The Queen Bee, Part 3 of 7
The queen bee dispatched thousands and thousands of honeybees to sting Ross to death for attacking Paige. The bees traveled slowly, stopping frequently to eat nectar and pollen or drink at the river. They spent the night in a hollow tree. The bees intended to reach the restaurant the next day, but Ross biked past them. As the bees chased him, he called Joan, the local bee authority.
Joan dressed quickly, hurried to the bee shed for a bee suit, and checked on Paige’s hive.
Upon opening the hive, Joan estimated 20,000 bees were chasing Ross, and the present bees buzzed irritably. The bee queen scuttled into a corner. Joan placed her inside the jar, which had holes punched in the lid.
Several dozen bees flew from the hive and landed on Joan’s hands.
“Did you send bees to sting Ross?” Joan asked.
The queen bee flew up and down steadily, a positive answer.
As soon as Joan unscrewed the lid, the bees flew from her hands.
Approximately 40,000 bees followed Joan to the cottage but hovered outside. Joan prohibited bees inside the cottage. In order of against whom the bees were most likely to hold a grudge, Joan worried about Melanie, Emma, Norman, Paige, herself, and anybody else who interfered with the bees. Joan’s bees defined “interfering” as “anything humans do to the hive,” but, on account of the benefits and stability, they tolerated the humans’ ignorance of proper hives and colonies.
Joan required an informed person of an age of majority to drive the pickup. She called Melanie, the closest suitable person, saying there was a rather serious, peculiar bee emergency. Then Joan called Emma to warn her the bees were chasing Ross and, in case the bees threatened any human, Joan canceled the day’s usual work.
Melanie hurried to Joan’s cottage, bringing along anti-bee weapons from her attic, while Joan collected her things and Ross hid from the bees in a petrol station restroom. On the drive, Joan explained the situation to Melanie. Ross listened over the phone and updated them about the bees.
“We need to kill the bees,” Melanie snapped.
“Once we rescue Ross, the swarm will go home,” Joan said, already preparing to exterminate them before they found another way to kill Ross.
“The swarm will follow him,” Melanie said.
“But Ross will come to my cottage and the bees will want to rest their weary exoskeletons in their hive.”
“When do we trap them?”
“We shan't discuss it here.”
“Why? Because the bees might overhear?” Melanie asked, rolling her eyes.
Melanie sarcastically identified the real reason. Joan thought the bees understood speech enough to report extermination plans existed. She said, “We need to rescue Ross first.”
“Killing the bees will rescue him,” Melanie said.
“I agree with Melanie,” Ross said.
“We shall do one thing at a time and we need time indoors, in the same room, to gather our thoughts,” Joan said.
“Oh, we have two thoughts between the three of us. Kill the bees or let them kill Ross,” Melanie said.
The bees examined the petrol station for entrances and coincidentally blocked the automatic doors, which they thought were windows. How humans entered the hive baffled them. Other customers drove away to a different petrol station or else the bees would have learned to activate the doors.
Joan sucked the bees into her bee vacuum, then emptied the bees into a swarm box with a plugged hole cut in the top. She blocked the entrance, placed a funnel into the hole, and Melanie gleefully flooded the hive with gallons of soapy water, drowning the bees.
The extermination saddened Joan, but she believed it was right and necessary. Ross wanted to know why she tricked the bees and Joan promised to explain once he wore a bee suit and sheltered in a safe place—the closet under her stairs. Melanie and Joan intended to tape up the cottage’s vents to protect him from an incursion and drew the curtains and blinds.
Dressed in extra layers, Emma approached the cottage’s front door. She walked calmly and quietly around the house to investigate. Most bees bearded the walls and windowsills. Bees buzzed around the front and back doors and before both stories’ windows. Individual bees hovered between the clusters and other bees snacked on Joan and Norman’s flowers or napped inside them.
Emma forced herself to smile but remembered the bees smelled alarm pheromones. With fake cheeriness, she said, “Hello, bees! It’s just me, Emma.”
The bees turned to look at her.
“Excuse me, please.”
The bees flew aside enough for her to reach the door. She turned the locked knob—and expected trouble. Joan and Norman never locked their doors, but Joan gave Emma a key for emergencies, and when Melanie automatically locked the door. Emma fumbled with the lock, and while pushing it open, took one large step to enter the hall, and then slammed the door behind herself, locked it, and leaned against it.
Melanie, Joan, and Norman were in the hall next to the cupboard under the stairs, but they stopped arguing and looked at her for a second. Simultaneously, Joan said, “Emma, I told you to stay home,” and Melanie yelled, “I locked the door and it was supposed to stay locked!” and Norman said, “Don’t yell at Emma!”
With no idea what Melanie referred to and positive that Emma had nothing to do with it, Emma yelled, “I didn’t know!” Emma had controlled herself around Melanie very well for years and Melanie yelled at her first. She unwrapped the plaid scarf from her head.
A muffled man’s voice from the cupboard under the stairs called, “What’s going on? Did they get into the cottage?”
Discombobulated, Emma looked around for Ross, as Melanie examined her for bees.
“How did you unlock the door?” Melanie asked.
“I gave her a key,” Joan said.
“I found a swarm,” Emma said because it was her only explainable recent experience.
“We are quite aware of the swarms,” Joan said.
“Did they get in?” Ross asked.
“Who is in the cupboard?” Emma asked.
“Ross Andrews,” Melanie groaned.
“This morning has been a bit of an ordeal for Ross,” Norman said.
“Emma, best stay here and leave the door shut,” Joan said.
“Right,” Emma said.
“And put your winter things in the living room before you overheat. I heard you tell your mother about skipping work. Where does she think you are?”
“I’m here to help out since your family might be busy with Paige.”
Ross's demands for an explanation of the bees’ behavior (they showed him a picture of Paige’s face) delayed the argument, and just as it began, Emma interrupted it. Now the adults continued.
Emma obeyed and sat on the couch, playing a game on her phone with headphones on. Still, she heard Melanie, Joan, and Norman, and through most of the discussion, the living room and cupboard radiated awkward silence. Initially, convincing Melanie she misinterpreted Joan’s behavior was the hard part, and until Melanie calmed down, nobody could do anything about the bees.
To everybody’s surprise and Melanie’s indignation, Ross said that assuming the bees were as weird as they seemed, Joan’s earlier actions made sense. He wanted to know, since Joan did not sic the bees on him, how the bees found him. In retrospect, Emma realized the bees in Joan’s hat acquired Ross’s face and location. Joan had forgotten the incident, but once Emma mentioned them, she and the others, except for Ross, thought it a good explanation.
“I want to ask a question that you might find a bit rude,” Ross said.
“Ask away,” Joan said.
“How do I know you aren’t trying to kill me?” Ross asked. “No offense.”
“Excellent question,” Joan said. “Vengeance isn’t Christian.”
“The law says we can sue you,” Melanie said.
“You and the bees ought to be justly punished, but we shan’t seek revenge. And we forgive your cook and your business.”
Ross asked, “Enough to drop the suit?”
“No,” Melanie snapped.
“Thought as much. So if you did not tell the bees to attack me, why did they?”
Joan had told the bees the family sued the restaurant owned by Ross Andrews. Because the bees lacked the concept of suing, she theorized they thought Ross himself attacked Paige. Mentioning the chef at this point might provoke the bees to attack another victim, so the bees needed to think Ross attacked Paige. The humans unanimously agreed the chef and Ross deserved to live.
Also, Joan wondered if the queen bee thought she attacked another queen bee: Ross. If the queen bee knew the restaurant had employees, the employees could be considered worker bees. When a colony of bees entered another, colonized hive, the queen bees fought each other. Joan’s bees took over hives when they deemed it necessary, bringing along their queen to depose the other one, but Joan frowned upon it. Normal bees stole honey, requiring several thousand bees to assault the hive, but Joan’s bees preferred signaling her. She was fairly confident her bees did not revenge wrongs amongst themselves.
Joan wished that when the bees suggested poisoning Ross, she told the bees, “Don’t kill Ross,” which sounded ominous and threatening to Ross, who required further assurances Auntie Joan was not a murderer. Fortunately, her reputation for decades and her descriptions of the bees’ abnormal behavior convinced Ross she told the truth.
“We shall kill Paige’s bees,” Joan said.
“Can I help?” Emma asked.
“I ought not to ask a minor.”
Joan intended to limit provocations to chaos. A horde of 40,000 stinging bees alarmed her. The queen bee might plan a stinging ambush or find another murder method. And, like anybody when threatened, the bees might hide and find Ross before Joan and Melanie found them, or, they might attack immediately before Joan carried out her threat. If the bees naturally split off into groups, Joan intended to exterminate each group. But she worried about scattering the bees—even a hundred missing bees stinging the right places threatened Ross’s life.
Norman scootered to Emma as Joan and Melanie went into the kitchen.
“Hi,” Emma said.
“Hello,” Norman said. “Joan gave you the day off.”
“I don’t want you to lie to your mum.”
“But I would be helping, and we can’t let the bees kill Mr. Andrews, so it isn’t a bad lie.”
“Paige can’t come over for a few months and her mother gave me a list of approved websites. Could you please show me how to use them?”
While Emma helped Norman with things obvious to her, Joan and Melanie worked out a decent plan that terrified Ross as much as being stung to death by bees.
Reluctantly, Joan’s plans included Emma, simply because Melissa was unavailable. Melissa studied depictions of dragonflies on Zuni pottery in the United States and not only would she reach the cottage long after Emma’s 11:00 PM curfew, but the bees refused to let Emma leave, even when Joan asked. Standing for a few minutes or walking a short distance exhausted Norman, limiting his usefulness. Therefore, Norman promised to supervise and protect Emma while she participated in a physically challenging part of the plans.
Part 4 coming on December 11, 2023.
The Queen Bee, Part 2 of 7
The sight of the bees forming Ross’s face and deadly nightshade unnerved Emma. Prior to witnessing it, Emma assumed Joan exaggerated her bees’ picture-making skills, and Emma adjusted to it. Forming Ross’s face was extraordinary. To productively procrastinate in the apiary, she dusted and swept, and waited for Joan to find her.
The first year Emma worked at the apiary, Joan said that she had a weird array of precocious bee colonies, but loved them too much to alert scientists, who would take them away or interrupt their work. Joan quickly decided Emma was the right kind of person to keep her bees. Most other beekeepers were best suited to normal bees.
Upon hiring Emma, Joan said that only certain people, especially children, could see the bees’ shapes. Paige said that unimaginative adults outgrew it, which Emma wanted to believe. Emma wondered if some adults were children at heart.
“Why can they do that?” Emma asked.
“Do what?” Joan asked.
“I haven’t the faintest idea. We shan’t collect any honey from their hive this year, and next year, we must destroy the comb and honey. Too late in the year to do it now.” Joan got out her bee genealogy book and sat down.
“Did they come from a testing facility or something?”
“The bees simply became more intelligent over the years. But I’m glad you saw them and you can help me watch for funny honey.” Joan sighed. “They don’t understand Paige’s situation. It is a bit beyond them, to be honest. Please, don’t tell Melanie about them. She has enough to worry about, and you’ve probably noticed by now she doesn’t particularly like bees.” Joan worried about being a dotty old lady whose children would take her beloved colonies away and send her to a home. Ross’s face agitated her concerns. She said, “And I just need to check the colony’s family tree.
Emma proceeded with her normal work as Joan searched her genealogical records, which, especially regarding her own bees, rivaled Debrett’s Peerage & Baronetage. She and her younger daughter, Melissa, tracked hive queens as thoroughly as European royalty monitored each other’s successions. They even tracked down the bees she sold, but generally, investigating their offspring required a time machine. Many died without swarming. Joan spread out several of her other books, binders, and notebooks and continued researching.
“Do you know about my first husband?” Joan asked when Emma returned to the shed.
“Mum said not to mention him unless you did,” Emma said.
“Paige's bees trace back to a swarm from a particular hive. The hive had the same queen during the swarm and when the bees murdered Clarence."
Joan was born in a small row house with a garden too small and shadowy for a victory garden. Her parents kept a beehive to support the war effort. The queen bee filled the hive with normal, hardworking, healthy bees. Pollinating bees were essential for proper agriculture in the best or worst outcome of the War; Joan’s family’s bees might not have routinely reached the countryside, but families planted gardens across town and might already tend orchard trees. Later, Joan wondered if her bees traveled the maximum distance to do their bit. She spent most of her childhood under sugar rationing, but due to the family beehive, she or one of her siblings took turns having a birthday cake.
Soon after sugar rationing ended, Joan’s parents intended to stop beekeeping, but they let Joan maintain the hive herself. She sold honey and wished for more space. But her descendants of wartime bees seemed happy in the cramped garden. As a teenager, Joan must have noticed clever, storybook-like bees. Their intelligence and emotional microevolution were probably unobservable outside a laboratory. Shortly before Joan met Clarence, she noticed her bees were particularly vivacious compared to other beekeepers’ and she wondered if loving the bees biased her.
Even though Clarence despised bees and considered honey disgusting, he tolerated bees for Joan’s sake and admitted the world needed pollinators. He was not scared of bees and avoided them like they were a dog’s mess. Joan and Clarence loved each other anyway and married. When Joan told the bees, she gave them a slice of wedding cake. Clarence considered it and her many folksy ways silly, but he rarely outwardly objected to them. He gravitated towards the modern, developed world.
When Joan became pregnant with Melanie, Clarence vetoed the name Melissa—Joan excitedly pointed out the etymology before she stopped herself—and, therefore, he and Joan compromised with Melanie. Joan warned the bees when contractions began. She doubted Clarence intended to tell the bees on her behalf, but she visited the bees daily and the long interruption might discombobulate them like the rare days she felt too sick to notify them.
Clarence and Joan bought a house with a larger garden and he built a wooden fence around Joan’s bee yard and gave her a corner of the cellar. She kept three hives. She struggled to acquire books and scholarly bee research. The scientific articles baffled her and she had little opportunity to study science.
Joan sold the excess honey and harvested more beeswax than she needed or could give away. Concerning beeswax, she was more likely to break even than profit. Clarence discouraged her from expanding the bee business, or trying to sell the excess beeswax, or spending money on processing the disturbing beeswax. She sold bees, to his relief. Her bees evolved to the point Joan worried her sold bees alarmed beekeepers. Along with normal quarantine practices, she blocked their convenient view of other bees with a muslin screen.
Joan longed to expand the bee business somehow and suggested building hives. However, she needed to learn the necessary carpentry skills (Clarence refused to teach her), he disliked people borrowing his tools and deemed another set too expensive, and the idea was a probably an unprofitable, expensive venture. Then Joan suggested a cookbook—knowing full well that Clarence objected to honey-contaminated food since only she and sometimes Melanie ate it. Finally, Joan suggested renting hives to farmers. The hives spent the growing season on the farmer’s land and in the garden through the winter, when nobody bothered with the garden. However, Clarence refused. In his opinion, Joan had more worthwhile activities than bee enterprises and Joan considered herself capable of both.
Over the generations, the bees began to respond to her, and she thought they understood some of what she said. They coordinated their flying into shapes and pictures. She considered herself incapable of experimenting on the bees. When Joan showed Melanie the pretty pictures, the bees scared Melanie. Joan expected it to appeal to children. She habitually did not tell Clarence bee matters, but this time, she needed to tell him. He declared the whole idea ridiculous and that Joan made up a nice story upon which Melanie’s imagination expanded.
To read, think, nap, or have some time to herself undisturbed, Joan sat in the bee yard. Her bees required less attention than Clarence thought. Often, she vented in a whisper to the bees—nobody could read it in her diary, overhear her because nobody else went near the bees, and there were no worries of spreading gossip or leading to a petty quarrel.
Melanie agreed with her father’s bee opinions more than Joan’s, possibly because Joan rarely contradicted Clarence. Keeping her opinions and facts to herself was easier and better for a good home life. She and Clarence usually had a good, peaceful home and a happy marriage, tensions arose from the bees.
Clarence gradually noticed the bees’ extraordinary behavior, hence Joan’s insistence they reveal themselves privately to select people. He thought it best Joan got rid of all her bees and, since he long ago resigned himself to her bees, begin again with a fresh strain. Knowing extermination distressed Joan, he suggested sending them to the government. The bees absconded and Joan spent several days searching for them and reassuring them of their safety. It convinced Clarence they needed to stay—he dreaded freaky bees swarming the countryside. Also, he insisted Joan stop selling swarms; she cooperated. She never sold swarms again.
Bee issues and their influence on other issues grew worse, but Clarence and Joan tried to work them out. Neither considered divorce. In her head, never to the bees, Joan wondered if she ought to exterminate the hives. Melanie and the bees seemed aware of the problems. As much as Joan and Clarence comforted Melanie, Joan theoretically comforted the bees.
One Sunday, Clarence was sick. Joan and Melanie walked to church and he stayed home. Joan finished cooking lunch and sent Melanie to find Clarence. Melanie found her father stung to death by bees. She screamed and cried incoherently, prompting Joan to search for her husband, still in his pajamas. Thousands of dead and dying honeybees surrounded and covered him. The garden hose continued running. It tangled around his legs and the medical examiner determined it tripped him. The medical examiner found bees in his ears, nose, and throat and stings directly on his eyeballs and tongue.
However, Joan had taught Clarence to defend himself from attacking honeybees.
The medical examiner called Clarence’s death an accident. Joan confessed to the police her bees had killed him. She could not prove it, except for a mostly empty hive from which she did not expect a swarm, but the police named her bees as the most likely suspect and that it was an accident. Joan wished the bees communicated more coherently to humans—the queen bee knew why the bees swarmed. She certainly never asked the bees to kill anybody, let alone want Clarence dead. Perhaps he provoked them. Just in case they attacked first, Joan banned stinging people to death.
Promptly, Joan euthanized the colony. Because the colonies which swarmed from it had not hurt anybody, she left them alone.
Joan brought a bit of funeral biscuit to the hives and draped them in black cloth. Sneakily at night, Melanie attempted to knock off the biscuits and tear down the cloth. Every flying bee flew far from the beehives; Melanie believed they intended to sting her to death. She ran to the house.
Then Joan bought her farm and a tractor and increased her bee business while working in town. Carefully, she placed the hives out of sight of the cottage and road. Bright violet fences marked a boundary beyond which she allowed synchronized flight only in emergencies.
Joan met Norman and quickly, she showed him the bees. Norman bolted into her apiary shed, but he met Joan halfway up the path. He apologized for his rudeness to Joan and the bees. Soon, Joan and Norman married. He and Joan brought a slice of wedding cake to the bees. While Joan recovered from delivering Melissa, he personally informed the bees.
Norman wanted Joan to keep bees if she liked it, and so she proceeded with her bee enterprises. He helped her in his spare time. People were familiar with Auntie Joan and her delicious honey and precious bees. She wished they called Norman Uncle Norman, but people practically ignored him; he did not mind.
For decades, Joan rented hives to farmers. Their crops noticeably benefited from her bees, and to a certain extent, the bees avoided cross-pollination. She positively forbade rented bees to make shapes under any circumstances. Melanie doubted they followed her instructions. Still, Joan never received a complaint or heard, “I think I almost saw the bees doing the oddest thing…” While collecting a swarm, Joan fell and the farmer helped her up approximately an hour later, wondering what took so long. Meanwhile, outside Norman’s office window, a swarm of bees bumped gently against the glass to get his attention. He followed it in the direction of the farm. Joan stopped renting hives. It explained why Joan told Emma, if a swarm of honeybees were in an unlikely new hive site, to follow the bees.
Local people believed from sheer lack of evidence that Joan’s bees were normal bees who made good honey, guaranteed to taste exactly as the pink and brown label said. Artisans ranked her pure beeswax among the best. Oddly, Joan refused to enter competitions; she said she was not competitive enough, but she also thought her honey was average.
Thanks to Joan’s bee-decline awareness pamphlets, school talks, and giveaway bee habitats, native bees repopulated the village and neighboring areas. They were perfectly normal, like the wild bees in Joan’s previous homes.
Nobody (or, at least, cynically theorizing, nobody other than Melanie, who would rather become a nude, avant-garde, interactive, eventually deadly public art installation than imply Joan’s bees were unusual) said, “Be nice to Auntie Joan or a bee will sting your eyeball.”
“Why are the bees protecting Paige?” Emma asked.
“They love her,” Joan said. Looking through her notebooks and books, she said, “And ones in that hive are hers, but her mum doesn’t want people to see them. But I heard Paige repeat Anglo-Saxon bee charms as she played outside. But who knows what else she said.”
“Magic isn’t real.”
“But the bees believe what they are told. I thought they were like nursery rhymes for bees, but children believe nursery rhymes as well. Here ’tis. Two charms for swarming bees, but the bees wouldn’t know its purpose.” Joan read the English translation of the first charm:
“’I take under foot, I have found it.
Verily earth avails against every creature,
And against mischief and mindlessness,
And against the great tongue of man.’”
“Paige memorized that?” Emma asked, skeptically.
“Or she substituted words quite close. She enjoys old books,” Joan said, and read the second translated charm.
“’Sit ye, victor-dames, sink to earth,
Never to fly wild to the wood!
Be as mindful of my good
As every man is of food and estate.’”
“How do they know it’s about bees?” Emma asked.
“They know when we speak to them,” Joan said.
Joan, Paige, and Emma talked to the bees and she and the beekeepers talked to each other. Emma considered a one-sided conversation with insects silly until she started. In addition to Joan’s wealth of bee folklore, stories, songs, quotations, and facts, on boring drudgery days, she reminisced about her family, sang songs, and told stories. She memorized some of it, promised it on their breaks if they worked quickly, or, when feeble, read aloud from her garden chair. Otherwise, unless it disturbed the bees, they listened to music, audiobooks, and the radio.
“Your bees swarm,” Emma said.
“Yes, but they always return or tell me they require a new hive. But they could have misinterpreted the words. My bees pass down information through the generations, or they might have understood enough to misinterpret it. My bees understand more than they communicate, like babies.”
Emma did not believe Joan’s full explanation. However, Emma certainly believed the bees wanted to murder Mr. Andrews and that Joan worried deeply. Joan’s worry scared Emma. And she did not want to be around murderous bees, but Joan did not seem worried for her and Emma’s safety. If she was, she would send Emma home or give her extremely specific instructions.
“Why don’t you go home until all this is sorted out?” Joan asked.
“You have a stressful time and a lot to do, so I want to help,” Emma said.
“Very sweet. Thanks. But if the bees scare you, you can leave. And, of course, come back to work when it is all sorted.”
“I’m all right.”
“And you can change your mind.”
Throughout the day, Emma considered quitting her job, but Joan might be too old to handle the situation and Norman was in a wheelchair. After discovering Norman’s body, Melanie might be too scared; Emma wondered if her trauma caused her hatred of bees, and so it now seemed a reasonable opinion.
Every effort has been made to find Anglo-Saxon charm translations in the public domain. If copyright law has been violated, please contact the author and the copyrighted content will be removed. The charms come from Translations from Old English Poetry. Translated and edited by Albert S. Cook and Chauncey B. Tinker. Ginn & Company: Boston, New York, Chicago, London, 1902. Page 167. Sourced from the Internet Archive, archive.org/details/selecttranslatio0000albe_y1i1/mode/1up. 11 November 2022. Online.
Part 3 coming December 4, 2023.
The Queen Bee, Part 1 of 7
The day after Paige’s birth, Joan informed her bees that she and Norman had a healthy granddaughter. Telling the bees about major family events was an old folk custom that kept the bees from swarming, lowering productivity, becoming sick or aggressive, and dying; the folklore that said which benefit varied regionally. Through her life, Joan tried to find out what telling the bees prevented. She thought the custom inexplicably benefited bees.
Weaning sent Paige into anaphylactic shock—she was allergic to onions, garlic, and other alliums. She suffered mild to moderate allergic reactions from direct contact with alliums, either edible or decorative. But eating them was potentially lethal.
Her grandmother, Joan, told the bees about her hospitalization and her recovery. Then many times through Paige’s life, the bees learned of her allergic reactions.
Paige spent school day afternoons with Joan and her grandfather, Norman, while her parents worked. Joan found ways to protect her from allium residue; Paige ate honey made from allium pollen with no reaction, but the bees left particles behind, and beekeepers rarely needed Joan’s stock of bee protective clothing. Joan warned her hired beekeepers about Paige’s allergy. Joan banned her bees from pollinating alliums and they obeyed.
Joan gave Paige a beehive for Christmas, though her mother, Melanie, insisted Paige’s hive live on Joan’s land. Paige painted flowers on it.
Beginning with Paige’s colony, Joan told the bees why Paige would not work with them for the foreseeable future. Thousands of bees swarmed out and buzzed anxiously; most worker bees already foraged elsewhere.
“Which mood is it?” Emma asked, walking up the path. Emma, Joan’s summer employee, recognized normal buzz, angry buzz, and cold buzz.
“Anxious, but now sad.” Joan’s hands were clasped behind her back, indicating she told the bees something.
Joan explained Paige’s condition in more detail to Emma than to the listening bees.
Melanie and Paige’s father (who divorced over problems stemming from Melanie’s hatred of Joan’s bees) refused to take Paige out to eat. For her eleventh birthday, she wanted to eat at a restaurant, more than anything else her family offered. Following weeks of arguing, her parents and grandparents grudgingly searched for a safe restaurant.
Joan sold honey to the owner of a local restaurant, Ross Andrews, and she recommended him. She and Melanie inspected it. Ross strictly and aggressively followed laws regarding the fourteen major allergens, so he seemed able to manage Paige’s rare allergy. As a favor to Joan, Ross personally supervised Paige’s meal on her birthday—he avoided being sued, he wanted repeat customers, and he felt sorry for Paige.
Paige was fine. She loved the meal, which agreed with her. Her parents promised to return.
Next time, though her parents suggested she eat the same thing she ordered before, Paige wanted to try something new. According to the normal recipe, the dish’s onion was mingled with other ingredients. The food tasted new, which she wanted. Her parents’ meals lovingly tended towards the cautious, reliable, and boring side.
Paige ate part of her meal before developing symptoms. Quickly, she went into anaphylactic shock and from a lack of oxygen, suffered brain damage. She relapsed.
Later in the day, most of Paige’s bees found Joan and Emma. They arranged themselves into Paige’s face.
“What about Paige?” Joan asked the bees.
The illiterate bees formed one of the patterns Joan routinely taught her bees: the cursive word ill. Normally, Emma justified the synchronized flying as pareidolia, but they formed very clear, purposeful patterns to certain people.
“Paige is ill,” Joan said. “And you can do nothing for her, but she will be all right. We have lots of work around the apiary. Let’s press on.”
The bees dispersed. To Emma, their body language seemed sympathetic, and, weirdly, the total effect of their body language and buzzing reminded her of children after a schoolyard fight.
Joan acknowledged that her bees behaved abnormally. She hid their behavior from most people, even beekeepers; Joan’s family and Emma were informed people.
Promptly, Ross investigated the cause of Paige’s reaction. He grated against one of the chefs, who ignored him at every opportunity. Further, the chef was skeptical that every so-called allergic person requesting changes to a dish legitimately was allergic. The irritated chef cooked Paige’s meal.
Therefore, Ross fired the cook, wrote a strongly-worded letter of condemnation (just in case the chef asked for a reference), and apologized to Paige’s family. Melanie sued Ross’s restaurant. Ross immediately agreed to settle the suit, though he hated the prospect and thought that the cook, rather than his restaurant, was the problem.
The queen bee wanted to find Paige and her attacker, whom the queen bee thought were in the same place. Generations of queen bees passed down knowledge. In this case, the queen bee thought because attackers of bees came to the beehive, attackers of humans went to the humanhive.
Scout bees peeked through the cottage’s windows, hoping to find Paige. Then the queen bee sent a scout bee escort wherever Joan went. The queen bee expected Joan to eventually lead the scout bees to Paige.
Joan considered herself too old to drive; five minutes after she began driving, the passengers agreed with her. So, Emma drove Joan in her old pickup to buy supplies or make deliveries. Joan asked Emma to drive her to Ross’s restaurant. She normally canceled orders over the phone or through email, but the unusual circumstances warranted an in-person cancellation.
“The lawyer said we ought not to contact Ross, and Melanie won’t drive me,” Joan said.
“Will you get into trouble?” Emma normally left uncomfortable situations, worried they might get her into trouble.
“Oh, no,” Joan said, waving the thought aside. “I simply shan’t sell honey to Ross.”
Emma thought of a good reason to refuse. “What about the police?”
“Thankfully, she won’t die, or they would investigate,” Joan said.
“And you won’t threaten Mr. Andrews or something?”
“Vengeance isn’t Christian.”
That seemed like a good trouble preventative and Emma agreed. She thought the unfamiliarity of her current situation made her uncomfortable.
Joan’s hearing aid blocked out the sound of bees buzzing onto her hat and off it and towards the restaurant. She wore false flowers in her hat to shelter bees from the elements, and in her purse she carried an emergency vial of water and another of sugar syrup.
While waiting for Joan, Emma read Joan’s extensive apiary notes. Anything else felt lazy and the notes interested her mildly. She liked her job, Joan, and Norman; Paige annoyed her a little bit, and some days she disliked Melanie. Apiculture appealed to Emma more than the few other jobs sporadically available.
Also, Melissa (Joan and Norman’s daughter and Melanie’s half-sister) paid Emma to tend her bees year-round and mail her the produce every autumn. Melissa lived in Arizona, a climate capable of scorching the dark European honey bees, so Joan put Melissa’s bees next to Paige’s hive. Melissa’s bees showed the same odd traits as Joan and Paige’s.
Emma noticed the fuzzy brown scout bees flying hastily back to the pickup.
“A couple scout bees want to talk to you,” Emma said. “Behind you.”
Joan turned around. “Did you wish to show me something?”
The bees flew side-to-side, meaning no, then buzzed towards Joan’s hat.
“Are they aboard?” Joan bent her head towards Emma.
“Yeah,” Emma said.
“Funny bees wanted an outing,” Joan said, lovingly. “But curious they came on a rainy day. We must bring them back on a nice day. Perhaps they wanted out of the rain today, but want to show me something later.”
Joan had a bad rheumatic day and the trip wore her out; she dozed in a garden chair with a blanket and hot water bottle. In such circumstances, Emma maintained the hives independently, but because Emma was a minor, Joan supervised with a walkie-talkie. Emma considered it silly. When Emma and Joan worked on different acres, Emma rarely asked her a difficult question over the walkie-talkie or for help in person. She had more experience than most other beekeepers Joan trained.
Emma noticed nothing unusual about the bees, or at least, nothing identifiable. Daily, large numbers of bees practiced pictures or synchronized flying and it could be confusing to humans. It made perfect sense to bees and was part of their extraordinary behavior. She re-checked the practicing bees regularly because the bees figured out how to communicate their problem. Whenever Emma approached Paige’s bees, she had the impression they were Behaving Themselves, like cheaters when a teacher looked over. Emma never saw a specific shape or a fragment, just lines, swirls, and blobs, which faded as she watched.
The weather improved and Joan felt much better. She went to the apiary shed every morning to prepare for the day. Technically, her entire farm was an apiary, but “apiary shed” or “apiary” referred to a specific outbuilding, distinct from “the shed,” which tidily held equipment, supplies, tools, and the like, with plenty of space for Joan’s bee extraction gear and building hives. She stopped extracting bees long ago and building hives several years ago.
The shed came with the farm, but Norman wanted Joan to have a nicer outhouse. The apiary was somewhere between a business office and study and contained everything Joan needed to sell honey, from packing to planning. It also housed her extensive books and notes. She processed honey and beeswax in an adjoining room. That year, Joan stopped selling propolis, royal jelly, and other products.
Paige’s bees hovered outside the glass and several tapped on it in unison to attract her attention, so Joan went outside.
“Now you had something to tell me?” Joan asked the bees.
Just then, Emma came round the side of the pastel pink apiary shed. Slowly, the swarm formed Ross’s face and a simple flower pattern: a five-pointed blossom, a couple of pointed leaves, and a cluster of circles. She recognized the deadly nightshade symbol from Joan’s Bee Phrasebook. Joan described and photographed it, but now Emma saw it live for the first and only time. According to Joan, bees collected pollen of some poisonous plants, ate the resulting honey, and were fine; the honey caused plenty of harm to people. As far as Emma knew, bees (other than Joan's) had absolutely no idea that certain plants poisoned humans. So, Joan taught her bees about local poisonous plants, including ones which made bees sick.
“No, no poisoned honey,” Joan said, resisting the urge to flap the bees away, since, understandably, the sweetest bee hated being hit and felt quite insulted and possibly threatened. “We can’t poison him. Vengeance isn’t Christian. Now stop it! Don’t make honey from deadly nightshade. Shoo!”
The bees’ shapes disappeared and the swarm flew to the hive.
Joan turned to return to the apiary shed and saw Emma. “Did you see them?” Joan asked.
“Was that Mr. Andrews’ face?” Emma asked.
“Yes, I believe it was,” Joan said, flustered. “But I told them not to hurt him. And they listen to me.”
“It looked like him and deadly nightshade.”
“And I’ve warned them about such clear pictures."
“Did he poison Paige?”
“She had an allergic reaction to onions. And I told them not to hurt him.”
Emma did not want to assume Mr. Andrews' face and deadly nightshade held together meant poison him, but if Joan believed it, she was prepared to. She asked, “Should we warn him?”
“They listen to me, and he might think it a threat,” Joan said. “I’d tell the police, but they don’t believe bees premeditate murder.”
"A policeman might need to see the bees’ patterns to believe it. What happens when forensics trace the bees to you?”
“The bees shan’t kill Ross.”
“How do you know?”
“They don’t know his address, and their little wings would give out. You needn’t worry yourself about Ross. I must speak to Norman quickly, but you can begin work.”
Norman comforted Joan. In his experience, the bees obeyed Joan. He agreed that the bees were intelligent and emotional—certainly good planners and able to attack other bees and honey eaters—but he thought premeditated murder was too complicated and human.
Part 2 coming November 27, 2023.
The Body Farm
Unknown to her at the time, Sarah survived the BASE jumping accident. It paralyzed her and fractured her skull, she lost consciousness, and she went into respiratory arrest in the ambulance. Just as she reached the hospital, she went into cardiac arrest.
A bright white light shone in all directions, and Sarah turned in a circle, looking up and down, confused. She was not in complete control of her own body. She remembered waking up in the morning, and then with difficulty, she remembered BASE jumping.
I’m dead? Sarah thought. But I checked the gear! I jumped from a safe, beginner height!
Contrary to her first reaction to her present predicament, Sarah realized that she was alive. She held still, unable to go into it or away from the light. She needed to escape, but emotionally, she had no reason to hurry or worry.
Sarah sensed something interacting with her body; the light muffled it. Slowly, the light hurt her eyes, as if they did not constrict, and while her lungs filled and emptied, something other than her body forced them to. Her heart beat after every dull crunch. The interaction stopped. Her heart stopped obstinately and Sarah thought, Come on. Beat. Why aren’t you? I’m still here!
The CPR resumed, paused, and repeated several times. She expected it to resume, but the break lasted longer. Sarah’s muffled sensations faded away.
I’m still here! Keep doing CPR! Sarah told her heart to beat and herself to breathe.
The light faded into a complete absence of colors, including black. Sarah could not feel her body and there was nothing to feel, even her own body’s orientation. It also did not smell or have a sound. Everything that she could sense when alive was absent. But now she remembered her BASE jumping accident and many other forgotten memories.
Sarah knew her body died, with both cardiac death and brain death, as much as she knew in the brightness, her body had been alive.
When she died, Sarah expected a void, but not to be aware of it. She refused to spend an afterlife in her condition, and where were the other people? Vaguely, she noticed something sinister about the void. If people existed after death, reincarnation made the most sense to Sarah. She believed in it for a while and changed her mind. Therefore, she was either alive or queued for reincarnation.
But Sarah sensed her body nearby, and the sinister thing shifted in the distance. Simultaneously, the void did not have a direction or anything to sense. Though recovering from her injuries daunted her and the imagined pain and hospital bills were possibly worse than being dead, Sarah wanted to live and see her family and friends again.
Suddenly, like forgetting a word she used every day and finally remembering it, or forgetting why she walked into a room, Sarah knew the void was not a place in which to exist for very long. Maybe it took a while for her to notice her body was non-functional.
Also, she wanted to escape the sinister thing. It began to scare her.
The sense of Sarah’s body faded away. She thought, I’m not dead. I’m too okay to be dead, but I’m too close to death to be alive. The obvious solution, which automatically popped into her mind and made perfect sense, was to be alive.
Now she needed to convince her body she was alive. Edging towards her body, she repeated, I’m alive!
The sinister presence followed Sarah but stayed far away from her. She developed a sense of impending doom. Although she did not believe in supernatural beings, she knew the sinister presence existed and wanted to kill her. Death seemed like the best name.
Sarah knew she had been in the void for a length of time. However, her thoughts and the events seemed to come at the same time, except for a brief moment when she realized she was not quite dead. As she repeated, I’m alive, time sped up—along with the sense of impending doom.
Eventually, the void faded into the brightness, a considerable improvement. Partly to her relief and to her distress, she physically felt more subdued than on her first trip to the brightness, and mentally, more alert. Sarah wanted to feel normal. She imagined how painful her injuries would be, but she preferred pain and stress to the void and the brightness. She preferred it to the void, but she wondered if Death could follow her there. It lurked beyond the brightness.
Sarah wanted to be donated to the body farm. If the body farm refused her donation, she wanted an eco-friendly burial, which meant the mortician would expect her to decompose in a wooden coffin. At least the forensic anthropologists intended to dig her up again.
Sarah’s body felt very uncomfortable and disconcerted, like her body was a football game which she watched a football game on TV rather than playing the game live. There was something wrong, but she struggled to identify it. She remembered falling 3,000 feet—and she loved it until the wind shifted and failed to inflate her parachute. That’s why I feel bad, she thought.
She thought about each part of her body from head to toe and determined she had a non-functional, stiff body, in the early stages of decomposition. Sarah assumed she lay on her back, but struggled to feel the environment. Although she sensed her body’s presence, she knew she was out of it. The realization made her feel mentally anxious, but physically, she had no symptoms, which simply alarmed her more. Breathing exercises helped if she ignored her inability to breathe.
Sarah decided to use grounding or mindfulness exercises to regain her senses. She tried, unsuccessfully.
I need a body, Sarah thought. As a mantra, she repeated, I have a body.
It worked—the brightness faded into a sensible environment that was Sarah’s body. Sometimes she returned to the brightness or left her body. One trip, the brightness alarmed her so much that she returned to the void and straight into Death. She escaped to the brightness with meditation. However, Death crept into it. If she tried too hard to escape it, she panicked and returned to the void. Death chased her but seemed incapable of following her into her body or dragging her out of it.
Eventually, with mantras, Sarah settled into her body.
Then, also with mantras, she activated her senses. Sarah tried to stabilize one before experimenting with another. At first, she felt like she was lying down and cold, then she heard a very faint, constant, white noise. She saw darkness. She had slight whiffs of her body with a metallic hospital taint.
I can’t be in a coffin, Sarah thought. They closed my eyes, or I’m in the morgue refrigerator, or inside a body bag.
As Sarah regained control over her senses, they faded away and came back spontaneously. Whenever her senses dimmed, she worried she was fading away and dying. She returned to the brightness or the void occasionally, each time with more of her senses intact. Upon returning, her senses required less concentration.
Sarah sensed her environment indistinctly, but she increased her senses and decreased them until they seemed normal or, in the case of pain, tolerable. She strained her sense of taste until her mouth tasted foul. The longer she tasted, the more she hated it. With the sense of pain, she discovered that she had bitten through her tongue. Through the refrigerator, she heard the morgue attendants work. Scents floated into her nose; inhaling required air and the ability to breathe, and she still could not breathe. She tried a normal sense of smell, but her body stank, even inside her own nose. The smell distracted her until she lowered it. To her frustration, she could not move her eyes or eyelids, and she needed to look around. Sight and hearing seemed like the most practical senses. The others distracted her and for the first time in her life, she did not need to tolerate it. Half-reluctantly, a little guiltily, and wondering if she wasted the effort on tasting, she lowered her sense of taste.
She wanted to live, but sometimes death seemed out of her control and sometimes fightable. Sarah decided to fight it. Since grounding, mindfulness, and other meditation methods helped, she learned to use multiple senses at once.
What she sensed distressed her, but her body seemed incapable of showing it. Sarah felt, smelled, and tasted her body decomposing. Also, her emotions remained intact since the first time she entered the brightness. When she dwelt on them, they upset her into the void; she went into the brightness to work them out and she barely avoided Death.
The majority of Sarah’s body was still non-functional. Restarting her senses gave her enough confidence to restart the rest of her body. She considered her heartbeat and respiration most important—without them, she was clinically dead. Sarah knew restarting the heart and respiration was possible. She spent every day of her life breathing and pumping blood, and doing so again must not be outlandishly difficult. She needed to adapt her body to her mind, and, apparently, she had complete mental control over her body’s processes, despite a layman’s anatomical knowledge.
Then Sarah remembered brain cells died quickly and that she should be too brain-damaged to sense anything, let alone have a heartbeat and a pulse. She nearly lost control and went into the void, but she regained it and meditated until her mind was comfortable inside her body.
Just as Sarah made up a breathing mantra, the morgue attendant opened the refrigerator. The fresh air relieved her, and she saw too bright fluorescent light through half-closed eyes. Sorry about the smell, she thought, but the morgue attendants behaved as if she was normal.
Sarah desperately tried to move or speak, but overwrought herself. Her senses flashed off and on. She bounced between her body, the brightness, and the void. A return to the void became more likely than the brightness, but regaining control over her body required less time and effort.
In the brightness, Sarah rested, swearing and complaining, and worrying about Death hovering over her. She calmed herself down and talked herself into her body again. It was the easiest return yet.
Somebody transferred Sarah to a body bag and a vehicle. To avoid alarming the driver, she concentrated on respiration. Immediately, she wanted to attract attention, but as well as not wanting to alarm anybody driving a vehicle, she thought that without a pulse and respiration, people might assume that she was dead and twitching. So, she needed to restart her heart and start breathing.
Further, cells died without oxygen and blood flow, neither of which Sarah had had for hours. I make my body work anyway, so it isn’t a problem, Sarah thought. She wondered when she would reach the squishy, gloopy stage of decomposition—probably soon. When a body part separated from her body, she knew she could not control it.
Through the van ride and a plane trip, Sarah focused on breathing, with the mantra I am breathing. Her sense experiences indicated simple mantras worked better. Guessing how a body part worked and overthinking her organs just confused her; prodding and shifting her body mentally until it seemed normal helped.
The sense of impending doom lurked nearby, despite Sarah remaining in her body. I can’t lose control again, she thought. Death will catch me. But it isn’t a real being. I don’t know what it is, but it can’t catch me.
A conversation upon landing reassured her that she was destined for the body farm. At the moment, Sarah vastly preferred forensic anthropologists to morticians. Forensic anthropologists recognized more weird movements and tiny signs of being alive or corpses’ oddities than a mortician. The forensic anthropologists would examine her closely for weeks or months, and she imagined that at some point, she would be able to move her body. If unable to move, Sarah thought the forensic anthropologists would quickly and expertly recognize she was not a normal dead body.
Somebody from the body farm picked Sarah up from the airport and drove her a short distance. Sarah assumed she was in the body farm facility. Now she needed to breathe—the forensic anthropologists wanted to begin their experiment. According to an overheard phone call, the forensic anthropologists came to the facility on their day off. The speed panicked her, and she spent much of her energy trying to stay calm. She still had little idea of how long a trip to the brightness or the void lasted; she might miss her opportunity.
Two forensic anthropologists, one a man and one a woman, seemed to be the experimenters. They undressed her and examined her, and Sarah clearly saw much of the room as they moved her about. It surprised her; Sarah wore glasses or eye contacts for years, but experimenting with her senses must have helped her eyesight. She read the woman’s name tag, “Linda,” and figured out the man’s name was Bradley.
Desperately, mentally calling to Linda and Bradley, Sarah tried to move her eyes or blink, and breathe at the same time. She lost control of her pain and in a rush to regain it, went into the void. Calm down. I have time, she thought. She meditated briefly before Death snatched her. But she threw him off and returned to her body immediately. Death seemed closer to her than ever, but Sarah calmed down and thought about the trip, only half-thinking about her senses. In her eagerness to escape Death and return to her body, she skipped the brightness. Sarah adjusted her senses and rested for a minute. She thought, I’m getting the hang of it.
Linda and Bradley had wrapped Sarah in a tarp, placed her on a gurney, and taken her outside, and now were digging a shallow hole.
At least it isn’t a trash can, Sarah thought. An airless hole hardly bothered her; apparently, her body considered oxygen inconsequential. Before making her will, she considered the possibility of forensic anthropologists stuffing her in a garbage can, and she accepted the possibility. Currently, practically, once Sarah knocked over the trash can and slumped out, Linda and Bradley would probably think the wind or raccoons knocked her over. Then she decided escaping from a trashcan was easier than a grave. It panicked her and she meditated to calm herself.
Sarah smelled the above-ground corpses scattered over the body farm. If Sarah could breathe, she would have held her breath, and if she had a gag reflex, it would have activated. She reduced her sense of smell further. Linda and Bradley seemed accustomed to the smell.
Even though Sarah did not need to breathe, the tarp worried her, probably irrationally. But breathing and a heartbeat might slow down cellular death—if any of her cells survived so long. She thought, even though she knew perfectly well that she did not need to breathe anymore, I can’t breathe! Hey! I’ll suffocate! It was an instinctive response.
She tried louder and more expressive terms. Trying to attract attention panicked her into the void again. Before she had time to think the first half of a mantra, Sarah returned to her body. However, Death grasped her tightly. She fought it away from her mind and body; she physically sensed Death. By the time she drove it away, her senses returned independently.
Sarah calmed herself down. Living was becoming easier, though she expected it to become harder, so why was Death more powerful? Immediately, Death seemed to be hovering over her, ready to grab her again. Don’t think about it, she thought. Maybe it will go away. A thing taking me into a reincarnated body can’t feel like that. I’m not a bad person.
Sarah wondered if expecting living to be harder made it harder, so attempted positive thinking, but failed. There were few things about which to be optimistic. Linda and Bradley intended to bury her alive; that was a pretty big inconvenience and complication, but in their defense, her will sent her to the body farm. With a broken back, she could not dig herself out of the hole. Death wanted to drag her into the void and probably beyond it.
She blamed nobody for her situation. From Sarah’s perspective, her near-death experience was one of three things: unusual and unobserved, rare and observed by people nobody believed, or perfectly normal and unnoticeable by modern medical science. Sarah wondered how many other people remained mentally alive while their physical bodies decomposed. She dreaded it, so she tried to convince herself she could become clinically alive. The worry and dread brought Death closer. She wondered how long she could resist it.
With more effort than before, Sarah repeated her breathing mantra and visualized breathing. she tried very hard to ignore Linda and Bradley gently placing her face up in the hole and covering her with dirt. The dirt’s weight restricted breathing, but she reminded herself she did not need to breathe yet. A tiny movement was enough. Then she realized the tarp restricted her breathing, too, and it was too tough to tear through.
Sarah was not claustrophobic, but also her experience in small spaces was a few beginner cave tours. She hoped Linda and Bradley wanted to leave part of her sticking out of the ground, but they covered her completely with dirt. To attract attention, Sarah needed a part of her body free and mobile. The alternative was waiting for Linda and Bradley to dig her up and send her to the crematorium—potentially weeks after her body fell apart. Body farms placed cages over the bodies to keep larger carrion animals away, and forensic anthropologists tended to study microorganisms and carrion bugs which ate corpses. Sarah needed something to move, even when she reached the gloopy stage. She hoped the tarp protected her from bugs.
Sarah knew no part of her body stuck out of the dirt. She also decided she was claustrophobic, and if she was able to cry, she would have. But her eyes were completely dry and irritated.
Only a few minutes after Linda and Bradley left, Sarah’s tarp twitched. She expected the tarp to move as the dirt settled and her decomposition attracted worms and the like. Then Sarah noticed the tarp twitching during the mantra. Breathing felt weird and unrecognizable because she lacked air. But her diaphragm moved up and down like she breathed air normally.
To distract herself, and because she wanted a heartbeat the next time Linda and Bradley examined her site, Sarah repeated the mantra My heart is beating. Her chest ached. The hearts of transplant candidates were in better condition than hers. Except for being broken and dead, she was quite healthy; she wondered why her body was so intact after such a long fall. Sarah lost track of time again but tried to figure it out.
The sense of impending doom grew stronger, and whenever Sarah became scared that she was not actually breathing, Death almost grabbed her. She meditated to calm down, which helped a little. Now when she lost control, the void seemed a possibility rather than a certainty. Often, Sarah regained control quickly enough to avoid it. Also, when Death dragged her partly into the void, she scrabbled away and Death released her.
But once, before she could stop herself, Sarah gasped and hyperventilated, and Death yanked her into the void. She fought back.
She had automatic control of her senses and breathed raggedly, hardly paying attention to it, while repeating the heartbeat mantra. She broke out of the void and discovered her heart was pounding. Worried it might stop, she continued the heartbeat mantra. Her chest tightened and her heart threatened to stop, but Sarah settled into a faint, stable but irregular rhythm. Cautiously, she tweaked her heart into a normal-feeling rhythm and hoped she remembered right. She dreaded a defibrillator, thinking it might send her into the brightness or the void, or lower her defenses enough for Death to drag her away.
Mentally and physically, Sarah felt suffocated. Her body knew she needed oxygen, whatever her will said about the matter. At least my lungs don’t burn, she thought.
Sarah’s abdomen and chest bloated and pressed painfully tight against the tarp. She wanted to lower her sense of touch, to avoid feeling a bursting abdomen, but could not, even with mantras. Slowly, the same happened with her other senses. At least I increased my pain tolerance, she thought. I don’t need eye contacts anymore.
But the lack of control worried Sarah, which brought Death closer. She knew if it restrained her, it would take her away. Meditation calmed her somewhat, but as soon as she thought about Death, its ability to capture her became stronger.
Again, Sarah decided to distract herself with an escape plan. To dig out, she needed to move. Though the memories of her impact faded slightly, she remembered the fall paralyzed her from the chest up. Moving her arms and legs was impossible; the fracture restricted her breathing and Sarah assumed it stopped her heart.
Then Sarah wondered if every part of her body needed to work at the moment. She felt that she still had arms and legs. The spine just sent signals; it did not control limbs, and she already proved herself capable of overriding the spine. She just needed to force her hand through the tarp and dirt. Linda and Bradley must notice her hand sticking out of the dirt.
Sarah made up a mantra to raise her arm: Raise my right arm. While visualizing raising her arm, she repeated it. The breathing motions helped, and her heartbeat reassured her somewhat. Her body felt very familiar again, despite the general disgusting wrongness. She raised her arm against the tarp, but tearing through was impossible. Sarah tried until raising her arm felt natural.
Then Sarah finagled her hand palm-up, raised her fingers, quickly taught herself to raise her arm in the new position, and stabbed the tarp with her long fingernails. Finally, her long fingernails broke through one layer of the tarp. She forced her hand through on the next raise and proceeded to stab the remaining layers. Her hand and fingers bruised and split and her nails broke and fell off, but, as she punched through the dirt, the worst feeling was her flesh peeling off her bones. Fortunately, her tendons remained intact. I’m going to lose my hand, Sarah thought.
Forcing through the dirt wore away Sarah’s hands and arms, and she doubted a surgeon could repair it. Her skin, fat, and muscles just felt too decomposed to salvage. Flesh was not supposed to tear the way hers did; she was quite familiar with minor injuries.
On the last arm raise, Sarah felt the air against the remains of her hand. She left her arm up, which was easier than moving it up and down, and enjoyed the feeling of fresh air. Sarah did not know how long digging out her arm had taken, but from temperature changes, she knew when it was day or night. Soon, she felt bugs on her hands.
Because Sarah had a heartbeat and respiration, and Linda and Bradley could see her hand, she relaxed slightly and rested. Few people could argue an adult with a self-sustaining pulse and a heartbeat was dead. Physically, she felt alive and weak. She thought the weakness was just mental exhaustion, but now she thought her body was wearing out. At the idea, Death reached out for her.
Sarah shook off Death again. She repeated a mantra to bend her wrist, and to her surprise, bending her elbow took relatively little effort. To uncover her face, she flopped her arm sideways and ineffectively flapped her wrist, letting her hand sweep the dirt. The effort seemed to keep Death at bay, but made her more desperate to breathe air.
Thinking about life outside the body farm panicked Sarah and the sense of impending doom surrounded her. So, she decided to think about it later, especially because there was no guarantee her plans were realistic. Whenever she panicked, Death grabbed her. Fighting shook him away, and Sarah struggled to remain calm with constant meditation. She knew she needed to uncover her face before Death killed her.
The sense of impending doom started to block out other things like the brightness had. But it was fainter than the brightness. Sarah hoped Linda and Bradley would uncover her soon—she struggled to teach herself a digging motion. She needed to concentrate but was becoming too scared.
Based on temperature changes, Sarah guessed she waited overnight for Linda and Bradley, and she hoped they checked the site every day.
Sarah heard Linda and Bradley approach. She flapped her hand up and down and mentally called, Hey! Linda! Bradley! I’m in here! I’m still alive! Dig me out! What took you so long? Though she instinctively wanted to yell, she worried about losing control. If she lost control one more time, the sense of impending doom would surround her and Death would kill her.
But the sense of impending doom lessened slightly. Death seemed unlikely to grab her, but Sarah thought it might.
“Did we leave a hand exposed?” Bradley asked.
“No,” Linda said. Exasperated, she said, “I hope nobody broke in to hide a body. Good place to hide a body.”
“It has to be a sick practical joke,” Bradley said.
Linda and Bradley examined the site for signs of tampering.
Frustrated, Sarah flapped SOS. She forgot if it went dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot or dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash. With a pause between them, she alternated SOS and OSO.
“Halloween decorations don’t tap OSO,” Bradley said, as Linda opened the cage.
Sarah switched to SOS.
“And they don’t switch to SOS,” Bradley said.
“I’m going to feel the pulse,” Linda said.
Sarah considerately held her arm straight up in the air. Linda felt Sarah’s pulse. Feeling another human relieved her and drove the sense of impending doom further away. Sarah clenched her hand around Linda’s arm, startling Bradley and causing Linda to scream and fall over backward. Her arm slipped from Sarah’s grasp. Bradley did not say anything for a moment, but Linda was scrambling away making frightened disgusted sounds. In retrospect, Sarah thought holding Linda’s arm was a bad idea—it would have terrified Sarah, too.
Sarah thought, Sorry! Sorry! I didn’t realize I’m a zombie!
Bradley bent over Sarah’s hand. “Tap once for yes and twice for no,” he said. “If I take your pulse, are you going to grab me?”
Sarah tapped twice.
“Okay,” Bradley sighed. He grudgingly felt her pulse and said, “No pulse,” and retreated as quickly as manfully possible.
I have a pulse! Sarah thought. Why didn’t you feel it?
To Sarah’s relief, Linda asked, “Are you alive, honey?”
Sarah tapped once and continued SOS.
“What if she has a heartbeat and no peripheral pulse?” Linda asked.
“Good idea,” Bradley said.
Already preparing to dig with their hands, Linda called 911 and Bradley other body farm employees. The dispatcher hung up and again when Linda called back. Bradley tried next. He convinced the dispatcher that, while admitting dead bodies belonged on a body farm, this particular one was abnormal.
Linda and Bradley dug over Sarah’s face—they knew exactly where it was. The tarp blocked much light, but she was happy to see it. The sense of impending doom faded away and Death itself slowly retreated into the void. However, she thought it might check on her.
Carefully, Linda cut through the plastic tarp with her pocket knife. Sarah took a deep breath, forcing herself to breathe as if surfacing while free diving, and breathing fresh air felt better than after a free dive. The sense of impending doom vanished, and Death steadily faded away.
Sarah waited hours before attempting to regain more control of her body. Neither the sense of impending doom nor Death itself returned.
In the hospital, the doctor determined she was brain dead, but Sarah vigorously answered yes and no questions to convince him she was alive. Her brain function returned slowly and never to its full extent, but for much of her remaining life, her will overruled her brain. Sarah spent the remainder of her life in the hospital, as surgeons gradually removed as much of her body as possible while also keeping her alive. Initially, she stayed awake through surgeries, and to her relief, the anesthesia dulled the pain. Even sleeping scared her; she thought anesthesia would kill her. Eventually, she felt safe enough to sleep. She forced the other organs to work and made herself live until they did. Many automatic functions returned, but she was dependent on machines to live. As she physically healed, her control slipped away. The less Sarah forced her body to work, the faster her condition deteriorated. She went into a coma, then died peacefully.