Dying in Paradise
She danced like none of us had ever experienced before. The timing and precision of every waggle were impeccable. She was ecstatic but not out of control. She was clearly in the zone, radiating sheer joy and delight, unable to contain the blazing excitement that roared within and emanated from every waggle she made. Some of the others took off immediately, but I was too mesmerized to move, pulled to stay by her magnetic performance. Usually, Jasmine danced like the rest of us, nothing spectacular – just the appropriate movements to convey directions. But this dance promised something special. In the midst of my awe, Rose came and poked me, shattering the spellbound state I was in.
“What are you waiting for, Lily?” she said. “Come on, let’s fly.”
As if I had been ruthlessly shaken awake and torn from a pleasant dream, my reaction was unintentionally curt. “What are you doing, Rose?” I hissed. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”
She looked at me with surprise, taken aback by the harsh response. “Do what you want,” she said, obviously affronted. “Just remember that the map is not the territory.”
Rose took off. She was right; rather than continuing to admire the dance, I was sure to face something even more spectacular by following the directions. So, what was I waiting for? Jasmine had already mapped out the route and was now simply waggling the finishing touches to complete the dance with bravura.
Once liberated from the invisible chains in which the dance had held me captured, I could not depart soon enough. Visiting this place that had bestowed Jasmine with the prowess to dance so elegantly and beautifully was a must. Judging from the dance, it was a place unlike any other.
Her performance roused excited anticipation in the entire colony, and everyone wanted to fly there, even those obligated to stay home and tend to duties in the hive. Without further delay, my wings flapped faster than ever as I darted out of the hive. The sun beamed gracefully; spring was in the air. This was what it was all about – blossoming season had arrived. I passed by all the familiar spots in the forest without halting. Despite temptations looming everywhere, I was determined to follow Jasmine’s directions.
After a flight that felt like an eternity, I finally arrived. I had reached the edge of the forest and was met by a vast open field that stretched far into the distance. To my astonishment, the place seemed more paradisical than I had dared to imagine. All over the place, colorful and exotic flowers bloomed irresistibly. The air was filled with delectable pollen and lush fragrances of sweet nectar. The place was buzzing.
A dazzling flower caught my attention and I hastened toward it without thinking twice. Hovering before it, admiring its voluptuous curves and delicate features, I became extremely aroused, and I could tell that the flower was flattered. Subtly relaxing its petals to open wider, it graciously invited me inside. I took a deep breath before entering, soaking up the blissful odors that oozed from it. Then I penetrated. If ever there was a heaven on Earth, this was surely it. I stuck out my tongue and sucked its delicious nectar with voracious lust while bathing in an abundance of golden and glistening pollen. The flower clearly enjoyed it as well. We were beautifully synchronized, completely in tune with one another. The more aroused I became, the more the flower did too. And as the flower’s arousal intensified, so did mine. This positive feedback loop steadily transported us into states of intense orgasmic pleasure. Climactically, excesses of pollen and nectar spurted out wildly from the flower and my entire body vibrated uncontrollably. I felt more alive than ever and buzzed resoundingly as I exited the flower and moved on to the next.
Completely covered in pollen and intoxicated with bliss, I reluctantly left this paradise as the sun began setting in the West. Returning to the hive, I eagerly unloaded honey and pollen with great satisfaction and a sneer of pride. Job well done. The atmosphere in the hive was simmering with good vibes. Everyone who had returned from paradise was not only exuding positivity and liveliness, but the honey they produced was also off the charts and the pollen was of superior quality.
Marigold the third, our Queen, was elated and promptly commanded that all future foraging was to be carried out exclusively in paradise. She realized the fruitful potential of the exceptional sources of sustenance to provide the means for expanding the empire. She was ambitious and eyed an opportunity to rule the largest colony in the forest. She summoned all drones to inseminate her and before long the hive was overflowing with eggs and larvae. The population exploded and workers labored hard to keep up with the Queen’s remarkable fertility. I flew to paradise every day, incessantly flying from flower to flower, and although it was exhausting, it was also a thrill. When, during flights home, I felt fatigued by the heavy loads of pollen, feeling as if my wings couldn’t possibly flap any longer, I reminisced on the variety of flowers I had penetrated that day. This instantly gave me a spark of energy to complete the journey home. Indeed, compared to the strenuous work inside the hive – constantly producing wax, building combs, nursing eggs and larvae, tending to the Queen, and guarding the hive -- flying to paradise and mingling with gorgeous flowers was a blessing.
“Keep working hard,” Queen Marigold told the workers in the hive, “and one day, you will be granted flight to paradise.”
Using the prospect of flying to paradise as motivation was an ingenious strategy. Every worker labored with all their might, knowing that one day, they would merge with the most delicious flowers ever known to the colony.
And so, the colony prospered. Foragers flew enthusiastically to paradise as frequently as possible, and hive workers devotedly took care of chores in the hive with unbridled energy. Many records were broken during this period. Staggering amounts of honey were produced, more combs were built, and never had a queen laid so many eggs. Everyone had a sense that we would go down in history as the most formidable colony ever.
One evening, Rose returned from paradise feeling terribly ill. “I’m dying,” she said, quivering excessively.
The fear showed in her eyes. “I’m here, Rose,” I said, comforting her while struggling to suppress sobs and tears. “You are safe, you made it home.”
“I don’t know what happened, Lily,” she said. “I could feel it immediately when I arrived, something was not right.”
She shook and gasped. “I knew that something was wrong, but once I smelled the nectar, desire overruled my intuition. I entered one flower after the other but couldn’t escape the feeling that something wasn’t right. Suddenly, while inside a flower, I felt dizzy and nauseous. When departing the flower, I swayed in the air like a drunkard and had to make an emergency landing. It was irresponsible to fly. But the symptoms didn’t fade as I rested in the sun trying to gather myself. They became worse, so I forced myself to take flight again. I knew that I would die right there if I didn’t keep moving.”
“Oh Rose,” was the only thing I could utter.
I could no longer restrain my tears, which was good, for they seemed to make Rose feel loved. She smiled amiably, as if feeling loved was all she needed to let go and accept her fate. Then she drifted away, leaving her lifeless body behind.
Bewilderment permeated the entire hive. Rose was not the only one returning sick and dying, and many never even returned. It was obvious that something was amiss, but Queen Marigold refused to entertain the idea that paradise could have caused such calamities. In her mind, the flowers of paradise, which provided joy and high-quality nourishment, were our invaluable allies against this mysterious evil force that now threatened the colony.
“Tragically, we’ve lost lives today,” the Queen said, addressing the colony. “Some foragers have returned delirious and fatally ill, and some haven’t returned at all. Those that returned without illness have no idea what happened. None of them noticed anything suspicious in paradise. Currently, we can only gasp at the thought of what has happened. Whatever is behind this vile assault on our colony, we will overcome it. We will continue to work hard and cooperate for the greater good of the colony. We will not let fear paralyze us; we respond with swift and courageous action. Thanks to paradise, we have the means to become indestructible. Tomorrow, I want everyone to fly to paradise and ravish as many flowers as possible to supply the colony with extra resources. When we grow and expand, nothing can destroy us.”
She was riled up and appeared to be possessed with gross megalomania. The speech ended, as always, with our slogan “strength in numbers.” This roused everyone, spurring hope and feelings of invincibility. The Queen succeeded in diffusing the anxiousness that had pervaded the colony a few moments earlier, but I had an eerie feeling that she was more concerned with her legacy than the welfare of the population. It seemed reckless and outlandish to send even more foragers to paradise considering our cluelessness about what had happened to the dead. It was not surprising that the colony had blind faith in the Queen, but I remembered Rose’s disconcerting last words. She had been convinced that something was wrong in paradise.
I couldn’t sleep that night. A sense of moral duty grew inside me. I had to warn the colony against excursions to paradice until we had identified whether it had been responsible for the harms. But that was a dangerous matter. It was not only directly opposed to the Queen’s orders, but it was also not what the foragers themselves wanted to hear. Most would rather die than not fly to paradise again. The dilemma kept me awake all night as I pondered the best course of action. By dawn, I had made up my mind. The only way to prevent trips to paradise was to confront Queen Marigold and convince her to make a change of plans and cease dispatching foragers, at least for a while. It was a bold move, but one that had to be made. Questioning the Queen’s orders was almost a guarantee for demotion, and in this case, an eviction appeared gruelingly plausible. But if there is any one thing that makes us formidable as a group, it isn’t “strength in numbers,” as the Queen proclaims. It is that each individual sacrifices wholeheartedly for the greater good, each of us knowing that we are all connected. In this situation, I felt that the noblest sacrifice I could do was to risk my honor, perhaps even my life, to save the colony.
“How dare you?” The Queen was outraged by my proposal. “You’ve got some nerves coming in here and questioning my orders.”
Although I had been prepared for such a reaction, I was terrified. The Queen was in a precarious position and asking her to forsake her plans was risky business. I knew that. But she was tenser than I had anticipated. She found my suggestion inappropriate, unwarranted, and even contemptible. To her, my idea was a danger to the colony, potentially creating conflict and disunity.
The more she contemplated the implications of my proposal, the more infuriated she became, and I realized that the only way to avoid eviction was to reveal that it was Rose, who at her death, had purported that paradise was behind the deaths. The fact that it was Rose, a direct witness and victim who had expressed concerns, and that I was a mere messenger, seemed to ease the Queen, but it did not make her change plans. She simply couldn’t wrap her mind around the notion that paradise might be bad in any way.
“Now, prepare yourself,” she said. “You will be the first to leave for paradise today.”
It was her way of punishing me. I had no other choice but to obey. With great anxiety, I took off shortly after receiving the order. Queen Marigold saw to my departure with a contemptuous grin. She was visibly irritated, and I realized that I had somewhat succeeded in what I intended to do. Despite the irritation, she had neither demoted nor banished me from the colony, and although she did not communicate the slightest approval of my proposal, it had undoubtedly planted a seed in her mind. Sending me off, well before the other foragers were scheduled to fly, was not solely a punishment, it was also her sly way of employing me as an unofficial scout; although, she would never admit that.
I took her intentions to heart and headed towards paradise with the mindset of a scout rather than a forager. During the flight, my imagination seethed ceaselessly with terrifying scenarios of what might happen upon arrival. Approaching my destination, I lowered the pace and continued cautiously.
Paying close attention to any potential abnormalities in the surroundings, I circled for a while, mustering the courage to enter the field of paradise. Once those shining bright flowers were in sight, I was likely to lose control and possibly expose myself to dire danger. Lust would prevail over caution, and the luscious flowers would take turns to seduce me effortlessly, robbing me entirely of my capacity to think rationally. I would be slavishly bound to enter the flowers despite the potential risk of falling dead as a result. I wondered how something so natural and innocent as wanting to make out with flowers, to feel love and intimacy, had become a toxic and dangerous desire that gambled with my life.
When finally advancing to enter paradise, I was keenly focused on surveying the area and not letting any flower lure me. Hovering high in the sky, with a great view of the field, my heart burst with joy. Indeed it was paradise – rivetingly stunning. A feeling of shame surfaced for having attempted to convince the Queen to halt foraging here. What was I thinking? This was even more beautiful and glorious than I had hitherto
From up here, I was seduced, not by one flower at a time, but by all the flowers at once. Exhilarated and on the verge of exploding with boisterous delight, I slowly, yet irrepressibly, began gravitating towards a shamelessly seductive flower when I suddenly noticed large creatures walking upright on two legs. They wore masks and were completely enclosed by coverall suits. I frowned. This was bad news. Flying closer, I saw that the creatures splashed a strange and unpleasant smelling liquid on the flowers in their vicinity. The flowers did not seem thrilled at all – some of them even contracted a little and temporarily lost some of their attractive glow.
Rose had been right; something is wrong in paradise. And that leaves me with three options. One, fly back to warn the Queen, most likely in vain. Two, go out with a sting – sacrifice my life and die honorably by jabbing my stinger into one of those wicked creatures. Or three, return to the hive and perform the dance of a century – an unprecedented, splendid dance to supersede the masterpiece that Jasmine displayed when she first showed the way to paradise – and hopefully convince the colony that an even better place than paradise exists.
But, damn it, there is no better place than paradise, my dance will essentially be deceitful, and not even in my wildest dreams am I capable of contending with Jasmine’s performance. I have given option one considerable thought, but flying back to warn the Queen is almost certainly futile. I simply lack sufficient evidence to convince her. I simply lack tangible evidence. She will need to see more casualties before recognizing the danger paradise pose. I think I’ll have to go with option two. But first, let me revel in flowers one last time.
Jonas Meldal is a Copenhagen-based science journalist who writes articles for the magazine Science Illustrated. He holds degrees in biochemistry and biology. His fascination with animals and the natural world has prompted him to write stories about life from the perspective of animals. He enjoys writing, reading, and walks in nature.