A Jar of Bees
We spent the whole summer making a monster. And then it got out.
Every Saturday I would rescue my BMX from the overcrowded shed and cycle to my friend Ian’s house in a nearby housing estate. We would spend the day playing in the back yard before I retreated back home at six o’ clock. I was a responsible boy and this was the magic hour my whole day revolved around. My mother didn’t mind what I was doing, as long as I was back at the house like a loyal soldier by 1800 hours. If I returned by this magic time I could go anywhere, unquestioned. I was 10.
Ian was one of my best friends at school. He was tall, skinny, extremely shy and quiet and had short jet black hair cut in the shape of a bowl. He had piercing pale grey eyes that hung below thick dark black eyebrows.
My somewhat hyperactive, impulsive, and emotional behavior seemed to neutralize Ian’s cold, analytical and cautious demeanor. We would play out in the back garden for hours. Ian’s mother was a heavy user of Valium and would often stand at the kitchen sink staring out the window at nothing in particular while we horsed around just under her gaze. Regardless of what we were playing at, it always involved me pleading with Ian to hurry up and him begging me to calm down. This tug of war would last the whole day. Every Saturday like clockwork she would cook spaghetti bolognese and the three of us would sit down and eat. She would eat in silence while Ian and I rambled on excitedly about the latest adventure we just had in the garden. This was the only time Ian ever seemed comfortable talking. His mother would just slowly smile and push her food around her plate and listen. I would look at the clock to ensure I left on time so I would be home at six. So would she.
I rarely ever met Ian’s dad and when I did he seemed both aloof and foreboding. When he was there he was simply there; when he wasn’t he simply wasn’t. He worked in computers but Ian could never really understand what he did. He was cold–very cold–and I never liked being in the same room as him. I didn’t like how it affected the other people.
Ian was obsessed with experimenting on insects. He would make me watch as he burnt earwigs and beetles under a magnifying glass. Slugs would be subjected to salt attacks and worms cut up in the name of scientific curiosity. Birds were too nimble but wasps, bees and butterflies all died slow deaths in old jam jars scattered throughout the garden. This all under the glazed eye of his mother. If our Saturdays playing games were fun, it was obvious that his weeknights after school were being spent furiously busy.
“I have something to show you,” Ian said excitedly as his mother let me through the side gate one Saturday. She moved with slow grace as he hopped up and down on the spot. I rarely saw him like this.
I placed my BMX against the pebble dash wall and followed him in into the garden.
“It’s in the shed,” he continued, as we stepped over jars of bees and a spent container of Saxa salt. I dared not look at the slugs. We stood outside the shed, a large white painted wooden structure filled with bicycles, sheets of wood and old decaying games that had become sorry victims of boredom.
“I found it three days ago,” he said as he entered, motioning for me to follow. The shed was dusty and cluttered, and the smell of rotting grass left on the mowers made me sneeze.
“Shhhhhh, be quiet.”
Ian walked slowly to the end of the shed, slowly raising his hand he pointed to the corner of the window and the wall were I saw a large web. Actually, it was more like a web cave. At the mouth were the remains of various insect carcasses that had been drained dry. Ian reached for a jar on a nearby cabinet. He shook it violently, then opening the lid he tipped the contents of it onto the web. A dazed wasp fell on its back and lazily struggled to be free.
A large black spider, larger than any I had ever seen before appeared instantly. It paused and then pounced on the wasp. I couldn’t see what happened next exactly because the spider seemed to take up everything in my view, it’s spindly legs working mechanically around its new feast. Ian was smiling and looking at me for approval. I suddenly felt very aware of my surroundings. The hair stood up on my arms and neck but mostly I felt cold. Even with the summer sun piercing through the window I felt cold, and afraid, and very, very curious.
“I’ve been feeding it. It bites them and they can’t move, then it eats their insides. I can’t believe I found it, it’s the best!”
Ian slowly screwed the lid back on the empty jar. He kept staring at me. I was full of questions and I unleashed them on him as soon as he stared back at the spider.
– How old is it?
– Don’t know.
– Is it a boy or a girl?
– Can’t tell.
– Does your mam know about it?
– I wonder how big it can get?
Ian looked back at me. His cold grey eyes came to life.
I was won over by this simple fact that the spider’s size may be limited to the availability of its food supply. We decided to spend the rest of the day putting a vast array of insects into its web. Jars were emptied, new insects caught and traps set.
The next few Saturdays we threw more and more food to our new master. Once the sacrificial insect hit the web, it began to shake and vibrate and suddenly we were in the garden shaking and breathless talking excitedly of what we had seen. Did we just run out of the shed screaming? We never really saw anything, panic and terror made sure of that. Insects were often thrown from as far as 8 feet away, the jars they sprang from were shook from an array of angles to get the perfect arc for our stunned prey. Earwigs, woodlouse, bumble bees, wasps, the occasional caterpillar or two joined the tiny flies it managed to catch by itself. What we did not know at the time was that perspective was our enemy. It was getting bigger yet we were moving farther away.
It was like throwing raw meat at a body builder from ever increasing distances. How big could it get? Would we even notice as we perfected our delivery system from even further away? Stealing a steak from the fridge was briefly entertained but eventually deemed ridiculous because a steak was already dead. We were creating a cold blooded killer, not some scavenger. The spider must be presented with live food.
During the week at school Ian would let the spider feed itself claiming that he didn’t want it to “burst” in between our Saturday feasts. The truth, I suspected, was that Ian, like myself was too afraid to enter the shed alone. We didn’t even think of the spider when we were alone in the unlikely event that fear would paralyse us, consume us, then hang our empty husks on the walls of our school for all the other children to point at and hit with sticks before running away giggling.
– Look children, there lie the remains of two boys who dared to be afraid of what they created.
When a thought of its black hairy legs pressing down on its webbed cave emerged from any one of my misty daydreams I would quickly turn my mind to something else, anything else, everything else.
But all things look like a spider when it is the only thing you fear. The spider creeped and crawled into every dark corner and crevice of my mind until I found myself fighting the urge to think about it constantly. Like a sore tooth must constantly be touched, our monster must constantly be visualised. Every gust of wind, every stray hair on my face, every dangling object in the corner of my eye was our monster.
I can remember the exact day I had my first taste of absolute undiluted piercing horror. I cycled up to Ian’s house, my head filled with images of our spider. The sun hung high over his street while the evergreen trees in his garden swayed in the wind beckoning me in.
As was now the routine, I rang the door bell and without waiting I walked around to the side entrance. Ian’s mother opened the side gate giving me her slow, dead smile. She never looked at me, just pointed her eyes in my direction. I said hello and walked my bike past her. I was here on business. I leaned my bike against the wall fitting the handle bar into a small hole that had now worn in the pebble dash wall over the past few weeks.
Ian was down the back of the garden burning holes in a butterfly with a magnifying glass. Ian’s mam retreated back to the house.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi.” Ian didn’t look up.
The butterfly curled in the focused heat.
“My dad will be here later so we’re having dinner early.”
Torturing an insect was not improving his mood for once.
Ian glanced at the shed and then back to me.
“You wanna feed it?”
“I caught some stuff.”
A smile grew on his face. His pale grey eyes narrowed.
– Bees and wasps?
– Separate jars?
– Don’t put them in the same jar? They fight.
– Not if you shake it?
– What do you mean?
– Well, not shake it but…roll it. Look.
Ian ran to the top of the garden and picked up one of the many jars lying around the perimeter. Inside wasps and bees crawled passively over each other. He threw it flat down the yard. It rolled and bounced until coming to rest at the base of an evergreen tree. We both ran down but Ian got to it first.
Ian twisted the lid and poured out the contents onto the grass. A mass of wasps and bees lay dazed in front of me.
“You see. They’re numb. It’s the best!”
Ian had somehow managed to find a way of making the two coexist. It saved on jars for sure. I looked at the shed.
“How big is it now?”
Ian just shrugged.
We gathered up a jar each and rolled them down the garden a few times then carefully checked the contents for apathy. When satisfied that our sacrificial insects lost there fight we moved towards the shed.
The shed was dusty as usual and light came through the window in a thick, well defined white column. Nothing stirred. Ian followed behind me clutching his jar as I small-stepped first with mine.
– Stop pushing me.
– I’m not pushing you.
– Get your hand off my back.
– Keep your voice down.
There it was, just as we had left it. The web. I shuffled closer slowly turning the jar lid. I stopped.
– What is it?
I stared at the web, something wasn’t right.
– It’s gone!
– It can’t be.
– I mean I think it’s gone.
– Throw a bee in.
I opened the lid and flicked the jar. Two sorry bees and a wasp landed at the mouth of the web cave. Dazed they lay, only their legs moving. Nothing. Fear began to creep up from my toes as a cold chill descended from my head until both met in my sick stomach. This can’t be right. Ian cowered behind me
– What’s going on.
– It’s not coming out.
– Blow on the web.
– I’m not putting my face near that thing.
Ian had a theory that if you blew on a web the spider would come out to see what was “going on.” Simple as that. Knowing that Ian spent the vast majority of his time capturing, studying and then torturing insects, he most likely knew a lot more about them than I did. I still was not going to blow on that web.
Suddenly a glass smashed on the ground behind me accompanied by the sound of feet shuffling over the rough concrete floor. They were shuffling away from me. I turned to my right and saw Ian try to speak. His jar of bees and wasps lay at his feet, his grey eyes wide and wild, his mouth was gaping but nothing came out. He made a strange snorting sound with his nose and his bottom lip trembled. I turned back to the web. Nothing. The monster’s sacrificial dazed food slowly kicked the air above them. Something was wrong. Everything was wrong.
I slowly turned to my left. It was the most laborious and time consuming action of my entire life.
Three inches from my face on an old battered cupboard was what first appeared to be a black hairy welders glove. Don’t panic. It moved. Panic.
Eyes, lots of them. Legs? Fangs? Hairy? Large bulbous body?
The shed door slammed shut. Ian was gone. Panic-meltdown.
Beautiful. Horrifying. Immense. Crying. Fire. Skeletons. Hell. Sex with your mother.
The bees are waking up!
Time had fractured. The universe was broken. The world is now over. Our monster had gotten out!
Being abandoned by your friend is one thing, starting to lose your mind is another, having a monster-sized spider three inches from your face is the worst thing in the world.
It is clear to me now that I had some kind of fear and panic induced mental breakdown.
Outside, I must get outside, I thought. The door, I must get to the door. Outside is outside the door.
A box fell behind me, then a bicycle. Its bell struck the concrete floor like the first bell of Round 1. Fight! I jumped over Ian’s shattered jar of bees. Some were walking away, others were taking to the air. The wasps were coming out of their daze. They were angry. Buzzing filled my ears. My hands flailed all around me while my body emitted a ghostly wail that I had no control over.
Is this what fear sounds like?
– Uuuuuuurrgh aaaarguuuurgh wuuuuuuhhhaaaaaaargghhh!
More boxes fell. In my mind the monster was trying to get to me. All of its eight bristled muscular legs pushing and shoving and tearing and punching boxes and bikes and lawnmowers and abandoned board games out of its way to bite my flush, panicked flesh.
The jar, I’m still holding my jar .
I threw it behind me over my shoulder like raw meat to an attacking dog.
Take it! I’m sorry, eat them not me!
It smashed and its contents entered the theater of panic like fresh legs to an old football game. Something brushed my hair, a chainsaw exploded in my ear.
Now the monster had recruited its own food supply to attack me. Then it was gone. Then it was back. More boxes fell. My hands hit the door palms out and I started pushing but it wouldn’t budge. The buzzing disappeared and I could hear that ghostly groan again.
– Uuuuuuurrgh aaaarguuuurgh wuuuuuuhhhaaaaaaargghhh!
Was I making that sound? I did it again but this time it tailed off into what sounds like “Ian.” IAN! I’m calling out for my friend but the bastard’s gone. I pushed the door again. Nothing. The buzzing returned and something black floated past my face. I jumped back hitting another box that caused a toolbox to fall from a bench and explode into spanners and screwdrivers on the floor. The ear piercing clanging metal vibrated my tiny bones. Why me? How could a spider flip a tool box like that?
I am going to die!
I looked up, a sliver of light pierced through the door. It was slightly open. I was pushing it the wrong way. Brilliant light illuminated the dusty air exposing parts of the shed’s interior while covering others in a thick black shadow. Three bees hung in the air between me and the door. I jumped through them and ripped the door open. The daylight put a blood fire in my eyes and I closed them, running blindly out into the garden screaming. I didn’t stop until I hit the thick evergreens on the far side. I fell onto my back and just lay on the cool grass catching my breath.
It’s over, I am alive.
I kept my eyes closed and listened to the trees rustling. I was alive. I am alive!
Footsteps approached. Ian put his hand out and helped me up. My legs were weak, I could barely stand but I had caught my breath. I should have been angry but all I felt was relief. He apologized even though he didn’t have to–not that I would’ve heard it over my heartbeat thundering in my ears. I would have done the same. We stood shocked, looking at each other in the garden surrounded by jars of bees. Ian’s mother called to us. Dinner was ready.
Ian, his mother and I sat at the table and ate spaghetti bolognese in absolute silence except for the cutlery scraping our plates. She looked at the wall clock a few times. So did I. It wasn’t six o’ clock yet, it was nowhere near it. I was too tired, relieved, and numb to speak. Ian’s father eventually arrived home from work and placed money on the kitchen counter beside the sink. He stared out the window into the garden surveying the jars that lined the perimeter. He poured himself a drink. He looked at Ian for a few seconds more than was comfortable then left without saying a word to anyone. Muffled TV chatter erupted from the next room that signaled the end to our dinner. Ian’s mother got up and put the money in a jar on top of the fridge. She prepared a new plate of food. Ian and I hardly touched ours and we left silently for the garden.
An argument erupted inside the house as we walked along the evergreens. Without saying a word we picked up the jars and shook the insects out onto the grass. Some were dead while others flew away. We placed the glass jars in the trash and locked the shed from the outside. I left for home, because I could. Besides, by the time we set everything free it was almost six o’ clock.