Don't Eat West Virginia Honey (Part 3)
The local grown horror of West Virginia Honey is about to go nationwide.
As soon as I graduated high school, I got the hell out of Gramercy. After Clay... changed, I became a shut in. I never left my room, but I ended up obsessed with audio video stuff. I convinced my parents to send me to summer camps, and it was the only time I could ever relax. During my senior year, I pieced together a shitty little documentary, and sent it off to UCLA as my application, I was lucky enough that they took me in and I ended up studying film. Although, quite frankly, I would have done just about anything to get out of that hellhole. Part of me just wanted to forget it all. I thought if I ignored it that maybe then Clay, the bees, Peaches, it would all just go away.
For a while, it seemed like it just might. I barely heard anything from my folks who the locals always left alone. I figured it was because someone outside of town might actually notice if my dad up and disappeared since he worked for the Natural Resources Police. But as for me, I could finally stop staying up at night, trying to decide if there was something watching me from the woods or if I was just imagining that faint, droning buzz.
I could never bring myself to actually eat honey even after I left Gramercy. Every time I tried, I just remembered the smell of rot and the dead animals full of honey and insects. Still, I didn’t have to wonder if the generic honey bear squeeze bottle in my dining hall came from a hive full of rot and monsters. I was safe. I got a shitty job in the summer working at some pretentious local food store so I wouldn’t have to go home. I took summer classes, graduated early, and then went for an MFA just to keep away from home. I told myself that I didn’t have to go home, everything would be fine.
Then one day, as I was stocking shelves, I noticed something. Rebecca, one of the sample girls, was giving out a new kind of honey that I’d never seen before. It was a big glass mason jar filled with the viscous amber liquid. She was dipping it into little paper thimble cups while offering graham crackers on the side to scoop it out with. What freaked me out was the label. It had two cartoons bees dancing with each other forming a figure eight with huge letters that read Figure Eight Honey and just below that in small text, “Fresh from Gramercy, West Virginia.”
I rushed over, grabbing the jar off the little fold up tray table she had it resting on. “When the hell did we start stocking this?”
“What? We just started a new trial with some artisanal folks or something. I think Jack said we’re gonna be one of their trial stores before they start out a nationwide rollout.” I started shaking, the honey dropped out of my hand, the glass jar shattering on the floor.
“Is there more of it?”
“Damn it! Ugh, go get the mop. And yeah, we’ve got like ten cases in storage that are supposed to go on shelves in a few, wait where are you going, the mop’s in the back!”
“I… I feel sick. I gotta go home.” I fled out the door shivering the whole way, ignoring Rebecca as she called after me. I felt cold, and my gut slowly twisted up until I thought I was going to be sick. As soon as I got home, I started a frantic internet search, trying to figure out what was going on. It didn’t make sense, everyone back in Gramercy was into beekeeping, but they always kept it to themselves or maybe sold it on the side of the road, but nobody ever got into distribution I have no idea what changed their mind, but as I started researching, I think I figured out what was going on.
Once a hive gets too big, multiple queens are born. The new queens are then forced out by the remaining monarch, and they move on with a few other bees to form new colonies. Could that be what’s happening with whatever the hell those bees from Gramercy were supposed to be? Were they expanding their reach? Finding new places to colonize and spread out fresh hives with their honey?
I started looking up Figure Eight honey and found that they even had a website. There wasn’t much on there. It honestly wasn’t much better than one of those geocities sites you might see in the 90s, but there was enough there to tell me what I needed to know. Because of the colony collapse syndrome which saw North America lose half of its population of bees, farmers are desperate to get something to pollinate their crops, and Gramercy had a supply of bees to spare. Their colonies were being taken to farms, and they just started selling the honey in local fairs. A product scout from our store was there and liked it so much he wanted to do a trial before a nationwide rollout.
I finally found out that there were local almond orchards that had bought truckloads of bees from Gramercy to help pollinate their trees, and they were doing a brisk business selling honey on the side. The article I found listed one of the farms that had most recently bought from Gramercy, and I decided to check things out. I tried asking around first, but they were really close-mouthed. Nobody wanted to talk. Asking for honey was like trying to talk your way into a Freemason lodge.
The people on the farm looked weird. They had an abnormally thin waist and large eyes that I remembered so vividly from my childhood. I kept insisting I wanted to talk to the owner, that I was interested in making a documentary, that it would be good publicity, and they just stonewalled me.
I must have pushed them too far, because in between a question about how long they’d been beekeeping and whether they’d like a documentary piece about their farm, one of the workers, a pallid-looking guy with a bald head and large black eyes hit me. I’m not exactly a scrawny kid. I might be a nerd, sure, but I’m the kind of nerd who joined the Society for Creative Anachronism in college so I could wear armor and carry a shield around for fun. When he hit me, it felt like someone just slammed a brick into my gut. I stumbled backward and he hit me again, knocking me to the ground, and the others joined in, kicking me over and over as I tried to get up and fight back.
I actually managed to get to my feet, bull rushing the nearest farm hand, and knocking him to the ground before his friends grabbed me, holding my arms behind me as they dragged me away from the orchard. That was the last thing I saw. They put a burlap sack over my head and bound my hands behind my back. I couldn’t feel my feet on the ground anymore. I struggled, frantically twisting in their arms, afraid that the next thing I would see would be an underground cavern and a queen.
They’d lifted me up then I felt cold, unforgiving metal as I was thrown into the back of what I could only assume was a pickup truck. I lost track of time as I was thrown back and forth, slamming into the sides of the bed of the truck. Eventually, the pickup came to a screeching halt, and I felt my body being lifted as I was tossed from the pickup onto the dirt. They cut the rope binding my hands, and as I ripped the sack off my face, I saw the truck tearing off down a deserted stretch of highway.
I was lucky it was a new colony. I don’t think I’d have survived it if anyone had recognized me from Gramercy. I had no idea where I was, but somehow they hadn’t taken my smartphone, so I was still able to uber my way home. I ignored my driver's complete confusion and his questions about if I wanted to be dropped off at a hospital rather than at my apartment. I was already making plans; I knew I had to go back. No one would expect anyone to be stupid enough to try to sneak into the same place he’d been beaten for just trying to talk his way inside.
This time I knew better, and it wasn’t like it was the first time I’d snuck somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. It was considered to be a badge of honor for any self-respecting documentarian. I got there just as the sun had finished sinking below the horizon. It was quieter this time, but in the silence, I could hear that familiar droning hum, and in the center of the orchard was a completely white 18-wheeler. It just sat there the engine idling, the heavy rumble mixing with the constant buzz. It was almost like it was waiting for something.
Then I saw three tractors came driving in from the fields. Each had a flatbed wagon attached, and they were all filled with workers coming back from working the fields. They didn’t seem like the other farmhands. They looked normal. As they got closer, I realized they were all migrant workers probably hired in town and brought in to work in the orchard. A few minutes later, a couple pick up trucks came driving in through the front gates, but they didn’t have any more workers.
I could smell the carcass from halfway across the field. Tarps had been lashed down over the beds of the truck and secured with bungee cord. A few of the migrant workers were directed towards the trucks, and I could see as the field hands gesture towards the truck beds. The migrant workers looked unsettled as they approached and began to pull the tarps off the trucks.
One man was trying to ask questions and he was looking more and more upset. They were too far away, so I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Then I saw a flash of moonlight as a farm hand behind the migrant worker pulled a long knife, grabbing the man’s hair and yanking back as he dragged the knife across the migrant worker’s neck. Before any of the other workers could react, the other farmhands were on top of them stabbing and cutting. I could hear the screaming from my hiding place, and I shrank back further into cover. I began to shake from fear. I knew things were going to be bad when I snuck in, but I don’t think I’d fully let myself realize just what I was doing.
As I watched, overcome with fear, the farmhands began loading the bodies into the back of the eighteen wheeler. I crept closer using the trees for cover. It wasn’t too hard to figure out what was probably in that thing. It was smart. What better way to transport a giant beehive? If I could just get one photo of the inside with my smartphone camera that’d be enough to put an end to this. There’d be no more Gramercy honey anywhere if I could just get one picture uploaded on the internet. The only problem was how I’d manage to get a clear photo of a trailer full of rotten meat and honey without alerting all of the drone farmhands. Given what they did to the migrant workers, I don’t think I’d get the courtesy of being dumped off in the middle of a highway this time when they could just throw my rotting corpse in to add to the hive.
Like most people in LA, I’d learned to take up smoking so I had a lighter on me practically at all times. I flicked my zippo to life, reaching into my backpack for the first of my little surprises I’d concocted. I pulled a glass bottle with a rag stuffed down the neck from my bag and lit the rag. I threw the bottle at a tree further back in the orchard, and the glass shattered, sending gasoline showering over the bark as the tree went up in flames. I dashed away hiding under one of their tables. It honestly didn’t matter if they could put the fire out or not. It was a win-win. If the fire spread and caught the attention of the authorities then there would be no explaining a cargo truck filled with dead bodies and beeswax. If they did manage to put the fire out it’d give me enough time so I could get the footage I needed.
The smoke was starting to billow and the farmhands swarmed over to the orchard, desperate for a way to put out the fire. I queued up the camera on my smartphone and hit the record button. With the camera app running, I dashed my way towards the eighteen wheeler. The farmhands were desperately trying to throw water on the orchard trees as my fire grew and spread. I pulled the doors open. The interior was honeycombed with wax and the smell of blood and rotting meat rolled out of the back of the trailer. I gagged, putting a hand over my mouth as I held up the phone, recording everything I could. The constant buzzing stopped, and I had the sudden horrible sense that I was being watched.
The fire outside had grown more intense as the human drones failed to subdue it. It was now spreading from tree to tree, the roaring flames enveloping the leafy canopy. The bees began to swarm and I slammed the doors shut and ran but enough of them leaked, that they still swarmed over me. I cried out as they stung me, but something was wrong. The smoke must have interfered with their senses because the majority of the insects flew in crazed circles. I threw myself under the trailer covering myself in dirt. As I crawled on the ground, I could hear screaming and burning as the buzzing filled the air.
I thought I could bring this all to an end, but I think I only made it worse. I had no idea how to escape; fire and smoke were everywhere. Even if I got away from the swarm of stinging insects, the farmhands might find me and kill me. I reached inside my bag, feeling the other molotov I’d packed away. I crawled my way through the trailer to the front of the truck. I crawled my way past the huge wheels of the front and pulled myself out from under the truck and into the cabin of the truck. I was lucky the doors weren’t locked. Outside, there was absolute chaos.
I caught my breath as I briefly admired what I’d created. It was getting hard to breathe through. My body ached from dozens of bee stings. My fingers were completely swollen, and it took me four tries to flick my lighter to life and hold it to the rag on the end of the molotov. Smoke choked the cabin, and outside, the whole orchard burned. And under it all, I could hear that horrible buzzing. I took off my coat and wrapped it around my head. It was the only protection I had. I kicked open the door.
I could feel the heat from the fire all around me, and the bees that were left swirled around me stinging furiously. I was screaming, but I could barely hear myself over the fire and the buzzing. It didn’t matter how much I tried to cover myself. They were everywhere, in my hair, in my clothes, stinging the whole time. All I could feel the dry crunch as I crushed them in my clothes as I moved. I swayed on my feet, my arm moving in jerking, spastic motions as I cocked it back and heaved the molotov at the trailer.
The fire spread across the back, and suddenly the stink of burning meat and caramelized sugar was added to the cloying scent of smoke. I stumbled away from the blaze, sure that one of the farm hands would see me and kill me for what I had done. I didn’t care though. All I could think about was Clay. I was knocked off my feet when the fire spread to the cabin of the truck and the fuel exploded. Still, I kept going, crawling away hand over hand. Between the fire and the droning swarm and not quite human screams of the farmhands, I could hear the hive die.
With what little energy and adrenaline I inched myself away from the blaze. I must have blacked out at some point from pain and exhaustion. I think I remember waking up briefly in an unfamiliar parking lot, a state trooper knocking on the glass of my car window and looking concerned. Hours later I was in a hospital.
The trooper had had to break the glass on my driver’s side window to get me out. I was told at some point, I’d stopped breathing. A combination of all the venom in my system and smoke inhalation. But I was safe now. No one had any idea where I’d come from, but pretty soon they’d put two and two together after the news of the fire at the orchard came out. I kept quiet though, and the doctors all agreed that some memory loss wouldn’t be out of place for what I’d gone through. Once they found out I was a film student and a documentarian, they all just assumed I’d gone for a project.
Which brings me to why I’ve been writing all this. I’ve been out of the hospital a couple days now, but I’m still not well enough to go back to work. I sleep a lot, and I’ve been taking some pretty heavy duty painkillers. At some point during my visit to the orchard, I’d broken a few ribs. I’ve been watching a lot of TV to kill time. The news report said that the entire farm burned down; I was the only survivor. The only problem is, I don’t think I got everything. The Figure Eight Honey website has recently linked to a bunch of other articles in local news from across the country. That tractor trailer wasn’t the only one. They had a whole fleet of tractor trailers ready to ship out those hives and pollinate farms in at least a dozen other states.