A Murmuring of Bees

Think of Sherlock Holmes and you think of mysteries, John Watson…and bees. While Arthur Conan Doyle sent the great detective to tend hives in retirement, here bees are front and centre in stories of love and romance, war and hope, of honey on the tongue and a sting in the tail. In tales of rare nectars, secret diaries, and the private language of lovers, bees may be the buzzing heart of the story…or as ephemeral as a murmur. What you’ll find in every tale are John Watson and Sherlock Holmes helping one another, wanting one another, loving one another. To encourage a world where such love is seen for the precious thing it is, profits from “A Murmuring of Bees” will be donated to the It Gets Better Project.

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I’m very excited to be included in this anthology of bee-themed Sherlock Holmes stories from Improbable Press, edited by Atlin Merrick. The list of authors is really exciting: some old hands, some fresh faces; some old friends, some new names! The stories herein I understand are romantic and erotic in degrees, although I haven’t read any of them but my own. I’m really looking forward to cracking this anthology open.

I wrote a bit of retirement-era erotica called “Among the Wildflowers,” where two old men have sex in a field in the middle of the day. It’s very romantic, trust me. Here’s a little sample:

We walked out into the bright mid-morning sun, Holmes with the basket over his arm, I with the blanket that usually lay across the back of the settee rolled up and tied into a bundle. The breeze was fresh, and as we reached the top of the hill beyond the garden it had strengthened into a strong blow that threatened to snatch our hats. The grass rippled with the force of it and it pushed at us as we walked, seeming to guide us across the rolling downs.

Holmes did, in fact, seem to have a destination in mind, and he pressed on, despite the wind. We went away from the nearby school— nearby in a Sussex sense, rather than a London sense— and walked along the cliff edge. The sea, hundreds of yards below us, crashed and rumbled unceasingly. I tempted fate a few times, walking closer to the crumbling chalk, but Holmes’s reproachful shout over the wind brought me back. He reached out and took my hand, and said, “If you fall to your death, Doctor, I’ll be very put out.”

“I should hope so,” I said, lacing our fingers together.

At some point, though what it was that suggested to Holmes it was the right point I wasn’t certain, we turned our backs on the sea and walked inland for a while. The wind gentled, the sun beat down on us, and we stomped through a few empty livestock fields for good measure.

It had been almost an hour since we left the house by the time Holmes finally said, “Ah,” with satisfaction, and pointed out our destination. Ahead of us was an uncut wood, thick and dense, and for perhaps half a mile before it lay a carpet of wildflowers. We reached the edge of that carpet, and I could see dozens of different kinds of little flowers: a kaleidoscope of natural beauty. Holmes waded into the flowers a few hundred yards, stopped, looked around, and nodded.

“Put the blanket here, John.”

I unfurled the blanket and laid it down carefully. The low hum of bees could be heard all around us, and the last thing I wanted was to try and have lunch on top of a few dozen of them.

Holmes sat down, took off his boots, and began to unpack the lunch. He had also managed to stow away a few notebooks and two pens, which he laid aside. I stood for another few moments, letting myself cool down before I joined him. I was short of breath and had broken a sweat, while Holmes looked entirely unconcerned by anything, as usual.

“Come on,” Holmes said, patting the blanket beside him. “Plenty of room to lie down.” At my annoyed look he said, “After lunch, for heaven’s sake. You can have a nap while I count the bees.”

“I knew you were up to something,” I said, taking a seat and removing my boots as well. I wiggled my stockinged toes, feeling indulgent.

Holmes handed me a sandwich. “I want to see what wildflowers they prefer, so that I can plant them near to the house.”

“You know you don’t plant wildflowers.”

“You can encourage them,” Holmes said.

“Suit yourself,” I said, and bit into my sandwich.

Holmes expounded on the wildflowers and the bees as we ate, and his goals for hives of his own. We had only lived at the cottage a few years, and already the garden was taking form. Holmes was its architect, whilst I was the executor. I was getting quite good at digging in the dirt, and enjoyed the pattern of weeding, planting, watering, pruning, and fiddling. We had talked about a vegetable garden to go alongside the flowers, but Holmes’s hives came first.

Once we’d eaten our sandwiches, we shared the sponge cake and the lemonade between us. I kissed icing sugar off Holmes’s lower lip, which made him laugh, but he pushed me gently away before I could initiate anything more amorous.

“The bees,” he reminded me. “I am observing them.”

I lay back on the blanket, propped my hat over my eyes, and folded my hands beneath my head. “Observe away,” I said, perfectly content to nap in the sun. I listened to him pack up the basket again and felt him shifting around until he was sitting close beside me. I heard his pen scratching in his notebook. I reached out with one hand and found the plane of his back. He murmured something; I let my hand rest there, thumb moving slowly back and forth across the fabric of his shirt, feeling the bump of his spine beneath.

I didn’t quite nap, but I drifted for a while, soothed by the wind in the grass and the low hum of the bees. Holmes beside me was a warm, solid presence, making only the occasional observation aloud. I was warm from head to foot. It was perhaps the most relaxing hour I have ever spent.

I felt Holmes shift on the blanket, and then he was draping himself along my side, his head resting on my folded arm and one ankle crossing over mine. I blinked at the underside of my hat, oriented myself, and lifted it to look at him. “Do your bees not amuse you anymore?”

“They always amuse me,” he said, “but I find myself distracted.”

“Well,” said I, “do you propose an alternate form of amusement?”

I can’t wait to see what else this anthology has to offer. Preorder now, enjoy in December!