It was early but the sun was already strong and high. In the distance, the road was shiny and sweaty as it curved between the red ground. It was going to be a hot day. In the East, the sun cast a hazy film over the hills. Lachman sat in the sultry shade of an olive tree as a single bee buzzed loudly and persistently around his head. He’d always found that bees were particularly drawn to him. Perhaps they knew how to spot a criminal.
A white car slowed along the sweaty road, then stopped a few meters away from Lachman. He watched it from behind the tall cattails and the shrubbery. He was certain they could not see him. A thick bead of sweat trickled from his forehead into his white brow. It was hard not to move, with the bee buzzing around him.
It was two men. Certainly lost in this part of the land where street signs are scarce. Keep going. Keep going, he thought. He heard the sound of gravel crunching under the hot tires. The car continued on its way. As he watched it go, he spotted a clearing across the road with thick, shady trees and a dark, shaded area.
He thought it might be cooler than the shade of his little olive tree, and more hidden. The bee was driving him insane. It buzzed terribly and ceaselessly around his head like the nagging of some conscience he did not have. When it was safe to move again, he would kill it. The immense satisfaction he foresaw from this event instantly relaxed him, and he began to think of all the ways he could do it: crushing it between two rocks, smashing it against the tree bark with a branch, or simply stomping the life out of it, until that terrible buzzing was erased from the face of the earth. He wished he could kill them all.
A red-backed lizard with a long, skinny tail made its way hesitantly over a rock, moving in quick jolts like a flip-book cartoon. The bee was driving him insane. He wanted to get out of this wilderness, dry and beautiful and biblical. He imagined ancestors walking through the land long ago, taking rest in a shaded clearing, or gazing up at the starry sky, so bright from the darkness of the land.
He had barely slept the night before. He was afraid of waking up with a scorpion on his face. He’d just laid in a pile of hay, staring up at the dizzying brightness of the stars. He’d never bothered to learn the names of the constellations, but he recognized them always, having memorized their position in the summer sky.
The lizard appeared to watch him from the eye on the right side of his green, wrinkly head, which was shaped like a blunt arrow, or the head of a snake. Perhaps, he thought, it had escaped punishment for its sins. For a moment, he felt a closeness to it.
Now Lachman heard voices in the distance behind him. He felt the ugly muscle in his jaw clench. He needed to take a shit. When the voices faded away, Lachman pulled down his pants and squatted low to the hot ground. His feces was the same color as the red earth, the land that the ancestors had turned from a desert into an Eden, and then again this century.
He had a brief respite from the bee, and immediately felt his pulse slow. He was almost out of water, and the nearest faucet was half a mile up the road. Surely, in broad daylight, he could not risk it. When the bee returned, it was even worse. He tried every way he could to kill it, but it was too fast. It escaped the branch, the rock, and even the grip of his hand. Every time he tried to destroy it, it only got closer to him. He, who had murdered dozens in cold blood, could not rid himself of a little bee.
He didn’t remember their faces as he led them to their death. The only one he remembered was a young girl with resplendent green eyes and dark hair. Her skin was as thin as plastic film stretched over bones, but his brain told him she was exceptionally beautiful. He was not touched by her beauty, but he recognized it objectively as one might gaze upon artwork that has no meaning to them.
He felt no remorse. His only regrets were that his identity had been discovered, and that he could not kill the bee. At the same moment that the mighty powers of Israel were hunting for him, the bee was a greater nuisance to him.
He didn’t know why he’d come back. He couldn’t remember anymore. Perhaps out of a sick curiosity. The curiosity of seeing something you’ve destroyed rise from its own ashes. He’d come to see with his eyes what he could not believe with his mind.
He started forgetting why he was even there, so engrossed was he with destroying the bee, the bane of his existence on earth. He picked up two rocks and tried again to smash it. It wasn’t fast, but somehow, he could never catch up to it. It was against his ear now, and he could feel its ghastly vibration reverberating throughout his entire being. The harder he tried to quash it, the stronger and louder its buzzing became.
He was about to run over to the shaded area, when he saw dust coming up from the road. A car crunched its way along the sweaty gravel. It was a military van. Lachman’s heart nearly stopped. He could not hear its beating amidst the deafening roar of the bee. For a moment, he believed he was in hell, though he did not believe in it.
Two soldiers stepped out of the van and began speaking to each other in that strange tongue Lachman had never learned. All he could see was their dust-coated boots and the bottoms of their baggy fatigues. He wondered if they would recognize him, disheveled and brown and sickly as he was. Surely, they’d seen pictures, but in those he was a different man. A prominent doctor in Vienna, clean, well-shaven, with a sparkle in his eye. In the photo they’d circulated, he was Heinrich Friedsche. Now, he was Laszlo Lachman.
The soldiers appeared to be kidding around with each other. One of them laughed. They stepped forward a little, and he could see their faces now. A boy and a girl. Neither older than twenty. Both with strong bodies, glowing skin, and shining eyes. Eyes that were not afraid of him. Of Lazlo Lachman.
He reviewed their weapons, which were the standard-issue M16s given to allies by the Americans after Vietnam. They must have recently been shined, because they glistened in the sun, strapped around the strong, young bodies.
The bee was relentless. Lachman shook his head silently, hoping the movement would propel it away, but it only got closer to him. The soldiers talked on. Lachman didn’t understand what they were doing. Resting, flirting perhaps. He wished he could have killed the bee before.
The shaded clearing across the road was no longer shaded. The sun had fallen on it, engulfing it as it engulfed the entire land, baking the ground like leavened bread. Then, there was silence. The bee was gone. Lachman nearly cried tears of joy. The soldiers headed back towards the van. He heard their fatigues crinkle against their knees as they walked, the gravel crunching under their boots. Without the bee, his life was bearable again. He could enjoy the feeling of the breeze on his sweaty neck, even the chirping of the birds in the olive trees.
Suddenly, he felt a buzzing so close to his brain that he wanted to jump out of his skin. The bee was in his ear. He slapped it with his palm, but the monster only burrowed in deeper, its frantic buzzing echoing through the fleshy chambers of Lachman’s skull. It was inside his head now. He was sure of it.
He wanted to vomit, to expel the feeling of the bee from his body. He felt it buzzing around his brain, trying to dig its way into the meaty curves of his frontal lobe. Lachman picked up a nearby rock and began banging the sides of his skull with it. The rock grew a darker and darker crimson with each blow, and with each blow Lachman felt the bee was deeper in his brain. He could not live one more second with it.
He struck harder, the sharp edge of the rock direct to his temple. The rock dripped with blood, staining the dry, red earth, the earth that made Adam out of dust and ashes. The blood covered his hands now. It stained his hands and it dripped from the rock. He felt the bee coming down through his throat now. He dropped the rock and grabbed his neck, trying to squeeze it out. He was choking on it. He choked himself as hard as he could, as the bee buzzed through the chords of his throat, spreading its vibration like a horrible music through his entire body, through the entire universe.
The soldiers heard the movement, and made their way through the shrubbery towards the olive tree. Lachman could not hear them through the roar of the bee, which was everything now. He tried to bite it, but it always escaped the crush of his molars. It stung his tongue and the slimy insides of his cheeks, then dug into the roof of his mouth, digging tunnels through his flesh. He felt there was more than one. That it had multiplied and spread its offspring through his entire body. His mouth was so full of them he could not breathe. He couldn’t keep it shut any longer. He opened his mouth and let out the first real scream of his life. Then, there was silence.
He felt the real beauty of the world for the first time, as if the veil of apathy had been lifted from his eyes. Through tears, he looked up at the faces of the young soldiers. They stared at the bloody hand marks around his neck, at the crimson stone on the ground, on which the blood had already dried, and at Laszlo Lachman, crying on his knees. He watched the beautiful green eyes of the girl fix upon him, then harden as they recognized the monster before them. She lifted her gun, and the boy approached him. As Lachman’s blood-stained hands were tied around his back, he felt a familiar buzzing settle around his ear.