House of Honey – Michael Santiago

A billowing plume of dust raged across the sprawling grassland. Darkness gripped the sky as the black blizzard waged onward towards the Oklahoma expanse. Since 1930, the swirling storm of dust and dirt has cascaded over fertile farmland, devastating crops and ways of life across Boise City. With an absence of land to graze, men turned to life elsewhere. The population dwindled, with those who remained questioning their stance. In the fields near Broward Street, Hank was not one of these men. He was brazen, formidable, stoic. The harsh, dreary conditions couldn’t persuade him away from the home he built following the great war.
He was considered a man’s man. The epitome of masculinity in a time when strength and courage was required. Most of the denizens of Boise City warned Hank that the conditions would be everlasting and worsen, yet he was not persuaded. The dust bowl did persist. It continued to destroy land and eradicate fertile crops. Dozens of livestock suffered, but even more people succumbed to the inhospitable conditions this perpetual dust storm caused. Hank was stern. The elemental horrors did not dissuade him. His son, Roderick, would often question his decision to stay, and occasionally try to guilt trip him into leaving. Hank remained; he stood his ground. He was from a time that manufactured unflinching valor, and from an era where being a man meant exerting a firm will despite the odds.
This mentality came from two defining elements in his life: his time fighting through the trenches in Gallipoli, and when his wife passed from Tuberculosis. Gallipoli, the trenches, was utter chaos resulting in lives lost across all fronts. He realized quickly that men who leaned into emotion were the first to go. His upbringing and military conditioning did instill such a distinct thought process, but his learned experience in that battle rang true. Every time. It was the same. Those who hesitated, those who leaned into fear, those who sympathized were the first to lose their lives.
But when he came back from the battle, he knew he couldn’t pass on the horrors of war onto his wife, Lilith. He grew less callous towards his humanity. His wife needed him in those months before she passed, as did their son, Roderick. The boy was stricken with the early stages of cerebral palsy. As Hank fought the trenches in distant lands, Lilith held the fort at home. Battling a life-threatening condition, while caring for and protecting Roderick from the incessant bullying in town.
Three fortnights since Hank’s return from the war, she succumbed to her illness. Her dying wish was for Hank to remarry and be happy, but more importantly, to care for their son until his last breath. He didn’t waiver and promised her as she gasped for air one last time.
The years following her death were painful to say the least, as trauma induced nightmares smoldered within, and the death of his beloved looming over his conscience daily. The promise she made had to be kept. Truth be told, Hank didn’t have enough time to foster a bond to the one similar to his mother and Roderick had no.
Nonetheless, Hank knew in the years to come he’d have to rebuild the home that was broken by the death of his wife, and to make a solid life for him and Roderick. As the years surmounted into the height of the dust bowl, Hank and Roderick cultivated farmable land, and raised livestock on the family farm he left behind for Gallipoli.
When the dust bowl swept through, Hank met his first formidable foe since the Ottoman Empire in the dank trenches in Turkey. His time fighting alongside the Australian and New Zealand Coalition (ANZAC) was troublesome and grueling, yet the years ahead proved that the terrestrial rage of dust storms proved to be a conundrum he was unprepared for.
For the last three years, these perpetual dust storms consumed light and blanketed the small town with perpetual darkness. The relentless tide of dust disrupted the way of life for Hank and his boy. A bold move had to be made.
Would he give in to nature’s onslaught, or would he stand his ground and build anew?
The question rattled in his mind for weeks until he recalled a conversation he had with another farmer months back, Tommy.
Tommy was a servant of God and slaved over his crops with his father most of his life, but when the storms came, it all changed. His faith swung like a pendulum and his fields were consumed by dust. His land became infertile, so he decided it was time to flee east and create a new life for himself. He credited the revelation to Christ, as he came across the connection that the bee was the emblem of his savior. It signaled forgiveness and justice. And so, he relied on the power of God to catapult him far away from the relentless dust storms.
Hank wasn’t a religious man. How could he be after all he had lost?
But he listened to Tommy explain that he was going to start his venture of being a beekeeper in Georgia, far from the grips of the dust bowl. He took notes of the appropriate items needed for an apiary and the methods to cultivate a thriving business made of honey.
As Hank reminisced on that conversation with Tommy, he looked over to his son and said, “I think I’ve got it.”
“You mean we here are finally gone leave these god forsaken lands?” Roderick asked.
Hank, stern and ready to hunker down at the next black blizzard ready to decimate the farm, looked over at his son and stated, “We need to figure this here thing out. Our crops have been ravaged the last three years, and our livestock have been torn asunder. This whole thing needs to switch up.”
“What does that mean, pa?” Roderick replied.
“It’s time to switch tactics. I don’t think this here farm is sustainable any longer. Our livestock are dying. We can’t leave though, as I made a promise to your ma,” he said.
“Then what, pa?” Roderick spoke.
“Well, Tommy left east to Georgia. Far past Boise City who figured the path forward may be opening an apiary. That may be our next path, boy,” he responded.
“Pa, what the heck is that?” Roderick asked.
“We’re gone be beekeepers. We can conceal it. Hide it. Hell, we can possibly sustain this. Honey for money. That’s what we’re going to do, boy,” he replied.
“And ya think that’s gone work?” Roderick inquired.
“It has to…” he stated.
Handing a list of items to Roderick, Hank explained some of the items he needed could be gathered at Carl’s Supplies, the only shop in town that would have all the items he needed. He handed over the keys to his busted, oxidized Chevy pick-up and asked his son to acquire the items he needed before sunset. Roderick shrugged as he believed that his father knew best. He never questioned his dad and admired his stoic nature from within.
Roderick, bound to the use of makeshift crutches, hobbled over to the rust bucket to head into town. He hadn’t been to town since his father withdrew him from school due to the incessant bullying from the Milford gang. Two years had swept by since then, but he knew he couldn’t let his father down.
As he pulled into town, he drove past a couple of the kids from the Milford gang, but they didn’t seem to notice him as they were preoccupied with looting an abandoned storefront. They took advantage of the calamity that struck Boise City and snatched everything they could to turn a profit for themselves. They were indurated, apathetic to the plight the residents had faced. The ongoing disaster was the catalyst for them to become ruthless.
However, not every shop owner fled; Carl’s Supplies remained and was one of the businesses left during the dust bowl. Akin to Hank, Carl also made a name for himself as being a calculating and decisive figure after serving in the Great War. He had a decent relationship with Hank and knew his son Roderick, and he was aware that Hank was as hardened as he was.
Roderick pulled into the lot, clutching onto the side of the truck to gain his footing. As he clasped his crutches, he doddered into the shop to grab the supplies on his father’s list.
“Ha, Roderick, is that you? I haven’t seen you in eons, boy. Come here and tell me how your pa is doing,” Carl shouted.
Offering a shy wave, Roderick replied, “well, as one can imagine the storms ain’t too forgiving on simple folk like us. Even by the grace of God we come out unscathed. But pa, he has this idea he thinks will keep the money comin. That’s why I’m here.”
Handing over the list, Carl nodded and said, “Yep, I can do this. We should have all of this in stock. You just hang tight, and I’ll gather what ya need.”
Outside, a few boys from the Milford gang were shouting, “Look at this piece of shit. Who in their right mind would drive this junk?”
Roderick overheard the commotion as his gaze shifted outside the window and then back over to Carl gathering supplies.
“Umm, are you almost done Carl?” Roderick yelled.
“Just grabbing the last thing,” Carl shouted back.
Shattered sounds of breaking glass could be heard outside, and with each piece splintering, Roderick’s heart beat grew harder. He had a history with these vagrants, which led to his father assaulting one of the boys and pulling Roderick out of school. It was the best way to keep him safe, as his cerebral palsy had worsened over the years and became a point of contention for him and was the primary cause of the bullying. It didn’t help that Roderick had a severe stutter anytime he felt afraid.
Carl tapped Roderick on the shoulder and said, “Here ya go, son. Now everything should be here, and don’t worry about payment. These times have been tough for us all and your pa is a good man. I just hope you two can make something despite this hellscape we’re living in.”
“G… go… gosh Carl. Th… th… thh… thank you,” he stuttered.
Walking towards the door, his hands trembled inconsolably and his heart beat harder and heavier. The sounds of chaos could still be heard outside, enacted by the Milford gang. As he managed to make his way to the car, he started the ignition, which caught the attention of the gang.
“Oh, so look here boys. This is the asshole who drives this rust bucket,” one boy stated to the others.
“Ha ha… do you know who this is fellas?” a boy much larger than the rest asked.
As they started walking towards the truck, the large boy stated, “It’s Roderick.”
“D… Den… Dennis. I… I’m just here,” Roderick said as his stutters intensified.
“Ddddd… dddd… here for what, fucker? To get your ass beat now that your dad ain’t around?” Dennis antagonized.
Dennis, the leader of the Milford gang, and a few of his cronies were now standing right next to the car window. Dennis issued a series of insults, which incited hysteria among his crew, and then he began slapping Roderick’s face.
Another boy grabbed the sack of supplies from the bed of the truck and began dumping them onto the lot. Several of the items scattered about the ground including a few jars of honey.
Panicked and terrified, Roderick quickly put the car in reverse, driving over Dennis’ feet, and raced back to his father’s farm. His eyes swelled with tears as he spoke to himself, “P… p… pa. I’m sorry.”
As he drove up, he opened the door and collapsed, yelling for Hank.
Upon hearing his son, he bolted over and picked him up. “What happened, son? Tell me,” Hank inquired.
“I… I… lost the supplies. It was Dennis,” Roderick answered.
“You mean that prick from the Milford gang? That boy hasn’t learned, has he?” he prodded.
Back in town, Dennis was on the ground tending to the bones that cracked in his feet from the two-ton Chevy. His goons looked on in bewilderment as the boy they bullied stood up against their leader.
“Boys, we are gonna pay back that son of a bitch, and teach his dear ole pa a lesson, too,” Dennis yelled.
“Now pick me up and pick that shit that dumbass left behind,” he yelled once more.
One of the boys began picking up the assortment of items and the jars of honey. Dennis shouted, “Hey, don’t honey burn easy?”
Another boy spoke, “Sure does, boss.”
“Gather round, boys. This is what we’re gone do. We are going to that boy’s farm come nightfall and burn that house to the ground using this here honey, which means we’re going now,” Dennis stated grasping the jar of honey.
It was evident that some of the boys seemed uneasy with the decision Dennis had made, but nonetheless, the sheep blindly followed as the wolf schemed. The crew helped Dennis into the bed of a truck, loaded up the supplies left behind, and began driving toward the farm.
Nightfall quickly fell and the faint sound of engines bolted across the rural landscape. The Milford gang began closing in on the farmhouse, with an unsuspecting father and son cleaning after supper.
“Pa, do you hear that?” Roderick asked.
The bustling gurgle of engines grew louder and louder as the gang got closer. Then, they stopped directly in front of the farmhouse and placed their high beams on in unison. Blinding rays of light peered through the curtains.
Hank ran to the living quarters and grabbed his Winchester from above the fireplace. “Get upstairs now,” he shouted to his son.
Dennis and his crew had jars of honey in hand as they began setting them on fire and threw them towards the second level of the house, where Roderick was told to go. Makeshift honey molotovs became the tool of unwarranted vengeance. Each jar of honey shattered as the flames danced across the rooftop.
Hank ran outside and began firing his rifle at the gang. Placing well directed rounds into a few of the boys.
However, the sounds of screams resonated through the upper level where Roderick was. The entire floor was consumed by the insatiable fire ignited by the honey. Looking back, Hank saw his son desperate for help amid the inferno. He swiveled and aimed his rifle once more, shooting Dennis directly between his eyes. As the boy’s body plummeted, the surviving gang members hopped back into their vehicles and drove in the other direction.
When Hank ran back inside his home, the entire second floor began collapsing around him. The floorboards gaped and turned to ash, but he could still hear his son crying for help. Hank made haste to climb up to the top level using a gutter outside Roderick’s window. He shimmied his way up as the roof began to splinter into ash, yet he kept climbing. It was seemingly impossible, but Hank got to the room and guided his son towards a hay bale to jump onto.
“Son, you must jump. There’s no choice. I’ll be right behind you,” he assured.
Roderick fell directly onto the hay bale and turned around to see if his father followed. Right as Hank was about to jump, the section of the roof he was on collapsed and he fell onto a pile of viscous honey from one of the jars. The nearby flames trickled toward his position, igniting Hank instantly. Roderick crawled towards him in hopes of saving his father, but as he drew near, his father muttered, “Lilith would be proud of you.”
Desperate to save Hank, Roderick saw the life from his father’s eyes fade as he turned into a husk swarmed in fire and honey.

Michael Santiago is a serial expat, avid traveler, and writer of all kinds.
Originally from New York City, and later relocating to Rome in 2016 and Nanjing in 2018. He enjoys the finer things in life like walks on the beach,
existential conversations and swapping murder mystery ideas. Keen on
exploring themes of humanity within a fictitious context and aspiring

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