#4 Daughter, the amazing Sara Marian, has requested crossovers of Lonnie and Tiny with others of my characters, so here one is.
Friend and fellow writer Michael Hodges recommended Kij Johnson’s AT THE MOUTH OF THE RIVER OF BEES, and now I want to recommend it to you. Several of the stories took my breath away, but my favorite is the first in the collection, “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”. The ending is perfect.
My nails this week are bee-themed, which is appropriate.
The blue is Wet n Wild Wild Shine’s Bijou Blue. The pale yellow is Maniology’s Buttercup, the dark yellow is Twinkled T’s the-label-fell-off. The black, of course, is Maniology’s Straight Up Black. I used all Maniology stamping plates: CYO Maniology M093 for the text, M278 for the dripping honey and the single bee, and M013 for the swarm.
And now, the story:
Lonnie, Me, and the Big Ugly Man
I headed across the street to visit my best friend, Lonnie, passing his wife on her way to visit her best friend, my wife.
We waved as we passed, and Leona said, “He’s out back, working on the shed.”
I said, “Mary Lee’s in the kitchen. Coffee’s waiting for ya.”
Lonnie and me had finally replaced the shed he’d blown up when he tried to summon the devil. Don’t ask. We’d done a pretty creditable job, with a kit from online. Lonnie had ordered some extras, like a tool rack and a potting bench, and even those had gone up just as advertised.
When I first opened the shed door, I didn’t see Lon. I figured he’d gone back in the house for something, but he must’ve moved, because I looked down and saw one foot sticking sideways out from under the potting bench.
I said, “You okay there, Buddy?” and the foot jerked and a thump came out from under the bench.
“Dang, Tiny, how can somebody so big move so quiet? It ain’t natural!”
Trust me, “unnatural” is not the way you want Lonnie to think of you. Next thing you know, he’d be throwing mail order holy oil in your face and shouting bad Latin.
“Nothing unnatural about it,” I said, as he scootched out, rubbing his forehead. I said, “It’s genetic. I had that uncle that was a championship wrassler, that they called The Silent Killer because he could sneak up behind people in the ring.”
I helped him up. Lonnie is taller than I am, but he’s all bones and ropey muscles and Adam’s apple.
“What are you doing under there, anyway?”
He looked proud and sneaky at the same time, which is never a good thing.
“It’s another add-on I never told you about. It’s a little lock-box, with a combination lock. This is strictly on the QT.” He tapped the side of his nose, which apparently means “need to know”.
I could have bit my tongue for asking, but he just would have told me anyway. “What’s it for?”
He went full-on sneaky. He poked his head out the door and looked both ways.
I said, “Leola went over to our house.”
He pulled his head back in and winked. “Gonna get me some special honey.”
Anybody that didn’t know Lonnie might think he was talking about a woman, but Lonnie was still so crazy about Leola, even after all these years, that never even occurred to me. He’s almost as crazy about her as I am about Mary Lee. But Leola is what I call a hard-shell Baptist, so I figured he meant he was going to get some of that American Honey Whiskey he saw advertised in a magazine at the barber shop.
That meant we were going to the package store about half a mile away. I had to go with him and actually buy the stuff because one of the clerks’ uncle was in Leola’s Bible study group and Lonnie didn’t want it to get back to Leola that he snuck a drink now and then. News flash: She knew. She just overlooked it, because he only drank when he was with me, and I could generally keep him in check. Generally.
So I said, “We walking or driving? If we’re driving, I have to go get my car keys.” We both knew better than to have his and Leola’s car parked anywhere near a package liquor store.
He screwed up his face like he couldn’t believe how peculiar I was.
“Walking? We can’t walk all the way to Scrappy’s!”
Scrappy’s was the junk yard at the edge of town.
“I didn’t know Scrappy sold liquor. Wait a minute – If this is some home brew, it is not happening.”
“What is it with you and liquor?” he said. “Did I say anything about liquor? I said honey. Hon-ey.” He snapped his fingers twice. “Get with the program.”
I didn’t see what honey had to do with a secret lock-box, and I must have looked it.
Lonnie sighed and said, “You know how Scrappy’s got all them ‘special’ plants he grows in patches all over the junkyard?”
Scrappy, who’s bigger than I am and looks like he could demolish a car with his teeth, is a herbalist. A male granny-woman, who makes tonics and salves and poultices for regular ailments, but Lonnie is convinced he’s some kind of a drug lord or something.
“What about the plants?” I asked, still not understanding where this was going.
“Well, bees like plants,” Lonnie said.
“You gonna tell me about the birds, now, Lon?”
Lonnie got that mulish look that meant he’d had just about enough of me, so I said, “Go on.”
“Well, some bees swarmed in Scrappy’s yard, in one of the old cars. So he called a guy who called a guy, and some guy came and scooped up the bees and put up a hive and now Scrappy’s got honey. Honey made from them special flowers.” He waggled his eyebrows when he said “special”.
“Ohhhhh,” I said, and Lonnie looked gratified that he’d finally got his point across. “Okay, then. I’ll get my keys.”
Just one junkyard dog ran, slavering, at the car when we pulled up outside Scrappy’s office shack. As soon as Scrappy shambled out and called him off, Lonnie and me got out.
“Where’s the other one?” I asked. Last I knew, Scrappy had two savage dogs, both of them named Cujo.”
Scrappy jerked his had back toward the shack. “He’s gettin’ old.”
A vicious growl all but shook the shack’s boards from the inside. There’s old dogs, and then there’s old junkyard dogs.
“We come for some honey,” Lonnie said. “I heard you bought some of them little plastic honey bears with the squirters on top of their heads, so I figured you had some ready.”
Scrappy grunted. “You’ll have to talk to Terrance about that. I took some to use in my stuff, but he’s got the rest.”
“Who’s Terrance, and where is he?” Lonnie asked, shifting impatiently from foot to foot.
“Terrance is the bee guy. Been sleeping in one of the RVs for a few months. Says he wants to stay until the colony is established. Ask me, he just wants a free place to flop.” He shrugged. “Go back there past the washing machines and hang a right. When you see the RVs, turn onto the path in between them and keep going until you come to the hive. Be careful, though. Don’t let any of them sting you, because that kills ’em.”
When we were out of earshot, Lonnie said, “I don’t care if they go straight to the bosom of Abraham, I don’t want to be stung.” His eyes were shifting like he was just now realizing this was a bad idea.
The hive was easy to find, right in the middle of a clearing that looked like it was made by RVs being dragged away and squashed up against other ones. I wondered if Scrappy had brought in heavy equipment, or if he’d done it with his own two hands.
Lonnie, standing at the edge of the clearing with his fists on what he called his hips, shouted, “Yo! Terrance!”
After a few seconds, the door of one of the RVs across the clearing opened and a man came out.
He was even bigger than Scrappy. He had grayish-brown skin, a beaky nose, stringy black hair, and no shoes. Saying I didn’t like the look of him was like saying Leola didn’t approve of drinking and dancing. He grinned at us with big blocky white teeth and stepped out onto the dirt.
Lonnie swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing down up like a yo-yo when somebody besides me plays with it.
“We’re looking for some honey,” he said, almost putting a question mark at the end of the sentence.
“You are, eh?” The man came toward us, scratching his broad, flat belly. He looked us up and down and his little eyes glittered. “Honey isn’t free.”
Lonnie swallowed again and backed up until he bumped into me and flinched. He was game, though, I gotta give him that.
“How much for one of them little plastic bear bottles full?”
Terrance looked us up and down, like he could count what we had on us, down to the change in our pockets.
He looked back at the hive.
“Pull the frames out of that first box, and you can have a bottle for nothing.”
Getting stung all over didn’t sound like nothing to me, but Lonnie had the bit between his teeth. His native stubborn cussedness had kicked in, and I could see he was going to do it. That meant I was going to do it.
I nudged him. “Let’s get it over with.”
Terrance said, “You want some honey, too, then?”
“I don’t much care one way or the other, but Lonnie’s my best friend. I can’t watch him trying to get himself all stung up when I’m right here.”
Lonnie said, “Speaking of suits, you gonna give us them outfits like beekeepers wear? With the netty hats and the gloves and all?”
Terrance shook his head, grinning even bigger and crossing his arms.
I guessed most of the bees were out working, because there wasn’t nearly as many of them flying around as I expected.
Together, we lifted the lid off the top box, and we found out where all the bees were. They came out in a cloud, swooping and diving, buzzing louder than old Cujo growled.
Lonnie froze, which was probably a good thing.
I froze, too, until I saw they were just checking us out. I had a cousin who couldn’t go outside all summer because bees just hated him. They came from two states over, just to sting him. That’s a joke, but they really did come out of nowhere right at him and chased him until he found shelter. He said they did everything but leave death threats on his voice mail.
What I’m getting at is that bees have opinions just like everybody else. The hate some people and love some people and don’t much care either way about other people. Looked like Lonnie and me were two of the don’t-much-care people.
“They’re just checking us out,” I said. “Move real slow, and don’t squash any of ’em. Let’s start with this frame in front.”
We went really slow and careful. Terrance brought us another box to slide the frames into as we pulled them out.
The bees seemed real interested in all the sweat pouring off us. They crawled all over us, including our faces, which tickled and was creepy at the same time.
Finally, we had all the frames out.
Lonnie said, trying not to open his mouth when he talked, “Do we gotta put the lid back on, too?”
“The job’s not done until you do.”
That was the trickiest part. Bees were all over the rim of the top box. We couldn’t put the lid back on without mashing at least three of them at any time. We scooped them off until the rim was clear and then eased it on.
That didn’t stop the bees from investigating us, although more and more of them left us to investigate the honey frames we’d taken out.
Terrance picked up his box and hefted it up on one shoulder.
He shook his head. “I can’t believe you did that. You’re both mad. Or stupid. Or both. But you did it. Come on.”
We followed him around the corner of the RV to another one. The bees poured off us like honey, going back to the hive or catching up to the box Terrance was carrying.
This other RV was white with a stripe along it.
“Stay out there,” Terrance said. “In here is where the magic happens.” He took the honey box in and came out with two bottles of honey. He gave one to each of us.
“Crazy,” he said, as he handed one to Lonnie. “And stupid,” he said, as he handed one to me. “Now get out of here.”
When we got back in the car, I was shaking so hard I had to take ten deep breaths before I could drive.
We didn’t say anything all the way home, while I went back and forth between scared and mad. Of all the things Lonnie’s got me into, this one was in the top five worst.
Out of habit, I followed Lonnie over to his house after I parked the car. When we got to the shed, Lonnie said, real quiet, “You want to come sit? Or go in and have some ice tea? Leola made it fresh this morning.”
“I think I’ll go home,” I said, not sure how I felt right that minute. I handed Lonnie my little honey bear squirter. “Put that with yours. I’m off honey for a while.”
I was at the shed door when Lonnie said, behind me, “Tiny?”
He stood there, a bear in each hand, blinking to beat the band.
He swallowed. “Thanks, Buddy. There never was a friend as good as you.”
“See you later,” I said. “You and Leola come over for popcorn and a movie after supper, okay?”
“That’s up to the wives.”
Lonnie’s Lonnie, and that’s all there is to say about it.
Special thanks to “Terrance”, a character from my fantasy trilogy, SAGE, for his special guest appearance.
MY PROMPT TODAY: Bees