Mind Your Beeswax

No one respects potions.

And frankly, I get it. Magic is so varied and multifaceted and wonderfully complicated, and potions are just, like, chemistry. You follow a recipe, you make a foul-tasting beverage that has been made a hundred times before, and through its power, you grant temporary magic to those who are otherwise dispossessed of the gift. It manages to make magic users feel less special while simultaneously being the least sexy way to practice magic.

But damn, is it profitable.

I’m not a magician, to be clear, or a wizard, a witch, warlock, sorcerer, magi, what have you. I’m an apiarist, and despite what my daughter’s kindergarten class thought at parent day last week, that’s not just a fancy word for a specific branch of magic.

I keep bees.

Little, six-legged buggy buzzy bees, the ones that half the world is afraid of because they swarm and sting you and that can cause some allergic complications. The other half, of course, damn near worships them, what with antibacterial honey, the cute pollen-coated fuzzies, the strong female role modeling, all that good stuff. That first item is primarily what I concern myself with.

Because, yes, honey is mildly antibacterial, but it’s also damn good in tea and on baked goods. It’s also abso-fucking-lutely fantastic for potions. I don’t have the slightest clue why; some nutjob professor at the nearby university thinks it has to do with latent life force, something about being made from nature by nature, which I feel really diminishes my role as beekeeper.

Regardless, for those brave potioneers who overcome the stigma, honey is apparently the ultimate additive, and that simple fact paid off my mortgage in a year.

Look, I get that magic is fraught with complications. Modern society wasn’t ready for it to appear in the blink of an eye. We also weren’t ready for the internet, yet the dot com boom made a thousand millionaires. Is it so wrong if I made a buck off of my hard work? Is it my responsibility to make sure my clients aren’t making love potions or other sketchy shit? And what about the ones that use them for healing potions? Despite what the news tells you, that is by far the bulk of my clients’ potion-making, by the way, but they won’t tell you that. You’ll only hear about the guy that got hopped up on a lightning potion at Disney World and turned the Haunted Mansion into a better light show than the fireworks at Epcot.

All this to say that there was a mob gathering outside my property as the sun set, and for whatever reason the police were not returning my calls.

“Pa?” little Anna asked. “Why are there angry people at the end of the driveway? And why are you staring at them and grinding your teeth?”

“Daddy’s having an argument in his mind, honey,” I said absent-mindedly.

The mob had stopped nearly half a mile away from my front door according to the cameras, which were now unfortunately on the fritz. I assumed it was for a good pre-riot pep talk, the part where whoever organized it would stand up and say that they’re here to scare me, but not to break any laws or nothin’.

They were so naive.

The assembled crowd roared, then surged down the driveway, literal flaming torches held aloft.

“Anna, go in the basement,” I said, the movement shaking me from my reverie.

“Daddy?”

Now, honey. Don’t ask questions. Lock the door and don’t open it until I say so.”

She pattered away across the hardwood, and I could only trust that she was obeying my orders.

For my part, I stormed up to my home office. It had grown cluttered in recent years, but the safe in the corner of the room had stayed untouched by the encroaching mess, and I thanked my prior self for that one ounce of good sense.

It unlocked at the touch of a finger, revealing its contents: two passports, an envelope containing $10,000 in case, a loaded handgun with two spare magazines, and the most dangerous item of all…

A book listing the contact information of my clients.

I picked up the gun and the book, placed both on the desk in front of me, and flipped open the ledger to a page whose corner had been folded over.

“Hello,” I muttered, practicing my greeting. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Hey there.” Too casual.

Throwing caution to the wind, I dialed the number. It picked up shortly after the third ring.

“Yo,” I said with a wince. “This is Harry Barnes. Do you have any experience with riot control?”

“I… what?” the voice on the other end asked blearily. “Harry? Is this about next week’s shipment?”

“I suppose, in the sense that my house is about to be burned to the ground with me and my family in it, which will delay that shipment somewhat.”

The phone fell silent for only a moment. “Say that again.” My first customer, an aging potioneer named Jimmy, sounded more awake this time, thankfully.

“There’s a group of rioters walking up my driveway as we speak,” I said, glancing out the window. “Torches, angry shouting, the whole nine yards. Can you help?’

“Police?” Jimmy asked.

“Yeah, I think I see one or two of them.”

“Oh, for— Can you hold them off for fifteen minutes?”

I touched the gun, my hand trembling slightly. “Maybe. I’m not a practitioner, as you well know.”

“Do you still have those samples I sent you?”

I glanced at a small wooden crate packed with straw. It had sat next to the safe for the better part of five years.

“I don’t—”

“Yeah, yeah, ‘you don’t use your own supply.’ Makes you sound oh so very streetwise. Look, Barnes, I’m gonna need you to rethink your policies on this one. I at least want you alive to give me a refund if you can’t make that delivery. Buy me fifteen minutes.” The line went dead.

I sighed and opened the lid of the crate. Three glass bottles glittered innocently where they were nestled in the straw. I picked the left one out; it was a tonic for nerves, stability, enhanced senses… pretty much the perfect battle time cocktail that wasn’t preceded by the word ‘Molotov’. It tasted awful, though, and I grimaced as it went down in a single gulp.

“Showtime.” I grabbed the gun and stepped to the nearby window, throwing it open. The mob was within a hundred yards of my porch.

“Ho there!” I yelled, feeling that my voice was somehow stronger and louder than before. This potion stuff isn’t half bad, I thought. “What brings you to my home?”

The mob slowly ambled to a stop, and I sensed that they were waiting for someone to designate themselves as a spokesperson. Finally, one of them stepped clear of the crowd, an older man with a torch in one hand and an aluminum baseball bat in the other.

“We want you to stop consorting with demons!” his faint voice came back, barely cutting through the cooling night air. “Quit selling to those practitioners of witchcraft and go back to being a simple family farm!”

“This is a simple family farm!” I yelled. “And I sell to whom I please!”

“Those you sell to are nothing short of heathens and Satan worshippers! If you do not abandon them, you are no better than them!”

“And you’re all criminals trespassing on my property! Go away and boycott me like a good American or stick around and see what happens!” This was a bad time for me to realize that I had no idea what rights I had to self-defense as it relates to trespassing.

“I’m afraid we can’t do that, Harry!” The man brandished his bat, and the mob started to amble forward again.

Time to bluff.

I raised the gun and fired once. The retort was deafening in the small space of the room, but despite that, my aim had been nearly perfect, thanks to the potion. Ten years of weekly target practice, and all I needed was the right beverage.

The shot struck concrete a few feet in front of the crowd, and I could see its leading members recoil from the hail of rock shrapnel it kicked up to sting their legs.

“Go away!” I called one last time. “Please, for the love of God, fuck off!

No amount of potion could stop the trembling in my hand. I did not want to shoot someone, not unless they were breaking down that basement door. At the moment, I wasn’t sure if I even could.

I checked my watch. 13 more minutes. Jesus, really?

Time for potion 2.

“Lightning in a bottle,” I mumbled. “Heh.”

I downed it, and somewhat appropriately it felt as though electricity coursed through my veins in a most unpleasant way. It was power, barely constrained by my frail mortal body, and it wanted nothing more than to escape.

With great force of will, I lifted a hand and released my best Palpatine cackle. “UNLIMITED… POWER!”

I realized a heartbeat too late that my untimely reference would do nothing to assuage their fears of my consorting with demons for personal gain, but it was too late for that.

Lightning arced out, which was a great sense of relief internally. Externally, it made a wreck of my lawn, and the thunderous roar made the earlier gunshot sound like a mere kitten compared to the king of the jungle.

It missed the mob entirely, of course, but they scattered away from it like cockroaches from a flashlight.

I had exactly one and a half seconds to appreciate it.

“Not bad,” I said, my voice entirely inaudible over the ringing.

Then a veil of black slapped my mind with physical force.

“Harry. Harry!”

The voice was faint, distant, and a high pitched whine threatened to drown it out.

“Harry, wake up!”

Something dribbled down my throat, liquid, warm, faintly spiced, and sweet. It was the only potion I had tasted before. It was like honey.

The world spun into half-focus. A man knelt over me.

“Drink up, Harry, quickly now.”

I reached one weak arm up and gripped the bottle, tilting it back. With every sip, new strength rushed through my limbs.

“Anna. Is she safe?”

“She’s fine. Sitting in the basement still,” a familiar voice said. I leaned up and saw Jimmy spinning in my desk chair. “They’re gone. You almost were too.”

“You shouldn’t really take more than one potion at a time,” the man over me chastised. “Current consumption excluded, of course.”

“Times were desperate,” I groaned. “And it worked, didn’t it?”

“They will be back, and in greater numbers,” Jimmy said.

“We got here faster than we thought,” the man explained. “Dr. Lee, at your service.” He stuck out a hand and hauled me to my feet when I took it. “Caught the tail end of your hackneyed reference.”

“Prequel shit,” Jimmy muttered.

“But it’s true. The greater numbers thing,” Lee clarified. “You might want to lay low or relocate. This sort of thing doesn’t go away easy.”

“This is my land,” I said. “I’m not leaving it for a bunch of superstitious idiots.”

“These superstitious idiots have your number, and all you did was make ‘em angry,” Jimmy replied. “So you might want to pick up your hives and move. Can you, um, do that?”

“Move bees? Yeah,” I said, rubbing my head. I could already feel a glorious headache start throbbing. “But where do we go? And how long do I have?”

Lee shrugged. “Hard to say. Maybe one day, maybe months. I would suggest moving faster rather than slower. As to where… I think I have a place in mind.”

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