That’s how you’re supposed to start a letter, right? With “dear.” Even though we haven’t been dear to each other since you kicked me out of the house. No, I’m not writing to rehash the same old shit, so you can keep reading. I know you thought you had good reasons for throwing me out. You and Mom. Maybe I’d’ve done the same thing in your position. I don’t know. I mean, I doubt it, because who puts his only son out on the street for flunking out of college? Other than you. Anyway, lately I’ve been doing some real thinking about this, and I get it now. You were testing me. Putting ice down the garbage disposal to sharpen the blades.
Well, guess what? It worked. You and your MAGA-hat-wearing buddies bitch and moan all the time about millennials being weak, entitled, and lazy. Not me. Not anymore. Your snowflake millennial son is responsible for the end of the whole world. How’s that for accomplishment, you asshole?
Sorry. It just slipped out. Amazing how the same cycles of behavior repeat themselves over and over. You harangue me, I call you names, you tell me to get out, I leave. I guess that’s why they’re called cycles of behavior instead of lines of behavior.
I won’t bother going over the old stuff, before I moved out of state. I’ve been stalking Mom’s Facebook account, so I know that my “friends” were keeping tabs on me, telling her (and you) what I’ve been doing. I can’t let you know where I am now for reasons that’ll become clear soon, but I can say that I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, a year and a half ago. Yes, the liberal paradise, where everyone drives a Prius and has tattoos and calls each other “zhe” and “xher.” Or, at least, that’s how you see it. You’d be surprised at how straitlaced it actually is, especially for a college town.
And now, you’d better be sitting down for this: I was working for…Greenpeace.
Ha! I’ll bet your face went all white. I wasn’t blocking Japanese ships from harpooning whales or anything like that. I was a canvasser. I walked around the suburbs with a clipboard and a partner and a credit-card reader, asking for donations from decent people to keep not-decent people like you from fucking up the one planet we have to live on. As it turns out, this was not only a gigantic waste of time, but actually contributed to the end of civilization, but I didn’t know that then. Unlike you, I was trying to make a difference, not a profit.
I won’t bore you with all the tips and tricks: how we always got the most donations from houses with foreign cars parked in the driveway, how people not home during the day were a good thing because it meant they were at work (so we’d come back closer to dinnertime), how we canvassed in mixed pairs so if a man answered the door, the girl did the talking (and if a lady answered the door, the guy did the talking). We were high most of the time, but not too high, and always clean and nice to look at, even with Elliott’s stupid sleeve tats and Hannah’s nose ring. It was a job, and I was good at it. I became group leader in six months, which meant I got to drive the piece-of-shit minivan around and determine who went with whom when we split up the neighborhood. Living at home taught me how to talk to the average American with 2.4 kids and no more ambition than to crash out on the BarcaLounger by 6:45 every evening with a Miller Lite and a TV tuned to Fox News. So yeah, I did learn something from you.
Being a Greenpeace canvasser is kind of a nomadic lifestyle. Most of us would live together in a shitty apartment in what you’d call the “dark” side of town for a few months, then pack up and move to a different city. In the eighteen months I worked for Greenpeace, I moved from Madison to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Columbus, Ohio, to Springfield, Illinois, and back to Madison. A lot of drinking, a lot of pot, a lot of college girls (you’ll be pleased to know that you didn’t raise no faggot, am I right?). Seriously, it was a blast. We weren’t socking away any money for ourselves, but we had pizza and pussy and the best Indica bud from Bubba Kush to Superman OG, so who gave a shit? And we were saving the world to boot.
The only serpent in this Garden of Eden was Hannah, or rather my relationship with Hannah. Like I said, there were a lot of us rooming together, so most of us would occasionally hook up. Sometimes people would become exclusive, like Chloe and Justin, but they’d usually leave not long after and find what you would call a “real” job as a wage slave somewhere. Hannah, though, she was everybody’s friend. She liked walking around naked, she liked hanging out with the guys, she liked the long days of trudging up and down streets to beg pennies from people who could afford to give out Benjamins. And she liked to fuck.
Well, she liked to fuck anyone but me.
For whatever reason, she put me in the friend zone within five minutes of meeting me, and no matter how often I scheduled us working together, how nicely I treated her, how many hints I dropped or moves I made, she considered me nothing more than a casual work buddy. I put her face on every earth sciences major I banged on an air mattress, I jerked off to memories of seeing her walk nude from the bathroom to the bedroom, I whispered her name every time I shot a load into a mouth or a condom or a sock. She remained indifferent. Untouchable.
Except to Elliott and Chas and Riley and whoever else struck her capricious fancy. She touched them a lot.
Am I making you uncomfortable, Dad? I thought you’d prefer some straight talk. Locker room talk. Man to man. Grab ’em by the pussy, right?
Things went sideways on a Wednesday night. Mackenzie was picking Chipotle wrappers off the floor, Elliott was making out with Hannah, and Riley and I were filling the air with clouds of Granddaddy Purple when the front door opened and Travis walked in. Travis trained me when I first started. Super tall and rail-skinny, the kind of guy who made sure everyone else was squared away before taking care of himself. Elliott, Hannah, and I hugged him and offered him hits and chips, both of which he declined, and we introduced him to Mackenzie and Riley, who were appropriately impressed. Travis was in charge of the entire Midwest when it came to face-to-face donations. He’d “moved on up.” If you’re a good little canvasser and pull in lots of money and say your prayers every night, you might become Someone Important like Travis.
Once he was settled on the least saggy side of the couch, holding a Solo cup of tap water in one hairy-knuckled hand, he cleared his throat and said, “The higher-ups, my bosses, they pulled me into a meeting early this morning. And then they flew me all the way out here to talk to you guys. Not every canvassing group. Just you. You’ve got the best record in the Midwest, so they—we know you’re serious. Most people burn out after a few weeks or eff off most of the day, but not you. So…good job.”
We all kind of looked at each other, smiling and pleased, but nervous, too. Were we going to get raises? Get laid off?
Travis sipped his water. “The problem is that all the money in the world’s not going to fix the environment. You’ve done great work, but it’s…futile.” He held up a hand. “What’s going on…it’s not your fault. We’ve done everything humanly possible to teach people—warn them—about climate change, but they’re not listening. I don’t have to tell you about the connection between greenhouse gas and Superstorm Sandy, microplastics in the ocean, pesticides causing autism, GMOs creating superbugs that antibiotics won’t cure. You know all that. But our efforts…it’s like throwing this cup of water at a house fire.”
“So you’re canning us?” Hannah asked. “Is that what this’s about?”
“No!” Travis set his cup on the floor. “No. Absolutely not. What I’m—what we’re asking you to do is take the next step. To act in defense of the planet.” His long fingers steepled, pointing at us. “It’s not going to be easy, but the planet doesn’t have much time left. The earth…it’s all coming apart. And we need your help.”
Riley, with his bloodshot eyes and man bun, blinked and shook his head. “Whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Dude…Travis…this is nuts, man. Are you saying, like, the end of the world is near?”
“No, man.” Travis leaned toward him. “It’s not near. It’s here. The end of the world is happening right now. And if you want to come out the other side, you’ll come with me. We’ve got work to do. Real work. Everything else was just a…a prelude. Now the real show’s starting.”
Elliott took his hand from Hannah’s thigh. “What d’ you mean by ‘real work’? I don’t want to hammer spikes in trees, hurt some poor villager in Brazil who’s making a living with a chainsaw and a—”
Laughing, Travis waved a hand. “I’m talking about real steps. Not small stuff. Look. Just come with me. I’ll explain when we get there. It’s a short drive to campus. We’ll even take your van. There’s a professor who can explain it a lot better than I can. He’s Dr. Colmena. A great guy.”
Mackenzkie didn’t look anyone in the eye as she shook her head. “No. I’m…I’m just gonna stay here. This end-of-the-world stuff…it’s messed up. Scary.”
“Will we keep our jobs if we don’t go with you?” Riley asked.
Sighing, Travis said, “There’s no more job here, man. This part of Greenpeace…we’re shutting it down. We’re shutting everything down. I mean, heck, if you want a good reference, I’ll give it to you, but it’s not gonna matter.”
Riley gave Mackenzie a sidelong look. “I’m staying, too.”
I’d read about eco-terror groups like the Earth Liberation Front, Earth First!, and the Hardesty Avengers, so I knew that apocalyptic rhetoric was baked into environmental radicalism. Hell, we’d used that kind of talk ourselves, though we never went so far as to say that the world was ending right now. If it was true, then the last place I wanted to be at the end of the world was with Elliott. And if it wasn’t true, which was a whole hell of a lot more likely, then the last place I wanted to be was sabotaging nuclear power plants with Elliott.
So yeah, either contingency had Elliott in it, so I was done with Greenpeace. High time I went back home. After two years you’d’ve taken me back, wouldn’t you, Dad? I’d built up an impressive résumé, learned how to work hard. And Mom missed me a lot. Just until I got a job or even reapplied to school. I’m your only kid. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but—
“I’m coming,” Hannah said, standing up. “I’m ready. This…if this is it, I want to be on the right side.”
Elliott got to his feet and stuck his hand down Hannah’s back pocket. “Me too.”
As I opened my mouth to tell them to forget it, Hannah looked down at me, smiling. “You’re coming with, right?”
She licked her lips, and my mouth went dry.
“Uh-huh,” I managed, and nodded at Travis. “Let’s…ah…let’s go.”
We never saw Riley and Mackenzie again. I wish I could believe that they’re out there having a good time, but they’re dead now, as sure as God made little apples.
We took our van, but Travis did the driving. It was just like old times: I sat up front, looking out the window, while Hannah giggled and whispered and felt up some guy who wasn’t me in the back. This time the guy was Elliott. In the early days it was Chas. Or some shithead she picked up at a keg party on some college campus or other.
I should’ve hated her, but I hated Elliott instead. Easier that way.
Travis always had a comfort level with silence that I admired. You always knew that Travis, when he was being quiet, wasn’t thinking about you or judging you or whatever. He was just a quiet guy until he had something to say, and when he did speak, you listened.
Like when he’s telling you that the world’s ending.
I can’t say that I believed it, but if Travis believed it, I wanted to see his proof.
As we cruised down Henry Mall through UW-Madison’s campus, I watched the college kids laughing, drifting from late classes to the dorms, and my gut twisted. That should’ve been me, Dad. It was just one bad semester and you kicked me out. By now I would’ve gotten my shit together and graduated. Maybe even found a job somewhere. It would’ve been better than this…this knowing what’s coming. Ignorance really is bliss.
“We’re here,” Travis told us, bringing the van to a stop outside a brick building. The words “Agricultural Engineering” were carved into the concrete above the doors.
Made sense. If an ecological disaster was going to end the world, this is where you’d want to be, right?
I was still pretty high as he led us to a door marked “Lab 3A,” so high that I didn’t question how he’d gotten keys to unlock it or why he locked it behind us. I mean, it was Travis, you know? Travis was a cool guy. Our mentor.
The first thing I noticed was the hum, rising as the fluorescents in the ceiling flickered to full strength. Not unlike the beating of an arrhythmic heart, it came from a stack of wooden boxes in the corner by the eye-washing station. The rest of the place resembled chemistry labs I remember from high school: checkerboard tiled floor, workbenches, refrigerators, laptops on desks displaying screen savers, the usual stuff.
And a steel autopsy table. Strange, but I figured the students were doing cow dissections or something.
Hannah left Elliott’s side to drift around the lab, fooling with stuff that didn’t belong to her. She stayed away from the humming boxes. We all did. Something about the sound felt both familiar and disquieting, like listening to a foreign language broadcast backward in slow motion.
“So,” Elliott said, looking around. “Where’s this professor? Dr. Cole-something.”
Travis moved to a nearby refrigerator and opened it. “Colmena. He’s here already.” He lifted his chin in Hannah’s direction. “Hannah, can you help me with something?”
Elliott and I blinked at each other. Here already? I mouthed.
At Elliott’s head-shake, I turned to Travis, who stuck something into Hannah’s neck that made her stiffen, grunt, and topple into his arms like a felled tree.
“Hey!” I said, moving forward. “What the hell’re you—”
Staggering back a step to hold her, Travis said, “Yeah, help me get her on the table.”
“What? No! You drugged her or something!”
“Had to,” Travis said. “It’s okay. I promise. Come on, you take her legs.”
The absurdity of it, the whole matter-of-fact way he spoke, had me shrugging and bending down to do what he asked.
“Stop!” Elliott shouted. “What the fuck?” He pulled Hannah away from us. She sagged against him but didn’t move, like she had fallen asleep with her eyes open.
“Come on, man,” Travis said. “The succinylcholine’ll wear off in a couple minutes, and we don’t have a lot of time. Put her on the table, will you?”
I don’t know if it was the pot or what, but I was just stuck ping-ponging my eyes from Travis to Elliott, whose tatted-up arms were having trouble holding Hannah up.
“Dude,” Elliott said, glancing at me. “Call the police. I don’t know what’s going on here, but—”
“Wait!” Travis shouted, as I reached into my pocket for my Greenpeace-purchased burner phone. “Hold on. It’s okay. All right? You don’t have to call anyone. It’s gonna be okay.” He hurried to the humming boxes in the corner.
“The fuck’re you waiting for?” Elliott asked me. “Call 911!”
Blinking, I said, stupidly, “But Travis said it’s okay—”
“Are you nuts? Call the fucking—”
Travis reached into a gap between the boxes and withdrew a long, straight knife that looked like it had been chipped out of a single fragment of obsidian. Shiny black, ugly, and functional, it captured all of my attention because Travis approached me with it and pointed it at my belly.
“Zach,” he said, “we’re friends, and I respect you. I need you for this. But if you and Elliott don’t put Hannah on that table right now, I will kill you. And then I’ll kill Elliott. You can call the cops, but you’ll be dead before they get here. I know this sucks, but it has to be this way. Like I said, it’s going to be okay. I promise.”
Elliott and I shared another look, but instead of rebelling, we complied. He had the harder job, sweating and grunting, but we got Hannah on the autopsy table with her hair splayed around her head and her trainers in a V.
“Look, man,” Elliott said, turning to Travis, and it was the last thing he ever said because Travis grabbed his shoulder and stabbed the blade into his gut, driving the knifepoint up, up, up until it skewered his heart. All the breath left his lungs in a rattling groan that sprayed a fine mist of blood into Travis’s face, and as he blinked in confusion, agony, and terror, Travis shoved him away to fall on the floor.
“Gross,” Travis said, and moved to the sink.
I should’ve been screaming. I should’ve tried to stop Travis, help Elliott, grab Hannah, and run out, but I didn’t do anything. I just froze, listening to the arrhythmic humming box. Only a half hour ago we had been smoking weed on the couch like any Wednesday night, and now—
“Right-o,” Travis said. His face dripped water, and blood still stained his shirt cuffs, but his hands and knife were clean. “I didn’t like having to do that, but we couldn’t trust him, Zach. He’d’ve called the cops on us and messed everything up.”
We. Us. I was part of this now. My inaction made me an accomplice.
“I know. You’re wondering what all this has to do with saving the world. We’re getting there. I promise.”
With guilt and terror and the stink of Elliott’s blood and released bowels filling the air, all I could do was nod again.
Travis squinted at me. “Stay with me, Zach.” He flicked his eyes at Hannah, who was sweating and twitching. “Rats. Okay. Hold her ankles. I’ll try to do this quick.”
He’s gonna kill her, he’s gonna shank her just like he did Elliott, and then he’s gonna kill me—
I obeyed without saying a word.
He moved to the side of the table, placed a hand on Hannah’s glistening forehead, and uttered a low, strange cry from deep in his throat that altered in pitch to match the bizarre noise humming from the nearby boxes.
Hannah’s back arched, and without needing to be told, I held her ankles tighter. I still feel bad about that.
Ululating in perfect tune, Travis slashed the obsidian knife across Hannah’s belly, opening her from navel to breastbone.
Despite her agonized scream, the thrashing of her limbs, the horrific wound he’d made in her, not a single drop of blood leaked from the gash. It made no sense. It was impossible. And I was helping. I swallowed bile as he dropped the knife, still singing, and put his hand into a gap in the boxes.
“Stop, God, stop, please!” Hannah shrieked, frantically twisting her body. The lips of the wound spread open, exposing glistening, red-pink coils of intestine.
What the fuck why isn’t there any blood what the actual fu—
Singing rising to a shout, Travis withdrew his hand and held up a dripping, ocher chunk of honeycomb upon which a single bee clung, larger than my thumb. With dreadful, ceremonial slowness, he slid it into Hannah’s entrails and left it there, brown-amber among the pinkish loops.
Hannah’s scream rattled the windows, and in the instant of silence that followed it, Travis told me, “It’s a good idea if you take a couple steps back, man.”
Sick, half deafened, I staggered away. “What…what—”
From the boxes emerged a swarm of bees, buzzing furiously. Thousands and thousands of them, they rose from the hive, coalesced into a ragged shape not dissimilar to Travis’s knife, and plunged into Hannah, following their queen.
“You did good, man,” Travis said. His hand still dripped honey. “I was a little worried about you, but you did good.”
Hannah jerked and groaned and flopped on the autopsy table, covered head to toe with bees. The buzzing ignited a primal, atavistic fear of being stung, being stung to death, and I could barely keep from flinging myself against the windows to escape.
“This’s…Travis, I…why…I mean…”
“Good question,” Travis said, and stuck a honey-coated finger deep into my mouth.
Once the bees started to die, Travis told me, the remaining hives went into hiding. We’ve been working with them for years and they won’t tell us where they went. Or, well, they can’t tell us. It’s a space that makes no sense to humans. Here, but not here, too. A secret place. An insect place. And there they plotted and planned and prepared.
We called it colony collapse disorder. Too many pesticides altering the pollen, killing off hive after hive. That’s not entirely true. We killed some, but the rest fled. They’re a lot smarter than we gave them credit for. They’d been judging us, judging humanity, since even before the Industrial Revolution’s first smokestack belched the first cloud of poison into the air.
They found us guilty.
You see, there’s a physics, a chemistry, a fundamental understanding of science that humankind turned away from thousands of years ago. Early civilizations showed brief flashes of this genius, like the pyramids of Egypt, the Nazca Lines, and Stonehenge. When people worked with nature as partners, they did amazing things like that. Built structures and formed advanced societies that we can’t hope to match today. Atlantis. Lemuria. Mu. We call what we do modern technology, but nature calls it killing the Earth. We chose the destructive path, and the bees, who have lived on this planet for over 80 million years, decided that enough was enough.
So they’re tearing our civilization down. Returning the world to a better place. Letting the earth heal from what we’ve done to it. If they wanted, they could kill us all today. There’s enough of them, and they’re mad.
But they’re giving us a second chance. Letting us work with them to bring the world back from the brink. What we could achieve if we just worked with nature…it could be Paradise. I’ve seen it. They’ve shown me. Cities in the trees, shaped of living wood that accommodates with love and respect, not saw and chisel. Sharing the wisdom of dolphin pods that communicate feelings instantaneously across thousands of miles. Knowledge of the true science, the unveiling of what we’ve been missing since the dawn of man. A true partnership with the earth…and beyond, to the heart of the universe.
And all we have to do is take the next step—
I lurched backward, the cloying sweetness of honey still in my mouth, and sprayed vomit all over the floor. Travis, evidently expecting this, stepped off to the side as I splattered Elliott’s corpse with half-digested burrito.
Shaking my head, I stumbled to the sink and swished water into my mouth until all I could taste was chlorine. Was all that real, or just a bad trip—?
She lay on the autopsy table, unmoving. Her cheap Old Navy T-shirt was still slit open from Travis’s knife-work, but her smooth belly showed no sign of injury. Was she even breathing? Where were the bees? Were they inside her? How was any of this even possible?
“I know, right?” Travis said. “I told you, man. It’s the true science. Like…like magic, but not. Here, hold up.” He moved to the refrigerator and pulled out a big glass tumbler full of what looked like a combination of mashed-up flower petals, unfiltered honey, and thick streaks of yellow grit. “She’s gonna want this. You give it to her. You’re gonna be partners, after all.”
“What…what is it? What happened to her?”
“She’s fine. Better, even. I told you it was gonna be okay. Come on, take it.”
Moving around Elliott’s body, I accepted the cold glass. “Is she…”
Travis opened a closet door and pulled out a box of Hefty bags. “This…procedure, it doesn’t work on men. It kills them. Only women can, well, partner with bees like this. She’s, like, a queen now.” He began opening bags and spreading them out in a rough space next to the corpse. “Once she wakes up, she’ll be the boss, sort of. She’ll know what to do.”
I turned to watch her again, and this time I noticed a faint rise and fall in her belly. The belly I had wanted to kiss once. The belly I had seen Travis slit open like he was butchering a hog.
“Where is it…where is it…here.” He produced a large stainless steel saw with a rounded end. “We’ve got to take care of Elliott here. This’s pretty gross, so I won’t make you cut him up, but I’m gonna need you to help me carry his parts to the van, okay? They’ll be in bags, so it won’t be so bad.”
My stomach threatened to turn itself inside out. “Uh…”
Hannah sat up.
“We’re still me,” Hannah said at 7:03 in the morning.
Those were the first words she’d said since last night. Travis had called it the silent treatment, told me it was normal for the first day while everything got…integrated. We’d cleaned up the lab (I dry-heaved about ten times cleaning up Elliott’s blood and shit), threw all the plastic-wrapped Elliott pieces into the minivan, and driven out to a Neptune Society crematorium in Middleton that would discreetly reduce the guy to ash and bone fragments for a modest wad of cash. All the while Hannah sat in the van, sipping the sickly-sweet mess in the glass and looking at nothing.
I’m gonna Uber back to the airport and get going, Travis had said. I am so proud of you, man. Seriously. When the new history of the world gets written, you’re getting a whole chapter.
Great. So…what’s next?
In this envelope’s a credit card and an address. I’m gonna need you to be there tomorrow at 3 p.m. There’ll be a truck. Directions already programmed into the GPS, keys behind the rear bumper, driver’s side. Just drive it from Point A to Point B. Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy. You’ll get new instructions at Point B. The less you know about the nuts and bolts, the better.
It’s all good, man. I don’t know if we’ll see each other again, but I’ll pray to Gaia that we do. The sun’ll be shining and we’ll live in a new world together. I’m so psyched for this. I hope you are, too.
I drove us to a Motel 6 outside of Chicago in a suburb called Melrose Park, figuring we’d hole up until tomorrow. The truck would be in Oak Park, twenty minutes away. Hannah remained quiet the whole trip, and I didn’t bother trying to talk to her. I mean, it was my fault she was like this. I could’ve tried to stop it. Travis would’ve killed me, but still.
She sat on the twin bed by the window all night long, facing the wall and breathing. Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep. I just lay there, thinking about what I’d done to her in exchange for the Utopia Travis had promised in the honey-coated trip.
She wasn’t Hannah anymore. She belonged to the bees now. Hannah the Bee. The queen bee. Point A to Point Bee. Bee aggressive, bee bee aggressive—
“We’re still me,” she repeated at 7:04, and turned to face me. “I’m still me, Zach. I’m still Hannah.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I cleared my throat.
“I’m so much more, too.”
She got off the bed, stretched, and took off her clothes, starting with the slashed T-shirt. Then her bra. Then her Frida Kahlo–print yoga pants—
I looked away. She called herself the same Hannah, but I wasn’t buying it. I mean, hell, I’d seen her intestines. Bees were inside of her. Any lingering desire I might have felt had gone cold the instant Travis cut her open. Whenever someone gets infested by a weird insect presence and starts trying to reassure you she’s still who she is, she’s lying. My new personal rule.
She paused at the door to the bathroom and smiled over her shoulder at me. I know because I peeked.
When the shower started running I considered just getting the fuck out of there. If all we had to do was drive from one place to the other, why did they need me? Hannah could do it all on her own. I’d leave her the keys and credit card, open the door real quiet, and vamoose. The idea of running home crossed my mind, but I discarded it. If I ran I’d be a fugitive from not just the law (someone would start asking questions about Elliott sooner or later), but Greenpeace. Or whatever Greenpeace has become. I couldn’t bring all that shit down on you and Mom.
I told you I matured.
Still, the idea of running wasn’t a bad one, even without a place to run to. They didn’t need me for Utopia—
Hannah stepped out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam. I didn’t notice that she’d turned off the shower. Water dripped from her short, dark hair, her long, slender limbs. Her nipples had puckered, lengthening, and jewels of moisture glittered between her legs.
More teasing, and I wasn’t interested.
“Do you want to know why I wouldn’t fuck you?” she asked.
I shook my head, wanting to stop looking at her. My eyes wouldn’t obey. I imagined that bee-sized lumps moved under her skin as she drifted over to me. The thought turned my empty stomach.
And yet I began to stiffen inside my shorts.
“You were always so passive. A follower.”
With exquisite slowness she lifted one leg, put her heel on the edge of the bed next to my thigh, and pushed her sex toward my mouth. The heavy scent of honey overpowered the cheap Motel 6 body soap.
“But what you did to me, holding me down like that, making me what I am now,” she whispered, “it turned me on.”
My cock felt like it was going to split.
“Kiss me,” she commanded, and I did.
No, I didn’t get bee stings on my tongue.
Or my dick.
I should be embarrassed telling you all this, Dad, but I don’t feel that way. Maybe it’s because we’re never going to see each other again. I wish—
I wish a lot of things.
We fucked every way we could think of until the maid pounded on the door around two. It beat talking. Maybe Hannah had done hours-long sex marathons with Elliott and Chas and even Riley, but I doubt it. The bees in her were probably testing the body they inhabited. Putting it through its paces. Honey coated my lungs, my cock, the convolutions of my brain. We couldn’t get enough.
Giggling, we ran out of the room under the glare of a fat old lady probably named Consuela, dove into the minivan, and drove around until three, when we parked a block away from the address and walked to the truck. A black Ford, it was parked in the rear lot of a restaurant touting its Italian beef sandwiches. It sat heavily on its tires, and whatever lay in the bed was covered with a blue tarp.
“This is it?” I asked, light-headed from exhaustion. I hadn’t eaten since last night, unless you count Hannah’s honeyed juices as food.
Hannah picked up her head and gave the whole parking lot a weird sort of once-over. Her nostrils flared as if she smelled something. “Yeah. This is it.”
“And you know this how?”
The smile she gave me didn’t quite touch her eyes. “Do you really want to know the answer to that?”
I looked away.
“Come on,” she said, moving to the passenger door. “We’re almost done.”
I didn’t know what that meant. Weren’t we just getting started? Didn’t we have a lot of driving to do? We were partners, or supposed to be. The thought of us splitting up closed my throat. To cover it, I felt around the bumper for the keys.
She’s not even human anymore. She’s a…a fucking bee-person. A beehive with feet.
And long, strong legs. And a tight, sweet—
My hand closed on a key fob.
I’d ask her once we were on the road.
I started the truck and frowned at the dashboard. “They could’ve left us at least a quarter tank—”
The world exploded in flashes of red and blue bubble lights, followed by the deafening bellow, “THIS IS THE FBI. TURN OFF THE TRUCK AND COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP.”
Flinching, I shouted, “What the fuck—”
“TURN OFF THE TRUCK OR WE WILL SHOOT.”
“Better do as they say,” Hannah said, cooler than cucumbers.
She smiled at me, a real smile this time, opened the door, stepped outside, and raised her hands over her head. Her smooth belly, her slim hips.
“DRIVER. LAST WARNING.”
Two seconds after I fumbled off the ignition and stepped outside, a football team’s worth of guys in black balaclavas and body armor slammed into me. I lost two teeth hitting the asphalt, and my right shoulder still pops in and out whenever I lift my arm over my head. I deserve a lot worse.
If they read me my rights I don’t remember it through the crazy quilt of fear, pain, and betrayal. Hannah had known. Somehow she had known this was going to happen. Greenpeace, her, Travis: they’d set me up to be arrested. A fucking patsy. And for what? I didn’t even know what crime I’d committed. Other than helping Travis dispose of Elliott’s body. I drooled blood and fragments of tooth enamel down my shirt as they dragged my handcuffed, terrified self into a gray sedan and drove me to a huge building of glass and steel somewhere downtown. The guys in the car with me, men in dark suits and American flag lapel pins, they kept quiet the whole trip. Used to Hannah’s silent treatment, I didn’t say anything either. Just looked out the window and swallowed salty copper, hoping to get rid of the taste of honey.
The interrogation room looked exactly like the ones I’d seen in countless episodes of Law & Order. If my shoulder, jaw, and wrists didn’t hurt so much I might’ve been more struck by it, but I was just scared.
But I didn’t cry. You have to give me that, Dad.
As my heels bounced on the floor and my bladder ached to bursting and my mind turned over and over thinking about prison, about being in jail with big dudes who would bash my remaining teeth out and force me to suck their felon cocks for years, the door opened.
Average height for a woman, middle-aged, short brown hair, carrying a briefcase and a stern expression on her flat face. She said nothing as she set the case on the table between us, pulled a digital camera out of it, and set it up pointing at me. When the red tally light came on, she took a seat and said, “I’m Special Agent Leigh Carmichael, the lead investigator of—”
I leaned forward as far as the handcuffs chained to the back of my chair allowed and said, “Of what? Nobody told me what I did.” My voice came out in a whining, shaky tone that both humiliated and angered me. I recognized it as my teenage self trying to get out of one of your famous monthlong groundings.
“Zachary Maldonado,” she replied, “we’ve got you on multiple violations of the RICO Act through your association with the extremist group Earth’s Last Defense, which would, under typical circumstances, land you in a federal prison for no less than thirty years. But that’s only the icing on the cake, young man. You’ve moved all the way up to domestic terrorism with this last stunt. Trafficking in radioactive materials is an extremely serious offense. With this, you’re looking at an all-expenses-paid trip to Colorado. Supermax. No possibility of parole.”
If she said anything else right after that, I don’t remember it. I mean, her lipsticked mouth moved, words came out, they reached my ears, but then bounced right off the surface of my brain. Just what was she talking about? I believe I may have tried to speak, but whatever I said probably resembled humpback whale song or something. Everything in the universe came to a grinding halt.
Eventually she must’ve gotten tired of hearing me make weird noises come out of my face, so she asked me if I was all right, and this was a simple question that required a simple answer, so I told her no. She asked if I required medical attention, and for some reason I didn’t want to be a bother so I told her no again, even as my tongue probed the holes where my teeth had been and my shoulder was one throbbing sheet of pain.
In the early part of the interrogation she did the talking. Laid out the evidence. It turns out I wasn’t working for Greenpeace. I never had worked for Greenpeace. I’d been recruited by some group called Earth’s Last Defense, and they were pretending to be Greenpeace. All the donations I elicited went to ELD. The truck I was going to drive to Point B was full of lead-cased ingots of enriched uranium, the kind people make bombs with.
Nuclear bombs. (You’d pronounce it “nook-yu-lar.”)
Talk about patsy. Talk about passivity. Talk about being the biggest idiot on the planet.
But it gets worse.
It didn’t occur to me to ask for a lawyer as I described every minute of every day I can remember working for what I thought was Greenpeace. Boring stuff, but she nodded and asked questions, particularly about Travis.
And then I got to last night. The lab. The beehive. Hannah. The bees’ plan.
It sounded so stupid when I said it aloud.
“Mr. Maldonado—Zachary,” Special Agent Carmichael said, “you’ve admitted to fairly heavy drug use within the last twenty-four hours. Your pupils are clearly dilated. Has it occurred to you that at least some of what you claim to have done might be imaginary—the effects of hallucinogenic drugs? That you were just on…a bad trip?”
I gaped at her. “What about what I saw? What…what Travis showed me?”
“You actually believe that? What’s more likely, Zach: a Nature Paradise with tree skyscrapers and dolphin cities, or LSD slipped into your drink?”
“And Hannah? Are you telling me she doesn’t exist?”
“Oh, Hannah Levy exists, all right. She’s less cooperative than you. Won’t say a word. But”—she consulted her notebook—“do you expect us—do you expect a jury to believe that you and Travis Mazur sacrificed her to the Devil?”
“That’s…that’s not what we did. What he did.”
“Whatever you claim he did, this doesn’t…”
A low, dull hum caught my attention.
“Did you hear that?” I asked.
The hum became a buzz.
“You’ve got to hear that.”
Small, sleek and yellow, a bee emerged from the air conditioning vent, followed by another.
And another. They buzzed around the room, joined by more in threes and fours.
Special Agent Carmichael squinted up at the vent, frowned, and moved to the door.
“Hey!” I shouted. “You’re not gonna leave me—”
“Just hold on—ow!”
She swatted at the bee that had stung the back of her wrist, which fell dead to the floor.
The trickle of bees became a flood, a torrent. They swarmed the woman, clinging to her hands, her face. When she opened her mouth to scream, they dove inside her, filling her up. Bees slipped into her bulging eyes, her nostrils, under her sensible gray skirt.
Shaking, pissing in abject terror, I shrieked without sound. The bees were angry. They were going to get me next for betraying them.
After an eternity of crying and screaming and praying I was anywhere other than here, the buzzing stopped.
Why was I still alive? And without so much as a single sting?
With jerky, spastic flailing, Special Agent Carmichael levered herself to her feet. Her hair was mussed. She leaned on the table, head down, fingernails drumming on the scarred wooden surface.
Of the bees there was no sign.
In time, she mastered herself. She straightened, raked her hair from her face, and turned off the camera.
“We’ve got to get you out of here, Zach,” she told me.
I could only blink up at her.
“Come on.” She pulled a set of keys from her briefcase and moved to unlock me. “Hurry.”
“What…” I croaked.
“It’s me. It’s Hannah,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “I can’t believe you peed yourself.”
She undid the cuffs and stepped back. “I’ve got a minute before…before the Hannah part is gone. Eaten up by the Leigh Carmichael part. You’ve got to run, Zach. Just go. Down the hall, take the first door to the left, and then the next right. That’s the parking garage. You’re supposed to die here, but I…”
I shook my head. “I don’t…”
She pressed the keys into my hand. “Take her car and go.”
“Come with me!”
Her face…I don’t know how to describe it. It lurched. Her eyes went black, then back to mild blue. Her mouth stretched, snarled, grimaced. “I can’t. She—we were supposed to get caught. So I—we could come here. Go into Leigh Carmichael.” Her upper body jerked, her arms flopped. “She’s—I’m—we’re gonna trash the whole case. Mess up the evidence. You…you got to go. Now. NOW!”
She didn’t have to tell me twice. I headed for the door, thighs chafing at the wetness.
“Wait,” she hissed, with my hand on the doorknob. “The bees—there’s no partnership with them. They hate us. They’ll kill us all. Every person on the planet. They—”
Her eyes went black again.
I opened the door and ran out.
Plexiglas windows in the corridor outside allowed spectators to look in on the interrogations, and as I hurried past, I caught a glimpse of something I’ll never forget.
It was like a Hannah suit. Her skin, really. Empty, draped across the floor. Holes where the eyes had been, yoga pants constricting a fleshless waist. Boneless. The bees had…had eaten her from within, come out into the air conditioning ducts, and gone into Leigh Carmichael. Of everything I’d seen, this was somehow the worst.
No time to cry about it. First left, next right.
I clicked the unlock button on the key fob until a sporty silver SUV flashed its lights in response. The rest of the trip is kind of a blur. I drove for a while, panicked, and left the SUV in a Five Guys parking lot. Hid anywhere that didn’t look like it had cameras. Waited for my pants to dry. I’m alive, but I shouldn’t be. Hannah saved me. I helped Travis kill her, but she saved me. It hurts.
That was a week ago.
I can’t come home. I don’t even know if you’ll read this, or if your spam folder’s just going to digitally shred it. I’m betting you’ll remember the name of that stuffed moose I loved as a kid, Mr. Milton, and open this up just for curiosity’s sake. Who gets emails from their kid’s stuffed animals? Other than you.
If you are reading this, you’ve got to take Mom and go somewhere far away. Away from people. Away from bees. Whatever they’re doing, it’s happening fast. Could be tomorrow.
Does Alaska have bees? I’m trying to get a Greyhound ticket to Alaska. Anywhere cold. I don’t have ID. Or more than a few bucks I scrounged panhandling. I’m hungry and scared and tired.
I’m sorry. Every kid wants his parents to be proud of him. You wanted to be proud of me, and I turned out like this. I’m sorry.
Tell Mom I love her.
I love you.