Old Friends

small boy reaching for clouds photo by Chris

There’s a hole in one of the window boards. Wow, the wind must have sucked out that knot in the wood, the one that looked kinda like a bearded guy’s face. The stairwell is so dark, the hole stabs him like a spike of light, and it makes a howling squeal like the world’s biggest vacuum cleaner, pulling air from the house. He sticks his hand near the hole, feeling how it tries to grab his skin, suck his hand out the window. Could it do that? That’d be gross. He wants to see out, but he doesn’t dare get too close to that. Man, it might pull out his eyeballs, then what would he do? Maybe if it was only one he could get a fake eye and have Mister Two Horses teach him how to pull it out of girls’ ears, like Mister Two Horses pulled the marble out of his ear, just to see if they’d puke. It’s funny to make girls puke.

He wants to keep both of his eyeballs, prob’ly, so he just shifts around looking out the hole from a little farther away. It’s harder, but he can still do it. He can look out, see how different the yard looks. Man, junk everywhere. The wind tumbles around great big stuff. He sees ginormous trash cans caught for a moment in the trees, some of them crushed flat, and then they’re bouncing away like they don’t weigh nothing.

And the sky! It’s black, but not solid, it’s got so much going on at once he can’t figure it all out. Lucas squints up at the black patterns in the sky. Huge curls and eddies dance around up there, like the water in a stream, but he can’t see what’s making them splash and twist like that. Each other, maybe. Or maybe a giant’s hand is in the clouds, stirring them up. And they’re carrying things around, those big scary clouds.

That’s when he sees something up high, just above him, flying out from somewhere on the roof, tumbling and sparkling and thrashing around. A really big screaming gust makes the knothole shrill enough to hurt his ears, on a combination of notes he’s never heard before, and he’s still too close to it, feeling it pull at his whole face, when he sees the glittering confusion sprawl out on the wind. Coolio! He’s never even seen a movie this awesome, even if it is scary.

There’s a long tail curling across the sky in a flash of green and blue glitter, and legs in black pants, and a white shirt, clear as anything, and somebody’s face, too fast to see anything but the brown color of it, and then a long thin arm reaches out and grabs the ragged bundle of blue next to it, and there’s a flare of red somewhere, and a sail of white glitter flares around them like a sail unfurling–and then it’s gone.

The wind has taken it all away.

Except the memory of that blue, the same blue as the feather he brought to Mom in the kitchen. Estelle’s blue feathers. Was Estelle out there in the storm? Why? Did she come from upstairs? What was going on?

When he runs up the stairs, he finds the room full of confusion, the viola bow just laying on the floor. People are screaming even louder than the wind howling in one big shriek from the open window, louder than Godzilla roaring. It’s so scary that he wants Mom. It’d almost be better to be outside! He feels that wind flapping his pants from the doorway! Mister Drin and Miss Emma are braced there like they’re in a tunnel, they must be very strong, and everybody is holding onto them. The whole knot of people at the window might fall out the window too, or get sucked out, it’s that bad. They need a really big sheet of plywood, and Aunt Penelope to tie it down safe. Who knows where they have another piece of wood that big? Aunt Penelope will know!

He runs downstairs. “Mom!” But she’s already down the cellar steps, helping Aunt Penelope hand up her bucket of nails and hammer, and then some of the men charge down there to wrestle up a whole big sheet of plywood. The men haul that up the steps. Then Mister Two Horses is there too, telling Lucas to help his mom while he helps the other men run the wood up the stairs into the room that is still screaming in the wind.

Dark Stairs by Stefan Hellkvist
dark stairs, photo by Stefan Hellkvist

Mister Drin brings down Miss Emma, who can’t hear anything. Mom hugs her, and then she and Mom and Miss Penelope stand hugging each other, and Lucas, all staying at the bottom of the stairs, safe, until the stronger grownups up there have got the plywood on the window, and the horrible sucking noise is muffled, and Lucas’s ears make a funny popping sound, and he can hear better. Then Miss Penelope nods once, squares her shoulders, and goes up the stairs to finish tying it safely down.

Mister Two Horses comes back down with Miss Penelope when they’re done, too, and Mom hugs them both. Nobody really answers Lucas’s questions because they’re too upset, talking over his head. He doesn’t like that when grown-ups do that, but they look scared, so he’s kinda glad, too. He goes up and looks at the room, at the mess in there, then he knows he was right about what he saw. Miss Estelle and Mister Dance fell out that upstairs window. Oh, no!

Mister Barret tells him that while he’s walking Lucas away down the stairs again, talking loud over the scream of the wind. Lucas shows him the knothole by the stairway, tells him what he saw, and Mister Barret gets very tense. He nods, and he takes Lucas back to the kitchen to help Mom and Aunt Frog get people fed. That’s okay, even though he’s not hungry anymore. He likes Aunt Frog, she’s fun to hug.

It’s only a few minutes later, when he’s about to pick up a stack of dishes, that he remembers that he touched Mister Dance’s tail.

Once things are quiet again, if he doesn’t wash it off accidentally, the bees could smell this on his hands, and maybe the bees could find Miss Estelle and Mister Dance, wherever they’ve been flung by the wind. He just has to figure out a way to ask the bees.

Maybe it’s magic, or maybe just luck, that he sees Miss Emma come into the kitchen with the medical box. There isn’t much left in it, after doctoring everybody else who’s come to the house. But that’s why he thinks first of telling the two people who have the most reason to be upset, the ones who most want to find Mister Dance, and who could still do something about it. They aren’t listening to anybody very well, grimly rushing around trying to put together medical supplies to go out there and find them and help, if they’re still alive. He manages to get her attention first, like she’s used to hearing little kids tell her weird things, and then she gets her partner. Miss Emma says, “Come listen to this, Drin.”

The tall man kneels down, looking at Lucas, and his eyes are all red.

Hurrying, Lucas says, to Mister Drin, “Don’t cry. I bet that we can find Mister Dance and Miss Estelle. Do you know how to ask bees to do things?”

“Yes,” the big man says. “I do.”

Lucas holds up his hands. “The bees here know me. The bees can smell where I touched Mister Dance’s tail, right?”

“Right.”

“And Mom has a feather from Estelle, we could take that to them, right? Do you think we could ask the bees to find them?”

watercolor of 2 feathers
Dropped Feathers

Drin looks at him. “You are brilliant. We will try that. Lucas, don’t touch things, and don’t wash your hands until we’re done, all right?”

“Yes sir!” Lucas says. Wow, an excuse not to wash his hands! Awesomeness!

The bees, it turns out, are safe in the barn. Aunt Penelope tied their hive up into the rafters, to make sure their little straw cone-house didn’t go tumbling and skipping out somewhere into the swamp. It was like a bee hammock. Kinda. “How did you know the barn wouldn’t go flying?” he asks her, while she’s drinking coffee in the kitchen.

“Well, my little youngling, I did not know. But I figured if the barn blew away, the house would want to blow away too, and we would all be much too busy to worry about barnses or beeses!” and she laughs. “See, that is what happens on an adventure, you forget to worry about bitty thingses!”

Mom stares at Mister Drin really, really hard when he asks if Lucas can go out to the barn with him. But she says, “Okay, if you’re careful. If you’re both very careful.” Lucas sees Mom look at Miss Emma, and Lucas knows that Miss Emma is worried about what would happen if Mister Drin didn’t come back with Mister Dance and she was all alone. That would be sad.

“We will be,” Mister Drin says, closing the lid of the honey jar. He’s poured a lot of the honey out into a bowl. He looks down at Lucas. “Lucas? You should tell your mom too.”

“I’ll be careful Mom!” Lucas says, bouncing on his toes.

“Promise?”

“I promise!”

“Good.” She looks at Mister Drin.

“I promise too,” he says.

“All right then. Good luck.” And she kisses both of them on their foreheads. Mister Drin has to bend waaaay down to let her do it. Then he hugs Miss Emma, hard, and his mom gives Lucas a fierce look, and hugs him way too hard too.

Outside, Lucas says, “Sheesh, it’s only a bunch of bees!” Mom could be so dramatic.

Mister Drin looks at him. “You promised, right?”

“Yes sir,” Lucas mumbles.

“A small hive of bees can kill a man of my size in about two minutes,” Mister Drin says.

Lucas stares up at him, mouth open in surprise. Mister Drin is about the tallest guy he’s ever seen, even taller than Mister Mike, the basketball coach at his school.

“And I am shamed to say that I have been in places where this happened, and it saved my life, because those men were trying to kill me. Don’t ever speak disrespectfully about bees or wasps or any of the armed insects, Lucas, please. They deserve your respect and your full attention. Your mom is trusting you and me to have very good sense, because they are dangerous.” Funny, they never made Lucas feel scared. But if they could kill a guy in two minutes, it probably wouldn’t take them much longer to kill something big like an allosaurus. Wow.

Appalachiosaurus montgomeriensis, art by Peter Schouten
Appalachiosaurus montgomeriensis, art by Peter Schouten

Talking to bees seems to involve a lot of standing very quietly, letting the bees zoom around you and figure out you don’t mean any harm, for a long time. Oh, and watching them. Mister Drin tells him there’s all kinds of different ones in different places, and how weird some of them are. He says some of them got combined by people, and sometimes you can’t tell just by looking which ones are really dangerous. The African ones, he calls those. They stand for quite awhile, watching the bees move around, watching what they’re doing. He knows these guys — aaaah, sorry, bees, these girls, already. He knows to stand still while they taste him and tickle him with their feet and fly around in circles making him dizzy. This was kinda like being out in their meadow, but smaller and darker. And louder!

At last Mister Drin grunts. “Interesting. I think we have some very globe-traveling bees here. And they’re not likely to attack us the way some of the local Africanized ones might. Never mind, Lucas, I think we just got very lucky again.”

“We did?”

“Yes, we did, with you and your lucky bees.”

“What do we do now?”

“We get your hands and that feather up where they can smell it, and we give them that honey we brought, and that will tell them to go looking.”

“Wow, how do I get up there?”

There’s no ladder. It must have blown away. Somebody will find a ladder, maybe many years from now, in a silly place, Mister Drin tells him. Where? In the refrigerator? On top of somebody’s roof? Timbuktu? Then Mister Drin says, “I can lift you up on my shoulders to stick the feather in the straw, by their door. Okay? They’ll smell your hands when you do that.”

“They won’t be afraid of me?” Lucas asks.

“Were they afraid of you before?” Mister Drin asks.

“No. I mean, they’re careful, but they weren’t worried about me.”

“They’re probably pretty busy rebuilding things inside there right now, so I think we’re okay. Before I pick you up, I’ll put my hand up there first. If I yell, you run in the house, really fast, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Ready?”

“Yup.”

When Mister Drin’s hand is right by the little hole in the hive, the bees all start coming out. They’re walking all over his hand, it looks like he’s wearing a thick glove. “Ahh, I can bring bees to you, much safer. Hello, ladies, we are very glad to see you doing so well.”

“Is that how they say hello?” Jeez, Mister Drin knows a lot about bees. Wonder how, ’cause it doesn’t seem like he even knows about Malachi the Magic Bumblebee. Why hadn’t his mom read that book to him when he was little? Maybe Mister Drin didn’t have a mom, like Lucas didn’t have a dad.

“Some bees say hello like this.” Mister Drin’s voice sounds different again. He sounds choked like he’s going to cry, but then he says, “They know me too. From somewhere else, a long way away. These are strong fliers, Lucas, they’ll be able to find Dance and Estelle if anybody can. You want to take that lid off the plate of honey now? Just dip just the back of your hands in it, so it doesn’t mess with the smell on your fingers.”

“It’s important?” Lucas says.

“Very,” Mister Drin says.

“Okay.” He’s careful. The honey is messy.

“Now pick up the feather, if you can?”

“I’ve got it!”

Mister Drin turns, bends, holds out his two hands low and very still, right where Lucas can see the bees. Some of the bees fall off his hands, and they just drop into flight as they’re falling. Some of them flop down on the barn floor as if they’re tired. “Step careful, there, Mister Lucas, don’t hurt them if you can help it. Do you want to let them smell you now?”

He nods, holding out his hands, and Mister Drin touches his outstretched fingers. Bees crawl onto the back of Lucas’s hands, moving around eagerly. They have tiny little prickling feet, like a horsefly, but they’re not biting or stinging. Mister Drin had warned him he must not jump around and yell if he’s stung, which he said will be very hard. He says he already knows Lucas is brave, but being able to stop yourself from yelling and swatting, that’s tough. He said one or two may sting anyway, if he’s quiet, but they don’t want to sting if they can avoid it. He said if you go swatting at them, then they’ll all start stinging you. He said he would never ask Lucas to do something like this, except the bees knew him and he was calm around the bees already.

“Hey, they got scared, just like we did, weren’t they?”

“They’re still frightened. They’re so scared, they want to fix up their hive right away, that’s all they want to do, and we’ll need to feed them to help out,” Mister Drin says. He gently pours bees all into one hand, and then puts that hand up by the hive, and dumps them out onto the rafter next to their hive. He makes a face.

“Did it sting you?” Lucas asks.

Mister Drin nods. “Have they stung you?”

Lucas says, “No,” and he’s not shaking his head, because there’s bees crawling around on his shoulders and neck and he doesn’t want to surprise them.

“Well, I guess I wasn’t thinking clearly about this, talking about ladders and silly things, there you’ve got bees licking you all over, I wouldn’t dare pick you up, might hurt some of them, or you. You see, that’s a lesson too, Lucas. Great big grownups like me aren’t always right about things either. Right? Okay. Well, we know they’ve got the scent on your hands–they’ll follow you around, thinking you’re going to give them food now–and there were some of them on that feather of Estelle’s, so maybe we got the job done well enough anyway.”

“Are you sure it’s going to work?”

“No, I’m not sure at all,” Mister Drin says. “But sometimes you just have to try things, when you don’t know if they’re going to work.”

“Oh.”

“How do you feel about singing to the bees?” Drin says then.

sketch of bumblebee on flower, artist unknown
bumblebee

“Oh I know what to sing for bees!” Lucas exclaims, and waves his hand a little, forgetting himself, and then he freezes, and whimpers, “Oh ow. Ow ow ow. Sorry, bees, I forgot!”

“We’ll put something on it to keep the swelling from hurting,” Drin says, watching him, real sharp.

“I’m okay,” Lucas says, making a face. “It’s like playing statues. Only you hurt a lot if you make a mistake!”

Mister Drin smiles. “So do you want to sing it by yourself, or do you want to teach me your bee song?”

“Oh, it’s easy! Here, I’ll sing it first, and then you start too!” and he does. Then he says, “See, it’s about a magic bumblebee who helps out two little girls when they banish Old Witch to the top of a glass mountain until she learns to be good. The two girls–that’s Amy and Clarissa–see, they’re friends with Malachi, who’s a magical bumblebee, and he ends up on the glass mountain with Old Witch–“*

Mister Drin smiles at him. “That’s a pretty good bee song. So does that call the bees to you?”

Lucas frowns a little. He feels like twirling around while he’s singing, but he knows he’s not supposed to move. Statues, right. The arm where the bee stung him is really starting to hurt. He says, “It’s a spell out of a witch’s book. It calls them to you or maybe it tells them to come listen, and then they’ll do what you ask. I mean, if you ask real nicely?”

“Ahhh,” I see,” Mister Drin says. “Okay, you teach it to me again, so I know how to do it right.”

“Oh, they heard us, now we just have to ask them what we want them to do, if they can do it!” Lucas looks up at Mister Drin’s face. He takes a deep breath, and he says in his biggest voice, “I know they can find Mister Dance and Miss Estelle! These bees are magic! I know they can! See, you have to say it, right?”

“I know they can,” Mister Drin says, in a really low rumbly voice, and it makes Lucas’s ears feel really funny. Mister Drin gets louder, little by little. “I know they can find Mister Dance and Miss Estelle. I know they can. I know these bees are magic.” And he looks down at Lucas, solemnly, very serious, and Lucas stares up at the tall man.

Without even thinking about it, Lucas holds up the feather, and takes a deep breath, and he loosens the Mighty Arm of the Kraken, and sends it shooting up there carrying the feather in its little tippy-toe end, and the Arm puts it up there for them, right in the hive door, among the bees, without hurting anything, while Mister Drin is getting louder, making sounds that rumble in the wood of the barn until Lucas’s ears feel tingly and pushy. He has to squinch his eyes shut, as if the hurricane is blowing at him again, even though there is no wind. The bees all stop moving and Lucas can feel the tiny wings fanning against his skin.

But then he realizes the job isn’t done. The bees might knock that feather down, by accident, and forget about it. He blinks, opens his eyes, feeling the Arm poised, waiting to make sure the bees keep the feather where it’s supposed to be, and not shove it out of the way.

Mister Drin is looking up at the rafters, and when the feather is safely up there, he stops making the noise, and he nods.

Lucas gives a big sigh, and the Arm of the Kraken twirls around, it’s so happy it got to do a big job, it’s making swirls in the air and tumbling around some of the flying bees, until Lucas frowns. No bothering the bees! The Kraken comes apart, scatters with a little pop! “Oops,” Lucas says. “Sorry!”

Mister Drin smiles. Then he says in a perfectly normal voice, “That’s really good, Lucas, thank you. That was the last thing we needed to do. Look!”

All of the bees are moving again, but differently– they are dancing! Lucas peers at some near him. There are some bees walking in circles and loops, and other bees are standing watching. He sees one of the watching bees begin the same dance, and it flies a little way to another spot and dances for other watching bees. More and more of the bees are doing this, making the same circles and loops each time, over and over. “Are you magic too?” Lucas whispers to them. He looks up at Mister Drin. “Are you?”

“Ahh, well, that would be telling, and nobody told me for sure, you see,” Mister Drin says, smiling a little. “Sometimes they don’t tell you. But I know you and your bees are magic. All right, let’s let the bees eat their honey, and let’s walk outside slowly, so they can decide to fly away off of us. We’ll let them start thinking about all this. It’s going to be awhile. I think we’ll want to bring them some more honey when it’s getting dark again. And we’ll get something to put on the swellings from the stings, so they don’t hurt so much. In the kitchen, I think. Does your mom have meat tenderizer?”

“I don’t know, but we can ask her, she’ll know! She knows where everything is!” He looks at Mister Drin, suddenly feeling very sad. “If Mister Dance doesn’t come back, who’s gonna give me my first viola lesson?”

“He’ll come back,” Mister Drin says. And then it seems like he just doesn’t want to talk anymore, so Lucas reaches up to hold Mister Drin’s hand while they walk back to the house. Halfway there the man starts humming some stuff from that ballet about the nutcracker, very softly, maybe he’s thinking about all the dancing bees. Lucas hums with him, swinging his other arm in time with it. This part with the sugarplums is his favorite.

===

Another one from googledocs…

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