by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Oxfurred Comma Flash Fiction Contest, July 2022
Amber fluid dripped from the hive, but it wasn’t honey. It was thick and gooey and satiated. The amorphous being, gold and honey-like, had infiltrated the hive, feasted on the honey and then on the worker bees who’d made the honey; then the drones who the worker bees had waited on; and finally, on the delectable morsels of unfinished dough that were the eggs and pupae.
But not the queen.
The amber fluid coalesced, reforming itself on the ground under the hollowed-out hive. A golden pool, reflecting the blue sky, broken up by branches above. The queen looked down from her branch, wings trembling from disuse and rage and fear. She could see bits and pieces of her children — broken segments of leg or antennae — mixed into the amber swirls. She had been large once — moments ago. A lifetime ago. She had been generations of magnificent daughters and loafing sons, a thriving colony.
Now she was alone. Singular.
“Why did you leave me alive?” the queen bee buzzed at the honey look-alike, puddled under her tree. “Why didn’t you eat me too?”
The amber goo stretched upward, forming the shape of a bee’s face, mandibles wide and antennae flailing. It spoke in a sticky buzz: “I love you. I idolize you. I freed you from your chains.”
“My five generations of daughters and four generations of sons were not chains!” the queen buzzed, her body so light with wrath that she could have almost floated away without flapping her translucent wings. “And destroying the things someone loves is not love.”
“Perhaps,” the goo buzzed, sounding even more sticky as its bee-face melted back into the formless pool. “Perrrrhaaaaps…” the puddle slurred, beginning to flow away. The honey-clone poured across the flat ground like water flowing downstream, trickling away from the queen until it was nothing but a golden line, an illusory shimmer in the distance. Off to cause more damage, eat more hives, leave more bereft queens.
The queen watched. The queen waited. Then she returned to the empty halls of her hive. The hexagonal chambers echoed now, echoed with silence. She couldn’t bear the suffocating sound. So she took to the sky, straining and stretching her disused wings.
But as she flew, she remembered. She remembered the peaceful feeling of losing herself in the deep blue sky. The peaceful feeling of being alone.
Perhaps she would lay new eggs, start a new hive, start again.
Perhaps it was time for a new kind of life.
* * *
Behind her, the hive continued to buzz with puzzled workers and bewildered drones, wondering what hallucinatory vision — what dawning madness in the dusk of her life — had drawn their aging queen away, causing her to seek the freedom of adolescence again.
They would always honor her, and the legacy she’d left behind. But among the ranks of workers, a new queen was already on the rise.