still eyed the wasp with caution. The humans shooed the couple of bees remaining on the glasses, downed the rest of the liquid and rose. They placed their steins next to a sea of other empty glasses on the table, and left. They had been there a while, it seemed. How long had her sisters been there?
The wasp nodded, “I am Worker Gertrude. Who are you, little bee? Come here. I will not eat you.”
Eva edged closer, and Gertrude hopped suddenly next to her. A wave of pheromone swept over Eva, as Gertrude nudged her in the side, “Hey, you are cute for a Honey Bee.”
Eva almost tumbled off the table again, and backed away, wings over legs. Bless the Queen! she thought, Non-queen wasps wanting to mate with female bees? My own sisters shirking their hive duties? It is summer. It’s too late for Hive Fever. The eagerness to get out of the long sleep of winter often drove workers to act a little strange. But this?
Her sisters waggled at Eva again. Gertrude twitched her antennae and stumbled towards the glasses. “Come! There is plenty of nectar to go around. We shall all share, yes?” Gertrude pressed.
Hilda and Dagmar scrambled up the sides of a couple of glasses and dumped themselves into the films of beer at the bottom. Eva finally followed the bewitching scent, picked a glass, and climbed in. Well, I did want to explore. And oh, Sweet Flower, does that taste good! She sucked up the beer and wallowed in the remaining drops, her pollen baskets soaked.
“And they are all different. There are different nectars. Can you smell that? Try this one, Eva!” Hilda tapped and bumped at her from the walls of one of the other glasses that had a pale golden wheaty smell. Eva slowly buzzed over, after dunking in two more glasses of the dark, rich, sap-colored nectar.
Some indeterminate amount of time later, the sky darkened and the twinkling lights became clearer overhead. None of them could drink another drop without popping.
Gertrude was first to pull herself from her glass. “Ai, I must return to the nest. I have meat for the young ones. And lots of this nectar. We had a good time, yes? I will do this again tomorrow! Maybe I see you here, little bees.” She flopped off the table, her wings beating erratically. She landed on the ground, and Eva crawled to the edge to see.
Gertrude lay on her side for a moment. Then she righted herself and slowly crept across the ground, narrowly missed by a huge pair of shoes. She called back, “I’m okay. Everything’s okay! Everything’s great!”
Eva followed Gertrude’s progress, holding her breath, until their new wasp friend disappeared into the bushes at the edge of the wall.
Eva didn’t have a good memory for how she, Hilda, and Dagmar finally made it back to the hive. And neither did they.
Mitzi Worker, their receiver bee, just buzzed in confusion and looked around her, trying to comprehend the waggling, bumping and weaving rears the girls were showing her as they accidentally bonked into each other.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this dance before,” Mitzi said, hesitant. “Um, can you do that again? I might be crazy but it looked like you just said ‘make a left at the dog’. Okay, there I’m definitely wrong. I’m pretty sure you’re not trying to tell me the flowers are burping.” She looked desperate.
Eva touched her gently on the leg.
Mitzi looked at her in panic. “I really did study. I just don’t understand. I haven’t been able to understand anyone coming in tonight.”
“It’s ok, sister. We’ll show you tomorrow.” Eva brushed the girl’s face with her antennae. “Be at peace, sister. Come with us tomorrow.”
“But I can’t, I mean I’m a receiver. I’m supposed to be here. Oh, let me get your pollen.” Mitzi collected the soggy nectar-soaked gloop from all of them and disappeared into the brood comb.
The next day, Eva crawled from the hive entrance wondering if her antennae were going to fall out. And it felt like some crude human boy was trying to pull her wings off, but there was no one to sting. She meandered aimlessly, gathering pollen from the numerous park flowers along the way to…somewhere. The colors were too bright and the ultraviolet felt like it would sear through her eyes. But the flower nectar along the way was nice and sweet.
Then she happened upon the human drinking place where she had been last night. Her sisters had somehow beat her there and they buzzed lazily around the profusion of flowers that lined the low wooden and brick walls.
Gertrude had made it back to her nest safely. Now, Eva saw with relief, the young wasp was feasting once again at a great piled platter of meat tubes five times as large as any yellow jacket nest. There was another wasp with her who occasionally pushed her out of the way of a human’s hand, as the enormous human male piled the meat even higher. The golden silk-haired male smiled and waved his huge hand at the other humans who stabbed and took the meat with long shiny, forked stingers.
Gertrude dived at one of the reaching hands, and her wasp friend knocked her to the side and herded her towards the table Eva had landed on nearby. Eva smelled, with a shock, that Gertrude’s friend was male.
“You’re going to get us squashed, Gertrude!” he exclaimed. “The humans will have their meat too. There is too much to carry it all back anyway.” He almost stopped in mid-air as he spied Eva. “There, Gertrude, there is your meat. Bees! They are less dangerous. No match for us!” He dived toward Eva before she could react.
But this time it was Gertrude who shoved at him, knocking the small male clear across the table and into a glass, to the exclamation of its owner. The woman stared at the doused wasp for a moment and then fished him out with her fork and flicked him on the ground and ignored him. Gertrude rushed to his side as he shook his sopping wings out.
She exclaimed, jerking her antennae at Eva, “No Klaus, you old drone! Not these bees. They are my friends. We shared human nectar together.”
As Klaus edged out of the way of passing shoes, and began climbing the rough wooden table leg, Gertrude flew back up and explained, “His mating time is almost passed and he has not found a queen yet. He’s cranky. So I brought him here to taste of the human nectar. That will put fire in his abdomen!”
Klaus clacked his mandibles at Gertrude, and a wave of irritated hormones nearly knocked Eva sideways.
Hilda and Dagmar settled next to Eva. They had Mitzi in tow. Her eyes roamed the first scenery she had ever seen or smelled outside the hive. The diminutive bee wobbled a little on landing. All her sisters already smelled faintly of the nectar. So did Gertrude, Eva realized.
It did smell tantalizing. Even crotchety old Klaus seemed intent on preening every last drop from his legs, body, and then from the table. Finally he hopped back onto the rim of the glass he’d been dunked into, while its owner talked with other humans.
“Excuse me, fraulein,” he slid down into the liquid.
Eva shivered in a bee shrug and selected a glass of amber nectar she hadn’t tried yesterday.
As the day wore on, and she peered around and smelled, she realized that many new members of the hive wobbled among the glasses in this human place. And quite a few wasps from Gertrude and Klaus’ nest too. The humans half-heartedly waved their hands around to dispel the bees, but mostly watched them wade in the cups, amused.
Some time and several glasses later, Klaus snuck up and buzzed in Eva’s ear. “You are looking very royal tonight, Fraulein Bee!” His old wasp pheromones washed over Eva again like a magnetic wave.
She hopped away, since she could no longer fly straight. “Agh, you’re a wasp! I’m not your type, Herr Klaus, please.”
He tottered after her on the table for a step or two, and then tangled up his legs and fell onto his mandibles. He gazed at her and wiggled his rear at her longingly with his nectar-goggled eyes. Eva passed the rest of the evening crowding close to Gertrude, who probably wasn’t much of a safer choice.
A couple weeks later, the bees, wasps, and humans were still communing in the beer garden. And before leaving the hive one morning, Eva noticed the odd lumpy shape of the new combs they were building. It looked as though a human child had tried building combs out of chewed up gum.
One of the larvae that had been deposited into an odd-shaped cell wiggled and gave her a skeptical scent, “Who built this, and what were they thinking?” And then there was a musky frustrated scent, “I think I’m stuck.”
As Eva was leaving the hive, Mitzi, who had been tasked with re-paving the hive entrance with propolis, had stuck herself in the goo to the wall instead. She wiggled her legs, dangling and laughing, “Hey, look! No legs!”
Eva sighed and pulled her down as the sticky gel congealed on the girl’s abdomen. “You could have suffocated yourself! No more human nectar for you!” She pointed to Mitzi’s air holes almost blocked by the glop covering the rest of her belly.
On her way to the human drinking place, Eva passed Klaus and Gertrude, who were muttering to each other.
“The nest looks like the wasps working on it were missing their brains,” Klaus complained.
“So they’re a little different.”
“Different? They’re upside down! In my day, we never built them like that!”
“In your day, they were trapped in rock, Herr Klaus!”
“I tell you, this nectar isn’t a good idea anymore.”
The bee queen had the same notion. That night a decree went out from Eva’s Queen that the human drinking place was off limits for nectar collection. All of the workers buzzed in disappointment. Eva wasn’t surprised.
They resumed their pollen collection and resorted to flying farther to other patches of flowers in the park. As Eva snuck a peek into the human nectar park once, it looked like a similar decree had gone out among the wasps. There was not a single one in sight.
Eva came across another drinking park a couple times, farther into old Munich, and spied some of her sisters there. A few days later, when their combs and honey started smelling of the human nectar again, the decree went out that there was to be no collection of human nectar anywhere.
The day after the new decree, Eva and her sisters moped to the boring flower gardens and sill boxes around the rest of the city. There was much to do to prepare the cells for winter.
One overcast day, as fall approached and the air had a hint of crispness, the yellow jackets came from everywhere. Bullet shapes rained from the sky around the Langstroth box in which Eva’s hive was nestled.
Every season, the hive drilled and prepared for this predator attack. This was the first time Eva and her sisters had actually witnessed it.
Eva thought, Things should have been different this season! What about Gertrude?
In their confusion, the bees took a precious few moments to realize what was going on before the acrid alarm scent blasted through the hive. Eva swarmed out of the hive entrance and encircled the nearest dive-bombing wasp, with her fellow workers, in a vibrating ball of bees. The temperature in the bee sphere rose to deadly levels for the frantic wasp.
Eva shook with fear and anger. How dare those wasps? I thought Gertrude was so nice, once she stopped trying to kill me!
That thought just made Eva angrier. She beat wind from her wings so hard the whole yellow jacket nest would feel the blast, she decided. The panicked wasp at the center of the ball bounced off the bees around her, and lunged with her stinger. A couple of bees dropped, but the vibration and heat was so great that the wasp just weaved and rattled helplessly.
You can just cook, you lying flesh-eater! Eva thought.
The wasp convulsed and sunk to the ground. The ball of angry bees dissipated and swarmed another wasp target. As a few of Eva’s sisters dropped from wasp bites and stings around her, she blasted a nose-ful of defiance, and dived for the wasps with abandon.
Vibrating bee balls surrounded several of the wasps, as the fight escalated. The air was a sea of sparkling wings and the deep humming drone of battle. As Eva hesitated in awe, a wasp landed on her back and slammed her down in the air.
But as the great mandibles loomed around her head, another missile hit the wasp and tumbled them into the nearby tree trunk. “I saaaaave yoooou, mein little beeeeeee!”
Gertrude! Eva realized, with a jolt of surprise.
“Surround me, quickly! We must talk! So the nest does not see!” Gertrude flew at her as though she would sting. A ball of workers swarmed Gertrude, but Eva fought to the center, to meet Gertrude.
“Don’t kill her, she’s not an enemy! She helped me!. She’s just faking so her nest sisters don’t see!” Eva scented to the others.
Hilda, Dagmar, Bruna and a few others started looking at each other and faltering.
“No, don’t stop or the other wasps will know,” Eva continued. “Gertrude, talk quickly.”
Gertrude wiggled uncomfortably in the heat but didn’t try to sting anyone. “I am a Loyal Worker. My queen is Mother. But we do not need to hunt you. I will convince my Queen to let us all go back to the human drinking place. There is plenty of meat and nectar there. She became angry that the nest was growing lopsided. She said nectar was making us sloppy and lazy.”
“Do you think it will work?” Dagmar asked, her buzz almost lost in the violent vibration.
“I think so. I don’t know. I will try. Ok, I go now. Too hot.”
The bees dropped away from a dizzy Gertrude, just as a broom pummeled down towards her from a giant angry human.
“Get away from my hive, you wasps! Agh!”
Eva dove at the net-covered man waving the broom, and signaled her sisters to swarm him and help Gertrude escape. They dodged the flailing human and kept him distracted. Gertrude buzzed away erratically, still dipping from the disorientation of the ball, and almost flew into a tree.
Eva refused to go for pollen until every bee in the hive repeated her waggle dance that told what Gertrude, Friend to Bees, had done for them.
She waggled for two days, while Bruna clacked at her to get to work. Hilda, the best waggler, picked up the dance and soon the hive was full of bumping behinds. Every time two bees met outside the hive, they did the dance. Finally, at the end of the third day, the decree came from the Queen that the human drinking place was back on the list of approved nectar-gathering sectors.
That very afternoon, Eva drifted into the flowered human enclosure that smelled of salt, smoke, flowers and at least four different varieties of everyone’s favorite human nectar. The twinkling lights swayed overhead in the breeze, as Gertrude and Klaus perched on a child’s meat tube. They argued about which of the nectars were making them build their cells more lopsided, and which were sweeter. Then they jumped, and flew over to Eva as the human child extended a pudgy thumb to poke them.
All around Eva, bees and yellow jackets feasted and drank together, occasionally calling for a new companion to pull them out of a glass.
I hope you got a kick out of the story! If you have any funny animal stories you want to share, please feel free to post a link!