The Bookworm and the Bees
A bee buzzed by Joshua Tyler’s ear. He jumped out of his lawn chair. His book went flying. It skidded across the grass. He waved his arms around his head and ran full speed toward the back door.
His older sister, Laura Lynn, rolled her eyes.
“But they DO bother me!” he yelled. “I HATE BEES! And wasps! They sting!”
“And you’ve been stung how many times?”
Laura Lynn could be very annoying.
Josh stopped and faced her. His eyes narrowed. He crossed his arms. “NEVER! And I never want to be!”
“Well, keep waving your arms around. You just might make one mad enough to sting you.”
“Maybe that’s why they haven’t stung me,” Josh said. He wasn’t so sure.
“How would you know?” said Laura Lynn. “What do you know about bees?”
“I know more than you!” Josh said.
Laura Lynn raised one eyebrow. “Oh, really?”
Before he had to prove it, Josh turned and stomped into the house.
I’ll show her, Josh thought. He went to the bookshelf to find the B encyclopedia. The article on bees was long. He read every word. He studied every picture. Then he searched online. There were a lot of different kinds of bees. Some lived in hives and made honey. Others lived alone in holes in the bare ground. They didn’t make any honey at all. Some of the bees were scary, but most were gentle. Maybe bees weren’t so bad after all.
“Interesting,” he said to himself, “but I still hate wasps.”
“Laura Lynn? Joshua?” their mother called. “Will you please wash my car while I go walking? I’ll pay you if you do a good job. And no fighting!”
Josh and Laura Lynn washed and rinsed the car without spraying each other — too much. Josh dried the outside. Laura Lynn cleaned inside. She vacuumed up candy wrappers and UFOs (unidentified funky objects).
Josh heard a buzzing sound. He thought something was stuck in the vacuum cleaner. But Laura Lynn just kept vacuuming. The buzzing grew louder and louder. Out of the corner of his eye, Josh saw something swirling. It was coming around the side of the house.
"What the…? Bee swarm!” Josh yelled. “Close the door, Laura!”
Josh jumped into the car and slammed his door. Laura Lynn closed her door on the vacuum hose. The vacuum made an awful gasping sound.
A comet of bees streaked past the windshield. They spiraled into a whirlwind in the front yard. They settled in the bottlebrush tree. Hundreds of bees crawled over and under each other. Their wingbeats blurred their bodies. They looked like a live, hanging football.
Laura Lynn put her hand on Josh’s shoulder. He flinched.
“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I’ll turn off the vacuum,” Josh said. Before she could stop him, Josh opened the door. He walked around the car and turned off the vacuum.
Laura Lynn opened her window about an inch.
“Since when are you so brave?” she asked.
“I’m not. I …”
Two neighborhood kids rode up on bikes. Without stopping, they laid them down in the driveway.
“Those bees flew past our house!” the older one said.
“Yeah, they’re killer bees!” his younger brother said.
“They’re not …” Josh began.
Mr. and Mrs. Hill, the grandparents from across the street, walked up the driveway.
“Laura Lynn, what are you doing in there?” Mrs. Hill asked through the almost closed window.
“I hope you’re not afraid of a beehive,” said Mr. Hill.
“It’s not a …” Josh said.
“Have you ever seen anything like it?” Laura Lynn asked as she got out of the car. Josh felt safer with the Hills there, too.
“Why, when I was a girl, my father kept bees,” said Mrs. Hill. “We had so much honey. That’s what bees eat, you know.”
“They don’t …” Josh said.
“I was running barefoot one time and stepped on a bee,” interrupted the older kid. “It stung like anything! They hide in the grass, waiting to sting you.”
“No, they …” Josh said.
“Many years ago,” said Mr. Hill, “we found a natural hive like this one. We cut the branch it was on, but the hive was heavier than we thought. It smashed into the ground. Boy, those bees were mad!”
“That’s because they were killer bees!” said the younger kid.
“Where’s Josh?” Laura Lynn asked. Her brother had disappeared.
“Probably had to go to the bathroom,” said the older kid. “That happens sometimes when you’re scared.”
“He’s not scared!” said Laura Lynn.
The front door slammed, and Josh came waddling out. He was wearing a turtleneck sweater and a leather jacket. He had coveralls over his jeans tucked into cowboy boots. He had Laura Lynn’s pink ballet tutu over his bike helmet and tucked into his jacket. In a cardboard box, he carried wire mesh from an old screen door, clippers, a pocketknife, and some duct tape. The neighborhood boys laughed.
“What the…?” Laura Lynn said.
“I’m going to build a bee box and put the bees in it,” Josh said. “We can take the bees to a safe place far away from here.”
“I know what I’m doing. I read all about it.”
“You read about it?!” the two neighborhood kids said.
“You shouldn’t try it,” Josh said to them. “You don’t know anything about bees.”
“Yes, we do!” they said. “And we’d NEVER try it!”
“Now, Joshua,” Mrs. Hill said. “I don’t think…”
“Mrs. Hill!” Josh said. “You used to be a teacher! If anyone believes in learning from books, you do!”
Mrs. Hill couldn’t argue with that. “George, talk to him!” she said to Mr. Hill.
All Mr. Hill said was, “The boy has a point, Helen.”
“I think the bees will stay calm,” Josh said. “If they get upset, you might want to go inside.”
“We’ll keep that in mind,” said Mr. Hill. Mrs. Hill reached for his hand.
“But they’re killer bees!” said the younger kid. He sounded panicky.
“You mean Africanized bees, and these aren’t,” Josh said.
“How do you know?” asked Laura Lynn.
As he worked, Josh said, “European honeybees and Africanized bees look alike. But if these were Africanized bees, the vacuum noise would have made them mad.”
“So?” His sister was not convinced.
“They would have swarmed us,” said Josh, “but they didn’t.”
Laura Lynn and the two kids stared at him. Josh cut rectangular air holes in two sides of the box.
“If they aren’t mad, dear, why are they swarming?” Mrs. Hill asked.
"They’re just moving,” Josh said. “Their hive must be too crowded. Or there isn't enough food or water. Half the bee colony and a queen have left to find a new place to live.”
“So they built a new hive in your tree?” asked Mr. Hill.
“No, they're just resting. They’re protecting their queen with their bodies until they find a good place.”
“So they’ll move on!” said Laura Lynn. “Why mess with them?”
“Because there are a lot of flowers and water in our neighborhood. I don’t think they’ll go very far. It wouldn’t be safe for them. Someone who doesn’t understand them might try to kill them.”
Josh taped a piece of wire mesh over each air hole. His hands shook a little.
“Told ya he was scared,” the older kid said to Laura Lynn.
She gave him a dirty look.
“Where do you think you’re going to take them?” she asked Josh.
“Mom will be home soon. She can drive them to that farm my class visited.”
“Like Mom wants to drive a boxful of bees anywhere!” Now Laura Lynn sounded panicky. Had the bees scared Josh out of his mind after all? “Why would some farmer want them, anyway?”
“Because bees help pollinate crops,” Josh said. “They leave a little pollen on every flower they visit. Without bees, we wouldn't have fruits and vegetables.”
“You don’t even like vegetables!” Laura Lynn said.
“Me neither!” said the younger kid.
“I like fruit and honey,” Josh said. “Maybe the farmer will give us some for bringing him some bees. A lot of honeybees are dying, Laura. Maybe he needs some… will you help me get the ladder?”
“We’d help, but …” the older kid said. He and his brother backed further away.
“A bee doesn’t want to sting you,” Josh told them. “If it stings you, its stinger and part of its body might stay in your skin. The bee would die.”
The younger kid’s mouth dropped open.
“Close your mouth, dear,” Mrs. Hill said to him.
“Or a bee might fly in,” added Mr. Hill.
He shut it fast.
Josh and Laura Lynn carried the stepladder out of the garage. They set it up under the tree.
“I feel crawly!” Laura Lynn said. She shuddered.
Josh pulled on their mom’s leather workgloves. Laura Lynn helped him tuck in his jacket sleeves.
“I don’t know why I’m helping you,” she said.
“Because I know more about bees than you do?” Josh asked.
She stuck her tongue out at him.
“Do you know what bees eat?” he asked.
“Of course! Honey! Just like Mrs. Hill said.”
“No, bee bread.”
“Bee bread? You made that up!”
“I didn’t make it up. I read about it.”
“It isn’t like the bread we eat. The worker bees take nectar and pollen from flowers. They bring it back to their hive. They turn the nectar into honey. They make bee bread from honey and pollen. That’s what they eat.”
“Well, I’ll be … no pun intended,” said Mr. Hill.
Mrs. Hill nudged him in the side. “Really, George.”
Mr. Hill just chuckled. He always seemed to enjoy a good pun, especially his own.
“Now what do we do?” asked Laura Lynn.
Josh checked the box one last time. “You might want to stand back. I’ll put the bees in the box.”
No one argued with him.
Josh took a deep breath. A tremor passed through his body from the top of his head to his toes. It was one thing to read about how to do something, he thought. It was another thing to actually do it. He exhaled and carried the bee box up the stepladder. He braced it between the tree trunk and the ladder. He held his breath. The bees kept crawling over each other, beating their wings.
Josh clipped little branches out of the way. Now there was plenty of space around the bee ball. A few bees flew around his head. He didn’t wave them off. They didn’t sting him. His shoulders rose as he took one more deep breath.
Josh grasped the small branch that held the bees. A few more flew around him. Trickles of sweat ran down his face, neck, and chest. He cut the branch and lowered the bees into the box. More bees flew around his head. He stood very still.
“Josh?” Laura Lynn called to him. “Are you okay?”
He didn’t answer. His head felt light. He’d been holding his breath. He exhaled and sucked in some air. Slowly, he carried the box full of bees down the ladder. He set it on the ground. Most of the bees that had flown away came back to the box. He stepped back and waved for his sister to come over. She, the kids, and the Hills were watching him from behind the car.
“It’s okay,” he said. Laura Lynn found her courage. She walked over to him.
“They like to be with their queen,” he said. He pointed to the bees flying into the box.
She gave his shoulders a squeeze.
When all of the bees had settled down, Josh put the lid on the box. He taped it closed.
The neighborhood kids said, “See ya!” They rode off on their bikes.
Mr. and Mrs. Hill said, “Well done!” They walked back across the street.
Laura Lynn helped Josh put the ladder and tools away. Josh left the bee box under the tree in the shade.
“You can take your bee suit off now,” she said.
“Oh, yeah, I forgot.” Josh sighed. “I am sooo tired.”
“You’re also really brave. Odd, but brave.”
He smiled at her. “I love you, too.”
They went into the house. Josh stripped off the gloves, tutu, helmet, jacket, and coveralls. Laura Lynn plopped down on the couch. Josh headed for the bookshelf. He pulled out the W encyclopedia. He couldn’t wait to start reading about wasps.