Fiction

The Host

By: Sterling Warner

“A load of buck salt in the butt was worth the price of stealing cherries and other fruit from the luscious orchards that seemed endless my youth,” Drew muttered to himself as he walked down Campbell Avenue.  Indeed, Campbell, California, in Santa Clara Valley had once been known for its luscious cherry, prune, and apricot orchards—as well fruit drying yards and canneries. In time, commercial development overtook organic enterprises. Orchards became housing tracks and canneries moved elsewhere.

Now a senior citizen, Drew’s law practice had become more of a hobby than an occupation. These days, he spent most his free time playing golf or kicking it with his best friend Alex, an accountant, who he met a year ago in the Prune Yard towers where both worked. A familiar sight across the street snapped Drew out of his fond, yet hazy, boyhood remembrances.

“Hey Alex!  Over here,” Drew shouted, waiving his arm to attract his friend’s attention. When their eyes met, Drew quickly walked across the middle of the road.

“You could get a ticket for jaywalking on Campbell Avenue!” Alex laughed as they shook hands.

“Now, now, Alex. Don’t be a Buzzkill!” A sudden gust of wind blew brown leaves down the street.

“Ouch! Something got in my eye!”

“Don’t rub it!”

“What’s your problem, Drew?”

“Didn’t you hear about the four miniscule bees living under a Taiwanese women’s eye, feeding on her tear drops?” Drew asked.

“Yeah, yeah…the bees blew into the woman’s eyes while weeding some family member’s grave…. We’ll, I’m not weeding and not sweating.”

“Sweating? What cha rambling on about now, Alex?”

“Sweat Bees like drinking perspiration, no?” Alex examined the vibrant flowers on his colorful Hawaiian shirt and glanced back at Drew.

“Seems logical. Scientists probably named them for such a reason.”

Alex wiped his eye. “Just plain old dirt,” he laughed. “You and your bee fetish.”

“Huh?”

“Face it, Drew; you’re obsessed with bees. Last month, you couldn’t stop talking about some Black Mirror episode that featured bee drones as programmed gameshow assassins.”

“So?  It’s certainly possible—especially if scientists can adapt the technology for a honey bee drone to that of a very small sweat bee.”

Alex laughed, “Well, guess I’d better let you check your eyelid then, Dr. Drew.”

“Holy shit, Alex! You’ve an entire colony by your tear duct!”

“Balls!”

“Okay—you called my bluff. It’s getting chilly out here; let’s split, Alex. Mara’s Café has a great happy hour—I’m feeling rather parched.”

“Christ, Drew; you seem to hydrate yourself all day with coffee and with beer and whiskey… after five. But I’m down for a taste.”

Alex and Drew never expected the large crowd they encountered at Mara’s Café´. “Seems like younger and younger people frequent bars all the time—have you noticed, Alex?”

“The main thing I’ve noticed is I’m getting older….”

“What can I get you guys?” an attractive, middle aged bartender asked. Looking at her name badge, Drew replied, “I’ll take a Dos Equis, Anne. What do you want, Alex?”

“A Bee Sting,” he replied, winking at Drew.

“Sorry, but I’ve never heard of such a drink…,” she admitted.

“Svedka Jalapeno Grapefruit Vodka, lemon juice, and honey water.”

“Got cha’…I’ll be right back,” she smiled.

“Check out the snake hips on that one, Alex.”

“Shut up, Drew! You know, sometimes you’re such an asshole!”

“Sometimes? We’ve known each other over a year; you never mentioned as much before!”

“Drop it.” Looking up at the TV above the bar, Rachel Maddow’s face appeared, and below her the words, Exclusive Alert!

“Today, I’ve got lots of news to share with you, as always, but the big buzz today—pardon the pun—regards the ever-increasing bee invasion in the United States.” After shuffling papers in her hand, Maddow took a breath, looked directly at the camera, and said, “We’ll be right back.” Following four commercials, she returned and grimly elaborated on her byline.

“Typical newscaster,” Alex grumbled, shaking his head. “Maddow gets people’s attention one moment and then leaves them hanging.”

“Well, she’s back now, Alex. Listen.”

“Hey bartender, could you turn up the volume a bit?” Alex requested.

“Sure,” she replied, clicking the remote control, making Maddow’s voice clearly audible. 

“As of late, swarms of bees and hives have been found in tree trunks, attics, boathouses, rusted barbecue pits, old tool sheds, building eves—even the roof of Notre Dame…and they survived the 2019 fire! Is this only the beginning? We’ll be back with my special guest, Morgan Freeman who made his 124-acre ranch into a bee sanctuary. Stay with us.”

Drew shook his head and turned to Alex stating, “I’m sick and tired of hearing about bees as a starting and end point of so many conversations and news briefs.”

“Bees are important to the eco system,” Alex countered. “Their behavior might be the result of more complex environmental issues that the conservative administration choses to ignore.”

“Ya think, Alex? Sure, that’s it. Bee swarms are undoubtedly drones controlled by white house to help it govern us through fear!”

“Balls!”

Alex signaled the waitress from across the room, pointed to his empty glass, and shouted, “I’ll take another Bee Sting,” loud enough for her to hear him.

“Hey bartender!” a nearby patron shouted. “Turn the god damn channel.” Anne, the bartender, looked at Alex and Drew who nodded their heads approvingly.

“Here you go,” she quipped, switching the channel to CNN, and setting down the remote control. Ironically, Anderson Cooper, a news show, came on for yet another special report. “San Diego’s become a madhouse,” he declared. “Killer bees from Mexico are traveling up the California coast through San Diego, leaving destruction behind, moving North—spreading Northeast.”

Alex started scratching. “Balls!” he said yet again as Anderson Cooper continued to talk.

“Don’t panic,” Cooper cautioned. Instead, make yourself unattractive to bees by wearing pale colors, avoiding any and all perfumes and shaving lotions, and running in a straight line for 100 yards or more without stopping to swat and irritate a chasing bee or bees.”

“Anderson Cooper’s got nothing to worry about; no bee’s going to be attracted to his pale, ghostly body!” Alex stated with conviction.

After Alex’s honey drink arrived, three bees came out of nowhere, circled his glass, and landed on the rim. Alex seemed to freeze for a moment, but he made no attempt to move his hand and swat them away. In fact, he didn’t flinch when two other bees flew up to him and began to crawl across his hands. Turning his hands over, they flew to his sweaty palms and began to drink.

“What the fuck!” Drew bellowed. All of a sudden, a full swarm of bee burst through the doorway and headed straight for Alex.  Soon, they covered the glass in his hand, his arm, and his right shoulder.  Before long, they amassed over his entire body. Drew stood up and started to back away from Alex. “You’re covered with bees, buddy? What should I do?”

“Go—just like the others in here, Drew; I’m not out to hurt you or anybody. Bees are natural but endangered, so steps have been taken to ensure their survival.”

“But I can’t just leave you…. They will sting you to death.”

“Balls! Why would they harm me?  I’m one of many humanoid droids, designed not only to interact with people, but also to secretly serve as way stations for bee swarms, expanding their presence throughout the United States.”   

Categories: Fiction

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