By early Summer, things settled back to normal on the farm. Most every animal had forgotten about the haunted bushes, except for Rusty, who remembered nearly everything. He never quite got over the ordeal, and continued to give the shrubs a wide berth when grazing, just to be safe.
One afternoon — Dr. Gupta, the old plough horse reckoned it to be Sunday, but only because the sun was out. He only knew of Sundays and Not-yet-Sundays — Wanda returned. She landed in the field with much to-do, honking and flapping, followed by four of her five offspring, hitting the ground gracelessly, like pillows falling from the sky and exploding on impact. They all looked thin and exhausted and they gorged themselves in the pond as the others gathered around to ask questions about their winter.
As Wanda told of downsouth, Gertie counted the geese. Something was wrong. She tried counting again, starting with a different one, but got the same result. She tried three more times, each time starting with a different goose, because she didn’t want to make a mistake. But every time, she came up one short.
“Oh! There’s one missing!” she finally said. (If someone had contradicted her, she would have believed she was wrong and never thought about it again.)
Wanda didn’t seem to hear. Dr. Gupta cleared his throat, and the sheep looked uncomfortable. Rusty lowered his head and said, under his breath, “Be quiet, little pig. She knows.”
“But where is he?” insisted Gertie. After a moment, Wanda said, “Gregory decided to fly to the moon.” The other geese honked quietly as they continued to splash water on themselves.
“The moon! When will he come back?” asked Gertie, but Wanda was done talking about it. (For the next few months, Gertie would look up at the moon at night and try to imagine Gregory flying to it. Sometimes, when she squinted, she could kind of see him maybe. But something told her never to mention it to Wanda.)
There were other questions, of course. Rusty wanted to know what goats looked like downsouth, and if any of them could butt heads harder than he could. Wanda said there were plenty of goats, but none were a match for Rusty, which made him very happy. (Rusty had only butted his head against trees all his life and could only dream of going head to head with another goat.)
But as more questions were asked, Wanda tucked her head beneath her wing, as did her children, and after a two hundred mile Sunday, they were soon fast asleep.
The next day was Sunday. Wanda was brought before the King Bee. He was perched regally on the window sill in the barn when Gertie nervously introduced them.
“How long will you be staying?” asked the King Bee.
“What do you mean how long will I be staying? I live here!” Wanda was not keeping her eyes downcast like Gertie had showed her. And she hadn’t even attempted a curtsey. The sheep started backing out, and Dr. Gupta shuffled nervously in his stall.
“He likes to be called ‘your majesty,’” whispered Gertie, trying get things back on track.
“I don’t care what he likes to be called. Are you telling me that for the last month you’ve all been held hostage by an insect?” He feathers were up now.
“Forgive her, your majesty! She’s tired from her trip!” cried one of the sheep. “Forgive her, your majesty! She’s tired from her trip!” clarified the other one.
“She may be excused,” granted the king. “But if I see such impertinence again, I shall bring down the wrath of millions of my soldiers.” Dr. Gupta shuddered at the thought. He had once trampled a hornets’ nest, and never wanted to go through that again.
“Thank you, your majesty,” said Gertie, her eyes down. (During this move she spotted a chunk of apple on the floor and made a mental note to come back for it when the current crisis was over.)
But instead of backing away like she was supposed to, Wanda flapped her wings angrily. “There’s no such thing as a King Bee. Beehives are ruled by a Queen!”
This gave the others pause. Wanda had seen a great deal more of the world than they had — was it possible she was right?
“That is true,” conceded the bee, “but who rules the queen?” Everyone looked at Wanda.
“There’s no such thing as a King Bee,” she said again. “If you’re so tough, let’s see you bring in your soldiers!” The others gasped. Rusty considered that he might have to head butt Wanda to save them all. Gertie, in terror, ate the piece of apple.
The King Bee said, “I’ll give you one last chance to leave and never return.” Wanda said, “Or maybe I’ll just fly up there and give you one good peck. I think that’s all it would take.” She started waddling toward the window. The King Bee launched himself and flew over her head to the hood of the tractor, narrowly missing her beak as she leapt for him.
“Crush her, Gupta! Crush her and I will knight you!” cried the King, as Wanda sprung toward the tractor, landing on the seat. The bee buzzed up toward the rafters.
“Can’t you see? He’s been lying to you, making you wait on him hand and foot, when he’s just a drone.” Wanda flapped to the floor, keeping one eye on her quarry. “Don’t listen to her!” yelled the bee, but his voice was tiny from so high up. From there, he didn’t look majestic at all.
“Is this true?” asked Dr. Gupta, rolling his big eyes toward the bee.
“Have you been lying to us?” demanded Rusty, lowering his head to square off, in case the bee flew low enough.
The bee flew back and forth haphazardly. Finally, he made a dive for the window and would probably have never been seen again, but the goose, who caught many an insect on her cross country flights, darted into his path and snapped her beak, catching him expertly by the wing.
The king buzzed furiously. Gertie trembled. Wanda was taking a terrible chance with their lives.
Finally the king broke down and started pleading for his life. He admitted that he was only a drone. At this, Wanda spat him out disdainfully.
“Why did you do this?” asked Gertie, almost adding “your majesty.”
“I was kicked out of my hive,” said the not-a-king miserably. “I needed a place to stay, and I was defenseless. When first came here and made myself known, I thought I’d have a better chance of living out the winter if you were afraid of me. So I made up all that stuff about being a king.”
“Why were you kicked out of your hive?” asked Dr. Gupta.
“Because… because… I’m not a good dancer!” croaked the bee. Gertie thought that she had never seen such a bereft creature. “They made you leave because you can’t dance?” she asked. “Are there lots of parties in your hive?”
“You don’t understand,” said the bee. “We dance as a way of giving directions. Somehow, I never got the hang of it. I get all self-conscious, and then I’m paying too much attention to my feet… anyway, last Fall, we’d had a bad year and I was out by myself and found a field chock-full of unpollinated flowers. It could save us. So I went back and danced out the directions and sent two hundred bees…”
“Sent them where?” asked Wanda. Her voice was softer, her anger gone. For a second, Gertie thought about Gregory flying to the moon.
“No idea,” said the bee, on the verge of tears. “They never came back. And I was exiled.”
There was quiet after this. Finally the bee spoke up.
“I can’t make up for the way I’ve treated you, but if it means anything, I am grateful.”
And before anyone could respond, the bee flew through the window and off into the Summer.
“I guess that’s the last we’ll see of the King Bee,” said Wanda. Little did they know that one day they would see him again, in the most unexpected way.