Katie jumped when she heard the shotgun. Even the thick cottage walls couldn’t muffle the noise.
“George,” she said and headed outside.
The familiar red door stood open. Katie felt a chill run down her spine. George had been acting even more strangely than usual. His bees had let him down. There was no honey any more. It made him mean.
But why had the shotgun gone off?
A man had walked by her window. Could it be anything to do with him? He looked out of place in the countryside. His suit and tie were a dead give-away. If he had gone to George’s house… who knows!
Katie peered around the door.
She walked into the kitchen; there was a smell of gunpowder. She looked at the floor. Bits and pieces of plaster everywhere. George needed looking after… She had tried!
Recently it had become more difficult. Even the home baking didn’t work. It was strange about the honey stopping. Then the eggs, milk and wool had stopped too. All the domesticated animals had stopped producing.
Something made her look up.
She stood open-mouthed, eyes unbelieving.
A gaping hole had appeared in the ceiling.
That’s where it had been fired.
But where was George?
The front door! He must have gone out.
Katie ran outside again. The green hills and small wood were opposite. Just where they should be. The road ran away up the glen. Everything was normal.
The only movement was George’s Land Rover. She spied two people in it.
George rammed the gear into third. The hill and the bend, the ravine… he loved the thrill of it. From there he could see the mountains.
“Where exactly are we going?” George asked.
(Call me) Greg's face had turned white.
“Do you always drive like that?” he replied.
“Yes… where to?”
“Shorthornditch, do you know it?”
Greg had always been a bureaucrat. The sort George hated… he hated them all.
But he told George something. Just before the gun went off; when they were fighting.
George wasn’t going to shoot him; just scare him. But the safety latch had been off. God only knew how. Greg didn’t need to jump at him like that. In the rush and tumble, the bloody thing went off.
“I know why the bees have stopped producing,” he said.
As they joined the main road Greg relaxed.
No more hair-pins, he thought.
“Are you sure you know the answer,” George said.
“Yes, everything made sense when the gun went off.”
“Not until we have checked the source.”
“You will just have to wait,” Greg said.
SHORTHORNDITCH 3 MILES’ the sign said.
“Turn right after the next bend” Greg said.
The track went over a cattle grid. It continued around the curve of a hill. Soon they were bumping along the rocky bottom of a glen. They reached a clearing.
“Stop here,” Greg said.
They were in between a forest and a river. George looked at the sunlight on the water. He loved being in the wild.
Greg got out and walked along a rough path into the woods.
George followed him.
“Where in hells name are we going?” George said.
“It’s about two miles up this track.”
They walked in silence.
Either side of them conifer trees stretched to the sky. There were occasional grassy patches, always circular. Greg stopped at one of them and sat on the ground.
“What now?” George said.
Greg opened his suit jacket. From a large interior pocket he took out a report.
“Read it,” he said.
‘INVESTIGATION INTO DOMESTICATED ANIMAL STRIKE.’
“What the… “George said.
“Just read it.”
George looked at the last page… 26. He skipped the main report and read the executive summary. When he finished he squinted at Greg.
“Show me,” he said.
“It’s not far now.”
They had been walking steadily uphill. The path became very steep. It meandered to the entrance of a cave. The entrance was dank. Water dripped from the roof. Strings of moss hung down. There was a musty smell in the air.
Greg produced a torch. He illuminated several smaller caves. They ran off the main entrance, fifteen meters in.
“It’s the second one on the left.”
Greg kept the beam steady, as they entered.
Soon they were stooping and then crawling.
They clambered over rocks going deeper into the mountain.
George began to feel claustrophobic. He could feel the weight of rock above him. They came out into a large cavern.
The sound of buzzing was intense. It took their eyes a while to adjust. A light shone in from the roof.
“That’s where the bees get in,” Greg said.
“What’s going on?”
“These are domesticated bees. They left their commercial hives and came here. We have traced where they came from.”
“But bees don’t do that.”
“I know… and they are producing honey.”
“But that’s not possible.”
“They’re the only domesticate bees in the world producing honey.”
“Have you found out why?”
“Not directly, but we know the answer.”
"Other animals are doing the same thing.”
“What other animals?”
“Sheep, cows, goats… even silk worms.”
“What are they doing for God’s sake?”
“Escaping and hiding out together.”
“Anywhere they can find. It’s easier in less populated countries. Groups of sheep have been found hiding in the UK. Even cows have escaped and set up hide aways.”
“Do you think I am going to swallow this hogwash?”
“The fugitives here are producing honey. Sheep are producing wool. Cows are producing milk again.”
“But only when they are free, is that it?” said George.
“Yes. They are behaving as if they’re wild again.”
“So, what’s causing it? Is it a strange virus?”
“We’ve checked that thoroughly… no virus.”
“You don’t believe what it says in the report do you?”
“It’s the only explanation.”
Katie was serving tea and her favourite Victoria Sponge cake. She was pleased. George and Greg were getting on so well.
‘It’s not like George at all.’ she thought. ‘A silly business really. Animals having free will. They’ve talked about nothing else for hours.’