Sting Once and Die

“…she carefully placed the brittle body of a dead bumblebee on the circle of salt. She had considered using a wasp, but she was looking for justice, not vengeance. A solution, not escalation.”

by Mary E. Lowd

A Deep Sky Anchor Original, May 2022

Selina knelt in the middle of the empty Hamilton Middle School room.  She’d pushed the desks and chairs up against the walls, leaving the floor clear for the bull’s eye pattern she’d drawn with salt.  The only light came from the soft cold glow of the moon behind the shuttered windows and a flickering warm radiance from the ring of candles around the outer edge of the bull’s eye.  In the middle, the very middle, she carefully placed the brittle body of a dead bumblebee on the circle of salt.  She had considered using a wasp, but she was looking for justice, not vengeance.  A solution, not escalation.

Selina traced her finger tips through the carefully drawn concentric circles of salt, drawing the simple pattern into complex spirals.  All the while, she chanted.  Nonsense syllables in a sing-song voice, tripped over her tongue, spilling out the anguish and pain she’d felt.  The terror.  She was tired of living in terror.  What had been lost could not be brought back, but she could end the cycle.

The silver moonlight flickered, as if the entire moon were a candle and someone had breathed too closely to it.  And the candlelight steadied.  A fairy appeared, the size of a small child, maybe five or six, with translucent wings and bobbed hair, like one of the Beatles.  The students who had died in this room were so young, they might not have even known who the Beatles were…  Selina choked back the tears that always lived on the edge of her eyes now.

The fairy looked almost painfully precious, wearing a black and yellow striped leotard with a lemon colored tutu.  “This is an interesting form you’ve chosen.”  The fairy’s voice was high and clear.  There was no way to tell its gender.

“Bees sting once,” Selina said.  “Then they die.”

“True,” the fairy observed, flapping zir wings very slowly.  “It’s a very powerful spell.  It will need a blood sacrifice.”

Selina laughed — one bitter barking sound that lacerated her throat with its suddenness.

The room was drenched in blood.

Sure, the floor, the walls, the desks — they’d all been cleaned.  Thoroughly.  But the blood would always be there.  The fairy looked around, nodded once, and said, “Oh, I see.  Well, then, the price is paid.”  The words were spoken by a face that looked too young to make such a serious proclamation.

Before Selina could thank the fairy or change her mind and plead to take the spell back, the moonlight steadied; the candlelight flickered; and the fairy and the dead bumblebee were gone.  Selina swept up the salt and returned the desks and chairs to their usual, orderly rows.


All over the country, scrabbling, scraping sounds appeared inside gun safes.

Those gun owners, the cautious, conscientious, careful ones, who had kept their guns in metal boxes, locked up tight, were the lucky ones; they had time to find out about the effects of Selina’s spell, and time to dispose of their guns safely.

But in many households, there was no metal box protecting the legal owner of a toy meant for murder from the consequences of their foolish choice.

The country dripped with blood.  But this time, it wasn’t the blood of innocents.  That’s what Selina told herself as she watched the news roll in, sitting on her bed, staring at her phone, unable or unwilling to look away from the horror, shaking and sobbing, and listening to the scraaaatching, scrrr-rrr-raabbling, scraaaaping sounds inside her own gun safe.

These were the birth pains of a better nation.  One without guns.

But Selina didn’t know if she could handle the blood, on her hands this time, long enough to see the results.  That’s why she’d bought the gun and safe.

Selina clicked on story after story about right-wing extremists shot hundreds of times by their hoarder-like stockpiles turning on them.  But there were also stories about women who’d bought a single gun, ostensibly for safety in spite of what all the studies show:  guns don’t make you safer.  And Selina’s heart ached for them.

She reached for the biometric safe, unlocked it with her fingerprint, and then watched the creature inside — spiky with gunmetal gray fur and fast with its six stubby legs — emerge from the darkness within, seeking its legal owner like a heat-seeking missile.  That was her.

The gun’s mouth was round like an O.  For a beat, Selina stared at it, and the creature stared back.  Then with a bang, it was over.

One sting and dead.  Both of them.  Owner and gun.

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