Who Keeps the Beekeepers?

It was a beautiful day, which made Vernon Wordsworth's depression all the worse. He sat on the back porch of his rented house in Washington state, staring out over acres of land and his Langstroth beehives, set to pollinate that year's apple orchards. It was March, and Vernon was well into the brooding of his colonies. However, this year, like the past few years, things had not gone well.

His numbers were down. Everyone's numbers were down. No one knew why. People had theories. They always do. It didn't help that the media had picked up on it, getting everyone into a big fuss over the impending "Bee Crisis." There had been an unending parade of talking heads giving their theories. It's cell phones, it's chemicals, it's evolving parasites, it's noise pollution, regular pollution, climate change, tectonic shifts, whatever. It all just made Vernon tired. The long and short of it was that his numbers were down, and there didn't seem to be a damn thing he could do about it.

He was supposed to be out right now, checking the hives, recording the numbers, assessing his progress. However, he had decided to stretch out his lunch, sipping on his fourth glass of lemonade while putting his feet up on the porch's guardrail and stretching out his legs. The results would only depress him further, why not spend a few more minutes leaning back in his rocking chair and relaxing?

At that moment a sparrow made a harried landing right on the arm of Vernon's chair. Vernon cast a bemused look at the bird, then saw a note attached to the bird's leg with a piece of string all tied in a bow. Vernon carefully undid the string and took out the note, which looked more like a business card now that he saw it. It read:

"Sometimes, when the mundanity of life becomes overwhelming, when the sheer blandness of life stretches before you like a desert, you need the assistance of Gerald Pesterak, Professional Crazy Person."

There was no phone number, no address, no email. Just the quote and a picture of a straight jacket embossed on the card. Vernon tucked the card into the upper pocket of his overalls and went back to his lemonade.

***

The next morning Vernon awoke with the sun. He'd stopped setting his alarm, as he no longer saw the point in rushing out to begin a day destined for failure and disappointment. He took a shower, ate his breakfast, brushed his teeth, and then decided it was time to go check on the bees.

As he walked out to the small storage shed that held his beekeeper's suit Vernon felt a rumbling from the ground. It didn't seem like an earthquake, but then Vernon had never been in an earthquake, so maybe he wasn't one to say. Vernon was debating whether to go back inside and call the weather service to see if they had any information about the commotion or just ignore the whole thing and put on his suit when he noticed a giant cloud of dust coming from the back road to the house. As the cloud came closer the shaking in the ground became harder. Something was coming. Something big.

He saw the top of the man's head first. It stared out at a cocksure angle, somehow making sure to keep itself constantly in profile. Atop the head was a hat a bit like an old buccaneer's, with a large feather protruding from the back. Vernon noticed that the man didn't appear to be moving right. He wasn't swaying with a normal gait, he was... bouncing.

The body that came next followed the same general stylishness as the head. The man was wearing a well-tailored, form fitting suit which had a very high, feminine frilled collar and appeared to be made of crushed velvet. He had a large belt around his waste which had two holsters resting on each hip, filled not with pistols, but with bananas. He also wore a codpiece. His legs were spread at a severe angle.

As the man rose above the hill the mystery of both his strange movement and the trembling ground was resolved. The man was riding perilously atop two elephants, one foot resting on each. He held two reins in his left hand and was guiding the stomping creatures directly towards Vernon's rented cottage. Not wanting to bring too much worry to the bees, Vernon began walking out to meet the man. Not wanting to bring too much worry to himself, he made sure to grab his shotgun.

"Hello there," said Vernon, approaching the man with caution. "Nice elephants."

"They're rentals," said the man in the cavalierly bored voice of a dandy. "I'm borrowing them from the San Diego zoo, and by borrow I mean stole, and by stole I mean absconded. That will be your vocabulary word for the day. 'Absconded.' Do you know what it means?"

"Stole," said Vernon, crossing his arms so as to also cradle the shotgun.

"You're far more clever than I thought," said the man, jumping down from his perch atop the two elephants. "It will make breaking you all the more harder."

"Breaking me?"

"Run away, pachyderms!" exclaimed the man while shooing away the elephants. "It is time for you to return to the wild, to nature! Might I recommend Seattle? The music scene is dead but their coffee remains delicious!" With that the elephants turned around and began traipsing away. The man turned to Vernon. "You and I have some work to do."

"Who are you?" asked Vernon.

"Gerald Pesterak. Professional Crazy Person? Didn't you get my card?" replied the man.

"Of course, sure. With the bird and all."

"He's good people, that bird. Good bird people. I killed his entire family, and one day he will kill me, but until then I am tutoring him. Where are your meats and cheeses?"

Inside the house Gerald Pesterak made a tower of roast beef and goat cheese and had set about eating it by the handful.

"You're probably wondering why I called you here," said Gerald between bites.

"This is my house," said Vernon.

Gerald stopped eating and stared at Vernon. "Do not lie to me, Vernon. If you lie, I cannot save you. Liars are not welcome into the kingdom. This is a rental, is it not?"

"Yes," said Vernon. "It's a rental, but I'm renting it, so for the moment..."

"Ownership is what this is all about, Vernon, so let's make no quibbles about to whom things actually belong. I am here because I am interested in what is solely yours. What truly belongs to Vernon Wordsworth. Confuse the issue again and I will tear off a fingernail."

"The hell you will!" yelled Vernon. "I'm not letting you anywhere near me."

"Not one of your fingernails," said Gerald. "One of mine. But I will make you watch, and I have a terribly low pain threshold. It will not be pretty."

"I want you to leave," said Vernon.

"Believe you me, I want to leave," said Gerald. "But my work here is not finished. Let's go see about those bees."

In the work shed Vernon tried to convince Gerald to put on one of his extra beekeeper suits. "No thank you," Gerald had said. "I refuse to wear anything that disguises the shape of my calf. Now take me to the honeymakers."

"These bees aren't really for making honey, they're for pollination," said Vernon.

"I see their true face," said Gerald. "They live as I do. They live for honey."

Out in the field Vernon told Gerald to wait at the edge of the colonies for him and if he had to move, move very slowly so as to avoid getting stung. Gerald nodded.

Vernon was about half way through his inspections when he heard a noise. He turned and saw Gerald prancing between the colonies, doing some strange sort of dance. The bees had surrounded him in thick, buzzing cloud. Gerald appeared to be in the throes of some sort of ecstasy. "Can you hear their song, Vernon? They are singing! They are singing just of us!!"

"They're not singing, they're stinging," said Vernon.

"And every sting a melody!" shouted Gerald.

"Please stop. You're scaring my bees, and you're scaring me," said Vernon. Gerald didn't stop. Vernon sighed and continued with his work.

That night Vernon prepared a small meal of chicken, corn bread and green beans. Vernon ate his meal quietly while Gerald sat across the table, unmoving. He had not touched his plate, had not, in fact, moved hardly an inch. He had, however, begun to swell all over with bee stings. His face was huge and puffy, with red and white splotches. He had been forced to loosen his collar and undo the cuffs of his shirt. His voice came out in a slow wheeze. His face was covered in a thin paste of sweat and the combination of pus and poison that would occasionally ooze forth from one of the wounds. His eyes, although swollen half shut, glistened and shone with a frightening intensity.

"You sure you don't want to go to the doctor?" asked Vernon.

"I have never felt more alive," said Gerald with the zeal of a religious convert.

"I'm amazed you haven't gone into anaphylactic shock," said Vernon, unimpressed.

"I have a surprise for you!" said Gerald, who then stared at Vernon with his same unsettling intensity for a silent minute, then vomited quickly and violently all over the table. "IT'S A GIFT FROM THE BEES!!!"

"It's toxic shock," said Vernon.

"I would like to be carried to bed now," said Gerald. Water was pouring from his eyes, and Vernon was unable to tell if it was tears or simply more escaping fluids. Regardless, the pouring liquid did nothing to quell the strange energy beaming out of Gerald's eyes. Vernon stood up from the table, walked over to Gerald's chair and picked him up in his arms. As Vernon carried him up the stairs Gerald pulled himself up to Vernon's left ear.

"I love you, pappa!" whispered Gerald.

"You scare the shit out of me," replied Vernon.

The next day when Gerald came down to breakfast his swelling had gone down considerably. His face was also covered in small band-aids used to cover shaving nicks.

"Your face looks better," said Vernon. "Looks like you had a hard time shaving, though."

"Oh no, I did a letting!" said Gerald. "I used one of your razors to make many small, deep cuts to drain out the poison."

"Does that really work?" asked Vernon.

"I don't know!" said Gerald.

"Doesn't that seem kind of dangerous?" pushed Vernon.

"I don't know!" said Gerald.

That day Vernon worked with the bees while Gerald began a secret project out behind the unused barn. He made Vernon swear not to look at it until it was time, which was fine by Vernon, as it also would have been fine by Vernon if he never saw this surprise nor its creator again.

Yet that evening there he was, just in time for supper. He sat at the table with a giant lobster bib on, giddy and eager.

"What will we be dining on tonight? How I do so love victuals!"

"A little bit of the same, with a slight change. Chicken, but this time we'll be having collard greens instead of green beans."

"It's a carnival for the senses! Better than Olive Garden! Yes, I said it, better even than beloved Olive Garden!"

"Sure."

Vernon put the food down on the table and watched as his houseguest began to eat.

"Say, Gerald, let me ask you something," said Vernon. "It's not that I don't like welcoming houseguests or anything but what exactly are you doing here?"

"You need help," said Gerald in between bites. "I am helping you."

"How do you figure?" asked Vernon.

"Do you not feel listless and weary? I am here to make you realize the beauty and sanctity of life! I am here to give you your groove back, Stella!"

"I think my groove is just fine."

"No it isn't. It's in the pits, the very pits! But I'm here to help you get them out. Don't you want to get out of the pits? Don't you want to know why your bees are dying?"

Vernon stopped eating. He looked hard at Gerald. "What do you know about my bees dying?"

"Probably nothing. Possibly everything! This is a journey we take together, starting tomorrow. Eat. Rest. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives!"

The first day of the rest of their lives started innocuously enough. Vernon went down for breakfast. He waited a moment for Gerald, and when he didn't come Vernon fixed himself some eggs and bacon and ate them in silence. Then he went out to the shed. As he was about to put his beekeeper's suit on Gerald ran up to him.

"It's finished! It's finished! Come take a look!" Gerald was jumping up and down with excitement. He took off running back towards the old barn. Vernon followed.

Behind the barn was a large tarp placed over an object that stood about five and a half feet high and seven feet long.

"Do you love your bees, Vernon?" Gerald asked. "Do you really and truly love your bees?"

"I suppose so?" replied Vernon.

"Then I hope you're ready for excitement, because boy are you about to get some!" said Gerald. With the flourish of an impresario he pulled the tarp away to reveal a large sculpture of a bee made out of chicken wire, discarded machine parts, paper mache, wax and rubber. The inside of the sculpture hummed with the sound of a couple hundred contained bees. The whole thing was painted to look as realistically like a bee as possible except for an area about the size of a man's fist at the back of the sculpture that was unmistakably meant to be a human vagina very realistically rendered out of rubber hose and pink satin drapes.

"Make love to your bees, Vernon!" screamed Gerald. "Make sweet, passionate love to your bees! I hope you don't mind sloppy seconds. Or thirds. Or eighths. It's been a very busy morning!" he said, nudging Vernon with his elbow.

"This is disgusting!" yelled Vernon.

"This is what you were meant for!" replied Gerald. "Feel it! Live it! Experience it in all its swelling-inducing glory! Become engorged with life!" Gerald dropped his pants and began to approach the sculpture. Vernon ran back to the house.

Vernon began gathering Gerald's things into the steamer trunk he came with. After a few minutes Gerald returned to the house, his clothes akimbo and his hair sweaty. "She's a fighter, but it's just to show how much she wants you," said Gerald, painfully adjusting his crotch. Vernon came down stairs dragging Gerald's trunk behind him.

"I want you out," said Vernon. "I want you out right now."

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Vernon," said Gerald. "I haven't completed my contract yet."

"You've got no contract with me, I don't give a damn what you have to complete, I want you out of my house!"

"I thought we talked about this," said Gerald, reaching into his coat and pulling out a pair of pliers. "I thought we talked about what would happen if you kept confusing what actually belongs to you." Gerald attached the pliers to one of his fingernails and slowly began to pull.

"What are you doing?" asked Vernon, turning pale.

"Fulfilling part of my contract," said Gerald as he grunted and pulled and twisted the pliers, tearing out the fingernail of his right ring finger. Vernon turned away and ran up the staircase. Gerald followed, screaming and waving his bloody finger. Vernon went into his bedroom and put his back against the door. Then, with a force Vernon could never have predicted, Gerald burst through the doorway, flinging Vernon onto his bed. Vernon curled into a ball, but Gerald pounced on top of him and straddled his chest, pinning Vernon's arms beneath his legs.

"What do you want from me?!?!" yelled Vernon.

"I am here to teach you! You must learn!" Gerald yelled back.

"What is this, am I supposed to be inspired?" asked Vernon. "Is this some kind of 'live life to the fullest' lesson?"

"Quite the opposite!" said Gerald. "This is an un-lesson! You've learned the secret, Vernon. You've learned that life is a pitiable exercise in meaninglessness and then we die and no one cares and no one misses us. You've learned that the only thing we truly own are our sad, sorry little lives. But that's bad for business, Vernon. That's bad for the bees. So what I'm here to do is to put the vivacity of ignorance back into you!"

Gerald leaned close to Vernon's face, putting his knees at the side of Vernon's head so that he couldn't look away. Gerald then raised a hand to his face, the hand with the missing fingernail.

"I want you to believe that you actually own your happiness." Gerald took the fingernail of his index finger in his teeth and then yanked his head, ripping it out. Vernon screamed. "I want you to believe that you own your own success." Middle finger. "Thoughts." Pinky finger. "Love." Thumb. "I want you to be so afraid of losing all of these beautiful things that you think you own that you will keep fighting, keep looking after those bees, keep pulling your weight."

Vernon was trying to close his eyes, but Gerald wouldn't let him. He placed two bloody fingers above Vernon's eyes, keeping them open. "Do you feel it?" he asked. "Do you feel that fear?"

"You're crazy!" screamed Vernon.

"That's the point!" said Gerald, who then took a large bite out of his own shoulder, spitting up meat and bone on Vernon. "Where's that fear?" he said, taking another bite out of himself, biting away at his body before Vernon's eyes. "Show me that fear, Vernon!" Another chunk gone.

"I'm afraid!" Vernon shrieked. "God help me, I'm afraid!"

Gerald began eating himself more and more vigorously until Vernon passed out amid a torrent of teeth, spit, blood and meat.

The next day Vernon awoke in a puddle of sweat. He went out into his work that day with a renewed sense of purpose. He worked harder than he had in a long, long time. The bees never reached the numbers they had, but the decline had stopped. Vernon kept working, kept moving, kept trying to keep ahead of that fear.

There were days, though, where he couldn't do it. There were days where it all came back to him, that weariness, that sense of purposelessness. When those days occurred, wherever they occurred, there would be a visit by a small sparrow with a note attached to its feet which read:

"Sometimes, when the mundanity of life becomes overwhelming, when the sheer blandness of life stretches before you like a desert, you need the assistance of Gerald Pesterak, Professional Crazy Person."

And scrawled on the back, written in jet black ink with droplets of blood, as though from a hand ripped of its fingernails, was the following message: "My dearest Vernon, Remember that fear. –G. Pesterak"