Tea With The Queen Bee
Elle Watson didn't need friends. What Elle wanted was attention. She knew it. Everyone knew it. For her, being the queen bee meant everything. Being the queen bee, the most popular girl, meant hiding who she really was. For people to hold that against her... who were they to judge? They had no idea what her life was like. And it was none of their business.
She wandered into the woods blindly. The humidity caused her to sweat. Her blond hair frizzed out from the moisture. She took off her stylish straw hat and fanned her face with it. Honestly, the humidity wasn't the only thing making her perspire. It was the dare. When she completed the dare she would have everyone's attention. No one would ever call her out or cut her down again.
The trees were getting denser. Once she reached the darkest part of the woods she would find a place to sleep, taking pictures to prove she'd stayed the night, and return to those who dared her. Her bravery, her nerve, would silence them all.
There it lay. A fallen tree covered in undergrowth. It was hard to see. This had to be the darkest part of the woods. No light help illuminate the fallen tree. This would be where Elle slept tonight.
As she approached for her picture someone came out from behind the fallen tree. The mass of overgrowth had hidden the stranger from Elle's view. She stopped dead and dropped her camera. The stranger wore black clothing from head to toe. Over the stranger's face snugly fastened was a rubber white rabbit mask. The beady black eyes watched her, waiting for her next move.
Elle started to feel dizzy and she realized she was holding her breath. When had she done that? She let it out, feeling the burning in her lungs subside. Without removing her gaze from the stranger she bent down to get her camera. The stranger held up a black gloved hand. Elle stopped before her fingers could wrap around the camera.
A deep voice came from the mask, the chin moving up and down as if a real face. “Arrogance brought you here, child. You shall leave with modesty.”
From behind multiple other trees came more bodies all wearing black and white rabbit masks. Six in all surrounded Elle. A normal person would run by this point, but Elle had never been the bravest girl around. Doing the dare was for attention, so faking the bravery came easily. However, in this type of situation the attention could mean her life.
She stood up slowly so as to not startle the rabbit clan. When people wore masks it usually meant they were hiding their identity which led her to believe they wished to cause her harm.
The wind kicked her hair out of her eyes. She could see the first stranger more clearly. The wind made the ears of the mask twitch as if they were moving on their own. She needed to convince them to let her leave. If she saw the stranger's face maybe they would all give up this sudden attack.
“I came because of a stupid dare,” she swore. “I don't want drama. I'll leave.”
“Yes,” agreed the first stranger. “You will leave. With modesty.”
What did that even mean? Hearing more judgmental words from people who didn't know her made her more upset. Her fear dropped slightly. She stood a little taller, finding it easier to talk to them. “You don't know me. I don't have to listen to this.”
The stranger squatted so low his butt touched the dirt. With one swift bound the stranger flew through the air and landed directly in front of Elle. It happened so fast she didn't have time to scream. The stranger stared at her straight in the eye. He stood so close Elle could see her reflection in his eyes. It was then that she noticed the mask wasn't made of rubber. It had real fur.
“Miss Watson,” the real rabbit spoke, “you shall forever be trapped within these woods. You will never escape. The only way to change your fate... is you must go meet with the Queen Bee.”
His threat made her blood run cold. She took a step back. How would anyone keep her in the woods? She knew her way back. Did they intend to hold her hostage?
Elle crossed her arms. His words were also ironic. For someone who had no problem judging her he should have known that she was the queen bee. Everyone answered to her. “I don't have to do anything. And you can't keep me here.”
The other rabbit men chuckled. The first one replied by saying, “Arrogance brought you here, child. You shall leave with modesty.”
“You said that,” Elle reminded, feeling like this was all a cruel prank by the same people who dared her. “I'm not scared of you. I'm going home.” She turned on her heels and left the way she came. No dare was worth this. She wouldn't be made a fool.
As she departed the six rabbit men repeated the same three words over and over. “Arrogance to modesty. Arrogance to modesty. Arrogance to modesty.” The repeated it until their voices were a soft hush in the distance.
* * *
Elle's pulse could be seen on her neck. Hours had passed and she still couldn't find her way home. The darkest part of the woods continued getting darker. It seemed to grow, consuming the entire thing. Maybe those rabbit men were right. Could she actually be trapped in the woods? The undergrowth got thicker the farther she walked. Fog started to encroach on her. The darkness mixed with the fog gave a blue tint to the woods.
She took a moment to gather her thoughts. She couldn't be trapped in the woods. Sooner or later she had to find the edge of the trees. Home had to show up eventually. If she gathered her thoughts and made a plan she would find her way out.
Changing her course, Elle continued her hike. The undergrowth started to diminish. That was good. Less beneath her feet had to mean she was close to home. All that lay before her were a few bunches of mushrooms and dead leaves.
And a little girl in a chair.
Elle stopped and stared at the girl. She wore a blue dress and black stockings. The chair looked old, the soft cushion lumpy and discolored. Her blond hair hung scraggly on either side of her pale face. Her eyes were looking down, wet. Black mascara ran down her cheeks. On her lap sat a white tea cup on a saucer. Hands trembling, the girl lifted the saucer with one hand and with the other raised the cup to her lips.
Before her lips touched the rim, she turned her eyes up, looking at Elle. In a soft voice she said, “I'm not important. No one cares about me. That's why we're here.”
Elle's eyes narrowed. This girl looked familiar. Something about her stirred bad memories. Elle had one question. “We?”
The girl closed her eyes and took a sip of her tea. “If you don't meet with the Queen Bee,” she began, “you'll never escape these woods.” She sniffed as the steam from the tea made her nose run. Slowly she looked back up. “We'll stay this way forever.”
Elle's breath caught in her throat. This little girl... was her. This was Elle as a child. She remembered that blue dress. It was her favorite dress when she was a child. Her mother had hated bright colors and every time Elle wore it her mother would shout at her, curse at her. One day her mother threw it away, ripping it from her little fingers. Such a bitter memory... all because of a blue dress.
Little Elle stood up, setting the teacup on the chair. She walked around the chair and then stopped, looking back at Elle. “Don't let me make you do the wrong thing. Go to the Queen Bee.” At the end of her words a gust of wind picked up, swirling around Little Elle. Leaves and twigs were caught up in the cyclone. Elle's hair whipped in front of her face, blocking her view of the child. When the wind died down and she could once again see, the girl was gone.
That encounter convinced her. Somehow she'd gotten trapped in the woods. No prank could cause a vision of her as a child. Whatever the reason behind her imprisonment she needed to fight her way out. The only clue she had was finding the Queen Bee. That offered little help. What did they want from her? All she could think of when hearing "queen bee" was a popular girl and a literal bee hive queen bee.
How long had she been lost in the woods? The forever darkness hazed her time. She would die if she didn't solve the Queen Bee riddle. She decided to walk. After all, so far her walking had led her to two oddballs ushering her down the same path. If she continued maybe someone else would hand her a clue.
Arrogance brought you here, child. You shall leave with modesty.
* * *
When Elle's skirt started sticking to her legs from the sweat running down them she knew she needed a rest. Perhaps her plan of walking until finding someone wasn't the correct course of action. She sat down under a low hanging branch, pulling her legs to her chest. She shut her eyes, once again gathering her thoughts. Something would work out. It had too.
A buzzing sound filled her ears. She shot her eyes open and saw a bee darting around a group of flowers. Her jaw dropped, her lips curling into a smile. “A bee,” she whispered. “Finally.” Elle stood and slowly approached the insect. This whole thing made her feel stupid. What could a tiny bee do for her?
“Um... bee? Queen Bee?” Then she remembered something about the queen bees of a hive. They never left the hive. This was most-likely a worker bee. Still, a bee was a bee. If she followed it maybe she would find the hive and then the queen.
Two bells, like bike bells, chimed to her left. She turned her head to see what caused the sound. Her eyes bulged and she had a second to dive out of the path. Two large penny-farthings rattled by, leaving her in the dirt. She flipped onto her back and watched as the bikes turned and came back her way.
“Watch where you're going!” Elle spat, slapping dirt and crumbled leaves off her palms. Her eyes focused on the careless riders. After all the weirdness of the day this shouldn't have surprised her. Even so, she found herself gawking at the sight of two aye-ayes riding on the large bikes. Their saucer eyes stared at her as they rode passed. Their middle fingers rapped on the bike handlebars, making an earsplitting sound.
Elle covered her ears. How were the primates operating the bikes? Their little legs couldn't reach the peddles. Regardless, the bikes turned and they circled Elle over and over again. “What do you want?” She desperately wanted to escape. No doubt the bee had fled at the sight of the little beasts.
For some reason the aye-ayes decided to stop their ride and they both dismounted the penny-farthings. They scurried down the large wheels and stood on either side of Elle. They tapped her in a rhythmic pattern up and down her arms. Elle wiggled under their touch. “What are you doing? Stop!”
“Looks like a job for the Queen Bee,” the one on the left deduced. Its voice sounded wild and excited.
They can talk. Of course they can talk, Elle thought. The one on the right laughed wildly. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” it started to say, the voice matching the others. “The Queen Bee will fix her.”
Left sniffed her cheek; Right played with her hair. Elle took a risk and stood up as fast as she could. Right held tight to her hair and raised up with her. Elle's head stung from the added weight on her hair. “Ouch! Get off me!”
Right moved from her hair to her shoulder, smiling with those long, rat-like teeth. Left remained on the ground but still spoke to her. “The hive isn't far. Find the Queen Bee. She'll help you.”
“Help, help help,” repeated Right. The chipper primate hurried back down to the ground and the two of them climbed back on their penny-farthings. Pointing with their skinning middle fingers, they said together, “That way. You'll find the Queen Bee. Hope you like tea.” With that they rode away, vanishing in the everlasting fog.
* * *
Elle had a set direction. Elle took the said direction. She only wished she had a more clear direction. This whole thing felt like a dream. Humanoid rabbits, talking aye-ayes, Little Elle. Crazy. That's all this was. This all seemed like a fairy tale more than real life. Red Riding hood, Snow White, Alice In Wonderland; she'd always hated that one.
Elle came to a fork in the road. A large tree split the path in two. She gazed upon the massive tree in awe. She'd never seen one so big. But she had to put the sight out of mind and chose which path to take. “Great, am I going to have to solve a riddle to chose the correct one?” Elle griped mockingly. She blew out a huge huffy breath and closed her eyes. Lifting her finger, she pointed back and forth to each path. “My mother told me to pick the very best one and you are—”
A loud rumble cut her sentence off. She shot her eyes open and saw a section in the large tree's trunk parting. Bark and leaves tumbled from the tree, raining down on Elle. Today wasn't a good day for Elle to get squished by a tree. She backed away, moving to the side.
The opening section came to a stop. A faint glow radiated from it. She squinted her eyes, hoping to get a better look. Something began to emerge from the tree. Something huge. Elle whipped behind a nearby tree and held her breath. Buzzing. She could hear buzzing. This time, however, the buzzing was deafening.
A shadow swallowed her up, the buzzing directly above her. She squatted down, her butt inches from the dirt. And then she heard the voice. “Hello, Miss Watson. I've been expecting for you.”
Elle gazed up, her mouth falling open in shock. So, when they all said to meet with the Queen Bee, Elle thought, They really meant...
Hovering above Elle was the largest bee she had ever seen. Slowly it came down to stand in front of her. Two big, black eyes filled her vision. The two antennae ticked Elle's forehead. They felt like pipe-cleaners. Elle fussed, pushing the objects away.
“Elle. It is you.” The voice sounded monotone with a slight hum. It had a higher pitch leading Elle to believe the was, in fact, the Queen Bee. The large eyes backed away, giving Elle space to examine the rest of the insect. The mandible, the mouth looking thing, opened and closed as it spoke. “I know you are able to speak,” she informed.
Elle tried to make her mouth form words but the sight of the bug stunned her into silence. The Queen Bee shook her head, which was more like shaking her whole body. “Very well. Climb on my back and we'll have tea.”
Tea? The bug drank tea? Elle blinked a few times, trying to wrap her head around the situation. The Queen Bee turned and Elle spotted the large stinger. A picture of that stinger sticking into her flesh flash to her mind. The hairs on her arm stood up. A stinger that size would surely kill her.
The Queen Bee stared at her intently. Her request started to look more and more like an order. To avoid angering the massive bug, Elle obliged. Her skin crawled as her arms ran along the hairs on the Queen Bee's back. Elle held her breath and gripped the hairs as tightly as she could. Falling from a flying bee would also end her life.
The Queen Bee took flight and Elle let out a yelp. That didn't stop the bee from gaining altitude. Higher they went until the Queen Bee entered the opening in the tree. She landed and told Elle she could get off. She obeyed without hesitation.
Elle thought she'd see sap running down the sides of a hollow tree, or honey rather. But instead she found herself standing in a beautiful, carpeted hallway. Pictures of the Queen Bee hung on the walls. Smaller bees, regular size, buzzed about, ignoring their new visitor.
The Queen Bee walked down the hallway towards a large wooden door at the end. Elle followed. Once at the door a group of the smaller bees worked together to open the door. They all bowed to their queen before zipping away. The Queen Bee gestured with one of her many legs towards to room.
Elle entered the well-furnished room. Round tables were set up around the space covered with white linens. The olive walls were plain save for a few paintings of well dressed women, seemingly from the 1800's. Only one of the tables had been set. A white tea set sat immaculately on the table near one of the walls. A vintage vase garnished with red and pink carnations sat off to the side of the tea. In the middle of the setup were two plates of crumpets. The window near the table let in a glow of light, giving the table the perfect amount of shading.
The Queen Bee walked to the table and started pouring tea. Her large eyes focused on Elle who had stop in the threshold. “Take your seat, Miss Watson.”
Elle swallowed but did as instructed. She removed her hat and awkwardly sat down. Her legs never made it fully under the white table cloth. The Queen Bee passed her a crumpet with one of her legs not currently pouring tea. It slid over the table, creasing the linen slightly. The light from the window showed off the many hairs on the creature's body. It made Elle's arm hairs stand on end.
The Queen Bee watched her as she finished pouring the tea. “Aren't you going to thank me?”
Elle blanched and lifted the crumpet. “T-thank you, Your Majesty.” All she could think about was that giant stinger. As long as she kept the Queen Bee happy it wouldn't sting her.
Elle's reply pleased the Queen Bee. She sat on her chair and watched as Elle took a bite. The melted butter warmed her throat. It calmed her. Maybe now the Queen Bee would tell her what was happening. What sort of world had Elle stumbled into?
The room reminded quiet for a few minutes. Only the sound of Elle chewing and sipping filled the space. After a while the Queen Bee spoke. “Miss Watson... what do you know about the bee?”
Her question confused Elle. The bug wanted to know that? That couldn't be the reason Elle was trapped in the woods. She lowered her tea cup, clearing her throat. “They are fuzzy bugs that like to smell flowers, make honey, and sting people.” She realized her tone may have sounded snippy or sarcastic and she feared the stinger would penetrate her.
But the Queen Bee remained seated, seemingly unfazed by Elle's remarks. She took a sip from her tea cup and patted her face with a napkin. “Those are all true. Miss Watson,” she allowed. “However, we bees are so much more than that.” Her wings started to flutter and the Queen Bee lifted into the air. Elle sat back in her chair, her face going white as a sheet.
The Queen Bee flew to a door at the back of the room. Inside the door were old movie reels and a projector. “Please, come watch this.”
Elle swallowed but did as instructed. She moved to the door as the Queen Bee fitted the projector with one of the reels. In the back of the closet was a blank wall where the film would show. With the flip of a switch the film lit up the wall. Elle saw hundreds of bees buzzing around, pollinating flowers, dancing with others in their hive, making honey.... Somehow they looked less scary on film.
No sound came from it so the Queen Bee narrated.
“You are not so different from the bee, Elle. You want to be noticed for your accomplishments. You wish to work hard. You care about those around you. And yet, somehow you lost yourself. You ignore all of that and act out. We bees know how humans feel about us. We are feared and therefore stomped on. Pushed around. However, if we were to stop what we do best just because people don't like us or respect us... the world would loose many of its resources. And so, we carry on, despite what humans think. We are humble.”
Despite all that, Elle couldn't understand what it had to do with her. The Queen Bee could see the questions in her eyes. “Elle... what do you want?”
It seemed like such a little inquiry. Elle stared at the giant bee wanting to smash it with a giant shoe. “I want to go home.”
“Yes,” the Queen Bee allowed, “but what do you want out of life?”
Elle pressed her lips together. “I want people to stop assuming things about me. I want people to respect me. I want real friendship without having to work for it.” As she spoke tears started to spill her her cheeks. She couldn't stop them. Embarrassed, she turned her face away.
The Queen Bee turned off the projector and waited for Elle to dry her tears. When Elle was ready she faced her. “What are you trying to do to me?”
“I want you to see that you don't need to push people around to be the Queen Bee,” she replied. “We bees don't let the arrogance of the world stop us from doing what we were born to do. I don't push my workers around. They work and assist me because I earned it. I could easily be replaced by another Queen Bee, but I haven't been. My modesty wins out.”
Arrogance to modesty, Elle remembered. She understood. Hopefully she understood. Elle had nothing to prove to anyone. People could think about her what they wanted. None of it was true, and none of it mattered. If she was a good person she would gain good friends.
The tears flowed once more but this time Elle didn't turn away. A simple nod from the Queen Bee and Elle knew she could leave the woods. She bowed to the giant bee and ran from the room.
* * *
She ran until she reached the edge of the woods. Before stepping over the border Elle stopped and stared. She had no photo evidence of her adventure. No proof of her stay. If she walked out of the woods now then she lost the dare. People would mock her. They would assume she was a liar and a coward.
Elle stepped confidently out of the woods.