Beg the Bee's Forgiveness by Christine Makepeace

This story was previously published in Siren's Call, February 2019.

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“Not much further,” she paused. “I can always tell; I just feel it in my bones.”

I looked down, and under me I saw blackness. I had expected water, but there was just air, like space. Empty and gaping. A gouged-out eyeball.

“You’re a quiet one.”

“What’s there to say?” I asked because I genuinely didn’t know.

“People say different things. Talk about regrets. About family. Sometimes they just cry. Bargaining—that’s a big one.”

“What could I have that you would want?” I turned my coat pockets inside out in a rather dramatic show of destitution.

She laughed. The way her breath caught made it sound like gagging, but her mouth was pulled up into something akin to a smile. I thought of Halloween masks sitting on vacant Styrofoam heads.

“You’re right, you know. They usually promise money. It used to be jewels and gold pieces. Now it’s just slips of paper. What would I want with any of it?”

I watched as she lifted the long, jagged oar and moved it to the right side of the boat. The wood was dark brown and worm-holed. I ran my finger across it and felt nothing, no knot, no hole, no splinter. I ached for the prick of a splinter.

She looked over her shoulder and down at me, and I shivered.

“You’ll be rid of me soon.”

“Then what?” I asked.

“My job ends at the gate. What happens beyond is not of much concern,” she answered, shifting the oar once more to the empty air on the left of us.

“But what should I expect? Do you know?”

“I know that I steer this ship. I drop beings off at the gate. And then I leave.”

“Are you dead?” I wondered, hoping she’d be too offended to answer me.

“No,” she replied. “I was never alive, so I can’t be dead. You are dead.”

“Then what are you?”

“I’m like a bee.”

I didn’t question further. Her tone made me seasick, and while the words meant nothing, I knew she was being forthcoming.

I leaned over the edge of the boat. It was more like a gondola than a rowboat, just smaller than I would’ve expected for the River Styx. But I would’ve also expected more water in a river. This was just an inky black void that seemed to inhale light. I gazed into it, long and deep. The darkness peeled up and twisted in on itself, wiggling and writhing, forming shapes and pictures. I saw a mouth, a fist, the roots of a tree and the tongue of a man. I saw myself, wasteful and entitled. I gasped and fell back onto the seat with a hollow thud.

“Don’t look at it too long.”

“What is it?”

“It’s like a mirror. But instead of reflecting light and images, it feasts on them. It will drain you of things you hold dear and then show you what little you’re left with. It’s the tissue that connects us to the living. Almost there,” she added absently.

“What am I supposed to do?”

“I’m not sure what you mean by that.”

“Why am I seeing all this? What can I do?” I looked to my left and right, hoping to see something, anything but the nothing that entombed me.

“It’s done. You’re seeing this—you’re here—because it’s all done. There’s nothing else.” She tossed me another withering glance.

“I get it. I’m dead. So now what? Am I—am I going to heaven?”

If there had been flesh on her face, she would’ve furrowed her brow like a discontented tutor.

“To hell?” I nearly shouted.

“What about this aren’t you getting?”

“Is this limbo?” I asked in a panic. “When I was a kid, I remember my great grandmother begging my mom to have me baptized. I mean, I was like six, but she wouldn’t give it up. First, it was about money, like, ‘I won’t help out with the college fund if you don’t cleanse this child.’ Stuff like that. But it turned into, ‘This poor baby will spend eternity in limbo, forever trying to climb up to heaven and into the Lord’s arms.’ She used to say it to me, too. A little kid. I would just sit there while she would tell me I was going to be trapped in a pit wearing dirty diapers because I was filthy with original sin. What kind of person says that to a kid? I used to cry and cry and beg my parents to just let me get baptized so I wouldn’t be an evil little baby stuck between heaven and hell. And they wouldn’t. They wouldn’t do it…” I looked up at her, into her purple eyes. “Is this limbo?”

She sighed at me, pitifully. “This is just the end.” She turned to face me, bending slightly, “There is no Heaven, no Hell, no pit of unclean children. There’s just this—the Underworld. The end. You’ll get off my boat, walk through the gate, and it will end. You’ll be done.”

“Done? Like, done with being alive?”

“Like done with existing. You’ll blip out of existence. You’ll fade into all the blackness. You’ll be done. Some people find solace in that.” She looked me up and down. “Apparently you aren’t one of them.”

“This can’t be! This can’t be it! I’m only thirty-six. I haven’t even started my life yet! I literally just paid off my car, for fuck’s sake.”

“You were waiting for it to start, but it had been happening the whole time.”

“I can’t. Please take me back. You can take me back, can’t you? Please… I beg you!”

There it is.” She turned her back to me, her heavy robes rippling as she twirled. “I’m like a bee, and you’re like honey. All this,” she motioned, “this is the fabric of what you’re made of. This is bigger than your worry and your chattering teeth. This is the very atoms of your being. It will absorb you and turn the wheel. I know why you beg, and why your knees buckle in sorrow. But I don’t care, because to me, you are nothing more than speck of dust to be locked away in the folds of time. You are not special. There is no part of you that will go on. It’s just logical.”

I wept, empty sobs coming out in harsh jags.

“If there was a Heaven,” she said to the darkness in front of her, “Why would you have been granted admission?”

There was no malice in any of her words. They simply left her mouth as statements of fact, as true as stardust.

“I guess it’s what we all hope for.”

“You all hope for time. And time is something you get. You just want more. But yet, what did you do with what you were given, Megan? What did you do with it? Think your thoughts now, because those will all slip away into the echoes, for I see the gate, and this is as far as I take you; this is as far as my river goes.”

“Will you remember me?” I asked.

“No,” she said simply, directing me to exit.

“Doesn’t it get lonely?”

“I am time itself.”

I stepped off the boat to find the ground under my feet wasn’t ground at all; it was the same rich emptiness that had surrounded the boat, but it supported me without fail. I walked toward the gate, unable to slow my step, unable to turn around and watch Styx as she floated back down the river.

I wondered if the gate looked the same to everyone, because to me it looked like the entrance to the park we went to when I was very small. To that end, I wondered if the woman had really looked like my mother, or if I’d just imagined her face for want of something real.

I placed my hand on the iron bars but couldn’t feel their weight. It was like a dream, and my body was no longer part of me, I was just a passenger. As I pushed the gate open, the last bit of my fear melted away. Lightness seeped into my joints and I melted into white. I wondered if I


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Copyright Christine Makepeace 2019

Christine Makepeace is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Previous published works include a modern Gothic novel, essays on film, and most recently a piece of short fiction for Nonbinary Review’s Shirley Jackson collection. More credits can be found at christinemakepeace.com.

Christine is a repeat author with Tell-Tale Press. Her work is also available in the Horror Library.

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