Return to Honey Castle – Lily Walsh and Josh

Estranged from my family, I was surprised at the call.
“Master Anders?” said the voice. There was a distinct buzzing, what might have been electrical interference or perhaps–
“Yes? Yes? Hello,” I said. “Yes. This is Anders. Hello?”
The voice on the line began a coughing fit. He had covered the receiver with his hand. By the sound, like dislodging a peppermint candy from the bottom of his throat, I knew it was the voice of my childhood butler. “There,” he recovered. “There is a train ticket under your door.” He began coughing again.
An envelope was slid under my door.
“Ulrich,” I said. “What’s happened? What’s going on?”
“There is a problem in your family,” he said.
“Has there been a death?” I said.
“Get on the train,” he said. “Your driver is waiting.”
I looked out my window. The black car outside Halpin’s started and the window rolled down. A man in a black bowler hat leaned out and tapped on his watch.
I got into the car, then onto the train. Into the final car, I broke into a sweat. I spoke to my father fifteen years ago, my mother seventeen. I cannot remember my sister’s or my brother’s voice. And I am certain I have several aunts and uncles, but even at my utmost concentration, aided by the rhythmic clanking of the train, I could remember nary a face nor name.
The car stopped. A man as tall as a doorway opened my door. He wore a top hat and bowed to me, indicating Honey Castle, a Gothic revival villa in the style of Strawberry Hill, only charcoal black, crooked, and obscured by dead trees.
“It is good that you have come, Master Anders,” said Ulrich. “It is an unprecedented time, Master Anders.”
We bypassed the front door and took the stone path through the garden. “How are mother and father?” I said.
“Dead, sir,” said Ulrich. He vigorously massaged his throat.
“Oh,” I said.
Ulrich was older than either of my parents. He opened the back gate, and we came to the vista overlooking our Honey Castle’s hundred-acre property. It was poppies as far as the eye could see. Bees, like starlings, took the flowers in swaths. Their hum was like putting your head in a thresher.
“There is no one to tend the bees,” said Ulrich.
“Tomas?” I said, my brother.
“Hospitalized,” said Ulrich.
Ulrich shook his head.
“Uncle Jonas,” I said, their names coming back to me.
“Died tragically.”
I stared into the lines of my hands. Surely, there must be others.
“You are the sole heir left living, conscious, or of sound mind.” Ulrich gestured at the infinity of poppies, and the shadows of bees hanging about them.
I have had as little to do with bees as possible for twenty years. I moved to Newark to avoid all contact with flowering trees, beekeepers, or bees. I do not touch honey.
Ulrich took me to my room, with an intricate honeycomb ceiling and carved detailing to the furniture so every drawer handle is a polished echinacea or wildflower. I closed the blinds of my window—a view of the poppies. I loosened my tie and untied my shoes.
Ulrich waited patiently by the door. “Might I suggest, sir,” he said. He opened the closet and searched through a number of dark-red wood chests my father brought home from India. He removed a tall white garment of thick fabric and a wide brimmed hat with thick veil—a beekeeper’s suit. “Your suit, sir,” said Ulrich.
I stood among the poppies. I moved slowly. A bee can smell fear. Every step I squeezed my bee smoker, Ulrich behind me squeezing his. “Your lead, sir,” he said.
We approached one of the hives which lined the poppy fields, Honey Castle like a storm cloud loomed behind us. I slid a honeycomb from the hive and showed it to Ulrich. “Good show, sir,” he said. He took it and set it on our small white wheelbarrow, then gave me a fresh drip tray to replace it.
I swiped at the bees gathering about my veil and slid out a second honeycomb and handed it to Ulrich. “Yes, look at that. Really nice, sir. Beautiful.”
We went about it that way, removing full honeycombs and replacing them with new trays until Ulrich hefted the wheelbarrow, full now of honeycombs, up toward the castle. “I’ll just take these back,” he said. “We’ll take next from that hive there.”
“That hive?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “Is that a problem?”
It was so full of honey it leaked honey from its seams. The air about the hive wavered like gasoline vapor; the bees looked almost silver and the way they flew, well, it seemed they flew upside down.
“Will that be a problem?” Ulrich said again, lowering the wheelbarrow.
I looked at the other hives. I blinked my eyes. I wanted to rub them, reset them. I looked again at the strange bees and made eye contact with one. “No!” I said. “No, it should be no problem.” I felt cold, shaken, as if woken up in a snowstorm.
“Wonderful,” said Ulrich. He picked up his wheelbarrow and pushed it to the castle.
I approached the strange bees, which only grew stranger. I noticed now they flew not only anatomically as a strange species of bees, but seemingly together, in a trance, in a consistent ring around their hive, like a rotating halo.
Even their hum was strange. Fatigued perhaps from the train ride, I mistook it for a drone of words. “Come,” I thought I heard. I came closer, closer to the hive.
No, it was my fatigue from the train and two car rides. I took a break. I waited for Ulrich. I paced through the poppies and examined other hives. Though I had avoided this place for twenty years, it wasn’t so bad. I will admit bees are frightening. But in a bee suit, it’s not so bad. And, squeezing the bee smoke, I felt calmer still.
“Come, Anders.”
I turned to the strange bees. They continued in their strange halo. “Anders,” they said.
I approached them. I put my hands on their hive.
“Hello, Anders,” they said.
I lifted a honeycomb.
“It’s ok,” they said, now more clearly than ever. “You can take off your helmet.”
I set the honeycomb in the grass against the hive, then removed and set my helmet in the grass beside it.
“Yes, Anders! That’s the ticket!”
I lifted my arms, and they came to sit on them.
“Do you know what we do?” they said.
“You make honey,” I said.
They climbed higher on my arms, which had begun to grow heavy. “What intelligence, Anders. Yes!” they said. “Yes, that is precisely what we do. Now try some.”
The inside of their hive was so beautifully golden. I took off my gloves. “Can I?” I said, my finger ready above their hive.
“Please, Anders. Do,” they said.
Their buzz grew with my excitement. We were all watching my finger. I scooped up so much honey it streamed down my hand. “Yes, Anders. Go,” they said in almost a whisper.
I brought it to my mouth. My tongue recoiled from shock. It was like nothing I ever tasted. My whole body swelled with sweetness. Immediately, I was filled with energy. I could lift the wheelbarrow over my head. I could run through a mile of poppies.
“We are nightmare bees,” said the bees. They were now close to my ears, as if what they said was secret.
“Nightmare bees?” I said.
“Yes, Anders. We terrify your kind to death. We distribute fear through honey.”
I felt a weight grow inside my chest. Honey Castle grew taller than ever, an entire mountain with all its trees made black, the manor’s terrible façade staring at me like a crooked face.
“Anders,” they said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Each family member before you, your brother, your mother, your sister, your father has tried to stop us and kill us, so they have each met their own terrible end. Do you want to be put into a coma, Anders?”
“No, I don’t,” I said.
“Do you want to be killed?”
I felt as if young children crawled quickly through the grass to tear at my legs. “Of course not,” I said. The black trees swayed. My lungs compressed. The bees knew everything about me.
“Will there be a problem?” Ulrich said. He had appeared with a fresh wheelbarrow.
“No, Ulrich,” I said. “I foresee no problem.”
Lightning flashed, but there was no rain.

Lily Walsh lives south of Portland, Oregon where she has just completed her first year of high school. She is the author of Zombie Mountain, The Worry Wart, Stories!, and the forthcoming, Penguin Party published by Pluto House.

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