An hour later they were out of the ravine, walking along a stream, with no sign of a road. A small object streaked between the trees—then another. Bodie looked closer. An insect flew across blue sky. A bee.
One bee after another passed before them. In one direction they flew across the stream to a little meadow filled with wildflowers. In the other direction the bees disappeared among the trees.
“Hey, guys!” Bodie yelled. “Let’s take a little detour.”
He eased into the forest until he spotted the bees between the treetops, then set off after them. The other guys followed.
After a while Bodie feared he had lost the bees. He backtracked, then spotted them flying toward a dead tree. When he walked to the other side, he couldn’t see them anymore. He stepped onto a fallen log and looked again. The bees seemed to disappear about ten feet up the gnarled trunk.
Bodie imagined a honeycomb inside. His mouth watered, but the busy hum around the tree reminded him that the bees wouldn’t give up their treasure without a fight. As the other guys gathered around him, he had an idea. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
Bodie ran back to the stream and found a shallow pool of water. He stepped in, and his boots sank into mud. He scooped out a double handful of muck and smeared it over his face and neck, then the rest of his body. Satisfied that he was totally covered, he headed back to the bee tree.
“Hmm doggie!” said Tug. “Ain’t you all dolled up.”
“Excellent idea,” said Adam. “Armor and camouflage combined. As Colonel McAllister says, ‘Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.’”
Bodie grabbed a lifeless tree branch and pulled himself upward. The humming noise intensified as dozens of bees swarmed around him. Some of the bees landed on his arms and face. He froze, dreading the stings.
Several crawled across his arm, then flew away. Relieved that the mud seemed to be protecting him, he climbed quickly and soon reached a spot just below where the bees seemed to disappear. He felt the soft texture of rotted wood and tried to imagine where the wax combs of honey would be hidden.
A low-pitched noise resonated through the wood. He placed his ear to the timber, and the buzzing came alive as a deep, droning hum. Hundreds of bees lurked just inside the rotting bark.
With the fingers of one hand, Bodie felt a split in the wood. Trying to ignore the growing swarm around him, he inched around the trunk until he could peer inside. Nothing but darkness. He climbed a little higher and peeked again. This time a faint shaft of light lit a small patch of the interior. Dozens of bees crawled across a chunk of honeycomb. His stomach tightened at the thought of food.
Below him, Tug shouted, “That hombre’s plumb loco!”
A gust of wind swept Bodie’s face as he studied a flap of gnarled, dried wood that twisted from the main trunk just above him. Another bee buzzed Bodie and landed on the back of his right hand where a patch of drying mud had fallen away. His first impulse was to swat the bee, but his left hand clutched a branch. He shook his right hand to shoo the bee away. More mud cracked and fell away.
The back of his hand suddenly felt as if a hot needle had been jabbed into his skin. For an instant the bee seemed to be stuck on Bodie’s hand, with its legs scrambling and its wings a blur of motion. Then the bee was gone. Only its stinger remained, embedded in Bodie’s skin. A small, moist pouch trailed from the stinger. Bodie recalled, from a nature show on TV, that the barbed stinger stays in the skin of its victim after the bee flies away. With its guts yanked out of its rear end, the bee soon dies, having sacrificed its life in defense of the hive.
The air trilled with the buzz of angry bees. Bodie’s first impulse was to scramble down the tree as fast as he could, but the thought of mouthwatering honey held him. He was too close to give up now.
He grabbed the twisted flap of dried wood and pulled. It bent with a squeak, but didn’t break loose. More dried mud cracked and fell from his arm. Even more bees swarmed around him. He tried to ignore the stings on his face and hands and yanked on the wooden flap until it snapped free. He nearly lost his balance.
Angry bees crawled all over him—more stings. He let the dried wood fall, then reached into the newly exposed hole. He thrust his hand into a crawling, buzzing mass of bees. His fingers touched sticky, rough-edged wax. He shoved his hand deep into the honeycomb, then pulled a big chunk free.
He tossed chunk after chuck of waxy comb down to the other boys as they shouted encouragement. Bees engulfed Bodie, stinging him. He tossed one last honeycomb away from the tree, then scurried down. His hands, face, and neck crawled with bees, the searing burn of stings all over him. He dropped the last few feet and crumpled to the ground.
He staggered to his feet and started to stumble away as bees swarmed over him again. The other boys scattered and ran. Bodie flailed his arms to drive the bees away, but they swarmed back to him. A big chunk of honeycomb lay before him. He snatched it up and ran. Bees crawled over his face—tiny legs clawing to maintain their hold. He batted them away as he raced downhill.
A bee crawled across Bodie’s upper lip. Before he could brush it away, it darted into one of his nostrils, then clawed its way into his nasal passage. He dropped the honeycomb and staggered in a circle, clawing at his own face. Bodie knew the little insect hadn’t grown, but inside his nose, it felt huge—like having a golf ball with legs scrambling inside his head.
Horrified at the thought of being stung on the inside of his nose, he ignored the swarm around him. He took a deep breath, pressed his index finger against the other nostril, then bent at the waist and blew hard. Air hissed out of the nostril, but Bodie could still feel the bee scrambling inside his nose. For a horrifying moment, Bodie feared he wouldn’t ever be able to get the bee out. Tears streaming, he blew again.
The buzzing insect caught in the rush of air and struggled to hang on. Its tiny claws scraped and dug at the inside of the nasal passage, and it blocked the flow of air out of his nose. Bodie blew even harder, his cheeks stretching tight. The bee scrambled frantically, then suddenly broke free, shooting out Bodie’s nose like a spitball and thumping onto the ground. The bee flapped mucus-covered wings in an effort to fly. Bodie stomped hard and ground it into the dirt.
He swiped his nose across a mud-caked forearm, picked up the honeycomb, and sped downhill between the trees. The farther he ran, the fewer bees swarmed after him.
Spider, Tug, and Adam waited at the edge of the stream, but as the swarm around Bodie approached, the boys scattered. Bodie dropped the honeycomb and galloped to the middle of the waterway. He plunged in and held his breath as long as he could. When he came up, the bees were gone.
He rested in the stream for a while. The cool water eased the heat and pain of the stings that covered his arms and head, but soon the chill became too much for him. He waded back to the shore and found his chunk of honeycomb.
With swollen hands and fingers, he touched his face. It was puffy, and his eyes were nearly swollen shut. Suddenly, his breathing became difficult. He felt like throwing up. He moaned and set the honeycomb to the side, wondering if he was allergic to bee stings. He began to tremble all over. His eyelids felt heavy as he rested his head in the grass.
Bodie woke to the sound of boys talking. He pushed himself upright in the grass. His hands, arms, and head were a throbbing mass of pain. So were his face, eyes, mouth, and neck.
“We saved some of the honey for you,” said Adam. “It’s pretty good.”
Through swollen eyelids, Bodie saw a chunk of honeycomb being offered to him.
Remembering the smell that had made his stomach tighten, he hesitated, then reached out to accept the comb. Honey dripped where the six-sided wax cells had broken open. He held it closer and sniffed. He recalled the smell of honey from a jar, but this was stronger.
Bodie raised the fist-sized comb to his mouth and licked a drop of honey off the edge just before it dripped to the ground. He closed his eyes—savoring the sweetness. He swallowed, and his body ached for more. He bit into the comb and tore off a chunk. He chewed and swallowed again and again until only a tasteless blob of wax remained in his mouth. For a moment he considered swallowing the wax. Instead, he spit it into the stream. He took bite after bite until the honeycomb disappeared.
The other boys stood at the water’s edge, watching him. He scooped water onto his face, rinsing away the stickiness. He tried to ignore burning pain as he stood. Feeling dizzy, he eased back to the ground.
“Are you going to be able to walk out of here, kid?” rasped Spider.
“Y’all look like the cat drug you in,” said Tug.
Bodie closed his eyes and tried to ignore the numerous stings that had swollen into hot, throbbing welts. He opened his eyes and looked downstream. Could he continue walking? Would the other boys stay with him if he wasn’t ready yet? He didn’t want to be left behind.
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