The Blood of a Million Honeybees

Alyssa Johnson

     The sun was grinning like a fire. And being strangled by the sky.

     I had never minded the heat before. I had liked the bubble of fire in the sky, beaming

paths of warmth across our way.

     I dragged carts of roses wherever I went. Carts full of soft and bleeding explosions,

ready to brush the hands of the people. The hands of the people that sang to their faces.

     I’d picked all the roses from their bushes.

     Ripped them straight from where they stood, from where they peeked out to the

sun.

     None of it mattered, where they were from. The people liked the taste of flowers, the

taste of the blood of flower petals.

     But the day I stopped was a too-hot day. I thought I would melt in the heat that day,

and there were no more roses either way.

     So there was nothing to do, no cash to be made. No paper that was green as grass,

slick in my oily little hands. There was nowhere to go and nothing to give, so I took a walk

with no cart to drag.

     I was walking along a path of daisies, their petals chained by pollen. The soles of my

shoes were warming up, rubber sagging off the heels.

     And I met a friend at the top of the hill. I hadn’t known her long. She was younger

than me, and happier too, like gin boiling in an autumn sun.

     “There’s my funny little bee!” She seemed to fall right out of the trees, a ghost of

lipstick and cotton and pearls.

     I shook her hand, her hand that was caked in sweat and sap. She waved a fan of

leather skin, and tapped her shoes of ivory.

     There were flowers all around her head. Stuck to her hat that was made of wheat,

strands of wheat all weaved into rows. Most of them were nearly dead, but pops of color

poked into some petals.

     But when I glanced a little closer, I found a narrow strip of gauze. Gauze was draped

all over the flowers, winking like strings of moonlit tinsel.

     But then I blinked and there they were. That wasn’t gauze on her hat, but wings.

Little, sparkling insect wings, bent and torn and flayed in the sun. Beads of amber boiled

under her nails, the blood of a million honeybees.

     When I saw it, I wanted to sleep. I wanted the sun to sputter and fall, and I wanted

the soil to swallow me whole. Leave nothing left for the wolves tonight. The wolves will feed

themselves tonight.

     But she turned her head and the wings were gone, and I felt I could taste the air

again.

     The air tasted far too hot. I tried to spit it on the ground, but it simmered like a

giggle on my tongue. I wished the sun would only set, set and leave us all alone. Alone in the

cold where the snow could fall, fall and harden on the stones.

     But nothing would happen for hours now. So I moved to the shadow of a thin little

tree, a tree that shuddered its spiderleg branches. Feathers of wood fell from its twigs, like

flakes of hot and melting ash.

     I asked my friend how she had been.

     From the bottom of a pocket filled with dust, she pulled out a solid string of gold. I

asked her about the throat she had plucked, the one from which that gold had hung. I

laughed as I said it, and she shrugged like a bird. Like a crow balanced upon the sea, a

frozen sea that it picked with its beak.

     I asked her again where the gold was from.

     She said the corpse was covered in crust, when she picked its pockets where it was

strung.

     And then she laughed like I just had. I decided she didn’t mean what she said.

     I pulled a box from my own little pocket, and I shook it at her with a smile. It made a

sound like a rattlesnake, but she stuck her finger right in its mouth.

     She had her own lighter of plastic and goo, and she perched on a rock as the flame

snapped up.

     Her mouth was a melting lollipop, as she breathed smoke out with an airy whistle.

     I didn’t want the smoke anymore. The cherry-stained silver was too grotesque, and I

put the box back where it had been.

     My friend said nothing for a moment or so. I could feel the soil turning under my

shoes, writhing in pain in the boiling sun. Convulsing in sobs underneath my feet.

     I shuffled a little, to let it breathe, but there was nowhere to step where there wasn’t

earth.

     She just watched silver threads sink deep in the sky. Then she cackled to the highest

stars in the sky. The burnt end of the cigarette tapped on her mouth, tapped the corner of a

twitching smile. Tap, simmer, crack into a heap of ash on the ground, ‘til there was a

pockmark in her skin.

     “This lovely little thing here is a cloud machine!” She fell back on the boulder with

her arms outstretched, her hands splayed up before her eyes. She dropped the cigarette

like it had stung her hand, and it looked like a finger bone in the sand. “I haven’t seen a

cloud form a bunny in years!”

     She smoothed sweat from her little forehead. Her forehead that shone like a hillside

of snow.

     “Good riddance,” she said. “I hate the little buggers. Insolent creatures of sticky fuzz.

They jump at your knees and nip at your ankles, and their ears get all underneath your

feet.”

     The sky was too hot for leaping bunnies. Too hot for anything resembling snow.

That big expanse of thin blue cream... it was dripping like fat off the side of the sun.

     The fallen cigarette was dragging heat from the pit of Earth’s core, and sending it up

to the air that we breathed.

     I suddenly wanted a cleaner ground. A cleaner ground for the growing daisies, a

cleaner ground for our pulsing steps.

     “Pick up that thing and finish it off. The least you could do is spare the dirt.”

     My voice came sharp, but it was all I could do. The flame could catch and burn the

woods, and then the hillside would kill us both. I couldn’t take the heat anymore, and a fire

would be a send from Hell.

     Her fingers fluttered deep in her hair. “What do you care, my chickadee? You’re soft

for the earth that bore you up? When Heaven dropped you and the earth caught your

hand?”

     “If it won’t ruin the earth, it’ll ruin your voice. And then you won’t talk like that

anymore.”

     I meant to make this young girl laugh, but all she did was bite her palm. Bite her

palm until it bled, so she could smear it all over the stone.

     She finally spoke when she’d had enough.

     “You gave it to me, now you want it gone? Because the thing will gag into the Earth’s

precious soil?”

     She clucked like a hen in boiling water.

     “Well, you know all about destruction, don’t you?” Her heels slammed into the stone

as she lurched herself up. They sounded like hammers on a board of wood. Driving dents

into the foot of the stone. She spoke so high and so wound up, she was nearly screaming the

words at me.

     “So you know what a beating really is? So you know who the devil really is?”

     I decided I wouldn’t speak anymore.

     The wings on her hat glistened like tears. A hundred million little tears, scattered

over a field of flowers. A field of feathers and flowers and bread, bread that grew from

crumbled chocolate.

     “Where did you get the hat?”

     “I glued it together with a little sap. Funny, how much you can do with the trees. If

you quit embracing them with trembling hands, you can pull the gold from their thickest

arms.”

     “Well... careful. The trees breathe as you and I breathe. They can’t move their

arms... but they can fall. They fall when the walls become too high, and they can’t inhale so

little air. So they fall down upon the walls, and then on us, inside the walls.”

     She ripped a strand of hair from her head. “Well, is isn’t my fault you’re so very

smart. So very very aware of this world. That pulsing brain is a loss of your own. That

bleeding heart is a cross of your own!”

     I pointed to the cigarette, where a train of smoke was walking a path.

     She looked at it, and then at me, and then she threw her hands up high.

     “So you think I’ve cracked a whip on Mother Nature’s fragile little palm?” A dry and

deep chuckle cracked in her chest. “Well, if I’ve made a mark, it won’t even open. And if it

does, I won’t suck the blood. I won’t even live to be able to. I won’t live to see the scar that it

makes.”

     She shouted out to the puckered sun. “Mother Nature’s got Father Time to take care

of her!”

     I rushed over and stomped on the walking smoke. She only giggled like a baby hawk.

     “Look all around, my pretty bud. Look at the world, my little feather.”

     Her fingertips skimmed the murky horizon.

     “The berries ring tunes, the wood thrush whistles, and all the world just builds itself.

The tigers bear claws, the river spills out, and all the world just shifts around.”

     It sounded like gold, the way she laughed. All the joy that came with drinking oil, all

the joy that came with wearing steel.

     I told her the world would fight for itself. I told her that berries poison and birds

peck, and tigers chew and rivers swallow. My friend did not listen.

     “So you don’t want a drop of gold, you’ll take a pinch of birdseed! Have your honor,

have your pity, have your grudge against the crop of the world! But watch me do what the hell I want, because I won’t go and spoonfeed the earth! The earth just feeds upon itself. Sucks ambrosia from its own fingers, licks crumbs of dirt from its own teeth.”

     She pressed her fingernail to her collarbone. Drove it down beneath her skin.

     “Its fingers and teeth that are stained with our blood.”

     I breathed out loud, but I sang no reply.

     “Its wind and fire and ice and dust. Those are the hands the earth employs. Those

are the hands that snatch your hat and tear your skin, prick your eyes and burn your lips.

Got a great deal of things to grieve over, when the earth takes on a life of its own. So I dance

on the back of the earth, let it feel a little of its own weight.”

     I turned my head to the drifting sun, and the edges of hills that pricked at its light.

Like the sun was a bleeding fingertip, and the hilltops were thorns of poisoned juice. Juice

that flowed from the side of its blade, brown with the spit of a choking gull.

     I found myself at the edge of the hill. She followed with a smirk and a sway in her

stride, like she’d walked off with gold from a dead man’s pocket. Walked off with gold from

my very own pocket.

     My feet were bricks upon the ledge, my tongue like honey in my mouth. The river

hissed at the foot of the mountain.

     I could feel the chill rising off the foam. The thick and greasy tang in the air, the spit

of a million little fish.

     I wondered how many stars I had killed. How many little butterflies, how many

pebble paths I’d crushed. Crushed with the wheels of a wooden cart, made from the trees

that breathed my air. The trees that carried the roses I’d killed, killed for a scrap of leaves

made of silk.

     And then I thought of what she’d done. Nothing seemed too fragile for her. Nothing

in the world was too fragile for her, for her hands and heels and roving eyes. There was no

stone without moss to strip off, no flower without petals to rip away. No river without fish

to pluck and twist, and no bird without feathers to pick and chew.

     But there was nothing too fragile for me, either. The only difference was my tiny

shame. The only difference was my tiny pity.

     I decided the oceans would have my mercy. The earth and its core and its pulse and

its heat... I might be one forgiving hand.

     My friend was no friend to me or the world. She was no friend to anyone. She

thought she’d been left alone by the earth, and now she was out to destroy the earth. That,

or she was out to provoke the earth. Provoke it so it would destroy her in turn.

     She lifted her chin at the horizon. “Sunsets are one thing I don’t seem to mind.”

     A few pebbles slipped down the rocky cliff, ticking like fingers in faceless clocks.

     My breath felt rough in the pit of my throat. Like a choking bird on a stick in a fire,

spinning over and over and over again.

     It was like I was standing in a fire or a storm. A storm of ice that was thin as sand,

pricking a million points in my skin.

     One for the death of every honeybee.

     I put my hands on my friend’s shoulders, and she dug her foot into the ground. She

started scratching words on the rock, with the dented and dusty toe of her shoe.

     “I wonder why the rocks decide to be so useless.”

     I put one foot forward and pushed her ahead, ahead to the rainbows and silk of the

sunset.

     And she made no sound as she flew like a bird, all to be swallowed by the earth and

its river.

Alyssa Johnson is a rising senior at Mater Dei High School, CA.

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