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 years later.
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 didn’t matter.
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 I.
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 work.
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?