We had to write about a dance, or dancing. I didn't want to do the obvious thing and so I approached the idea from a completely different point of view. Hopefully it works...
We were also asked to write a few lines saying why we chose our narrator. For this story, I felt that the choice of narrator was quite obvious. Jeremy was the only person who experienced everything in the story so he had to be the person to tell it. That was a no brainer.
I deliberately chose to tell the story in the third person because that gave me the emotional distance that I needed for the punch line to work. If I'd told the story in the first person I would have had to deal much more with Jeremy's feelings about the tragedy that happens towards the end of the story and that would have removed the humour from the apalling joke at the end. The joke would have seemed inappropriate, possibly even in bad taste. But by maintaining the emotional distance of the third person, I didn't have to deal with those emotional issues and so, hopefully, the joke works...
Jeremy's favourite class at school was applied biology. The teacher was Mr Davis and he was full of praise for Jeremy's skills at manipulating strands of DNA in the laboratory. "Your son has a great career as a biologist in front of him," he told Jeremy's parents at the annual parent-teacher meeting. "He's the best pupil I've ever had."
Jeremy's pride and joy was Sandy, his golden labrador. Jeremy had built Sandy painstakingly gene by gene starting from nothing but a single strand of labrador DNA. Sandy was Jeremy's most successful project. The two of them were inseparable. Mr Davis even allowed Sandy to come into school with Jeremy. He liked to show Sandy off in his classroom. He claimed that Sandy was an inspiration to his pupils, a demonstration of what was possible if you really paid attention to your lessons... Jeremy couldn't help thinking that there was rather more to building a dog than just listening closely to the teacher. But who was he to criticise Mr Davis?
In the final term before Jeremy left school to continue his studies at university, Mr Davis set him a most difficult homework task.
"I want you to make a bee," he said.
Jeremy was puzzled. "Isn't that rather more suitable to an introductory class?" he asked. "Bees are just insects and insects are really quite simple organisms. Building Sandy was a lot more difficult than building a bee will be." He blinked. "So to speak," he added.
"Ah, but this will be a very special bee," said Mr Davis, falling unconsciously into the same linguistic trap. "I want you to build the bee in such a way that you will be able to explore the idea of communicating meaningfully with it."
"Communicate meaningfully with a bee?" asked Jeremy. "That's a ridiculous idea!"
"No it isn't," said Mr Davis. "Bees have a very complex society and they have developed subtle and sophisticated mechanisms for communicating information to each other. For example, when a bee discovers a new source of nectar it will fly back to the hive and tell everyone all about it. And then within seconds a huge swarm of bees will head off to the new nectar and begin to harvest it."
"How does the bee pass the information along?" asked Jeremy, intrigued.
"It dances," said Mr Davis. "Bees have an astonishingly large dance vocabulary. The phenomenon was first documented by Sherlock Holmes. After he retired from his life as a consulting detective, he took up bee keeping as a hobby. He published a lot of scientific papers about his discoveries. Rumour has it that he used to paint himself in black and yellow stripes and prance around in front of his hives for hours on end in order to better understand the ideas that the bees were dancing. After a lot of practice, he eventually knew the vocabulary of the dance language so well that he could request the bees to do things for him. And if they were in a good mood, they would often obey."
"Amazing!" said Jeremy. Perhaps building a bee had possibilities after all.
"If you look hard enough on the internet I'm sure you'll find his original research papers somewhere," said Mr Davis. "I want you to build a bee and see if you can add anything new to Sherlock Holmes' original discoveries. Consider it your homework for the rest of the term."
Jeremy was dubious. He still felt more than half convinced that Mr Davis was pulling his leg. "All right," he said, "I'll give it a try. Come on, Sandy. Let's see what we can find out about bees."
"Woof," agreed Sandy, and he wagged his tail. Anything Jeremy wanted to do was fine by him.
Jeremy and Sandy spent several evenings exploring the internet, trying to get a better understanding of bee biology and the principles of bee dancing. There was an awful lot of material to absorb, but eventually Jeremy felt that he had enough information to start building his bee. Along the way he decided to fix what he considered to be several shortcomings in bee design. Bees, he discovered, could only sting once. The action of using their sting injured them so badly that they invariably died. So Jeremy wove some strands of wasp DNA into his bee to fix that wasps can sting as many times as they want to, with no harm to themselves. He also adjusted the size of his bee. Bees are rather small and Jeremy was comparatively large. Communication across such a vast size difference would be very difficult. Jeremy was sure that he would miss many subtle nuances if the bee was too small for him to observe its movements clearly. So he tweaked the bee's growth hormones a little bit...
Eventually Jeremy had a bee that was six feet tall. It buzzed menacingly. "Hello," Jeremy danced at it. "My name is Jeremy, this is my dog Sandy."
"Woof," said Sandy. He tilted his head to one side, the better to observe the bee.
"I can barely understand you," danced the bee. "Your spelling is atrocious."
Muttering something rude about spelling bees, Jeremy tried again. "Ah!" danced the bee, "that's better. Hello Jeremy. Hello Sandy. I'm hungry."
"I've got a pint of sugar water here," danced Jeremy.
"Sugar water?" danced the bee indignantly. "You can't maintain a body this size on nothing but sugar water. I need meat!" The bee extended several feet of threatening stinger. A large drop of poison glistened wetly on the point. "Meat!" danced the bee. "Give me meat!"
Bees aren't meat eaters, Jeremy thought. Then he remembered the wasp DNA he'd woven in. That would explain it. Wasps are carnivores. He wondered if perhaps he'd put a bit too much wasp into the bee. It sounded quite bad tempered. Just like a wasp.
"Woof," said Sandy. Clearly he was thinking the same thing.
"My mum has a leg of lamb in the fridge," danced Jeremy. "We were going to have it for Sunday lunch. Will that do?"
"No, it won't" danced the bee. "There's no fun in a leg of lamb. I need live prey that I can hunt down and kill. Like this!" It launched itself off its perch, and then, before Jeremy had time to react, it swooped down on Sandy and impaled him from head to tail on its stinger. As Sandy struggled in his death agonies the bee absorbed his essence into itself. "Yum, yum!" danced the bee. "I feel stronger already."
"NO!" yelled Jeremy, horrified. But he was far too late to be of any help to Sandy. In a fit of sudden anger, Jeremy grabbed his gene-splicer, turned it on, and quickly reduced the bee back to its basic components. The angry buzzing died away into silence and Jeremy was left with nothing but some discoloured strands of DNA which he tossed into the toilet and flushed away. Then he buried his head in his hands and mourned for Sandy...
Mr Davis was annoyed. "What do you mean you've got nothing to show me?" he demanded. "How can I give you a final mark for the term if you've destroyed the whole project? Why did you dismantle it before I could even see it?"
"I had no choice," said Jeremy grimly. "What else could I possibly have done? The homework ate my dog!"