BUZZKILL - KIERAN SHEA
This is how David Conner knew his wife Jeannie wanted him dead: honey. Innocent enough looking jar. Medium-sized, transparent with a cross-hatched pattern, tipped over and oozing thick, goopy strips of gold down the storm cellar steps. Fifteen feet away from where the honey started to pool, David knelt on aching knees, painting the basement floor.
David had his iPod earbuds in, cranking some old school AC/DC “Highway to Hell” and didn’t totally freak until he felt the frantic vibrations near the flesh of his neck. A bee allergy like David’s was akin to pulling the pin on a grenade. It didn’t take much, one little pumping butt lance with no antidote handy and you could pretty much pound out David’s obituary. Twice in his forty-one years he had to jab himself in the thigh with an antidote; once when he was sixteen and caddying in a local golf tournament and once a few years later at a fraternity picnic in college. Ever since then, he’d been real careful, always making sure he had his safety syringe on him or close by, especially outdoors. The last place he thought he’d need to be vigilant was in his own basement.
Jeannie Conner biked to the local farmer’s co-op every Saturday, cheerily advising David of her plans each time as he gloomed over the morning sports page and a French press pot of bitter coffee. Her bicycle was equipped with state-of-the-art panniers for transport to and from the market. She even had wicker basket lashed to her handle bars with leather straps just like that harassing skank Elmira Gulch in The Wizard of Oz.
Always a bit on the crunchy side and a tad flakey, Jeannie took pride in stocking their kitchen with organic fresh fruit and vegetables from the co-op market. She even knew all the sandal-shod vendors’ names—silly, mooning tie-dyed freakshows, David thought, all hairy in their granny skirts and hemp pants authentically woven in some Bolivian commune. David, quite frankly, could give two shits.
Did it taste good? Great. Who cares if a strawberry was jacketed with an invisible sheen of pesticides or if a steer was stoned on growth hormone like a weightlifter on muscle beach? Life’s short, baby. Gimme mine and make it fucking rare.
For some time now, Jeannie had been ragging on David to change his bloated and carnivorous ways. The latest flanks in this ongoing struggle for his soul were that she wanted David to go completely vegetarian and to eighty-six the booze. Sure, right. That’ll be the day, David snorted.
But with his promotion to senior law partner, David was always busy and, by default, food procurement fell exclusively to Jeannie. The result was he ended up sulking miserably over countless bland casseroles and dirty artisanal salads.
David did find many circuitous ways to feed his wayward jones. He hid pints of bourbon around the house like a goddamn teenager, wolfed down bacon double cheeseburgers on the drive home claiming he was stuck in traffic, and made his administrative assistant score him super-extreme nachos. The pen slots in his briefcase sheathed Slim Jims for dire emergencies.
David let out a breath and slowly turned, assessing the bee situation. Over the years, he learned not to panic, that sudden moves could only agitate the bees into banzai mode. Reaching for his hip, he thumbed PAUSE on his iPod wheel.
He looked up behind him, glasses slipping slightly with sweat, his head funky from the paint fumes. He’d left the storm cellar doors open for ventilation as the steps leading up to the living room were missing half their boards. That was another weekend project on the docket. Now David looked out at his only exit, a swarming gauntlet of buggy death backed up by a flawless blue sky. At the very top stair was the honey jar on its side, leaking its goo.
A bee landed on David’s forearm and crawled over the hairs like a tiny obstacle course, its antennas twitching, black alien-shaped eyes seemingly enormous. David whined as his stomach turned into a dripping bowl of ice.
He gulped—then called out.
A moment later, Jeannie came into view. She looked like…Jesus…what the hell was she wearing?
Jeannie’s voice was muffled. “Hi, David.”
“Yep. Fresh, too. Got it this morning at the co-op.”
David couldn’t compute what he was seeing. From his angle looking up at Jeannie, she looked like some kind of massive scientist from a EPA superfund site, like John Wayne blowing out the oil fires in that movie—what was it? Oh yeah. Hellfighters. Jeannie’s thick rubber gloves pulled at the baggy white sides of her legs as if she were a clown about to break into a Chaplin-esque waddle. Her face was obscured by a screen.
A bee-keeper suit?
“No. Not the honey, baby, uh, the bees.”
“Yeah, Zandy gave them to me. And the suit, too. You like the suit? Pretty cool, huh?”
“Zandy? Who the hell is Zandy?”
Jeannie adjusted her helmet, “His real name is Alexander Hurst, but everybody calls him Zandy. He’s this really cute guy I met a few months ago at the co-op. Total trust-fund baby and a vegetarian and has this, like, amazing farm. Six hundred acres, solar powered. Been in the family since Jeffersonian times. Keeps bees and makes his own goat cheese, can you believe it? He’s so awesome.”
“What are you talking about? You’re having an affair?”
“Great. So now what? You’re trying to kill me with bees?”
“I’m sorry, David,” Jeannie confirmed, “This is probably the simplest, most natural way. Guns are messy and you know how clumsy I am with a knife. Maybe you should have treated me better.”
David stammered, “Wait a second. Come on…you’re kidding me, right? This is a joke, right?”
“Nope. No joke. Sorry.”
“Is this about my affair? Jesus Christ! That’s over! That was over, like, three years ago! I told you that. She meant nothing, just a work fling. I was drunk. Holy crap….there’s hundreds of them, Jeannie!”
From behind her mask, Jeannie admired the bees banging to and fro in the tunnel leading to the basement, carving their swaths through the air like tiny surfers, “Well, you know it’s not just that. I mean, I could overlook that. Everybody has a moment of weakness.”
“Even me. Back when we were engaged? Remember that party your friends threw us in New York? The one at the W Hotel on Lex?”
“I blew your little brother in the coat room.”
“But really, David, what do you want me to say? There so much more to life, you know? Just being around you. You’re so, I don’t know, so grumpypants lately. You wouldn’t listen to any of the positive life changes I suggested.”
“I can change!”
“No, I don’t think so. The poisons you insist on killing yourself with—the cigars, the red meat…my God…the chicken wings? It was even affecting my aura. Face it, sooner or later, you’d be dead by your own hand anyway.”
She held up a straw broom. David pleaded.
“Wait! Please! Don’t!”
Jeannie started swinging away, swatting at the bees.
David charged the steps. He was surprised by the bolting surge in his cramped leg muscles, but he guessed abject fear would do that to you, kick the survival adrenaline into hyperdrive. He was halfway up the steps when the first stinger plunged into his eyelid.
Then another in his cheek…
Then his ear, his lips, his neck…
The venom moved fast. David’s heart raced and his throat puffed shut like he swallowed a clamped, cottony fist. He staggered against the walls and tried to remember where his syringe was upstairs in the house but the horror of approaching death closed in on him like a black cloak. He coughed violently trying to clear his narrowing windpipe and tears spilled from his eyes. He suddenly realized that even if he got inside he’d never make it.
Top of the stairs. Jeannie tried to slam the storm doors shut on his head but David smashed on through like a linebacker. He latched onto Jeannie’s baggy bee suit and knocked her mask and helmet free with a backhand. Bees swarmed around them like electrons around a pair of atoms.
David yanked backwards and they tumbled. Bones clicking deep in muscle all the way down the cellar steps. Then came the final, crunching impact into the wet paint on the basement floor. Jeannie’s neck twisted back so far her forehead propped up her shoulders.
Sprawled crooked and his precious oxygen leeching away, David heard something. It was faint noise and drifting in and out.
At first, David thought it was the bees buzzing around their bodies but he was wrong. Somehow in the cartwheeling free-fall down the steps the PAUSE button on his iPod was released. The sound was the late Bon Scott wailing.
“And I’m going down, all the way downnnnnnn…”
Fucking figures, David thought.
BIO: Kieran Shea likes it when there’s no stop signs, speed limit. He has upcoming stories in Plots with Guns, Pulp Pusher, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Visit him at his blog BLACK IRISH BLARNEY.