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There was a girl who died every morning, and it would not have been a problem except that she kept bees.  

When her heart had shuddered back to life and she had clawed her way back from the lands beneath, she sat up and drew a long sucking breath into the silent caverns of her lungs. Her first breath was always very loud in the little cottage, but there was no one there to hear it.  

She wrapped her robe around her. It was a dressing gown in the morning and winding sheet at night. Then she swung her feet over onto the floor and the cold tiles were no colder than the palms of the newly dead.  

She stumped out to the beehives and tapped each one with the key to her cottage, three times each. "The old master is dead," she said, as the hives buzzed and the bees swirled around her. "I am the new master." And she said her name, three times each over every hive.   

Sometimes a bee would land on her wrist and wiggle its antennae at her. Sometimes it wouldn't. There was a bit of blue embroidery on the collar of her dressing gown, and the bees had to investigate it thoroughly some mornings, while other mornings they ignored it entirely.  

When the hives had been advised of her passing, she went back into her cottage. Her feet left dark tracks in the silver grass. She made tea and ate honey scraped over black bread. That was all she ever ate. She had given the garden over to flowers, because it is hard for the dead to eat parsnips. The bees liked the flowers, and the bees were her best company.

She did not mind the bread, if there was honey. And even the dead will drink tea if they can.

She worked all day, weeding the garden and patching the cottage and tending the bees, and then at night, because she did not sleep, she would stay awake and watch the stars. They were old friends now, the bright beads of Orion and the Great Bear. They turned and turned about, as the seasons changed, but like her, they were always fundamentally the same.  

There were no constellations that represented bees. This was a grave oversight. She had mentioned it to those in the lands beneath, but they looked at her with their gray faces and their sewn-shut mouths and few of them could remember things like "bees" or "stars."

Possibly she was not dead long enough. If she had stayed dead for more than a few hours, perhaps she could have found someone with authority. A person who understood about bees might understand other important things.

Slightly before dawn each day, she died.    

Sleep like death and death like sleep are common curses. It is inevitable that they become tangled. Fair folk and wicked queens are not always precise in their diction.

There are consequences for imprecision, and it is always someone else who has to pay.

The important thing is not to dwell on it.  

The bees had to be told, though. Bees are conscious of their dignity, and if you do not tell them of a death, they will stream away from the hive in a thrumming ribbon, going away, away, to someone who will respect them. It does not matter that the name of the living may be the name of the dead. They must be told.

It had been a long winter of dry black bread before she learned, with only the stars and the dead for company. She preferred the living hives and then, when the queens slept, the memory of wings and sweetness.   

Surely there was a place where the bees went, under the earth. She had begun to look for them in the hours of her death, for the dead queens arrayed in black and gold. Sometimes when she woke, before her first breath, she could hear their buzzing and thought, I am getting closer.

Surely they would help her, if only she could find them.

Even if it meant getting up now, every morning, with her blood still oozing sluggish in the chambers of her heart, and walking through the meadow with the house key in her hand, to go and tell the bees her name.




T. Kingfisher is the pen name under which children's book author Ursula Vernon writes stories for adults. She has won the Hugo, Nebula, Sequoyah, and Mythopoeic Awards. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and an ancient beagle. You can find her online at her T. Kingfisher website, or via email at ursulav.gmail.com.
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27 Jun 2022

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