He stretched his aching back against the spectacular backdrop of jagged mountains reaching for the heavens, wreathed in the verdant green of the forest which provided his casual employment. His clear, blue eyes scanned the hillside, beyond the clearing where lumberjacks sawed, chopped, and sweated in the midday sun, and on down to the buildings scattered in the valley below. The golden sun shone down scene with little puffy clouds providing the only spots of shade as they scudded across a cerulean sky. Heyes was down there; his head for figures giving him an office job instead the backbreaking slog of felling trees.
He stooped to pick up the lunch pail provided by their landlady. He was sure ready for it now. A morning’s labor had left him with a pit of emptiness in his belly. He decided that the tree stump at the edge of the woods would make a perfect resting place for a break, so he strode over and claimed it, immediately pleased with the view and the sunlight filtering through the boughs providing a mottled shade.
He leaned over and flipped open his lunch pail, picking at the gingham cloth to expose the delicacies within. The yells of some of the men made him raise his head and his brows instantly gathered as he fixed on a small whirling cloud moving through the air towards him. Confusion was his first instinct, but he very quickly realized that they were a swarm of insects moving in an ever-circular cloud towards him. The droning, buzzing sound continued and the tiny things moved ever onwards and inexorably towards him in a mass of helixes, each insect on their own path within this little universe. The sound of deep humming filled his ears as the billowing haze moved closer and closer. They were bees on the move and they were almost upon him. Instinct told him to freeze as the host enveloped him.
He sat, eye wide open and alert, as the bees flew around him. He was as curious as he was impressed with their ability to appear so focused on whatever objective they had as they flew around the big heavy queen in the center of the melee. The swarm moved so slowly as a whole he had time to marvel at the organization in the flurry. Each of the bees flew in spirals, never touching him, not even a glancing blow, and never bumping into one another. Around and around they whirled as the Kid looked on in amazement.
His brain suddenly switched on an unbidden memory, perhaps spurred by the motion of his eyes watching the action swirling around him as he was no more than a mute observer. In his mind he was a child again, cowering in the woodpile as the marauders galloped around and around shooting at anything that moved. From his vantage point, peering out between the logs, he could just see his sister’s crumpled body through a mask of tears. He saw that view over and over again, returning automatically in unguarded moments. It haunted him, especially as she’d been cut down just after she pushed him into his hiding place and told him not to come out, no matter what. She had saved his life, and lost her own. Oh, Mary. He allowed himself a moment to wonder what she would have been today as the scarred heart broke once more.
He could still hear the jarring sound of the blasting weapons slicing through the air and his jangling nerves, one after another after another. The hooves pounded, the fusillade ripped at his eardrums, and his heart beat fit to burst. Then the shooting stopped almost as suddenly as it had started and the horrible truth grew as a lump in his throat until he felt sick. It stopped because nobody was left alive to shoot back. It was an eerie, unearthly silence; no birds sang, no chickens clucked, and the horses stopped galloping. Reality dampened everything but the death, the fear and the smell. The odors of a human opened up would stay with him to his dying day.
“Did they sting you?”
He shook himself back to reality. “Huh?”
“The bees,” the lumberjack yelled. “Did they get you?”
“No,” he frowned. “They didn’t get me.” Kid Curry leaned over and flipped his lunch pail closed.
“Ain’t ya gonna eat that?” one of his fellow workers demanded.
The Kid shook his head. “Nah, I just lost my appetite. You have it.”