Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2017    poetry    all issues


Cover Marija Zaric

Mary Lucille Hays
Tribute in Black, White, and Gray

Anne McMillan

Faith Shearin

James Hanna
Tower Duty

Nektaria Petrou
Black Lace

Rebecca May Hope
Coyotes from Kazakhstan

John Maki
There Are No Angels Singing

Lisa Michelle
A Happy Birthday

Alison Turner
Actresses Auditioning

Brian Beard
Problems in Poultry Farming

Liz Bender
The Hypnotist

William C-F Long
Pet Hive

Wendy Dolber
Charlotte's Plan

Emily Holland
Something Cool

Writer's Site

William C-F Long

Pet Hive

Sophie smiles, and tells him no, that she is not allergic to any part of an animal like a tail, or a leg; she is allergic to their fur, to their hair, to all of the little pieces that are shed from animals simply by their acts of living. She uses the word “dander,” and Quintus scowls.

Quintus leans into the kitchen table, one cheek of his face squashed into the butt of his palm. He exaggerates a breath—a long draw in through the nose, a loud sigh blown out through his open mouth. He stares into the amber eyes of an African lion and imagines golden hills and emerald jungle, a sky the color of crystal. The lion is frozen, its close-up portrait printed on a full page in Animals of the Earth! The Strange and the Wonderful. Quintus has memorized the book’s menagerie; its hardcover corners are worn down to bare card-stock. Quintus looks at Sophie, his mother, who stands with her back toward him, filling a kettle at the sink. The stove’s burner clicks twice before igniting; a shimmer of condensation washes up the kettle’s heating steel.

It is Saturday morning. Fresh snow carpets the world beyond the kitchen’s window. Sunlight diffuses through a bright winter haze. Quintus sighs again, aiming the sound into his mother’s back. His eyes are the color of riverbeds, his black hair is shaggy, cut below his ears. In a month, he turns eight; the roundness of infancy insulates his body still, but his jaw has begun to sharpen, and his shoulders foreshadow a lean broadness.

Sophie has asked what gifts are on his birthday list. He desires only a pet. Every day at school, his classmates praise the loyalty of their puppies or the guile of their kittens; the closest thing Quintus knows to a pet is the elderly rabbit that belongs to the school. It spends its time nibbling slowly down the lengths of carrots and staring at the gleaming windowpanes of the classroom, nose twitching. Whenever a pet comes to Show-and-Tell, Quintus sits rigidly at his desk, staring, fantasizing. Quintus’s friend Ingrid knows the caliber of his desire, and on those days she kicks at the legs of his desk and grins. Quintus invariably flushes.

Sophie takes her water off the boil and pours it over ground coffee. Aroma blossoms in the kitchen. A wood-stove snickers in the next room. Quintus pages past the lion, past the shaggy, flanged orangutan, the blue-ringed octopus and the cruel, prehistoric cassowary, the spitting cobra and the grand, weightless bulk of the whale shark, patterned like a nightscape.

“It’s only that I’ve always wanted a pet. Really it’s all I’ve ever asked for, and I still don’t know why you have to be allergic to their fur and dander.” The words spill out. “But what about birds?” Quintus asks. The inside panels of his book are landscapes of deep jungle where birds flash like sparks, caught by a camera’s lens against dark, dense overgrowth. “Birds don’t have fur. I don’t have to have a furry pet.”

Sophie is an accountant. She works from home with her fingers at the pulses of other people’s finances. She had kept a tidy office in the upstairs of their house long before circumstances made her a single parent, forcing her to work from home. Her features are sharp, akin to the aesthetics carved into old Roman marble. She gave her dark hair to her son, but her own eyes are bright blue, warmly glacial. She looks through the kitchen doorway into the living room, out through the large windows and onto the snow-covered meadow, the darkened woods, and the mountains half-masked by cloud. She presses and pours her coffee and imagines that view obstructed by a brassy cage and the silhouette of some shrill, wide-eyed macaw.

“I am so sorry about it, Quintus, but I know that you know how a feather is, when you look at one very closely.”

Quintus thinks. “It is kind of like hair.”

“Precisely. If we had birds’ feathers inside the house, I regret to say that my head would stuff up entirely, as though I had spent a week eating nothing but cotton balls.”

Quintus chortles and asks, “but what about reptiles? They don’t have any hair at all. And in the summer we could dig a big pit in the backyard and leave the hose on, and keep an anaconda there to eat all the mice that chew up the things in the garage.” He pauses. “I could teach it not to bite at people, so we can like snakes again.”

“Oh, my dear, dear, sweet boy.” In summer, when the mountain nights are warm, Sophie sometimes throws dinner parties for clients and friends in the back yard. The sounds of chitchat, silverware, and ice cubes tinkling against glass mask the silk-hiss of heavy scales as they glide across the grass toward the heat and tremor of her child’s heart. She shivers. Alas; she is allergic to forked tongues.


Sophie tells Quintus with great seriousness that she is allergic to anything with webbed digits, mandibles, antennae, or feelers. Neither can she tolerate egg-sacks, nor tentaculate appendages, venom glands, membraneous wings, or any creature at all in possession of a cloaca.

“Cloaca?” Quintus runs through the list of restrictive organs in his head. He thinks of dander, and smells a contradiction in what his mother has told him about allergies, but fears for an instant and wonders if there is a cloaca hidden somewhere on him. He knows that humans are animals in many senses of the word, and asks, “were you allergic to Dad?”

Sophie hides a smile behind the rim of her coffee cup. Her eyes narrow. She turns her head to look out the kitchen window into winter, and for a long moment, she is silent. Quintus had known his father for only a few years: the man had jumped from a rock ledge down into the cold, deep water of a remote and private swimming hole, and had stepped flat-footed on the buzzing tail of a rattlesnake as he had come out from the water’s chill, sputtering, hooting, and groping for the warmth of his towel.

Sophie sets her mug on the table, and taps triplets against it with short, unpainted fingernails. She cups the back of her neck with an open palm.

“Darling Quintus. When I was your age, I wished to live in a magic zoo, and I dreamt that in the mornings at breakfast, I could sit and share my oatmeal and warm berries and drizzled honey and sweet-smelling tea with all of my favorite animals, all at one grand kitchen table, where they were all my friends.”

“Fun,” says Quintus.

“But.” Sophie holds up a stiffened index finger. “I never managed it, of course, because of my allergies and because your grandfather loved his own two dogs so deeply that he would tolerate no other creatures in the house. ‘No more room in the heart for another beast,’ he’d say. Quintus, have you ever wondered what it might be like if the animals in your book had all the same lives that we do? What if they could go along to school, and learn all of the same things that seven-but-almost-eight-year-old boys and girls get to learn?”

Quintus had thought of it before, but only as a wandering sort of day-dream, a fantasy like an image in a cloud that bleeds away into something wildly different, elsewhere. Cloacae and allergies momentarily forgotten, Quintus dives into the speculation: many animals would not fit into the desks at school. Many animals, he suspects, would not get along well with one another at recess. He flips a page of his book again, and imagines the painted lines of the school’s playground obscured by slicks of arterial red, and the shade beneath the jungle gym home to a sprawl of crocodiles and bears, wolves and tigers, predators thickened and wounded by their sudden engorgement at the expense of slower, weaker playmates.

Quintus cocks his head. He imagines the animals with their heads bowed, pencils clutched tooth and nail, wild eyes roving over worksheets and exercises; gentle purrs, hisses, and grunts of creatures in studious contemplation.

“Which do you think would be the best at math?” he asks.

“The raccoon,” Sophie says. She takes a long sip of coffee.

Later in the evening, they drive down the valley’s winding road at dusk to go to town for groceries. Quintus watches for pairs of luminous eyes that might blink from the crooks of trees or snowy drainage culverts. He wonders if the passage of their car has distracted any raccoon from the study of a trash can’s geometry, or the calculus of rich, yolky eggs distributed throughout all the forest’s birds’ nests.

Winter dulls into early spring. Melting snow seeps back into the earth through a mesh of matted, yellow grass and Quintus learns to circumvent his mother’s laws of pets and allergies. He helps no kitten tangle itself in yarn, he watches no pet snake swallow down the last length of a feeder-mouse’s tail. Instead, he adopts pets into his life directly from the world around him, working without any true sense of ownership and guided by a child’s whim: strangely-shaped trees in the woods down in the valley’s gut, fledgling robins and the sounds of owls, the creek that eats a small gorge through the snow. He adopts reefs of sunset clouds, and the lavender dusks punctuated by arcing bats. As the last of the winter’s snow is lost, he adopts a patch of ice that clings to its tangible form in the house’s northern shadow. Quintus greets the ice-pet each afternoon when he comes home from school; it melts and refreezes, melts and refreezes, until it shrinks enough to be held for the first time.

The pet leaves a puddle in Quintus’s cupped pink palms, and the boy giggles gleefully. At the dinner table he tells Sophie that one of his newest pets is not very well trained. His mother arches a black stroke of an eyebrow.

The next day, the little wedge of ice is gone entirely from the wash of gravel that was its dwelling. On the school playground during recess, the other children play hand-ball or seek the upper limit of the groaning swing-set. Quintus sits with Ingrid by the drinking fountain, and tells her that one of his pets has died.

“Was it a real one, this time?”

“Yes Ingrid, of course so. And all of them are actually real, obviously.”

Ingrid is eight years old. She is a thick young girl with blushed calla-lily skin and hair like sunlight caught in straightened strands of spiders’ webs. Her classmates tease her not only for her weight and paleness, but because of her imaginary friends: oftentimes before class she sits by the school’s rosebushes and chats with the elves and faeries hiding there.

Ingrid picks up a stone and sends it skittering across the playground’s blacktop. “Well, sorry,” she says. “How am I supposed to know what’s a pet and what’s just a rock or something, usually.”

Quintus is her true friend. They are united not only by similar strangenesses but because they each live with parents who are otherwise alone: Ingrid’s mother had vanished in the night from behind the wheel of her sedan after it left the paved road to crumple into a ditch. Shards of the shattered windshield had spread out onto the shoulders of the road, but if Ingrid’s mother left the wreck to look for help, she had wandered in the wrong direction and had never returned.

Quintus knows about the nightmares Ingrid suffered after her mother’s death: she would sleep and find herself wandering an arctic wasteland, trapped among endless sheets of ice that groaned and cracked and split and gave way to dark, choppy water. In that water, strange, monstrous heads rose up to stalk her as she fled across the ice; bristled heads with crimson flesh and thick fangs. They sunk away when she shrieked at them, and resurfaced elsewhere, staring. Quintus had listened to Ingrid’s telling of the dreams, and had brought Animals of the Earth! The Strange and the Wonderful to her to show her that she had only ever been dreaming of walruses.

“I wish I could fly,” Ingrid says as a butterfly flutters by the drinking fountain. “If I could have a real pet, I would want a griffin, I think. Bright white feathers and golden fur! And razor-sharp claws. We could fly way up into the mountains whenever I felt like it.”

“Griffins aren’t real pets, Ingrid.”

“But you know what I mean!”

Quintus looks out into the hills and mountains that bracket the valley, the school. Spots of old snow cling up high among rock faces and stone chimneys. He knows that both winter and his little ice-pet will return; he has learned from his parents already that death is not some dreadful, lurking thing, but something natural, like the rings hidden within the heartwood of trees.

True spring crowns itself with laurel-wreaths of wildflowers and fresh grass. Breezes swell up the mountain valley in the mornings and roll down in the evenings, ripe with the warmth of blossoming life. Rain storms soften the earth, and as Ingrid and Quintus await the end of the school year, they spend weekend afternoons together working at jigsaw puzzles, or following the pet creek down through the woods to where the water contributes to the valley’s river.

They sit beneath a pair of blossoming chokecherry trees, arranging a collection of river-smoothed stones. There is a droning in the air, something soporific and rootless, like a long wave breaking across the sky.

“What if these were ancient coins,” says Quintus, looking down at the small treasury. “Or jewels and diamonds.”

“We’d be so rich. I’d buy Dad a new truck and—do you hear that buzzing?” They are far from the road, down in the valley’s low cleft; no tractors at work there, no motorbikes. The nearby river holds its own gurgling conversation, but this new sound is separate. Quintus looks up through the canopy of trees: the sky is a rich blue, spotted by tight white puffs of cloud. There is a haze moving through the trees’ leaves, and the droning becomes a roar. Quintus and Ingrid watch as huge bees fill the air, single insects at first, followed by the body of the swarm. The bees envelop the chokecherry trees, weighing down the branches like a snowfall, guzzling at the blossoms. Ingrid clutches at her elbows, drawing herself inward. She speaks softly but her voice is lost; they can hear nothing but the cacophony of the swarm’s buzz. Quintus feels the vibration of the insects’ layered sound deep within him, working into the hollow spaces of his bones. Ingrid runs, flailing her arms to swat at nothing; the bees stay among the branches drinking nectar, dowsing themselves in pollen. Gradually they fly away as they had arrived, sifting downstream into the forest. The buzzing thins; the last bees drift away, silence as the punctuation at the end of the swarm’s passage.

For a moment, the world seems devoid of sound. Quintus begins to hear wind in the leaves, the river, the timid chirruping of other insects, and the far-off calls of birds. He follows Ingrid back to his house.

Ingrid’s father picks her up in his old truck. Quintus hears them crunch down the gravel driveway, but he is watching the valley from his bedroom window. Sophie is in her office, wreathed in the steam rising from a cup of tea. She works through stacks of documents; receipts are arranged on a side desk in a partial mosaic.

“Can I go up into the attic and look through some of Dad’s old books?” Quintus asks. “Didn’t he have a lot of old nature books?”

“He did. And yes, of course, sweet child.”

“Mom, are you allergic to bees, too?”

“Absolutely,” she says without looking up. She scratches brisk pen-strokes at a pad of paper. “Be careful on the attic steps.”

Quintus takes for granted the fact that their home is clean and organized: he has seen his mother sigh into sheafs of paper and rub her temples with her whole hands. Soon after, she sweeps the house, or rakes the yard, or sets into something with a rag and cleanser.

“If we put our hands to work, our minds will have a chance to relax,” Sophie tells Quintus whenever he helps her.

The attic exists as though in a different world, separated more by its disorder and stillness than by a slender stairway and a hinged panel. The steps creak beneath him; the attic yawns dust and stale air as Quintus pushes the panel open and climbs up. He flips a light-switch: bare, dusty bulbs cast a yellow shine onto rows of cardboard boxes, a set of old chairs, an antique bicycle. Graying sheets hang over other shapes, obscuring them. The shadows are thick; the sunlight streaming in through a small window illuminates many thousands of glowing, golden dust motes.

Quintus remembers his father strongest through the smell of the garage; he was a tall, strong man with a vague face, a near-stranger now, in the photographs around the house. Many of the boxes in the attic wear his name in thick marker lines. Quintus thinks about rattlesnakes more often than he thinks about his father, and with a closer and more tangible fondness.

Quintus kneels and rummages through his father’s boxes: old, folded clothing, letters bundled together with twine, books of photographs taken before Quintus was born. He leaves them alone. He sneezes, wiping his nose on his forearm.

Prying apart another box, he finds his father’s books. He cracks their spines; paper rasps and flutters as he pages through them. Perhaps bees are too commonplace to qualify for the index of Animals of the Earth! The Strange and the Wonderful! but in the second box of books, bound in hardcover with indented silver lettering, Quintus discovers The Gardener’s Encyclopedia of Insects, and within that, chapter after chapter on the subject of bees.

“I think you’re really onto something, Quintus, but I suppose that if we have pancakes and a fruit salad for dinner tonight, then tomorrow morning we’ll just simply have to eat the pot roast and the spinach salad for breakfast,” Sophie and Quintus are almost home from town. Quintus is thinking about his birthday, and the issue of real pets has risen up like vapor.

Quintus plays with the automatic car window. “I hate dinner.”

“Really, Quintus. You like pot roast. I’ve seen you eat it. You are going to grow up one day and be appalled that you gave me so much grief over what is really quite a delicious meal.”

“I don’t care.”

“Indeed, my poor, poor child, but how could you?” Sophie turns from the road into their driveway. “The horrors that I level against you must be legendary. You’ll help me bring the groceries into the kitchen and then please find something fun to do outside.”

In the late afternoon, Quintus plays in the sandbox in the backyard. A toy desert, networks of tunnels and walls, a legion of monochromatic soldiers assaulting a castle where a tyrannosaurus is installed as king. He stews over the fantasy of a living dog and does not hear the droning of a solitary bee, but instead feels the prickling of its legs as it lands on him. He freezes, fearing a sting, but the bee only paces a circle across his upper arm in slow, deliberate steps.

The bee is thick and round, bristled with black and golden hairs beneath folded, translucent scissor-blade wings. Its stinger is long and straight as a finishing nail and it is larger than any bee Quintus has ever seen; a peach made physically articulate and gifted with flight. The bee seems drowsy. It crawls onto his tee-shirt sleeve and hooks its legs into the shirt’s fabric and attempts to fly away, pulling at Quintus but unable to move the boy on its own. Then it abandons him, and wobbles in its flight to land and bob at the end of a nearby branch of lilac bush.

Quintus rushes from the sandbox, into the house. He sneaks into the kitchen, to the drawers where the mason jars are kept. He takes a jar and a lid and creeps back outside, closing the door quietly behind him.

The bee is buried in the depths of a blossom. Its bristles are dusted with pollen; the blossom’s slender branch struggles under the bee’s weight. Quintus slowly raises the mouth of the jar over the bee, over the flower, up the neck of the branch, then he claps the jar lid closed; the bee falls from its flower onto its back and scrambles at the air. Quintus pulls the branch out, scraping it though a narrow opening between the jar and the lid, raining leaves and petals down onto the bee.

“I caught you,” Quintus says softly. The insect waggles its antennae and taps against the jar’s glass when it tries to fly away.

Quintus takes the bee to school for Show-and-Tell. The children fidget at their desks. The number of days left before the end of the school year can now easily be counted, and summer break—no longer an abstraction—calls out sing-song promises from the near future.

The bee clambers uselessly at the walls of the jar, or buzzes to the lid to hang from the air-holes that Quintus punched through the tin with a nail. When it is his turn to present to the class, he stands by the teacher’s desk with the jar held high, like a trophy.

“Just like a librarian or a trash-truck driver,” he begins, “Bees are important members of the community. They have six legs, a head, a thorax, and an abdomen, which is also where their stingers are. They actually have four wings. Bees live in hives, and that’s where a single queen lives, too. She is the one in charge of the bees.”

Quintus hands the jar and a magnifying glass to Ingrid, who sits at the front of the class. She stares down into the bee’s kaleidoscopic compound eyes.

“Bees help pollinate flowers, which is very important for plants. Bees are good for all the fruit trees in the valley, because without pollination, the fruit couldn’t grow. Bees aren’t wasps, or hornets; bees will only sting if they think you’re going to squash them, or maybe try to squash their queen.”

“Bugs,” someone hisses.

“Some people are allergic to bees,” Quintus continues, “and if they get stung, they could die.” The children pass the jar and the magnifying glass down the rows of desks. They stare at the pulsing abdomen, the pointed stinger, the stiff, iridescent wings. “But it’s important to remember not to be scared of bees, because mostly, bees are always our friends.”

The children clap; they pass the bee back to Quintus.

“Very good, Quintus. Very inspiring. Honey bees are a very important species.” the teacher pauses. “They are, however, on a tragic global decline and threatened with extinction. Children, pay attention: you must never kill honey bees. Albert Einstein,” the teacher points to a poster of the physicist by the classroom doorway. Einstein arches his eyebrows, protrudes his tongue. “Albert Einstein predicted that when the bees are gone from the Earth, humankind will die off entirely within a decade. How unexpected! Can you imagine the shock of learning that the last hive is dead, and then, in your same lifetime, watching as whole cities fall away into abandonment—”

The teacher halts; the children stare. The bee tinks against the jar as it tries to fly toward the elderly, nose-twitching rabbit, toward the classroom’s open window. Quintus has heard the word “extinction” before, in reference to the dinosaurs. The fact that the word is still useful surprises him; that the strange and wonderful animals of his favorite book could die away completely and be reduced to collections of bones strung together with wire, like the dinosaurs he knows in the natural history museum.

“Yes. Well, very good, Quintus. Well done. Now, who is next?”

“Don’t worry,” Quintus whispers to his bee as a classmate walks to the front of the class and holds out a glassy rock that she found in the river.

“Something igneous,” the teacher murmurs, and the class goes on.

On a warm Saturday afternoon, Ingrid comes to the house to play. She has a hunger for board-games but Quintus convinces her to go down to the river to explore. Sophie prepares their explorers’ rations: two peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, two bottles of water, two plastic baggies full of crisp, red grapes. She places these items in two separate paper-bags, and labels one with an “I” and the other with a “Q” in the same bold lines that label her husband’s boxes in the attic. Then she puts water on the stove to make two cups of coffee: Ingrid’s father has agreed for the first time to stay a while and chat. The children grab their lunches and stuff them into Quintus’s backpack, where the glass jar holds the captive bee.

“Be good,” Ingrid’s father calls as they leave. “Or, have fun, you know.” He is a carpenter. He sits at Sophie’s kitchen table and touches its tablecloth; the fine-thread linen catches on the calluses of his hands. He looks to the ceiling, to the floor, or to the joinery of wooden things. “Come on back whenever, sweetie.”

At the edge of the river’s woods, Quintus unscrews the lid and holds the jar away from him like a Roman candle. The insect buzzes its wings softly, but lies still.

“Are you sick?” Quintus asks the insect softly.


“Nothing.” Quintus shakes the bee loose from the jar and it flies off, down toward the river. “Let’s go!” Quintus shouts, trying to determine the final direction of the bee’s flight.

They set off down their familiar path into the riverside shade of cottonwood, willow, and aspen. Birds call out into a layered song above the chanting river, but Quintus listens specifically for the buzzing of the bee and its hive. He hears it mistakenly several times and the two explorers zig-zag, crossing and recrossing the river in the shallow riffles or traversing across fallen trees.

They stop to rest. Ingrid eats her sandwich. “Don’t you want to go play a game?” she asks. “How about the farm game, with the little wooden pigs? Or even the goblin one, in the dungeon, if you want.”

“Wait. Hear it?” Quintus asks. Ingrid pauses to listen, and nods. She wraps her sandwich in its plastic and they move into a thicket where the trees temper and cushion the river’s noise.

“Quintus,” Ingrid whispers. “I don’t want to get stung.”

They scramble over an old logjam and twist past snags and densities of brush. The sound of buzzing grows stronger, stronger, and then the children freeze. There, in the blown-out heart of a tree half struck-down by lightning, is the hive: huge columns of wax and resin partially obscured behind the movement of a veil of bees. Their droning is multi-pitched, powerful and layered. The children feel it through the soles of their shoes. Quintus walks closer. The buzzing is like a second pulse projected onto him from the exposed and beating heart of fins and combs and tines all perforated by perfect hexagons. Ingrid stays behind, hissing warnings that Quintus cannot hear.

“Wow,” he says, unable even to hear himself. The bees are gargantuan, larger than he remembers from the afternoon beneath the chokecherry trees, and larger by far that the one he captured in his jar. He creeps closer, and the pattern of the bees’ movement changes: the swarming becomes regimented, an airborne, transitive dance. More bees shake loose from the hive and pour down from the ruined tree like rope, like sheets; waves of insect flowing through the air to meet Quintus where he stands. He cannot move. He is paralyzed by awe.

The bees land on him, they knead the tiny hooks of their legs into his clothing and skin, not to injure but only to grasp, to hold. Quintus’s feet leave the ground. Ingrid shrieks, she hurls a stone into the mass of bees and then flees, screaming, scrambling, running for the house and her father and Sophie as a sleeve of insects breaks loose from the cloud and snakes after her.

Quintus cannot feel his own body. The difference between himself and the hive is lost into the vibration and noise and the mass of swarming bees. They climb up over the trees, over the coursing river and the canopy of groaning, squeaking branches, up above the mountain valley.

There is his house, his gravel driveway, Ingrid’s father’s truck; Quintus will not throw sticks to a dog, will not rub the belly of an outstretched cat. Pet ice will not drip from between his palms. Now he wears an embrace of bees: they scratch behind his ears and nuzzle into him. He feels the hive’s purr. The bodies at his lips dab him with honey and sweet pollens, and Quintus is lost. When he remembers himself, in the warmth of the hive, in the cold, high air, he will be too far lost above the earth to ever truly return.

William C-F Long is a fiction writer based in the Northwestern United States. A graduate of the University of California, Davis’ writing program, he has spent many years traveling and working in the US, cultivating perspectives. Above all, he is interested in strangeness and beauty, the sublimity of the natural world, and both the limitations and wonderful capabilities of the human being.

Dotted Line