As the kind of person who will catch a spider in a glass and take it outside or rescue a drowning beetle in a swimming pool, the Great Bee Massacre of 1983 isn’t something that makes me proud. It’s not an event I recall fondly. It is, however, a true story, and the valiant winged warriors who lay piled at my feet once it was over deserve to be remembered.
Thirteen is a tricky age. Part of you feels grown up, wants so badly to drive, to somehow make money, to get out and experience the world. The other part, however, is more than happy to spend hours playing Dungeons and Dragons, reading comic books, and riding bikes.
So it was for my best friend Jerome and me in that fateful summer of ’83. His parents both worked, so his house, and especially his pool, became the place to hang out and while away those hot, muggy days. I could hop on my bicycle and be there in 15 minutes, and most days I was. I’m still not sure how Jerome’s mom managed to keep the fridge full for those three months, but food and drinks were always plentiful, we managed to scrape up enough quarters to keep the arcade at the nearby bowling alley in business, and we spent enough time practicing with his arsenal of martial arts weapons to feel like we were reasonably proficient (we weren’t).
Other than not having any girls willing to hang out with us (thank you very much, Donkey Kong and X-men), the only crisis facing us were the bees.
At first, they were merely an annoyance. One of us would emerge from the pool and be victimized by a solo drone flying a sortie. We’d rarely suffer a sting, more often just a panic-inducing flyby that would send us leaping back to the safety of the water. When the buzzing became more persistent, we decided to act.
The hive was inside a large woodpile at the edge of the property, with dozens of soldiers hovering menacingly all around it whenever the sun was up. We set up a staging area in the carport one morning, gathering equipment. We each donned swim goggles, Jerome covering his head with a ski mask, my face protected by a rubber Frankenstein mask from several Halloweens past. I’d smuggled two pairs of gardening gloves from my house, which we wore beneath long sleeves duct taped to our wrists. Sweatpants, likewise duct taped around the ankles, along with tennis shoes, completed our ensembles. If these nasty critters could sting through our “armor,” so be it. But they weren’t getting a crack at exposed flesh!
Our weapons for the siege included a hose with an adjustable pistol-like attachment, allowing for everything from a tight, powerful stream of water to a fine mist. The hose wouldn’t reach all the way to Castle Honeybee , but close enough to do tremendous damage. We had 2 ½ cans of Raid, an assortment of shovels, picks, axes and even a pitchfork at our disposal. As we checked our gear one last time and got comfortable in our protective gear, Jerome went back in the house for what he promised was the ultimate “secret weapon.” He emerged carrying a lighter and two cans of WD-40. I made the Sign of the Cross, invoking the protection of whatever Catholic saint handled brave warriors on the precipice of battle.
Our initial attack would be with chemical weapons. We inhaled deeply to calm our nerves and rushed the enemy stronghold, each with a full can of Raid in hand. Dozens of our winged nemeses fell immediately to the ground, and with the perimeter patrol eliminated, we concentrated our fire into the woodpile itself.
Cans empty and with no resistance apparent, we retreated to our “trench” for the hose and trident. I returned to the fray, driving the forks into the woodpile, toppling several logs and exposing the nest, which Jerome doused with water. Had we not been 13 and over-exuberant, we may have realized that spraying the pile would only rinse away the Raid from our first assault. The bees fought a much more disciplined campaign, waiting for the pungent chemical to be cleansed from their home before fairly erupting from their fortress. They seemed to be everywhere at once, a swarm in the truest sense of the word. I was enveloped in bees, despite Jerome’s best effort with the hose.
I continued to dig at the hive with the pitchfork until the angry buzzing grew so loud as to disorient me. I stumbled back, something primal telling me to run away, despite my impenetrable homemade beekeeper suit. In my borderline panic, I slammed into Jerome, sending him sprawling, the hose dancing madly in the grass, water spraying every direction, and bees blotting out the sun. Their attacks were mostly blunted, but the occasional stinger was getting through, first on the back of my neck, then an ear and on a thin strip of skin left vulnerable on the smell of my back. The stings I received, while painful, weren’t as bad as what my brother-in-arms was enduring. The bees had concentrated on his face, unable to find another opening. One bee had even managed to get into his mouth, delivering a dose of venom to his tongue.
We scrambled back to our feet, and we must have looked preposterous. A blazing hot summer day and here we were, a ski mask and a Frankenstein, both (almost) covered from head to toe, being pursued across the yard by what looked like every bee in
. Hamilton County
The damage done to me was superficial, but the sting to Jerome’s tongue was another matter, as the swelling threatened to block his airway. He retreated into the house, leaving me to contend with the furious swarm alone.
Armed with an axe, I charged headlong into the enemy phalanx, chopping wildly at the hive, bits of shredded honeycomb flying through the air. The decibel level of the swarm seemed to diminish, as they realized most of their stingers were being left in my clothing rather than my flesh, and great masses of their best soldiers lay strewn across the yard, victims of Raid, water, blunt force trauma, or simply having ripped their own guts out when their syringe-tipped stingers were left behind and they attempted to fly away.
Kicking and digging at the remnants of the hive, I noticed movement to my right. It was Jerome, ice cube on his tongue, ready to extinguish all hope for our adversary with his flamethrower.
He was seething with rage and a fair bit of agony, and he attacked with reckless abandon. Huge fireballs exploded from the can, incinerating chunks of the swarm before he arrived at the nest. Whereas our water attack had blunted the effectiveness of the Raid, soggy logs were a lifesaver when he started blasting fire directly into the hive. Burning down trees or the neighbor’s house in a puerile attack on a beehive would have drawn the wrath of even his ridiculously lenient parents.
What remained of the swarm dissipated at the apparent death of the queen and the complete and utter destruction of the hive. The deafening buzz was gone, replaced by an eerie silence. Jerome and I were grunting at the residual pain of the stings, the burning hive crackled softly before going out, and all around us was still. We collapsed onto the ground, victims of post-adrenaline-rush exhaustion.
The pool beckoned, and after stripping off our ridiculous protective gear, we melted into the cool water, celebrating our victory with laughter and raucous splashing.
A pity neither of us noticed the wasp watching us from a nearby tree……
The prompt I was given was "The type of silence only complete and utter destruction can bring… But in a happy sort of way…" I challenged Amy with the prompt "Fortune favors the bold." Her reply is here.