The first accursed vibration resonates through me, causing my flower’s petals to bounce and sway precariously as they take in the shock. Plop. A tremor runs up my legs, and I struggle to stay put as I sway back and forth. Plop. Another drop descends almost directly upon me, and a shiver racks my body. I flutter my wings and half-fly, half-fall towards the nearest patch of undergrowth. I hear the pounding up above, beading and reaching past the shady foliage that protects me.
After several feverish hours, the pour abates. In the storm's wake, the occasional droplet plummets to the earth, alone. I release a stiff hold on my leafy haven and ascend through the thick evening air. Soon, wisps of saccharine sweetness swirl around me, the honey’s welcome tugging at me, calling me home. I oblige, buzzing my way on. But something is off. The night life is too quiet, the usual nightlife banter a mere murmur. The cloying scent that presses against me comes in quivering waves, as if the air itself were trembling with expectation and thrill and fear.
And then I see it.
All I can do is watch as those monstrous claws dig into the tree—our tree—and the furry thing heaves its way up, head tilting left and right as it inspects my home, sizing it up. It hurls its huge paw up, those dagger-like tips carving out a chunk of our beehive, which dangles precariously, before toppling to the ground. I’m almost near enough now, and can hear the buzzing, blinding rage take over my companions as the ratel—or honey badger, as some call it, but that is far too dignified a name for this beast—drops down, almost nonchalantly, to collect its bounty.
They attack. The first of them hurtles after it, vengeance on her mind. She dips and dodges past low-hanging branches, and bullet wired for one thing: hit the target. Once she is close enough, she rears up, wings straining from the sudden weight, and harpoons herself at the impostor.
This only seems to irritate it. More descend upon it in a relentless onslaught. They dive and pierce and die by the dozens, bringing their lives to a heroic, plummeting close after that deadly sting. Soon, I am charging among them, staring into that ugly, greyish coat. I’m still flitting to and fro by the time another wave of bees bears down on it, their bloodlust making them plunge down and fall just as fast. But I am still here, buzzing in front of those obsidian eyes, buzzing around that fat excuse for a neck, and backtracking to buzz towards its puggish snout as it gorges a mouthful of our babies. And then it’s off.
In the aftermath, the hive remains frenzied, the whole entity palpitating to a common beat, mourning the hole left behind by the fallen souls. Honey stains the ground like blood, dripping from the hive like a gaping wound; bees are strewn around, fallen soldiers amidst the silence that hangs heavy upon the battlefield; a wavering memory is all that is left of our young ones. I flit from one place to another, salvaging what I can, averting my eyes when I spot an old companion convulsing faintly. That should’ve been me. I should’ve been a part of those who stung and sacrificed themselves for the hive. I should have. And yet I didn’t—I couldn’t.
What had driven them to choose this dead-ended path?
I know it will be back. Once they find us, these things never stop coming—unless we kill them. And the next time it comes, I’ll be waiting.
Dusk is fast approaching. The first celestial bodies seep up the sun’s ebbing light as it falls away, those waning webs of light shying from approaching shadows. Most have retired by now, but a few of us remain awake, keeping vigil over the sleeping hive. Twilight stills and hushes all. It is a silence of retreat, an intimate introspection too sacred to set forth, too guarded to express. It is the exploration of oneself, too tangled to discern, and yet, on a visceral level, of such simple weave and make. However, when self-discovery brings forth an inevitable truth which defies one’s very nature…
Would it be selfish to go down a path other than that of sacrifice?
A faint, scraping sound ripples through the night. My watch companions flit their wings, ever quicker, and I feel my own alarm rise with theirs. The tree heaves beneath the brute’s weight, bark peeling off in a long, agonised groan; the hive begins to stir as the threat is recognised and earlier enmity flares up once again. Instead of a confident rush, all I feel is panic blooming in my thorax. With nothing else in mind, I wind my way around my home, waking the last few laggards to face the threat as one.
Just as before, the air trembles with bloodlust and anticipation. Except that this time, I am in the hive, instead of out, and the thrum fills my head, clouds my senses, brings me fully alive. The unborn larvae seem to quiver apprehensively within their cells. I spare them a regretful glance. An alabaster larva suddenly juts out of its alcove, hurtling towards me, and I dart off to the side, bewildered, and—it’s a claw, a sharp, murderous claw that comes towards me and then loops out and away. The section of honeycomb that stood between me and the outside world moments ago now yawns like a missing tooth, raw and grisly from the tear. The droning intensifies as each soldier rushes past me from both outside and in, sweeping me into the mass as they assail the predator. I find myself pressed up against it, the tight formation leaving neither space for breath nor any alternative to attack.
The buzz dies down, one bee at a time, as the ratel either shakes them off or takes the sting. A wave of nausea overcomes me as I watch—or rather, feel—as stingers tear out of abdomens, a string keeping them attached to each individual as they disengage, akin to an umbilical cord. That string. Like a reel unfolding, their life’s thread is spun and measured and just as swiftly cut short.
The ratel shrugs the last of the expiring bees from its fur, loping off gaily after a good night’s hunt. I am curled up in my usual spot, trying—and failing—to ignore the distressed fluttering that fills every crevice and echoes throughout the hive. It feels less like the earlier pumped up throb of excitement, than the wheezing pants of the doomed.
I wind my way out of the hive, embracing the sweet caress of light—and the relative safety it brings. But I can’t help feeling useless as I fly off to tend my usual duties. Sure, we’re busy buzzing all day, taking pollen to and fro, we work away to try to make enough honey to face each upcoming winter and keep the hive alive; but all of this work, all those blobs of sticky syrup which we painstakingly create… What is all our slaving away really worth, when a mere pug-faced demon can snatch it all away so quickly? Perhaps the trick is just to follow the flow, let others carry you along just as they did last night when my frozen, dumbstruck self was unable to react on my own. Sooner or later though, a choice is inexorably pressed upon us. Stay or sting? Flee or fall?
We are a unit, that willingly gives lives to and for itself. Or so I was told. And isn’t that what we so eagerly do? Throwing our lives away to try and protect a queen and hive that have never helped us or alleviated our ceaseless working? Dying a grim, gruesome death spurred by delirium? Is this what I want to do?
Thoughts tumble around my head, shoving each other around in a struggle to reach the forefront of my mind. All of a sudden, my senses narrow in on a plummeting spot, slicing through the air in a soft whoosh. Then follows a soft plunk as it strikes the earth, and several other plunks as more hail pelts down and they melt together in a gorish slosh.
I flinch as the first of those waltzing missiles shoot past me, and, without pausing to contemplate them, I continue my sudden drop towards the nearest shelter. Each pitter-patter is a thunderous boom beneath the leafy greens’ cocoon-like embrace. The hollow resonance extends and compresses my thorax at will, reducing my breath to a strained rasp. My attention is focused so entirely on my most immediate threat, that I almost fail to notice the one whose eyelid flickers open to reveal a shiny, obsidian orb.
My flustered breathing pauses in the midst of its flailing, only to take up an even wilder beat, stumbling and speeding up like a prey on the run. The monstrous thing hasn’t moved an inch, content to observe my distress from afar as I flap, my hesitation plain in the twitching of my wings and thoughts, which bring me neither near nor far. And suddenly the grey cloud of indecision dissipates, and there is only me and my churning blood, radiating wrath in roiling waves.
The sink of my stinger into flesh sends a drunken rush and shiver up my body, and that sluggish orb is abruptly not so black anymore; the crimson river that flows from it crowns my triumphant glee. But then reality dawns, bearing down on me until my own expression mirrors that of the unblinking eye before me. Pure instinct makes me pull away, recoiling from the potential danger despite the screaming signals of my brain. A subtle tug in my abdomen makes me twist around—too late. The ashen thread unfolds before my eyes, spun and measured and cut.