Sunday, January 27, 2008

Giant Cicadas and Other Odd Indignities

By Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon

Life used to be a lot simpler when the cicadas came out of the ground only once every seventeen years -- you could depend on things like that. Not anymore. Not since they dropped those nasty radiological dirty bombs on the East Coast. We didn't get hit directly here in North Carolina, but you could say we've been dealing with fallout of sorts for years.

The cicada which clung to the fake Grecian column on my front stoop, the column Martha insisted on putting up when we redid the siding a couple of years ago after I retired, was one of the smaller ones. But its glassy red eyes, big as the carriage light globes on either side of my neighbor's front door, why the damn stupid thing just sort of stared at me while I got the mail from the box.

"Martha!" I said when I got back in the house. "Will you get on the net and find out when those cicadas are supposed to come back? We've got a seven-footer on the front of the house."

"In a minute, dear," came the reply.

"Never mind," I said. "I'll do it."

I dialed up the National Mutant Biologicals Database and sure enough, Greensboro NC was listed in red for an outbreak of giant cicadas. Guess I don't have to worry about making that suggested second application of Scott's Turfbuilder Weed-n-Feed this weekend, if car-sized insects are going to crawl out of my lawn.

Of course, we don't have it bad compared to some. I hear the gangs of killer squirrels have made it almost to Chicago now. Who'd have thought the red and black little furry buggers would join forces to fight their treacherous gray cousins? I just wish they'd find the fool who taught squirrels how to shoot so they can try-n-fry his ass. It's possible the liberalistas, torn between opposing the death penalty and opposing guns, might even approve. We really don't need gun toting animals on the loose. And the vampire rabbits out in the hills of West Virginia? That's just plain wrong.

If I hadn't seen the first one, I would've completely forgotten about the cicadas in my lawn until that perky little newsgirl on WXII -- The First News Of The Greensboro-Winston Salem-High Point Triad -- came on and reminded us. They do so love to tell us the bad news while grinning and smiling. But now I've actually seen one, my first thought was to go next door and pester Greg Crenshaw.

"Yo, Greg!" I said.

"Oh... hi, Red," my sometimes neighbor said, looking up sheepishly from under the hood of his Buick. The man hasn't figured out how to fix his car ever since they stopped making carburetors and possibly never will.

"You hear about the cicadas coming out again?" I asked.

The momentary look of fear on Greg Crenshaw's face was just about worth any price of admission.

"I seem to recall you moved a bunch of them there shrubs and trees a coupla years ago," I added helpfully.

"Yeah," Greg said, knowing what I was getting at.

"Seems to me you better figure out where those little buggers got to," I said. Me? I'm not so stupid as Greg Crenshaw, not when it comes to cicadas. Of course, I don't go gallivanting all around the damn world all the time on business like Greg Crenshaw either. Or bragging about it hither and yon.

It was about then, I watched the one I saw earlier climb off my roof and onto that poor, sorry looking dogwood tree which had all the ice damage last winter. A couple of small branches cracked and fell, and I made sure not to laugh as old Greg ran into his house to call the lawn radar people and get his cicadas mapped. Bet he'd have to pay premium dollar to get the job done now they were emerging.

Sounding sort of like a sick chain saw starting up, my giant cicada began to sing for a mate. I did not stay to see if it found one. But if it did, I'm kind of hoping it takes out that dogwood. I know it's sacrilege in these here parts, but I never did like dogwood trees. They're too low to mow under and those pretty little blossoms everyone goes gah-gah over are only nice for a few days, then they fall into brown mush on the ground. And you just can't rake their damned leaves -- they just sort of jump in place and slip between the tines of the rake. So I was kind of hoping a cicada would come along, split the trunk in half and take that sorry old dogwood out. Put it out of its misery -- and mine.

Back when I was a kid, of course, we had the regular cicadas -- the ones my granddaddy always called seventeen-year locusts, even though they weren't rightly locusts. They'd come out of the ground every seventeen years just like clockwork and oh the racket they'd make in the neighborhood. Thousands of 'em, millions probably, would buzz and buzz, and the sound would waver in volume for a bit, then it'd all die down for a rest. You could hear the ones in the next streets winding down off in the distance, too. It was magic back then, especially in the days before we closed up all the houses tight with air conditioning all summer.

Anyways, when the bugs came out of the ground, they'd have to molt and you'd find these thumb-sized cicada shaped carcasses clinging to the bark of the trees in the back yard, with clear little bubbles where the eyes went, kind of like the Plexiglas gunner's bubbles you'd see on B-17's in old World War II movies. And each shell would have a big split down the back. Never caught one emerging, but we'd collect the best carcasses and save 'em for torturing the girls at school in the fall. Must've worked -- Martha married me in the next cicada year.

The city's Department of Sanitation will schedule a pickup of the empty giant cicada shells probably on Tuesday and Fridays. I think they composted them the last time, after running them through one of those chipper/shredder things they tow behind a dump truck. I don't want to even think about the mess when the adults start dying off after they've mated and made more giant cicada babies.

The ones which'll come out of the ground in the next giant cicada year.


On Tuesday I ran into my first of the just-chartered-in Japanese tourists. Practically knocked one over, coming round the Jeff-Pilot Insurance building. It was probably my fault. Not getting much sleep with all the damned cicadas all the time, and my car is tore up from where one of Greg Crenshaw's brood came out and collapsed part of my driveway and my insurance company is fighting Greg's. Plus I had to come downtown to City Hall to get a building permit to put in a carport on the side of the house -- tired of the berries from the trees baking into a sticky mess on the car as the summer sun and humidity do their worst. You have to park away from City Hall, because the meters right in front are set to expire in oddly short time intervals, just to make you get a parking ticket. I'm smart enough to avoid their mean little games.

Anyway, here was this man with a Sony Multicam peering straight up the side of the tall building. Naturally, I had to look, too. Big cicada slowly climbing up -- about a thirty-footer. It sure was impressive. Probably gave some of the office workers a scare. Can you imagine glancing out the window to see a giant cicada go by?

The Greensboro Chamber of Commerce keeps trying to remind us about the millions of dollars these tourists are bringing in, but I'm just seeing the damage and destruction everywhere. And all the racket! The cicada above let loose its rattle. Then I heard a diesel engine gunned and the beep-beep-beep as an earthmover backed up while trying to level a hole in the big city flower beds across the street. Then brakes squealed followed by sickening THUNK as one car stopped suddenly to avoid a cicada in the road and the next car plowed into the first car. I tell you, the whole damned city is beginning to fall apart.

Somewhere in the world there are places that not only have never heard of giant cicadas, the ground won't support 'em. Like Reykjavik. In Iceland. I saw it on The History Channel last night. Just before the cable went out when one of Greg Crenshaw's bugs got caught up with the wires at ten o'clock at night.

And right in the middle of that thought is when I saw it. Right at the edge of the park. Two black squirrels dragging a revolver into the bushes. Damn! I didn't know the squirrel gangs had made it south of Gaithersburg. Pretty soon it's going to become a Wild West shoot-out in the Gate City and people are going to get hit by stray bullets. It's inevitable -- the damned squirrels can't shoot all that straight. The birthplace of Dolley Madison and O. Henry is going to go the sorry way of Pittsburgh and Columbus, I can see it now.

Two blocks over I saw another tourist bus disgorge a couple dozen more Japanese, gawking and pointing and taking pictures up a storm.

"Godzilla!" the tourist I almost ran into said to me, pointing up with a big old smile on his face. "Ookii Gojira semi no mushi."

He seemed pretty excited. I smiled and bowed back to him, and tried to be polite. But all the time I'm thinking, if they like 'em so much, why don't the Japanese just take all these damned Godzilla bugs back with them when they go? Finally bring all those movies and manga to real life in their own damned backyards.

Can't they? Please?

I pulled out my cellphone to call Martha and tell her to start packing. Maybe we can still move to Reykjavik before everyone else gets the same bright idea. Pressed and held the "2" key to speed dial home.

Boo-doo-WEE. I'm sorry, your call on the network cannot be completed at this time due to disruptions in the network's tower and cable systems during the current cicada weather. Please try again in a few hours.

When I get home, we're heading straight out on Bryan Boulevard, right to the PTI Airport. And taking the first available flight anywhere.

God's truth, officer, that's why I was speeding. It's time to get the hell out of here.

Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon is an Assistant Professor of Physics at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo MI. He is also working on the Great American Science Fiction Romantic Epic and attended (with several other LiveJournal'ists) the 2004 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop. He strongly believes that there would be less trouble in the world today if the People In Charge would've just asked him first, before doing something really stupid, annoying, inconvenient or threatening to end All Life As We Know It... but Dr. Phil has no strong opinions on anything.


Anonymous said...

If we ever get them giant cicadas out here in AZ I'm investing in a pair of high-quality earplugs. The damned things are already loud enough! Good read!

Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

I think you need those expensive noise cancelling jobs. (grin) Thanks for enjoying my story.

Dr. Phil

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