Cicadas

“Why can’t my perceptions of reality be real?” She asked the universe instead of me. “Why?”

“Sometimes I reach out into the sky wishing that maybe just this once the laws of reality suspend and I finally touch a star,” the woman with thick glasses lazily sighed to herself in the back alley.

Her arms displayed stories sketched with scar tissue; her features blurred her age to be somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five. Frizzled and backlit by a nearby floodlight,  we sat in silence and gazed upon the Dance of the Summer Night Moth to the popular summer hit tune Crickets, Frogs, and Seventeen Year Cicadas

The thick sick-sweet air of Richmond, Virginia, swam its way into the throats of the city. An unrelenting hot breeze carried browning magnolia petals.

I closed my eyes and imagined them on a tree somewhere, glistening with fresh dew settled into the herbaceous, yet delicate blossoms. I waited for her to speak again: the shifting shadows of various alcohol-saturated worlds colliding short of sobering existence in this alley on the Southside. 

The sweaty warmth beaded into temporary gemstones on the woman’s arms as she stared up at the sky.

“Why can’t my perceptions of reality be real?” She asked the universe instead of me. “Why?”

Route 60 north along the southern shore of the James River carved out thin slips of neighborhoods – we stood on the edge of Old Town Manchester and Woodland, listening to the cars trickle over the 9th Street bridge.

“May,” I interrupted and lit a clove cigarette against all reason in the heat, “just tell me what you saw.” I pulled the acrid dry heat through the thick humid air into my lungs.

Her eyes shifted toward me without moving her head before she looked back at the river. “Let’s walk along the river. It’s easier if I show you.” She shook her head, heaving her shoulders forward as we began toward the floodwall.

The sugary paper on my lips and analgesic smoke on my mouth and tongue revived in this light night haze me as we proceeded. Shockoe Bottom and MCV lit up downtown, reflecting off the James River as the city slipped into quietude for the night.

“I saw them over here,” She murmured, increasing her pace.

“Saw what?” I widened my step to keep up. But the trail descended into the riverbank through the Woodland neighborhood, and the pavement gave way to a dirt path. Soon she turned right and headed toward the river. “May! Wait! Don’t go in the water!”

“They’re calling me. I can hear them!” She shouted back as the cicadas grew louder – drowning out her slurred voice.

“Who’s calling you? May!” I picked up the pace, running and dropping the clove cigarette to the ground – the scattering embers mixing with the imagined glow of fireflies.

At the end of her trail, I lost her to the flat rocks rising above the James and the reflections of moonlight off the glassy pools and streams of water. Across the passage stood the monolith of Belle Isle: the abandoned hydroelectric plant.

As the cicadas continued to cry static against the light-polluted night, I leapt across the rocks.

“May?” My voice vanished amongst the white noise of flowing water and insects.

Across the rocks, movement startled me – a flash of hope.

“May?” I shouted toward it. Then, the giggle echoed inside the hydroelectric plant. “May! The plant isn’t safe at night! You don’t have light!”

“They’re in here!” She shouted back, but the woods around me no longer carried the sounds of cicadas or frogs. As I neared a broken window, the kudzu and thick leaves shrouded the ground from the clouded moonlight.

I stepped inside the old powerplant, the gravel and glass crunching beneath my feet. Above me, a human figure loomed on a platform, its hands clutching the second-floor window.

“May!” But the figure remained fixed.

“You see them too.” May stood behind me as my heart galloped inside my chest and ears. I turned and nodded to her as her crunching footsteps moved beside me.

“Who is that?” I turned my head back to the figure, then back to May.

“That’s one of them.” She whispered.

Taking a deep breath, I groped blindly for May’s hand as a pit in my abdomen grew and threatened to swallow my courage whole. “Hello?”

“They don’t respond,” May corrected me.

“You keep saying ‘they.’” My eyes darted around the hydroelectric plant’s swallowing darkness, the dripping water from within the old turbines echoing. “Where are the others?”

“They’re scattered around Belle Isle. Unmoving like that. Before they were stiff and climbing – asking for me to come back. Bring someone to witness. Told me it was all real.” A smile spread as she laughed, and her crazed eyes took it in. “You see them too!”

We climbed the rusting ladder and stared at the exoskeleton – the hollow eyes and open slit down the back of the figure – so similar to us in shape. “May…” My stomach lurched as I examined the brittle shed hands, eternally clenched to their final surface. “We should leave.”

“What are they?” She poked the brittle skin as it crumbled and broke apart with her curious touch.

“Hungry,” said a choir of voices as all sound drowned in the screams of cicadas.


This short story was originally posted on Coffee House Writers on August 22, 2020. Minor edits include adjustments to formatting.

The Adventures Of Toad – Part 1

Photo by Slawek K on Unsplash

“I can’t do anything right,” cried the wood toad to the frog.

“What do you mean?” the frog licked his eyeball and looked up from The Daily Flypaper.

“People are always upset at me for something or another. They call me slimy and warty and all these other names.” The toad rubbed a foot over his soft leathery skin that was neither slimy, nor warty. “I’m never wanted, and if I breathe in the wrong place someone tries to run me over with a bicycle or a car.”

“Have you tried not being in the wrong place?” Said the frog as he looked back down at The Daily Flypaper. His tongue ricocheted off an unsuspecting gnat mid-flight and re-entered his mouth.

The toad filled his bellows and let out a croaking sigh. “Why? Do you think I haven’t already tried that?” The toad hopped a little farther along his path, though he didn’t know where it went. “I don’t know why I’m always in the wrong place.”

The frog hopped closer to the pond. “Well, maybe you haven’t found the right place where you belong. I belong in the pond and no one tells me I’m in the wrong place.”

“Lucky you.” The toad rolled his eyes and flicked his nictitating membranes. “It would help if I knew more toads and fewer frogs.”

The frog left the flypaper on the ground and without a word proceeded to the pond.

“Great,” the toad thought aloud, “I’ve chased another creature away. So I’m friendless and always out of place.”

“I know someone that might be able to help you.” The shuddering leaves and branches above him said. When the toad looked up he saw a large owl perched with a raven.

“And why would you help me? Don’t you both eat toads?” The toad gulped, ready to dash for the holes near the roots of the tree.

“That depends – I hear miserable creatures taste awful.” The raven looked at the owl, ruffling her feathers.

The owl in kind hooted with laughter. “I’m not interested in eating anything that doesn’t taste good. Maybe I’ll eat you if you ever come back here happy.” The owl preened a bit and observed her surroundings as the dusk continued to fall. “There’s a witch on the edge of the woods. That witch will help you find true happiness. Follow the walking path from the pond to her stone cottage to her garden. There you’ll find her and be able to ask for help with your problem.”

The raven let out a low, mocking laugh. “Yes. Your problem. Not ours. Now, on your way.”

The toad turned to the path ahead. He was going to have a long night.


I hope you enjoyed Part 1 of The Adventures of Toad. Feel free to like, comment, or share. The comments section is reserved for readers to share their thoughts on the story with me and please have fun! I try to get comments read and posted quickly – moderation helps to prevent spam.

Aquarium

An experimental short story.

“Why? Why do you let us go on doing such horrible atrocities?! We commit genocide! We destroy the most precious of creations! The very God you serve gave us this planet and now you mean to tell me you sit and watch, and enjoy, with pleasure as we rip it apart?” The human thrashed against a darkness.

The angelic creature paused, swirling a glass of white wine as it materialized out of the infinite. This thing projected fabrication; created for demonstrative purposes only.

“I know this may be difficult for you to understand, but we are not your caretakers. Your view of “God” is all wrong. It’s from the bottom up. There are no guardian angels watching over you, for any purpose, and as far as you should be concerned, I serve no one.”

Alone in a void in the presence of an ethereal being, the human failed to notice whether or not this projection of himself included the rhythmic rising and falling of his chest.

“Your world is like one of a series of fish tanks, but this one I like best.”

It walked along a sudden wall of aquariums illuminating the vibrant fish in the darkened room.

“What makes humans special is that no matter how vile, how sinister, how awful, how petty any of you are, you are trying what you genuinely think is best because human lives are precious. Each moment is meaningful.”

The angel paused, its finger caressing the glass of one tank, watching the fluorescent yellow and Prussian blue fish trail their brief connection. It detached from the aquarium, returning its attention to the human and stepping away from the dissolving wall.

“Immortal beings lack that.”

Taking a seat at a cafe table, the creature invited the recoiling human to sit.

“When humans destroy this world, we will create another. It is “old hat” as you say – a trick we have seen a million times before.”

The human gawked, but received rolled eyes from the unamused creature.

“And we will see it a million times more.” In a long slow sip, its eyes flared across the table. The angel’s face relaxed, an eyebrow raised then the shoulders, before it replaced the wine glass on the table and rocked itself up from its chair. Addressing the pantomiming human, it provoked, “we’re waiting to be proven wrong though.”

“So what about Jesus, and Muhammad, and God… and… and the Saints?” The human reached an arm out to stop the angel as it began to saunter away.

The angel paused.

“What of heaven?” The human and angel’s eyes connected for the first time revealing piercing eyes of not one color, but a sea of ever morphing reflections of all colors known and unknown.

“What of them?”

Those eyes relaxed as the human watched the most joyous and horrible of moments of his life laid out before him in blinding light and contrasting piercing darkness.

The human choked and knelt to the floor, reaching for his throat and crown as a once unencumbered mind drowned.

“Believe whatever you wish. What matters is what you do with that belief.” As the angel turned around it added with a smirk, “And as for heaven, that is the mystery even I am not allowed to reveal.”

That Cheshire smile evaporated and the human’s memory grasped at the descending details of the encounter, but his attempts were for nothing. Instead he was left holding only empty palms facing upward.



Story originally written in December 2019. Minor updates applied since.

A Draft Excerpt From “Little Earthquakes In The Sea”: Time For Goodbye

Content Warning: this piece discusses the death of a child and is based on a true story that took place almost a hundred years ago. For those wishing for a soundtrack while reading, I recommend this.


It rained that day in Bonaventure. The men in linen raincoats slicked with wet wax pried her blue and purple infant from her arms with kind eyes as they stood by the gravesite. He never cried. His eyes scrunched shut and mouth hung open to reveal white gums and a tiny receding purple tongue that never knew her breast. His little hands balled into stiff rigor mortis – the same little hands that once pressed through her skin to feel his parents’ palms. The wood and hammered metal wheelchair creaked beneath her in the gusting wisps of distant thunder carried on harried fat dollops of weather.

It was time to say goodbye.

Having never taken a breath of the sweet earthy air, she knew he only ever lived inside her. Her eyes hesitated on his blue lips. A different blue than the eyes she knew he must have beneath those unopened angelic lids. She imagined how if they had fluttered open she could have seen…

“Anna, it’s time to go.” The captain clasped a firm hand on her shoulder. “You have to say goodbye.” His body trembled, but his feet remained firm in the soggy ground.

Ever the polite grave diggers at Bonaventure – their patient spades waited for the captain’s call. To have her baby’s birth documented at all was a luxury. In the eyes of the state of Georgia and the city of Savannah, he never existed. At least Bonaventure gave her and her husband the dignity of recognizing the agony of her feverish labor after carrying her child for all those months; the right to mourn after knowing him all that time only to lose him before ever hearing his scream of life or giving him a name on paper.

In the distance, a bird flew into a patch of blue sky over the ocean on the blue-gold horizon beyond the mouth of the Wilmington River. Another drop of water hit her as she gazed over her child’s face once more. Her hand grazed the place on her stomach where she felt his final kick before the labor began – where she saw his little foot press through her skin. She let go – her tears hidden by the rain.

The men wrapped his little form in a thin damp cloth dusted with perfumed talc from a pouch on one of the digger’s belts. Smudging dirt on his forehead, the digger knelt and placed her unknown son as if asleep into the soft soil of the small pit. Beneath the morning clouds, the scene took on a light blue glowing hue. She closed her eyes and began to hum the lullaby she’d sung to him every night since she’d first felt his presence as the captain’s jerk of the chair indicated him turning away and processing along the ground. The exhaustion hit her again with a wave of nausea. Her baby boy gone forever as if he was never there at all.

In Bonaventure’s records they added:

1929 – Baby B— – Stillborn


If you want to read more, keep an eye out for future additional updates and excerpts from ‘Little Earthquakes In The Sea’. Liking, commenting, and sharing all helps me know which posts my readers prefer. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this today!