As they strapped the queen, Perspex-coffined, to his chin, as his jaw was slathered with honey, as people smiled, cameras poised in anticipation, as a veiled man prepared to free the bees from the hive, he wondered how he had found himself in such an absurd situation.
Ill-advisedly he had given his daughter a copy of the Guinness Book of Records for Christmas. This was where his troubles started. Of all the wonders contained within, it was to the man with the beard of bees that she had found herself drawn.
The image fascinated her.
In her drawings, the bee-bearded man became a constant fixture.
There was something elemental in her adoration.
Pandering to his princess’s whims, he showed her clips online of men bearded with bees. Together they watched as men on ad hoc pedestals awaited a honeyed cluster, trays shaken in the wind releasing a blizzard of bees.
She was disappointed the first time she saw a beard in the wild. Initially awestruck, she stared intensely at a grey-bearded man. Captivated by this bushy protuberance, she awaited movement. Out of politeness, he pulled faces in return. But she grew frustrated. She was waiting for his beard to fly away, anticipated its dissolution, whiskers scattering in the wind, a blown dandelion, as they took flight. Outside of bee-laden clips, she had not seen a bearded man in the flesh. Her father, and the men who encircled her life, had always been clean-shaven. He led her away, answered her queries. She was disheartened to discover that not all beards were sentient.
She had always seemed to be at one with the natural world. She would not swat away winged unknowns, nor flee from creepy-crawlies, but was apt to proffer a finger as a perch, her gaze growing intense, cross-eyed, as she brought living things ever closer for inspection.
He was the one who fled at the sight of a spider’s shadow.
He tried to placate her with a beard of his own but there was no substance to it. Barely able to summon stubble, iron-filing shadows, his wispy mist of a beard would not dislodge the shifting masses she had witnessed, the magic moving beards he had found for her online.
Her obsession deepened.
He looked through his daughter’s drawings. Encircling men’s faces: winged dots.
He searched for ever more fascinating clips.
Clicking through, he discovered one couple, both beekeepers, who had married, their entire bodies covered in bees. This was too much. He imagined their honeymoon, a stinging encounter, a marriage consummated amid a furious tornado that buzzed as they fucked. Was this his daughter’s destiny? He envisioned her walking up the aisle, draped in bees, a trained swarm trailing behind her, a bare hand upon his arm whilst he wore full beekeeper’s regalia. Would she grow to love the feeling of their fuzz about her skin? He needed to stop viewing her fixations through adult eyes. There need be nothing unseemly about her interests.
Instead, he pictured his daughter, the renowned entomologist, bees pinned to boards as she hovered with a scalpel, black and yellow suits carved open as she gathered data. This did not strike him as likely. He did not see her mutilating them, even after their timely deaths.
She had begged him to beard up for her. This was, on every level, an odd request.
But she was persistent, droned on, the word pleeeaaaassssseeeeee elongated until it buzzed.
Tentative, he made enquires. Around the country, beekeepers took his crackpot calls. How did others go about it?
For his daughter he would do anything.
He did not wish to add to her disappointments.
He was at a loss as to why others did it, the men, almost invariably, who suffered this indignity in their record attempts. What was their motivation? How had circumstances conspired so that the beard-of-bees even become a consideration? His thoughts turned to an unsuspecting man enjoying a family panic before a sudden disruption, an unsettled hive honing in, a beeline made for his face. He pictured him flailing, batting at bees as they landed, his defences futile against this clinging, unshakeable beard. And then he pictured another man, a passerby, glancing over dismissively at him thinking, I could do better than that.
He questioned the mental stability of men who proffered their jaws as kingdoms for insects.
He sensed he was about to join their number.
Previous record breakers talked not of sonic assault or of stings, but of the collective weight. Record attempts were measured not by number—a mathematician in beekeeper’s whites pointing and counting as they descended—but by mass. Stock-still, bee-barbed men perched on scales as digital readouts revealed their level of infestation.
He would not be attempting any records.
He had a hard time convincing a beekeeper to unleash their bees in this way, not least because his tone was undercut by fear. They had been tentative forays, bumbled inquiries. Unfortunately, he eventually found someone foolhardy enough to take him seriously.
A date was arranged to his daughter’s delight and his utter horror.
His chin would house a hive for his princess.
And so he found himself nervous before strangers. Honey-smeared, his jaw was prepped as though for a close shave. In a box the queen buzzed. Release the bees, his daughter cried, although he did not hear her. His ears were plugged, not to block their siren’s song, but to dissuade intruders, his nostrils similarly stymied. One did not wish to invite ingress. As the bees moved silently towards him, a frantic cloud, he hid every nervous twitch and stifled screams. He watched his daughter, wide-eyed, ecstatic, and braced himself until it was all over. On a tripod, a video camera stood pointed in his direction. He would watch his ordeal later when it was all over.
Of late, he had noticed that her Guinness Book of Records no longer fell open upon a bee-bearded man, but rather to the world’s most tattooed man. He would work on one wish at a time.
On an upturned box he stood, a condemned man, a droning noose around his neck.
His daughter giggled, clapping her hands with joy, as bees buzzed about him.
STUART SNELSON lives and writes in London. His stories have appeared in 3:AM, Ambit, Bare Fiction, The Bohemyth, HOAX, Lighthouse, Popshot and Structo, among others. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is currently working on his second novel.
He can be found on Twitter @stuartsnelson
Previous stories can be found at stuartsnelson.wordpress.com