Pitcher in the Hive

This was an assignment in high school, a creative response to Catcher in the Rye.

Pitcher in the Hive

Lachlan Marnoch, 2011

He took a different path from the school. As he walked he flicked the wheel of his lighter back and forth, fixated by the way its flickering flame was eclipsed by the sun’s stellar providence.

Hanging from a tree beside the path was a beehive. He stopped to watch it. He watched the teeming insects, wondering if any one of them had ever done anything different, ever said no to flying from flower to flower in search of nectar. If any one of them had done something no other bee had ever done. Probably not. It’s written into them, he decided.

The buzzing of a thousand wings was swallowed by the roar of a thousand voices. Lip curled, he glared up at the nearby football stand. The roar was one of those heralding that a man, wearing inordinate amounts of coloured armour, carrying a misshapen ball of pig’s skin, had just crossed a white line painted in the grass. It reminded him of a pack of monkeys screaming at a fallen coconut.

He could picture them: the girls from town fawning at the musclebound apes who had somehow learnt to embrace clothing, the brightly coloured posters declaring the loyalty of their owners with mindless slogans, the incessant drone of self-congratulation from the “students” who didn’t know what silent meant. Or sound, for that matter, judging from their attention span in Science class. All conforming to a set of specifications as though turned out by a factory.

Once, one of the other boys in his room had built a magnificent house of cards on the common room table. He had spent hours building it up, adding to it gradually with absolute care and precision. Every card assimilated easily into the pattern. Uncharacteristic of the moronic gathering his roommates constituted, no-one knocked it down. Finally, the stacker had finished, and the other boys were left in uniform awe at the dizzying tower of unnaturally ordered paper he had crafted. Receiving multiple pats of congratulation, everyone had gone to dinner, leaving the cards standing.

He remembered waiting for the creator to leave, pretending to tie his shoes. Then he burnt it down. Nothing was left of the cards but a sheet of ash.

From where he was standing, the exposed triangular struts and beams of the football stand looked terribly similar to a house of cards. He smiled to himself.

He gathered a small pile of sticks and leaves at the base of a wooden pillar. He tore off his tie, and threw it on the tinder. From the inner pocket of his blazer he retrieved a small vial of gasoline, distilled from the lawn mower in the maintenance shed. Then he tossed the blazer on the pile too. He splashed the vial on the stack.

He lit it.

Smoke calms bees. He doubted it would have the same effect here.

The fire caught swiftly. It spread like a tsunami through the wooden structure, which the phony school had spent the bare minimum on. He stepped out from under the stand and watched. The school pretended to be rich and privileged and all, but really it cut corners everywhere. Once during an assembly, when all of the students were lined up in their blazers and ties, the stage which the headmaster stood on during his address broke and he fell right through. It had rotted over the years and no-one had bothered to fix it.

The scent and sound of burning wood was quick to reach the people in the stands, and moments later the first screams began.

A herd of the naked apes poured from behind the flaming edifice, howling. He stood in ecstasy of chaos as they scattered in every direction. His eyes reflected the consuming flames. He imagined the fire enveloping the school, the town, whole cities toppling in conflagration. With him at the centre.

A splintered pain flooded his arm, and somehow he was on the ground. He flung his head to the side. A blackened strut had fallen on him, like a finger of vengeance. Almost without comprehension he stared at it, embers still burning within. A shriek burst from his throat. Groaning, he kicked at it, and yelped again as it rolled off.

Clutching his limp arm, he scrambled to his feet, teeth gritted at the grinding bones in his arm. He allowed himself one last look at the stand, now a burning rubble, and grinned through the pain. Then he walked, ashen face clenched, to join the gathering crowd of watchers. He became just another victim.

On the ground was the beehive, upended in the tumult. Its confused and angered occupants struck out at everything within reach. Adding to the anarchy.