The flowers were the size of your hand, dripping with nectar and rainwater that collected in the bowl among the golden petals. Only the bees would fly to reach the flowers, the wasps and ants only willing to approach those that had fallen by some sad misfortune. It was an ancient tree, hundreds of years old, its gnarled branches twisted and reach out to the open air, and bulbous growths along its trunk were covered in a blanket of lichens. It stood tall among the aspens, a dark figure wearing a shawl of green and a crown of gold.
The bees that drank of its flowers never died in the winter, and the colony made an excess of honey without fail every spring. The honey made from that tree’s nectar was indescribable in taste but foul in effects. Heaven on the lips, but on the mind it played tricks. I had only stolen a taste by accident, wiping with my thumb a drop from the lip of a jar, and before my mother could stop me, licking the sweet smelling delicacy from my fingers.
The shapes and colors it would let you see! Creatures misshapen and melting, familiar but alien, stood and crawled and writhed where moments ago there had been an empty store room. Some were chimeric, others deformed, but each gathered around every drop of the radiant honey, breathing the air around it and some daring to steal droplets away on their lips and legs and feet. It was beautiful, when looking closely.
My mother, noticing my rapture, pulled me away from the scene. Her voice harsh and discordant compared to the soft mewlings and hums of the creatures. The animals faded, and her frantic screaming came into focus.
I was banned from the storeroom, until today.
The fresh rainfall smelled of life, a welcome contrast to the death I had left behind. The key, a note, and the will sat on the kitchen table, untouched for the last week. Sunlight danced through the window to illuminate the dust that swirled with an energy that reminded me of that summer day and the golden honey.
I had read the note a dozen times, memorizing the smudges of her y’s and the hurriedness with which the t’s had been crossed through to cover every word. The honey from the storeroom, made by the bees who drank from the tree, had been sold for generations. This I knew, that day in the storeroom a trip to collect a jug of the liquid gold for a woman with one arm who called my mother by name at our door.
I was to answer every customer who asked for the honey, as they would pay generously for the smallest cup of sweetness. One would come soon, an old man with a limp and three fingers on his left hand, for a pint. But under no circumstances, was I to be sold out. Should snows come early and the bees quiet by September, I was to never be without a cup of the honey in the house, or to harvest any from the bees. Especially not in winter.
The cool autumn air stirring through the half open door sent the note and the will flying, the key itself rattling softly as I watch the papers flutter. I didn’t have the heart to catch them, my limbs leadened by the grief that laid in my bones. That summer day flickered in my mind, the glint of a golden sunset reflected on the key. Just a little taste of that heavenly ambrosia, another glimpse at the misshapen ones.
The storeroom smelled of must, the potatoes and turnips kept in the corner hiding the sweetness that sat in glass bottles and plastic jugs. Or at least, that’s what would usually line the shelves and floor. Only weeks into fall and the bees were quiet, the tree flowerless. The pint, put aside for the old man, and a small glass jar, for my house, sat cobwebbed against the wall.
Just another taste. Something to ease the pain.
I drank from the pint first, sure I could tell the man we had run out, the unusually warm and raining season stopping the blooms early and putting the bees to rest for the year.
A little sip offered some light, a gentle glow at the edges of my gaze. The creatures soon swirled into focus, shifting uneasily at the walls and door, impatient for something. A drop, I thought, thinking of how my first taste came from a little spill of the golden drink. Between the deer with broken legs and extra eyes, the birds that twisted their flightless wings and writhed their legless tails, and the small, twitching things that had no face and almost immaterial bodies, the drop was soon soaked up.
I took a sip and gave them a drop. They never drank greedily, slowly approaching one by one to take a single droplet from the puddle. The sun had dropped low in the sky as we finished the pint, the bottle dried by the formless creatures that twisted inside it like writing snakes of thread. The beings glowed with a brightness that made the darkness of night seem so distant. So bright, so beautiful. Small embodiments of sunlight and fire.
Before long their shapes started to dissolve, the effects of the honey dying with each passing minute, allowing the dark and cold of night creep into the storeroom. A fear seized me, and I reached for the small jar. A little more to get me back inside the house. It fell from the shelf, shattering in a flurry of glass and gold on the floor. The creatures, half faded, came back brightly, an anxiety that had never possessed them flinging their deformed bodies at the scene.
In seconds the golden honey was gone, but I could still see the beings, their deformed bodies corporeal but hollow of breath. They looked at me. My heart raced, blood thrumming in my ears.
My blood. The last of the tree’s nectar.