Fictionalizing the News is a writing exercise I set myself where I search the local news for an interesting but relatively minor piece of news and use it as a basis for a short story. I do not in any way purport to tell the truth of what happened, this story and the characters in it are entirely fictional. This installment of Fictionalizing is based this article, and I call it The Bee Killer
He picked up the newspaper from the mailbox and started scanning the headlines while walking back inside. It was the same old news as it had been for the past six months, the war in Yemen, the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh, a refugee ship denied entry to Italy, and of course Trump had said something idiotic again. As he got inside he sat down at the kitchen table and started flipping through the pages, coffee cup in hand, skimming the articles. A couple of pages in, after the latest news from the world cup – Austria hadn’t qualified as usual so who cared anyway – he finally found something interesting; an in depth piece about the unusually hot weather this summer. He put aside his coffee cup, picked up the paper and started reading with a furrowed brow. The article was talking about the summer heatwave sweeping over Europe and how it was a sign that the climate might be changing more, and much faster, than previously believed. The subject made him upset, he scowled at the text has he read, becoming increasingly worked up with every paragraph. When he finished reading he was standing up, bent forward over the paper, his face red with anger, glaring at the paper as if willing it to catch fire. He crunched up the newspaper in one hand then threw it on the floor in disgust, letting out a scream of rage as he did so.
He took a few deep breaths to calm himself down, and as soon as the immediate rage had subsided he started pacing back and fourth in the kitchen, thinking things over in what he considered to be a more rational manner. That the unusually hot summer was a sign of global warming was a given; the same thing must be said about the increasingly violent storms the kept hitting the coastal regions of the world, not to mention the flooding and other forms of extreme weather. That was bad enough, but on some level he could accept it – if we just kept working, just kept trying to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, in the end, maybe that would be the worst of it. At least so he had thought, but now this article was telling him that things were much worse, that climate change was accelerating and that this kind of extreme weather would become more common. The thought of it made him sick!
Despite how bad it was making him feel he continued his brooding. As if it wasn’t enough that the climate was going to shit, the medical advancements of the last hundred years were going down the drain too. He remembered reading an article a couple of years ago about multi-resistent bacteria and the overuse of antibiotics. It had been based on a serious report on the subject of some kind, probably from the UN or WHO, and since then he had always made sure to take all the pills prescribed to him even if he wasn’t feeling sick anymore. Of course, the world was full of lazy idiots who would ditch the pills as soon as they felt better; not to mention the farmers who fed scoopfuls of the stuff to the animals they were breeding, either because all they cared about was their profit, or because they didn’t know better. Whatever their excuse might be, he didn’t care, all he cared about was that one of the greatest discoveries in medical history was quickly being ruined by people’s shortsightedness. And then there were the fucking anti-vaxxers, selfish bastards who refused to vaccinate their children because of their irrational beliefs, thereby putting vulnerable people at risk. Last he heard, there was a risk that previously eradicated diseases like smallpox would come back like some kind of invisible zombies thanks to those fact-resistant idiots.
He kept thinking along those lines, bringing up subject after subject, a long list of ways in which mankind was messing up the world. He was so focused on his thoughts that he didn’t notice that his coffee went cold or that his toast went stale where it sat in the toaster. He just kept wandering through the house, his legs tracing a route through the rooms as if on autopilot. With every lap of the house he sank deeper and deeper into a state of despair. The world was an absolute cesspool, an endless swamp of feces, and it was our own fault we were in it. All the ills of this world, war, terror, environmental disasters, epidemics, mass shootings, censorship and surveillance, whatever it may be, it was all caused by mankind. Whatever human hands touched, it all turned to shit sooner or later.
As he made another turn he caught a glimpse of the fruit trees outside the window. He stopped dead in his tracks, his mind blank, and stared out the window for several long, drawn out seconds. He shook his head as if to clear it of fog then went up to the window with slow, deliberate steps. Leaning on the windowsill he looked out over the orchard, the trees, standing in neat rows, were still in bloom. He contemplated the beauty of it, the blue sky, the green grass, and the delicate blossoms of the trees, all bathed in sunlight. Just standing there, taking in the scenery, was slowly starting to melt away the all the negative feelings and all the mental anguish that he had been building up over the last hour. Just then, he was awakened from this reverie by the buzzing of a bee against the windowpane, and that’s when it hit him. It was the bees! Of all the disasters caused by mankind’s recklessness, making the environment so uninhabitable that the bees started dying out was by far the worst. Rising sea levels, extreme weather, disease and terror, we could handle them all but if the bees went extinct we would all be dead within a decade.
This last thought shot him back down the rabbit hole of despair, far lower than he had been a few minutes ago, and deep inside him something snapped. He saw it clearly now, no matter how many or how clear the warning signs were, humans would keep fucking up the planet until the last person was dead. Well, if mankind was determined to commit collective suicide, who was he to try to stop the development? He might as well speed things up a bit and the bees were the key.
He took a bite of the stale toast before throwing it in the trash, washed it down with a few mouthfuls of cold coffee then pulled on his boots and stepped outside. It was still early but already getting hot. He walked across to the yard to the machine shed and started preparing his materials. He pulled the pesticide sprayer from the shelf and checked it over, everything seemed to be in working order. Then he went over to his cabinet of chemicals and started searching for a suitable one. He knew more than well that spraying the trees too early could cause harm to bee populations – a memory flashed in his mind from his last lecture on the subject, he had told the other farmers that the best rule of thumb was to avoid spraying while the trees were still in bloom. He looked over the labels then selected the bottle marked chlorpyrifos, that would definitely be strong enough.
He set the bottle down on the work bench next to the sprayer and an old bucket. By force of habit he put on his personal protective equipment, breathing mask, safety goggles and rubber gloves, before starting to mix the chemicals. He smiled sardonically at the thought of protecting himself against chemical burns when what he was about to do would eventually cause far more harm than that. Nevertheless, he kept the the protective clothes on as he mixed. When the batch was ready he filled it into the sprayer, pumped a couple of times to build up some pressure then strapped the tank to his back.
When he was ready he walked out into the orchard and started to methodically spray down the trees, making sure to cover the flowers. It took him several hours and a few batches of chlorpyrifos to cover all the trees. When he was done he felt a certain sense of satisfaction, a more profound feeling of completeness than he would normally feel from spraying the trees. As walked back to the house, the spray nozzle slung lazily over one shoulder, he was happy to see a bee land on one of the flowers, unaware what calamity was about to befall it and all of its comrades.