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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.

The Death of Bees

Avra Margariti is a queer Social Work undergrad from Greece. She enjoys storytelling in all its forms and writes about diverse identities and experiences. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Online, The Forge Literary, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Argot Magazine, and other venues. Avra won the 2019 Bacopa Literary Review prize for fiction. You can find her on twitter @avramargariti.

My online friend is writing an essay about the depleting bee population. I look out my bedroom window at the lavender bushes. Fuzzy insects land on dainty purple blossoms.
"How come our bees are all alive and thriving?" I ask my parents during homeschool.
They exchange a look from opposite ends of the kitchen table. "You shouldn't go near them," Dad says, wringing his hands.
"Think of all those terrible stingers," Mom frets. "And oh--what if you're allergic to them, Sara?"
I roll my eyes and go back to doodling in the margins of my Math practice sheet.
While my parents catnap upstairs after lunch and before History, I sneak out into the backyard. If my parents had it their overprotective, overthinking way, I would never leave the house. Not that there's anything to do out here in the hinterland. Our closest neighbors are still miles and miles away. Or so my parents say.
Trimmed grass and vibrant flowerbeds adorn the backyard for the most part. Then, there's the jungle. It grows near the wooden fence at the back of the property, a small thicket of shrubs and bristly vines. I ignore the jungle in favor of the lavender bushes. Their powdery old-lady smell tickles my nostrils. Fat bumblebees flit between the raised spikes and rest on floret clusters.
I take out my phone to text Anastasia: How do you know when a thing's real?
On top of being my online friend, Anastasia is also my girlfriend. My parents don't know about her. They'd probably say that, because we can't touch each other and exist in the same space together in real life, what we have doesn't count as love.
Her reply comes right away--You investigate, silly--along with a string of throbbing heart emoji.
Anastasia's a budding environmental scientist, so she knows about these things. I sprawl out on my belly close to the lavender bushes, gathering intel. The bees are too many to count, all of them moving in the same swirling pattern from flower to flower, never once leaving their bushes. When a while passes and nothing changes, I decide a more hands-on approach is in order. I extend my fingers and brace myself for the sting, but the round insects only bump against me, sluggish, dizzy, before resuming their prerecorded path, their too-symmetrical dance.
The bees act nothing like Anastasia's paper suggested.
I look around my backyard. Equally perfect, equally symmetrical. I stare up at the window. The curtains are drawn; my parents, the fussy computer programmers, are still asleep. So I step into the jungle, the only dissonant note. The spring air ripples, and the thorny branches scratch my arms and legs. I reach out with my fingers, and the world turns technicolor. I'm thrown backward, but not before I peek through the iridescent veil.
The afterimage burns behind my eyelids: the real world outside this artificial bubble I've been caught in.
My phone pings from where it landed on the grass beside me. Anastasia's impish grin greets me on the cracked screen above her text. Any luck with those bees of yours?
My fingers itch the way my skin and heart and brain do, itch with the urge to type: How do I know you're real?
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 27th, 2020
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