It was yet another sunny autumn day when Josh found a pile of dead cicadas as he opened the front door. He stared at them, blank and unmoved, then hurriedly pushed them aside with his foot. “Bye, mom!” he yelled and got on his bicycle to school.
“Just a coincidence. That’s all.”
September was an excellent season to ride the bike to school. He felt the breeze cooling the sweat on his brows. It was still warm enough to roll up his sleeves. Above all, the deafening roar of crickets and cicadas had finally subsided and all that was heard was the rustling of leaves as his bike rushed by.
The next day, there was another pile. The set of black, opaque eyes, six thin legs spread out in random direction, some cut or missing. Shriveled up wings curled around the withered frame. The cicadas were scattered in a haphazard manner. Their carcasses were exhibited in wanton abandon, in mockery of life and all that sustained it. But they were certainly placed there in a neat pile for the eyes to see. Josh stopped and looked around. An older boy from the other street raced by on his bike. The sun blinded his eyes. His mom stood by the window humming as she dried the dishes. He looked down once again at the pile of death, this time slowly examining them with his foot. As the days passed, these pauses became longer. As the days passed, the cicadas were slowly forgotten. Then once again, summer arrived.
Josh woke with a start. It was Sunday and the summer heat had been pounding down on the sizzling asphalt all afternoon. Josh walked out into the garden towards a small grove where he used to hide when asked to do the dishes. The trees were tall enough to provide him the much needed shade. As he approached, a solid wall of cacophony dropped before him, stopping him in his path. It was the stupefying sound of screeching metal parts competing for the higher pitch. The demented shrill of cicadas desperate for that last attempt at life. Josh looked up. They roared in defiance. They roared in frenzy.
Just when the sound of cicadas began numbing his ears, Josh decided to head back in. The door handle was warm under the blazing sun. Something crackled at his feet. Dead cicadas. All of a sudden, Josh felt his pulse beating at numbing speed.
The air was heavy and wet with summer heat. Hidden from the eyes were a million cicadas, screaming in unison, beating their hollow abdomens in feverish excitement. All he could remember was that dizzying noise of screaming insects when his brother Jamie fell from the tree, his small body flopped to the ground like a dry cicada. They had spotted a small kitten trapped in the branches of a tree and it was Josh who had challenged Jamie to climb up and save it. The dull sound of Jamie’s body as it fell to the ground, the wail of sirens, the screams of his mother...all faded into the cries of the cicadas.
That was already three years ago. Josh looked down once again at the memento mori, an unmistakable reminder of deaths gone by and deaths to come. Every summer since his brother’s death, Josh was haunted by the pile of dead cicadas gathered at the front door. Every summer, with beady eyes staring ahead, the small mound of dead cicadas mocked him in his moment of guilt and horror. It was a sign, a punishment, an annual reminder of his complicity in his brother’s death. He felt faint. What could it all mean?
Long before the next summer arrived, the house was left abandoned. The sun blazed through the windows of a hastily vacated living room, while a grey tabby sat sunbathing in the driveway. The cicadas blasted their usual tune, oblivious to the approach of neighbors. Two women spoke in hushed tones as they hurried by.
“Trust me, the house is haunted.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“It’s true! Did you hear about the dead cicadas? If that’s not a ghostly sign, I don’t know what is.”
“It’s called superstition. Besides, they wanted to move him to a better school.”
“But why all of a sudden? I’m surprised they stayed another three years after what happened. I heard the older boy just stopped eating.”
“I suppose it was about time. And you’re right. Josh wasn’t doing so well.”
“That’s one way to put it. He looked like a ghost half the time.”
“The poor thing. He still thinks it’s his fault.”
As soon as the neighbors left, the tabby slowly rose to its feet. It had a house to guard and chores to do. Even with the family gone, the tabby spent its afternoons roaming the grounds, gathering dead cicadas as tribute to the boys who saved its life.