Rayna used the last of the duct tape
to seal up the kitchen window. She’d have to
settle for packing tape on the front door. That
is, if the handyman ever left—how long could
it take to seal air vents? She wiped sweat
from her upper lip.
He entered the kitchen. He wasn’t a large
man, yet he managed to fill the doorway.
“Welp. That’s the last of ‘em. Fingers crossed,
those little buggers won’t be bothering you.
At least not from the ducts.”
“How much do I owe you?”
“How ‘bout a beer, instead, and drink to life
while we still got it?” He let out a laugh. She
forced a laugh too, out of kindness, but rolled
her eyes when she opened the refrigerator
door between them. Why couldn’t he just go?
“I have Corona or an amber—which do you
prefer?” She smiled behind the door even
though he couldn’t see it. She thought of her
mother. Let me hear the smile in your voice,
she used to say.
“I love a cold blonde,” he said. “Though a hot
one’s even better.”
She stood up with the Coronas and gave each
one a crack against the kitchen counter.
“Impressive,” he said.
“Sorry I don’t have any limes.”
“To all the buzz about the end of the world,”
he said and laughed so hard she thought one
of the windows might have rattled some.
They clinked bottles.
“You have anyone to come sit with you when
they pass through?” he asked.
“My family, all of them, lived in Salinas. So….”
“Ah, shit,” he said. “I’m sorry. No survivors?”
“Haven’t heard from any of them yet. . .” She
took a swig and blinked hard. “…but you
know, one day at time. Just want to get
through the next twenty-four hours and then
I’ll drive up there and deal with it.”
They both stared at the linoleum and sipped
their beers to fill the silence.
“What about you?” she asked.
“Aw, yeah. Well uh…I’ll probably go to my
mom’s house. I’ve got it all situated and
sealed up. Haven’t touched my place yet—”
“Better hurry. Isn’t the swarm only, like,
twelve hours away—if the wind doesn’t
Despite her hint, he didn’t budge. “Have you
thought about trying to outrun them?” he
asked. “You’ve got the legs for it.”
She smiled again, only this time without her
eyes. She shifted her weight and hid one leg
behind the other, feeling close to naked, now,
in her thin running shorts.
“I did actually…” His eyes were steady on her
so she kept hers down as if the linoleum were
the most fascinating thing in the world.
“…but, you know, the reports of people
getting caught in their cars…just awful. So
awful. I suppose it’s better to stay and listen
to the reports, you know? At least that way
you won’t be taken by surprise out on the
road. God, what a way to go.”
The man moved into the kitchen and leaned
against the counter. Rayna took half a step
back and leaned against the fridge.
“It sure is creepy once the houses are all
sealed up like this, isn’t it?” he said. “How
everything is so muffled all of a sudden?”
“Like the snow,” she said.
“You know, like, how after a snow the world
outside gets all quiet? Like nature realizes
how beautiful it is or something and just kind
of stops talking.”
“Nature stops talking, huh?”
“Well, you know what I mean. It’s like it
knows sound would ruin it.”
“Never been to the snow before. Don’t see
the need for it,” he said. “But I know what
you mean. It’s like, right now, I know there
are people out there, but are there really? I
mean, I don’t hear any cars going by, do you?
Nobody walking their dogs right now. Not
even any planes overhead. Everyone’s got
themselves all locked up, sealed up tight in
their little boxes. Nobody in. Nobody out.
Would we even hear the neighbors scream if
it all started going down right now? Would
they hear us? We could be the only two
people alive right now for all the silence.”
Rayna looked at the radio at the other end of
the counter. She needed to hear someone
else’s voice. Someone alive, someone telling
her the truth.
No, she wanted lies. She wanted to hear that
the bees weren’t coming back. That they
weren’t aggressive. That they weren’t wiping
out entire towns. That a single sting wasn’t
deadly. She wanted to hear that Salinas was
still standing. That Fresno and Bakersfield
and Visalia were still there. She wanted to
hear that the world was right again. That the
world was safe. But she knew it wasn’t. That
it never had been.
She stepped toward the radio but he moved
in front of her and placed a hand on her arm.
His fingers wrapped all the way around her
bicep. His neck hadn’t been shaved. He
smelled of gasoline and something metallic.
Something greasy. His grip tightened.
A ringing in her ears. Or maybe a buzz. This
was how the world would end, not with the
sound of a trillion wings pulsing through her
brain, but by the storm standing over her.
She watched his Adam’s apple bob with his
last gulps of beer. He set the bottle on the
counter and lowered his face to hers.
“Don’t forget to seal that front door real good
when I go.”
Ashley would like you to know that she is not afraid of
bees. She sees them as allies, and she wishes them well—
despite the way it may seem from her story. As for its
genesis: while on a run one day, she ran straight into the
heart of a beehive moving its queen in what was
essentially a terrifying bee-tornado. She later had the
thought, what if all the disappearing bees reappeared at
once? Ashley recently earned her MFA in Creative Writing
at Pacific University and has work set to appear in
forthcoming issues of Michigan Quarterly Review and
Weber—The Contemporary West. She lives in San Diego
with her husband and two shaggy mutts.
|by Ashley Morrow Hermsmeier