I don’t even remember their names now, but that’s to be
expected, it happened more than twenty years ago.
I was young, eight if I had to guess but I can’t say for
certain. My parents owned a cabin in the woods by a lake up north, and we’d
weekend up there whenever we got the chance.
It was beautiful area in the summer. It was miserable in the
autumn. I have a number of memories of the place, some fond.
As I said, I don’t remember their names now. They were
friends of convenience, we had nothing in common other than the fact that we
were the only three kids within a hundred miles of the lake, and I never
thought to maintain contact with them when my parents finally sold the cabin
Not that I could have. It isn’t like Facebook was a thing
that existed back then.
Still, friends of convenience or no, they were friends, and
for the weekends our parents brought us there we were inseparable.
We’d swim, or explore the forests surrounding our various
cabins, or “rock climb” the nearby hill. I’m sure the hill was nothing more
than a gentle slope, but the time, to my eight year old mind, it was Everest.
It was climbing the rocky hill where it happened.
One of them, I want to say his name started with an R, Ryan?
Roland? One of them, at any rate, stumbled partway up. This is no surprise
since we rarely, if ever, made it all the way to the top. It did get pretty
steep toward the end and we were children, after all. He stumbled, caught a
nearby bit of bush with one hand, took two steps back, and righted himself,
breathing heavily from adrenalin at so nearly having fallen down the hill. He
looked gleeful that he hadn’t.
Then he looked down, noticing the ruined nest he’d stumbled
into in his attempts to maintain his balance.
They were on him in a heartbeat, a tornado of black and
yellow with Richard, or Reggie, or whatever his name was at it’s center,
screaming in pain and fear as they defended what was left of their home.
A good friend would have done something to help him. So
would a responsible adult. Sadly neither one was available so me and the other
kid, I can’t even guess what his name might have started with, stared with a
shock mingled with natural childlike curiosity, unable to look away, fascinated
by the process as they tore him apart.
“Are they bees, or wasps? Or hornets?” One of us asked.
“I don’t think they’re bees, don’t bees die after they sting
somebody?” The other replied.
We agreed that this was so, but still couldn’t decide if
they were wasps or hornets. For eight year olds, we had a distressingly limited
knowledge of entomology. We argued over the matter, choosing sides at random
and switching them often, as the insects continued their work and our “friend”
continued screaming in vain for our help.
We continued arguing over it until the hornets, or wasps, or
maybe they were bees after all, realized that the person who’d destroyed their
home wasn’t alone and turned their attention to us.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been stung on the eyelid by an angry
bee, but I have and I’ll tell you: The experience is unique to say the least.
Suddenly we were running, the three of us, the two
relatively untouched helping the third along as his face started to swell and
his breathing became more and more labored. We ran, though we had no idea where
we were running to, and the swarm of angry insects followed us, nipping at us
as we went, not catching up enough to swarm us properly but never falling
behind far enough to lose interest.
We ran, propelled by terror and pain, blind and screaming,
no plan or destination in mind, like a comet with a tail made of bees.
Or wasps. Or hornets. I suppose in the end the distinction
Eventually, one of us screamed “The lake!” and we hooked a
sharp right and plunged through bushes and trees toward the lake we hoped we
could use to ward off our attackers.
By this point parents had been alerted to our screams I’m
sure, though we wouldn’t see them for a while.
We plunged into the cold water of the lake and, after I
don’t know how long, the insects flew away. We thought at the time they’d lost
interest in punishing us, but looking back I realize they were probably looking
for an appropriate place to die. It wasn’t as though they had a nest to go back
to, after all.
Our parents lost their minds when they saw us, and Rex, or
Rufus, I wish I could remember what he was called, had to be taken to the
hospital. I don’t know if that was the last I ever saw of him, but he certainly
makes no further appearances in my memories of the place. I’d only been stung a
half-dozen times and was more or less better by morning, and the other kid got
off even easier. Two stings. A swirling maelstrom of angry bees and he got
stung a total of twice. I figured he was the luckiest kid in the world, not
once stopping as the ambulance pulled away from our cabins to think that so was
We kept going to the cabin on weekends for a while after
that, but I never enjoyed it as well as I’d done before that day. Eventually,
the bloom gone from the rose, my parents sold the place and I couldn’t bring
myself to care that those weekends up north by the lake were gone forever.
I got on with my life, no lasting damage done either
emotionally or physically by that terrifying childhood experience.
Except, sitting on my couch more than twenty years later,
I’m thinking back to that day, and taking a long hard look at my life and my
And I’m realizing: Angry Bees really are a trope I go back
to time and time again, both in my comedy and in my fiction writing. Is that
because there’s a lot you can do with the notion, or is it eight year old Munsi
inside me, trembling, still holding his breath underwater, afraid he might
drown but more afraid of what would happen if he let his head break the surface
of the lake, even for a second?
The things that touch our lives as children, do they haunt
us to our graves?