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Hive - Amanda SledzAmanda Sledz

Hive

This is a something-or-other I originally envisioned as a graphic novel. Ongoing, depending on brain vomit.

THEN

The bees came to me in a dream. Humming stories in a wildflower field, me waist-deep in blooming branches; they swarmed my body, an insect hairshirt, flitting in and out of mouth and nostrils and ears. The bees danced their communicative groove, tight circles and figure eights, lifting legs and displaying full and empty pollen sacks, spreading rumors of ripe locations, playing tiny transparent drums.

The dance was interrupted by the mechanical shriek of a $3 alarm clock, and I rolled over, threw it out the window, and stared at the ceiling wondering where my friends had gone.

Then I got up and showered and rode my bike to an idiot office job where I plowed through ream after ream of paper to keep loggers in jobs and my mediocre paycheck justified. Like every other office worker, I exploited company resources when I could. I used my company phone to call my friend and fuck-buddy Charlie and tell him about the dream, slowly, spending lots of do-nothing minutes on this tiny speck of something.

Hive sounds like a good name for a party,” Charlie said. I heard the sound of him typing as he spoke.

A party is the right thing,” I replied. “All we have is pleasure.” This is true.

A November global summit of blue and black suits resulted in an international win for Big Industry, and trickle down suffering for little no-suit Every Man. Losers, like those who gathered en masse outside that very meeting to demand tougher emissions regulations and foot-on-throat penalties for oil companies using the ocean as a toilet. Every Man was tasered and corralled into back alleys and then police vans, until no one was left to shout but the suits – and of course, they were quiet. Big Blinking Media promptly reported that Every Man was violent (a window was broken), and there was no common theme to the protest; they had no demand, and thus none was answered, and for God’s sake they used a man in a bunny suit to defend it. The hair-sprayed and pancaked reporter shook her plastic head. I gave my television the finger, and vomited what was left of my Big Industry hope into my hands, and ate it.

I wasn’t alone. People were angry – even the apathetic people who didn’t bother to get angry unless Johnny was at war and dad was laid off and it took a nearly maxed-out credit card to fill the SUV. Streets turned anarchy-violent because Big Industry had left local governments to clean up national mess, left locals to deal with the air and water pollution of their burping industry fires, left locals to feel paychecks suffer from corporate tax breaks and below-inflation pay rates. Historians made comparisons to the post World War I economy, when people hoped an end to bombs and sugar-rations would turn the streets to gold, and students made bold declarations about “worst-government-ever” and locked themselves down to mailboxes and street lights in their privileged pristine academic neighborhoods.

Every Man got uglier and went on strike in the few factories still nestled on American soil, threw bricks through the windows of coffeeshops that bloomed blackberry wild up and down every condo-peppered street, and sent burning tires screaming down hills at buses full of scabs fresh from the Mexican border – workers who had no idea they were breaking anything. Historians on public broadcasting tried again, feebly mentioning something about the Boston Police Strike of 1919 and some Poles fresh off the boat suckered into unintentionally breaking steel strikes in the steel towns previously run by green-eyed Irishmen who would hate them forever in exchange. Every Man doesn’t watch public broadcasting and doesn’t give a fuck what happened when or why, and they were so shit-your-pants angry that dissenting individuals were elected to local governments. These governments passed legislation ordering a higher minimum wage, tougher emissions standards, and strict union-busting prohibitions – which the Supreme Court (working in cooperation with Big Industry, of course) promptly declared unconstitutional, thus fucking us all.

Then Every Man got high and cried in the street, while a few anarchist kids who don’t know what anarchy actually means painted their faces and made shields out of garbage cans and car doors and charged the police line blocking entrance to the city. There was no objective but hormonal release – I don’t think anyone thought they’d tear the tower down, not a tower that high. That’s when Charlie become Agent Charlie, because he yelled, “Fuck you! Bikes on the freeway!” and Every Man listened and biked slowly and in line and blocked traffic for hours. And I sat in a dark room with a laptop open and tuned in to monitor police activity, and I told the Agent via cell phone when it was time to run. That was before the police monitored my cell phone, and Every Man’s cell phone. That was six months ago.

If I were to write my own memoir for this day and these times, I’d say my mother is a cannon ball and I was raised in the afterglow of her gunpowder, and the blanket I’ve been wrapped in since has me weeping when I hear the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. I would say that, when tasting the air, the only truth I know is that there are ashes on the horizon, and I don’t know what happens next.

*

Hive came to me under the cloud of all of this.

Each dream grew more layers than the one that came before, the swarm speaking tongues of dull hum until the buzz either evolved to burp words or I just mined and pulled from the depth of drone.

When this happened I either went mad or became a magician, and I choose the latter because the other is so awful I can’t let my muddled mind imagine.

Hive. I plotted the way any sensible person does when they have a big idea and no money: I closed my eyes and crossed my fingers and made dark plans to charge ridiculous admission to late comers in exchange for nothing greater than the chance to associate with strange people in a remote location with minimal fear of arrest. It’s stunning what a hot commodity this is.

First step: guerilla advertising. Big, ugly, fast, fierce and infecting, delicious with blinking colors and flashing lights to aggravate your inner four year-old into money spending submission. Agent Charlie made his living this way, creating glorious fat animation that freezes even the most evolved internet browsers and melts down entire computers for those with the misfortune of running Windows. Alas, everyone who knows nothing about the web wants their up-and-coming site to look this way, and Charlie (Agent or not) wasn’t one to ignore opportunity when it knocked so loud, so hard, so persistently. I’m a hard knocker myself. I banged until he answered.

What the hell am I doing again?” he asked when all his gadgets were switched to on and I was pacing in the backdrop behind him. If I were a smoker I’d have been smoking, but I wasn’t and I’m not, so I set to wringing my hands and hoping he wouldn’t notice.

Making a website. A website with just a slogan.” I pulled one of the tufts of hair that left him calling me “blondie” on our more playful days, and left my coworkers calling me dirty because none would have called me well-groomed.

We worked a slogan.

How about Hive: a straight up downtempo motherfucker?” Charlie suggested, pushing the dimple of his chin.

I was thinking more like HIVE: Hotly Injected Vibrating Erection,” I snickered.

HIVE: Holy Impulse Vapid Eternally.”

HIVE: Happy Igloo Vaulting Eskimos.”

HIVE: Hollow Intestine Vaguely Enjoyed.”

HIVE: Hash Inviting Vast Exodus.”

HIVE: Hasty Instantly Vanishing Exit.”

HIVE: Haughty Integers Varying Equations.”

HIVE: Fuck you.”

Finally Charlie and I exchanged congrads for mutual creative genius and decided that each time the page reloaded a new slogan would appear, thus allowing us the decadent pleasure of continue to concoct what would inevitably be increasingly retarded shit. We placed a counter and a date and exactly nothing else on a plain black background, and Agent Charlie added the website to his tagline on all the geek message boards he trolled and trolled and trolled. I planted links to the site on all my own pieces of internet clutter, sites where I racked up dozens of “friends” who knew me before I was either mad or a magician and pretended to still like me anyway.

In a world of millions of websites and webtrends, somehow Hive hovered on to the webdar. Really, the swarm was an entity on to itself; we just offered it an outlet. We were unknowing servants, Agent Charlie and I. Either way: this tease of a site drove web nerds and party hoppers and those simply hungry for anything edible or worth doing utterly link swap crazy.

To hold their attention and keep the spiral working down, Agent Charlie and I added an email address for communication with the bleak other side, presented in the halting format required to not be absorbed by spam robots seeking new prey. From that moment forward I wasted office-pay hours fielding awesome messages from undersexed strangers, such as: “I fucking hate you!” and “what the fuck is hive anyway?” The keyword, the recurring spell, was clearly fuck, but even so, we opted to create an automatic bounce-back message paper-airplaned to every asshole who hastily penned a misspelled message that simply read: “You’re a star!”

From there I dug into the depths of my mostly-forgotten state college education and began using quotes from the lost and found literary geniuses of our time: ee cummings, George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, Charlotte Delbo, Thomas Pynchon, Alan Moore, Anne Carson, Jeanette Winterson, even Hakim Fucking Bey. Sometimes I disappeared into rants against the English I knew that they knew and that I know myself, and cursed myself for not peppering my speech with the lyrical anecdotes of more forgotten writers – because I’ve never found those assholes myself. Fuck everyone regularly read in high school English classes, except Toni Morrison for those that lucky. The Scarlet Letter was written just to make adolescents hate reading, so fuck Nathanial Hawthorne twice, backwards, with a fat expandable dildo that blows up his asshole. Fuck William Faulkner and every pussy southern writer who has sucked him off since. Fuck Pride and Prejudice, fuck the Bronte sisters silly, fuck the beats – hard.

Fuck William Burroughs with a shit covered ice cream cone. That fucker would like it.

I began writing mad quotes merging the musings of Richard Wright with Elizabeth Smart and Saul Bellow and Kate Chopin and Jean Rhys and all praises to Albert Camus. I called upon the ghosts that nurtured the ink infested fingers of Sylvia Plath and Aphra Behn, I crossed my eyes crazy until Alice Walker woke from a dream somewhere, screaming.

And all day long, while I was supposed to be working and not rocking my mad poet, I posted this insanity to Hive.

God forgive Agent Charlie for electing to concoct such a simple PHP script, programming so easy to manipulate and update that I simply couldn’t help myself, simply couldn’t stop.

I bugged Agent Charlie to neglect jobs that actually paid, encouraged him to add billable hours to already fat accounts stacked with hours he spent filing fingernails and cleaning his jerk-off rag, and begged him to add a buzz soundtrack to the site. I sat next to him, wringing my hands, asking him how it could be as loud as possible when the page was first loaded, how it could be loud enough to get people fired and shatter water glasses.

Fuck you fuck you fuck you,” I chanted as the page loaded, and he smiled, because he got it, and he kissed my cheek and called me a rockstar.

I’m a mad scientist these days.”

Fuck your mother,” he cooed into my ear, and the urge to blow the house down was overwhelming. He called me manic later and almost broke the spell.

*

Phase 2: summon all those suitably infected to a single, slimey place so we can all breed and die, rotting from the inside out.

In the throws of knowing this must be done, this must be done, this must be done, I woke from a dream where pages were raining down over my face and my cell phone wouldn’t stop ringing, and the buzz was so near and loud I couldn’t decide if I was the bees or the nest or the honeycomb or something else entirely. I considered that I might be the strange disease destroying hives, leaving millions of bees inexplicably dying and lost and spoiling crops everywhere – the gateway to our eventually starvation and extermination. The earth was spraying all of humanity with RAID and I couldn’t blame it; it was time to evacuate this mother fucker before a gas mask was required for a trip to the grocery store. Eager to join the outbound ship, I slit my wrists in the bathroom and waited.

Not long into my waiting Agent Charlie opened my front door and wandered into the bathroom, right in the middle of some joke about a bar and a little girl on a swing who doesn’t have any arms, and screamed. I burst into tears.

My tears hit the blood pooling at my feet while Charlie cursed and tried to wrap a towel around my wrist, and I pushed him away to keep him from blocking the images forming at my feet. Bees, millions of bees, circling, circling in a mighty sun-spoiling fog, with a few desperate drones stretching above the greater mass, searching ever up for the allusive queen. Searching. I didn’t see her. I shook my head, and this image held, so I stopped fighting.

Agent Charlie was lecturing me, and I finally tuned in. “Next time, fucking mean it, okay? Remember: down, not across, okay?” his voice cracked, and I asked the pool of blood for more answers, and it had none.

After my wrists were bandaged Agent Charlie said I needed a rest. I asked what he meant by a rest. “Do you mean that shit rich people take when they’re ‘exhausted’? Is this code for medication? Are you trying to deflate my tires, you tire-deflating bitch?”

No,” he said, all patient-like, which pissed me off. “Generally, attempting suicide calls for a time-out.”

Fuck that.”

How about this: I’ll take your precious site down if you don’t relax. How about that, you straight-jacket needing psycho?” For the first time, I noticed he had tears in his eyes.

Okay,” I exhaled.

I used my time-out to remember that he’s human, that Agent Charlie really exists in a way other than relating to me. This involved a lot of nudity, the union of our messy, stickiest parts. The bees got a little quieter as I flitted through working hours sending erotically charged messages right to Agent Charlie’s vibrating cell phone, a long-distance way of sliding my hand up his muscular leg to my favorite appendage and squeezing. Instead of bombarding him with questions about bandwidth and offsite links and unique hits, I jumped into his arms the minute he walked through the door and prayed that he wasn’t hungry or tired or hampered by any other biological need inconvenient to my desires.

Still: sleep wasn’t rest. Dreams invaded in spite of everyday barriers erected to preserve the tattered fragments of my mind. In desperation I turned the dreams lucid and held up a hand to halt the buzz, but my hand was covered. Bees. The bees again. “Sha,” they said.

Yes?” It was time to finally ask.

11-11-11.”

I opened my eyes and the site and confirmed the date, and knew that it would be my birthday, my coming out party. As soon as the sun rose I told Charlie, and he mumbled something about how he probably wouldn’t be getting laid as much.

When he sat and scratched his head and yawned, I perched myself in his lap, gently rocked myself back and forth over his already stiff self. “Talk to me about IP address tracking,” I said, as he grabbed my breast in one hand, his mouse in the other.

*

Third step: Nathan the Architect. Motherfucker was always around. No matter what coffee shop I stumbled into at 6AM seeking an overpriced early-morning fuck-it-all jolt, he’d be sitting there, scratching his chin, working the wheel of a tiny laser-guided thumbwheel mouse poised to send human resource departments into an ergonomic tizzy. His eyes would squint with a focus that guaranteed he had a better work ethic than most.

We were sort-of friends, in that I wanted to pinch his cheeks and he didn’t completely hate me. During a drunken fit a few years back we had the sort of fight that, if we were gods, would have involved the throwing of lightning bolts and tossing of mountains. Instead of picking a side between God and Lucifer, we were two assholes arguing the merits (or lack there of) of NASA. I took the side of declaring the whole thing Hollywood special effects and wasted tax dollars; he took the side of science and slow progress and the impact space research has on our overall understanding of life. When I said it seemed fucked that we were looking for evidence of water on alternate planets without paying attention to preserving our own, he gave me a look that could knock a Mormon drunk and sterile. Like any rat cornered by a cougar I backtracked and offered a, “Fuck, dude, I was just kidding,” but it was too late. He pressed his mouth into the sort of tight line I previously thought reserved for middle-aged women burdened by six hysterical children, then accused me of foot in mouth disease. He’s offered little more than a tight-lipped hello since.

Hey Nathan,” I said, hovering over his air space. Don’t talk about space. Don’t talk about space. “We need an asshole packing mechanism. Got any bright ideas?”

He sipped his coffee with a leisure that screamed decaf, and said, “Do you ever talk like a normal person?”

I spilled coffee on myself.

Then he said: “How many assholes are we talking about?”

About 20,000,” I guessed, based on a certain percentage of unique hits, hits coming from links placed on rave-inducing websites, and the invisible indescribable math I completed in my invisible indescribable head. “I’m thinking there needs to be one central structure, like a cave, to give shade to the inevitable herd of dehydrated dumbasses bound to arrive without tarp or tent.”

I get it,” he nodded once, and started sketching, just like that.

How much money are we working with?” He asked as line became lines and then boxes and segments neither myself nor his ruler bothered to understand.

A hundred million dollars,” I lied. The sun was out. That’s my excuse.

Well…let’s be economical anyway,” he sipped real slow, drawing on a sheet of onion skin with a silver mechanical pencil. Perhaps Nathan the Architect had gotten used to me. He was big and bald, and I wouldn’t have been shocked if he suddenly stuck the mechanical pencil in his mouth and fired a poison dart at an unsuspecting stranger.

Hive,” I reminded him. “It’s called Hive.” A smile stretched across his face, drilling deep creases into both cheeks, then he crumpled the piece of paper he was working with, and attacked a clean sheet with zeal.

*

Agent Charlie said we needed more bandwidth. I told him to get some then, Christ, do I have to do everything? He asked what kind of cash I was working with and I turned out my pockets. He said, “It’s time to start selling tickets…the presale tickets everyone wants to buy because they’re cheap. Do we have a line up? Like music or something?”

I thought about this, then laughed. “We don’t have shit, but fuck it. Let them come to us. We are the hive. Just let them come. Let them come.”

Charlie added, “Let them come” to the website, the new rotating slogan, one of over 1,000 concocted, with a hundred dollar price tag. We sold nine thousand tickets in an hour and Charlie groaned, “We should have started higher,” and quickly posted that the last cheap tickets would be gone by Friday. Then he bought a fuckload of bandwidth.

NOW

Dream, dream, dream of a green triangle.

Of getting a delicate tattoo that breaks down my methods of divination into chapters, and the number is eleven.

The last thing I see is my hands, the lines on the palms redrawn.

*

August 8, 2010

Since I first touched down on this planet I’ve been evolving into dream.

Awake lies leak from every orifice, lie in wait just under tongue. Words marinated ugly so long I’ve forgotten my soft center, the tender part that knows its funny, that beneath the veil there’s so much smirking. I almost get a peak of it, there, folded under lie, but another spoonful, just another spoonful to make the medicine go down. I clamp my mouth closed and you jab hard and that spoonful of sugar carves my face old.

Hive thick with bodies, too sticky with honey – no choice but to eat itself.

I am sane in a hall of madness. I am the compass. I am the compass.

I am the circle inside the AUM.

*

Charlie tells me I need to chill out, because a lot of people love me.

No they don’t. They don’t know who I am. My name is a pseudonym and my pseudonym is a ruse and no one can radar listen for the bat chirp of true word.

He asks what I’m talking about and I say exactly. Exactly.

*

I have a lot to do. I have a lot to do. I have a lot to do. This comes out through the hand-wringing, the pacing I do in the confines of my office in between moving stacks of paper back and forth. I don’t remember what I do for a living anymore. A college degree was required, and I was important enough to justify my own special isolation tank. It doesn’t seem like a college degree should have been required. Anyone can wring their hands.

They’re on to me. They’re on to me. They’re on to me.

I can feel their eyes through my office walls, making assumptions about how I’m spending my time, assessing my sanity, guessing what sort of prescription cocktail I’m washing down, down, down the hatch, guessing away at my emotional state. I fire back by analyzing them, wondering what kind of cocktail they’re ingesting to not blow their fucking brains out. It most be potent, expensive. The pills must be buffalo sized.

117 people have read my blog today. One comment: I think I’m in love with you.

Response from me: Let’s get married.

Another: I can’t wait to meet you.

Response: I’m on your front porch.

Another: Are you one of those new age flakes spinning in a field with unwashed hair, obsessing about the world ending in 2012?

Response: The world has already ended. It was all your fault.

I’ve been at work for three hours, and I don’t know how I’m going to tolerate five more. Bombs falling everywhere in my dreams, dreams dropping like bombs, my head abandons body and leaves behind mind.

The one who loves me writes again: I’m serious. I love you.

I respond: serve me better.

My wit wears down. I go sort of looking for Nathan the Architect so I can feel embarrassed and useless again.

*

Agent Charlie is in jail. This doesn’t suit my plans. I find out when he calls Nathan the Architect for bail. Nathan’s phone rang and his face went Junior High Principal and his stoic expression said he’d be there soon.

Charlie got arrested. He was riding his bike without lights, which apparently is grounds for tasering.”

Tasers: torture devices slipped into gun-happy mitts to escalate law enforcement awful to indiscriminate electroshock inflicted on the masses.

How’s his egg?” I ask. Such things cause cracks and leaks.

Don’t know. I’m headed out to pick him up.”

Me too,” I say, standing there, numb. Nathan hesitates.

Can you keep your…”

I don’t have to talk.”

Nathan nods, and we head out to his truck, where we drive in silence and don’t talk about the space program.

We bail Charlie out and he doesn’t look so good, he keeps vomiting, and I’m still worried for his egg. I hold it in my hands.

That hurt,” Charlie says. “Motherfucker. Mother. Fuck.” He cries.

I don’t say anything.

*

I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings when I asked you not to talk,” Nathan the Architect says, because I haven’t said anything for three days. “This is kind of extreme, don’t you think?”

It’s not because of you,” I say, voice unfamiliar and miserable. “It was just a break. For all of us. For me.”

From the bathroom, Charlie. Still vomiting.

*

August 10, 2010: You don’t know what I’m feeling. I am spreading, my long-distance liquid spiders, eight-legged scampering out of screen into scream. Army up, suckers. I am your undoing.

Within seconds, someone writes: I can’t wait to be undone.

And I tell the writer: You’ll wish you waited. Run, full tilt, eyes closed, mouth open.

*

“You’re not allowed to kiss me,” I tell Charlie. “No one is. Not ever again.”

He says, “I don’t believe you.”

I’m sorry for him. He’s lost, I’m already inside.

He pulls me towards him. “I said, I don’t believe you.”

One day my second self will crawl from his stomach, intestines tangled around her ankle, pushing flesh away while he screams. He’ll forget me, when he’s screaming.

I love so much I ache.

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