Artistry by C.P.Hutt
It came as no surprise to the young man. By now his mentoring was almost at a close. The invitation to old Gus’s house for that last talk about being the caretaker of honey bees had been long anticipated. It was a significant event where he would be recognized for learning the ways of the master. Gus had been Willy’s mentor for almost ten years now and they both felt that he was as ready as he could be. Willy would now be the Master Beekeeper.
Gus, now pushing 91 years, was ready to let go and turn over the bee yard to his favorite and only student, Willy. Gus always appeared to have something to say that he never could quite put into words. When he got that look on his face and appeared to be about to say something, he just shook his head and went back to work. Willy always thought that Gus was saving that last bit of valuable knowledge for that all important talk he was now finally, privileged to hear. A talk which ultimately would make his blood turn as cold as the January ice that covered the ground as he walked up to Gus’s door and raised his hand to knock.
Gus sat in the study room which was unusually dark and feebly illuminated by the smoldering embers in the hearth. The shadows cast by the undulating glow of the coals danced eerily about the small, cramped room where Gus spent all of his inside time. He was, as usual, surrounded by great heaps of books, magazines and catalogs about bees, some of which went back a hundred years or more. The old beekeeper had committed all this literature to memory. This scholarly place of research was always well lighted with Gus’s face buried deep between the covers of books which were dedicated to Apis Mellifera. Not now. He just sat, quiet and stared at the fading light of the fire, almost unaware of Willy’s presence. Without turning, Gus murmured in a shaky, weak voice “I have something terrible to tell you son.” Willy’s mind raced and he was afraid to hear what Gus might say next. He thought, most assuredly, that his beloved mentor was gravely ill. Willy sat, quiet, wide eyed and listened intently.
Finally, Gus rose to his feet, shook his fist in the air and said “They’ve done it too many times ya know! They’ve imported mites, beetles and disease into the good ole USA and done great harm to our bees! But I’m not innocent ya know. I’ve done it too, but much, much worst”. Willy was frozen. Now he didn’t know WHAT to think! “Come on Gus, your pulling my leg. Aren’t you?” After an uncomfortable pause Gus said, “I used to import queens from the old country. My supplier had a bad year back in 2000 and referred me to a transient beekeeper who was almost giving queens away. All you had to do was pay the postage. How could I resist! He would only sell one queen to a customer but said it was the queen of queens. He said that it was the last queen I would ever have to buy. I had no idea what my greed would summon onto me. Ya don’t get something fer nuthin. After installing the new queen, which was a ghostly pale color, that colony flew less and less over the days that came but always put away more stores than any other hive. Strange I thought but what the hell, it works. More time went by and my other colonies dwindled one by one for no apparent reason with dead, shriveled bees piled on the ground in front of the hives in the morning. One hot summer night I couldn’t sleep. There was a bright full moon out so I sat on the porch in view of my bee yard to try and figure what’s going wrong with them. What I saw that night, I’ve never told a soul until now.” Gus was still on his feet, pacing the room like a caged animal. Finally his voice erupted far louder than Willy was used to. “THERE ARE JUST NO BEES THAT FLY AT NIGHT, DAMN IT. Where the hell were they going? What the hell were they doing? It was at that point I realized what my eyes were seeing. They flew to another hive and in they went. No noise. No buzzing. No hesitation. No resistance from the hive under attack. Within a few minutes, bees would come out dragging another bee by the connection of head to thorax, paused and commenced to drain the fluids from its body. The dry corpses would be dropped to the ground. Some would come out loaded fat with stolen honey. And so it went until the first rays of light just before dawn. Then, quiet again. For the first time in 60 years of keeping bees I didn’t know what to do! KILL THE DAMN VAMPIRE BEES!” Gus screamed. Gus recalled how he hatched a plan that would end this nightmare.
At this point Willy’s head was spinning. “Come on Gus! Vampire bees! You mean like Bela Lugosi, Dracula type vampires?” Gus sneered with a look of disgust and said, “More like Beela Lugosi, Willy. It was that ghostly, pale queen that infected the colony with her thirst for bee blood. That, that VAMPIRE! And I was the one who brought her here. Oh, what did I do?” he moaned. Gus then told Willy how he readied himself to kill the entire hive. He would open the hive to make sure they were transfixed in a stupor, digesting blood and stolen honey as they always would be during the day. He would make damn sure the queen was there and burn the whole lot. “KILL’EM ALL” Gus roared. This was something Gus had dedicated his life to prevent. The destruction of bees was nauseating to him. Gus the caretaker of bees would now be Gus the destroyer of bees. He would kill the insidious vampires to save all bees everywhere as he was absolutely sure this terrible threat would rapidly spread. Their thirst would propel this bloody brood of vampire bees to overtake all colonies everywhere, in time.
Then, Gus lost all color in his sun browned and wrinkled face. He clasped his now shaking hands together to steady himself and a look of terror came over him as he pleaded out the unthinkable. “I opened the hive with gasoline and torch in hand only to find that they had already swarmed. Son, I don’t know where they are but they’re out there somewhere.”
A note from the author:
Have you ever lost a colony only to realize that there was just no apparent reason for their death?
Do you see dry shriveled bees on the ground in front of your hives in the mornings?
Do you have a colony that shows little movement on the landing board during the day but is full of bees on the inside?
Do you think that these are “normal” signs?
DO YOU WATCH YOUR BEES AT NIGHT?!?