There are a billion stories in cicada city. Some of them are long and some of them are short. Well, actually, all of them are short. Relatively. They’re cicadas, not sea turtles. Point is, these are a few of those stories.
Treetop, for that is what he has named himself, scrabbles toward the light. After 17 years underground – 17 dark and lonely years living on tree sap and hope – he emerges, cold, frail, but alive. Fresh air thrills his lungs. The sky, so much brighter than he imagined, burns away the cloying decay that for so long defined him. But he does not linger on that past. He does not dwell in the what-was. Instead, on instinct, he climbs. And he climbs. The tree on whose roots he survived becomes his ladder; his path to a new life, a new start, in the Great Above. Up there, he tells himself, is the world he has dreamed of. Up there, just a little further, is a world of sunlight and song, of wings and flight and wonder. But then a bird eats him.
Nearby climbs Icarus, smaller than many of his kind, but with a determination not seen since the days of his father, Leafrunner, and his mother, Dart. He never knew his parents, but he senses their presence. Though he cannot explain it, he knows, deep down in his ventriculus, that the spirit of his cicadean ancestors is what drives him, pulls him upward, makes him believe that today, Emergence Day, anything is possible. He pauses to catch his breath on a branch and wonders if they can see him, if they are proud of him. But then a bird eats him.
Cyllata feels like she’s in a stream, not of water, but of life itself. Where once she was alone, now there are thousands, just like her, all around her, streaming upward, skittering over the rivulets of bark. Her unseeing, subterranean eyes do not belie the excitement she feels, nor do they behold the nymph she was. She only knows that now is the time to become an adult. Now, as she clings to this branch, to this moment, she knows the time has come to shed her skin; to break out of her shell; to emerge bold and beautiful, a swan of her species. Her body quivers as her shell splits open, as Cyllata, the new Cyllata, the real Cyllata, emerges. And then is eaten by a bird.
Grass was never one much for imagining. Seventeen years of soil and solitude didn’t lend themselves to fantasizing, to “What ifs?” Patience was the key. Forbearance was the watchword. So it was no surprise, certainly not to Grass, that he named himself for the very first thing he came across when he clambered, at long last, from his lair. He did not think or wish or daydream as he climbed. He did not romanticize or visualize as he clung, like a mantis to its prey, and waited for instinct to take over, for his carapace to crack, for his body to thrust itself out, bit by bit, into the world above. Instead, it is now, only now, finally now, as his wings spread and his antennae shiver and the dew of 17 summers lifts from his eyes, that Grass allows himself to be surprised. Because a bird has eaten him.
“Sun! Wind! Warmth!” Ptera sings as she basks on a leaf, unshelled and alive — oh so very much alive! “Green! Blue! White!” she chirps as the trees and the sky beckon her to join them. “Clouds! Shadows! What the…?” she adds as a bird eats her.
Some men, they say, are born to the mines. Others are born to dance. They know, in their beings, what to do, how to do it. Shellsong, of course, knew nothing of men or mines. But he did know about love. He was born to love. He understood love. In his spiracled cicadean soul, he knew what to do, how to do it. He knew that his song, the plaintive cry from his taut, tymbaled loins, would prove irresistible. And he knew that his love, his mate, would return his call with a click.
That’s how it worked. And right on cue, as if Venus herself had taken up his melody, Shellsong hears it. The click. Right behind him. Is that my love? he thinks. Is that my darling? Is that my destiny? No, it’s a bird. Damn.
In a thousand lifetimes, in a thousand times a thousand lifetimes, you would not find lovers more perfect for each other, more “meant” for each other, than Brightwing and Folitia. She, Folitia, is young and beautiful, an acrobat in the air with white-frosted wings and ruby eyes that shine with something more than desire – they shine with passion; captivating, honest, endless, He, Brightwing, is twice her age, having emerged three days earlier. He is wizened but not cynical, patient but not pedantic, and eaten by a bird moments before she is.
Author’s Plea: Every day, millions of cicadas are cruelly, savagely, needlessly eaten. Any why? Because they’re delicious. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can make a difference. Take the time, right now, to call or write the birds. Tell them to stop eating cicadas. Do it for Treetop and Grass, for Ptera and Cyllata. But most of all, do it because it will really confuse the birds, who don’t know how to read.
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