Of the bullshit webs she’d weaved about her phobias and allergies, I knew only these to be true: Alice was trypophobic. This fear refers specifically to small, symmetrical holes. It can be triggered by innocuous, mundane things; patterns in wire fencing, coral, once she even had a breakdown while passing a set of rattan patio furniture in the hardware store; the rich brown backing of tightly woven hexagons sent her into a quiet shock. She was unable to move until a man came up to us.
“Ma’am are you alright?”
Snatching my hand she snapped, “Piss off. We and our nephew are fine. Come, Abraham.”
Alice’s only allergy that was not based in fantasy had revealed itself when I was thirteen and she’d been hospitalized. That night, I remember looking to the sky and wishing she would die. But she was not a generous woman and nor was fate. She’d been digging through the tool-shed searching through piles for a set of hubcaps that would complete some project she’d imagined in one of her manic states. Haphazardly she thrown old bed-springs and rusted cookware stored there aside, and inadvertently crushed a small hive of three or four or seven thousand bees.
But, if you believe this much of my story (as elaborately cruel as it may seem) then you understand: I wasn’t lazy, lustful, prideful or any of the other ‘deadlies’ that she poorly attempted to weaponize. Trend-words; attempts to diminish my resolve to endure. I had asked for nothing and Aunt Alice and the mouse-in-her-pocket had delivered it in abundance. I worked hard and earned every accolade and accomplishment of my youth on my own. I learned to escape her at school and buried myself in books long after being released for the day. I was second in my class when I graduated.
At 17, I finally moved out and away from the abusive nest she had hatefully created. According to her, I’d ruined her life, transforming her into the angry magpie who’d built a den of shiny garbage for the two of us to smother in over the last decade.
After I left, I’d resolved to never speak to her again. I had no need or reason to. When I enrolled in college, I’d earned enough scholarships to pay my way. I didn’t know it at the time; I thought I was simply following an interest that had fascinated me for a number of years. You have to believe that I didn’t realize what I was doing then—I know now.
I was plotting my revenge.
I was going to kill her.
The university I’d chosen was because they were one of the few colleges I’d applied to with an entomology program. I wanted to study insects; specifically the sociobiology and the behavior of honeybees.
Such a specialized degree is a lot of work, but I graduated with honors and quickly found a job in the biology department of a large agricultural company. Our main product and income revolved around the rental and transport of thousands of hives to farms throughout the country.
In a way, the only thing keeping them from escaping in swarms across the roadway is luck. Hopefully, luck will keep you safe.
One careless move by you or someone else on the road could spell disaster for the entire highway. Before you make an aggressive swerve around a eighteen-wheeler moving a bit too slow, ask yourself, ‘could this be one of the ones stacked floor to ceiling with crates of live bees?’ At any given time, thousands of drivers could be one abrupt lane change away from being trapped in their cars while a jackknifed cargo of a hundred thousand angry insects swarm around them. They’ll be looking for ways to defend themselves; for ways in–to bypass your air filters, emerge and sting you through your vents. It happens.
Not often. But it happens.
Our “product,” if you will, is greatly responsible for most of the country’s agriculture. From almonds to avocados, they spend several months pollinating for California, after that to Washington for the apple blossoms, then millions are sent to Maine for blueberry season. This is a multi-billion dollar industry and with the decline in sustainability, our fees have skyrocketed.
You may have read or heard that bee populations across the world are dying off. Part of that is due to sensationalism. They are dying, yes, but they’re not endangered. Weather changes, pesticides, disease and don’t forget being trapped in transit for days on end–we estimate anywhere from 25 to 30% of our hives die yearly. We are working to change those statistics.
Much of what I’d learned on improving genomes and breeding was acquired by observing the work done by our department chief, Dr. Abeille. Dr. Abeille is a brilliant scientist who’s research and dedication will one day be the solution to ending colony collapse disorder.
Our breeding facility of is state of the art. There’s not another research lab quite like it in the country. Occasionally, we’d lead shareholders in groups through the expansive greenhouses to explain the expense of the research. Dr. Abeille’s charisma and experience was usually justification enough for the spending by the end of the tours.
“The research we are doing is simple,” she informed them, “but it is complicated at the same time.”
The noon sky blazed high overhead, refracting down through the angled prisms of glass above. The air hummed with the as the bees set about their work, smelling sweet with Orange blossoms and mint blooms, “hybridization can occur naturally, but we simply do not have time to allow nature to take it’s course. These insects are crucial to food production.”
She lead them to a sliding door which opened automatically into an antechamber with a wave of her badge, “If you recall the Africanized genus, this species not only swarms and attacks people unprovoked, they also invade healthy colonies and kill them off.” the door slid closed behind the group and a fine mist began to spray overhead. One of the shareholders screwed his face curiously from behind the protective netting of his headgear.
“The ones we are about to show you are aggressive. Not to worry,” I explained, “the pheromones being sprayed at the moment will basically make us invisible to them.”
The man turned as pale as the white protective suit he wore, “I think I’ll stay here.”
Dr. Abeille chuckled quietly opening the second set of doors to one of the segregated colonies, “People get scared, they use pesticides and pesticides don’t care if a bee is aggressive or not. The future for these creatures is going to be found in making them less threatening to the population. In our work to develop a more hearty, passive breed, our success as a company will depend on curating the best traits into a new species and then breeding them en masse. By introducing the breeding offspring of some of the less aggressive to those species that are naturally more resilient to environmental changes, the hope is to breed the less desirable traits out of them all together.” She held in her hand a small bellow equipped canister that was releasing small quantities of smoke, She pressed the nozzle of this against the lower side of the nearest wooden crate and began to pump, causing the smoke to be forced into the hive until thick clouds of dense black seeped from the crate’s seams. Once the hive was subdued, she lifted the lid and removed one of the side panels. “This is one of the new products of our research, they are aggressive but less so than our attempts before, so we are still headed along the right path. As you can see here, the carapace and abdomen are the size of your average bumblebee, but these are actually very large honeybees and—now this is strange because I haven’t seen anything quite like it before these—the comb formations you’ll note, are almost the size of a dime; it’s incredible. Much larger than naturally occurring counterparts. They’re faster, more efficient for pollination and they make double the honey. A few of our new colonies look like this. This was the first.” she paused here, admiring them ruefully as they twitched their wings lethargically.
“Unfortunately, we simply don’t have the test space in this facility, so this research colony is going to be destroyed as we continue to move closer towards our goal. My assistant Aaron will see to that,” she said winking at me, “this way gentlemen as we continue our tour.”
Each time we destroyed a test colony we had to fill out unnecessary paperwork as dictated by the men in charge. In the notes, I’d indicate the number we’d given to the colony. The date and time that the colony was destroyed. It was lies. Always lies. We couldn’t do that, Dr. Abeille and I—it was wrong somehow. So the bee boxes we burned were empty ones, and I relocated the full. The colonies were never destroyed. Usually I took them as far outinto the woodsas I could manage.