Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

House Hunting

   Okay so I'm taking a creative writing class at the local community college, and I revised1 this story, originally titled "Marching Orders" (that was the original prompt when written for LJ Idol), for class and submission to the college literary magazine.

1 and revising an existing story is officially okay.

   So I know traditionally no one is online on Sunday and not a god damn one of you commented on my last update, but I want to submit this via email tomorrow (Sunday) so if I'm gonna get feedback it needs to be now. So.. here it is:

Constructive criticism please

   The aroma of backyard barbecues hangs in the warm afternoon air. Insects, leaves, and the odd dandelion puffball drift lazily out of the shade of the sidewalk and appear to glow in the sun as they float over the quiet suburban street. In branches above the sidewalk, sparrows hop about. Dorothy, however, does not see them. It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate such things --she does-- but the roots of trees have pushed up great undulations in the sidewalk, requiring attentive foot placement. Nor does she hear the birds’ twittering, because, though she’d rather not be, she’s on her phone. Low hanging leaves of a willow tree brush her head as her phone call comes to an end. She stops and lets out a deep breath, sliding the phone into her pocket. Well that didn’t go as bad as I feared she thinks to herself, readjusting her aviator sunglasses, but I guess I need to find a new roommate now.
   She becomes aware of a buzzing sound. Not the astringent whine of high tension wires, but a soft organic hum. She turns a slow three-sixty but sees only the street, peaceful front yards, settled houses, a cautious squirrel. She purses her lips to the side in puzzlement. Slowly, she turns her gaze upward. Just inches above her head, hanging from a low branch is a solid basket-ball shaped mass of honeybees. She lets out a shriek and runs down the street.

   A bee we'll call Melissa lifts off from the swarm, swoops down under the branches and then rises into the sunlight over the street. Keeping an eye out for predatory birds, she passes between two houses and banks to the left. At a particular point a few hundred yards later she swings to the right, descending to alight on the cream colored wall of a house, just below the roof pitch.

   Twenty-five days ago she'd first emerged from a brood cell, born into a dark world of crowded walkways between sheets of wax comb. The vertical thoroughfares bustled with 60,000 of her sisters, the air was filled with an intriguing concoction of musky smells, Melissa thought it was simply paradise. Her head and midsection were covered with fuzzy blonde hair, her abdomen with elegant goldenrod-and-black stripes.
   She got to work immediately, cleaning out the hexagonal wax cubby she had just emerged from, and then moving on to nearby ones. As the days went on she instinctively rotated through the various forms of employment all bees go through, from cleaner to nurse bee to wax builder. She quickly found that there was no vacant space to expand the wax combs, which drove her up the walls. She started building peanut shaped “queen cells,” which would allow the creation of new queens so the hive could send its excess population out as “swarms” to start new colonies. Other bees, noticing the same signs, built queen cells as well, and soon there were a dozen of these wax peanuts on the edges of the comb, being provisioned for queen rearing.
   She moved on in the employment cycle. Taking a turn at guard duty she ventured outside for the first time, discovering a wide airy world out there, but she rarely ventured from the knothole high on an oak tree that served as the hive’s entrance. Finally at the age of about twenty days she took flight for the first time, becoming a “field bee,” searching the neighboring yards, gardens, and parks for water, nectar, pollen, or tree resin, depending on the hive’s economic needs.

   Back in the present, an elderly woman peers out her window at the swarm of bees on a branch in the willow tree in front of her house.
   "Leroy!” she calls out to her husband in a slightly screechy voice, “Leroy! You need to do something about those darn hornets out there! They're going to bite somebody!"
   "Okay, okay," responds her husband from their lime green kitchen, without looking up from an article in the newspaper about the economic needs of the country. “I'll call the po-lice, I guess. …in a minute”

Elsewhere, Melissa climbs into the gap between the roof and the cream colored wall on the house she's landed on. Inside, there is a cavity between the outer wall and the inner drywall. It’s dry and dusty and doesn’t smell at all like home, but Melissa sees potential. She crawls along the sides, taking note of the distance. She calculates the area to contain about ten gallons of cubic space -- ideal. There’s also only a very small entrance, which bees on guard duty will appreciate. Altogether Melissa reckons it’s an excellent piece of real estate. She can picture it filled with honeycomb and bees and all the smells of home. Already there are about two dozen other scouts from her hive here, excitedly making their own inspections.

   Two days ago the first new queen emerged from her chamber. There was a tapping sound as if she were using a little hammer, and then she popped open a circular section on the end of her queen cell, opening it outward as if it were a hatch. She crawled on out, and contemplated the fragrant concoction of pheromones and other smells anxiously. Though her head and midsection looked very much like Melissa’s, her abdomen was about twice as long, tapered like a stubby carrot, a glossy orange with only a vague hint of black stripes. She’s sure to be noticed by the lads.
   The old queen (whom we'll call Queen Beeatrix) left shortly after her replacement emerged – we can imagine she waited just long enough to give her some parting advice and wish her luck-- and about a fifth of the bees left with her. A swirling whirlwind of bees, emerged from the oak tree and proceeded only a short distance, across one backyard and then another, over the house and gathered on a branch overhanging the sidewalk. They settled in a sort of ball shape, with only a few bees in contact with the branch, most of the bees hanging on to those bees or hanging on to bees that were hanging on to those bees, a monkey-chain of bees. Field bees, such as Melissa, set out to scout for a more permanent home.

   A police car has arrived and the officer is very anxiously putting caution tape around an area enclosing everything within one hundred feet of the swarm.
   Elsewhere, an exterminator is sitting in his work truck eating a burrito from the Del Taco 99 Cent Menu. His phone rings.
   “Hello? Yeah? Mhm.” He wipes some sour cream off his stubbled chin as he listens to the dispatcher. “Emergency hornet call?? Well we don’t have hornets here of course but I’ll get right over there, whatever it is. What was that address again?” he wolfs down the last of the burrito in several huge bites and starts punching "104 Emerald Street" into his GPS while still chewing. He has sour cream on his face again.

   Back on Emerald Street, Melissa has returned to the hive and begins to advertise the location she was looking at. She begins a "waggle dance," shimmying and twirling, across the surface of the swarm cluster, shaking her rump and shimmying some more, thus describing the exact location to the other bees.

   Other scouts are doing similar dances, a shimmie, shakeshake, twirl, shimmie, but most are doing the same dance as Melissa. To the bees, the dances are both practical directions and a vote, and since a majority are now running advertising campaigns for the same location, the bees prepare to move. Melissa and others begin trumpeting, making a sound like a tiny kazoo. Upon hearing the piping, all the bees of the swarm begin to warm up for flight. They decouple their wing muscles, and vibrate them “out of gear,” like a car running the engine while in neutral. The buzz of the swarm suddenly rises from a mere whisper to an energized hum.

The exterminator pulls off the freeway a few blocks away, decelerating down the offramp. He switches off the radio so he can concentrate on the directions. In the back of his truck sit a number of buckets in which he puts the honeycomb he removes from walls. "DO NOT EAT" is emblazoned upon them in big red letters, because he sprays bee colonies with a pyrethroid gas -- a synthetic version of the natural pesticide "pyrethrum" produced by chrysanthemums. The bees it doesn't kill outright spin on the ground like tops for a minute or two before dying. Any person foolish enough to eat the infected honey is recommended to immediately go to the hospital and have their stomach pumped. People still try to eat the honey out of the back of his truck though.

   The surface of the swarm is the last to heat up. As the piping bees feel the outside reach flight temperature they begin racing along the surface with their wings spread out, making sure the temperature is the same all around and everyone is on the same page.

   The exterminator truck rounds the corner and rolls down the street. It rolls to a stop just outside the fluttering yellow police tape, and the exterminator gets out of his truck. He pulls on protective white coveralls with attached mesh veil, wrapping red duct tape around his ankles to prevent bees from getting into his workboots. He searches the truck for two green rubber gloves, and after finding five lefts he finally finds another right and pulls them both on. Finally he pulls a nozzled canister out of the truck and saunters over to the low branch at the centre of the police tape circle, and looks up.
   There's nothing there except a small amount of wax the bees had attached to the branch.

   Across the street to the west, a cloud of bees is just passing between two houses. In front of the cloud, Melissa and the other scout bees dart ahead to show the way and then slow down for the cloud to catch up. A small child playing in his backyard stands and stares in awe at the cloud of bees that passes harmlessly around him. The air is filled with an all-encompassing buzz.
Arriving at their destination, Melissa and the other scout bees land around the entrance and use their wings to fan out a lemon-scented pheromone to help the rest of the swarm find their way in. Within a couple of minutes they're all safely moved into Dorothy's wall.

yes I know, it's technically not a hive if its not in a man-made box, artistic license here.

There's also this sequel to the original version
And a lot more appearances of this Dorothy here.
Tags: bees, fiction, honeybees
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