Waves rose off my sweat-dampened body as I tossed in my bed. Sleep was impossible in such swelter. Rufus, at my feet, panted heavily in a vain attempt to shed heat. Worst of all, cicadas drove me mad with their incessant “chee”. I clutched a pillow over my head, but their chirping droned through. Eventually, I tossed it onto the heap of blankets laying useless on the floor. Rufus, obviously tired of my flopping around, uttered a moan and leapt down to curl up under the open window.
Morning found me hunched over the kitchen table, face mashed against my forearms. Mom breezed into the room and ruffled my curly hair.
“Whatcha doing up so early, hon?”
How could she be so cheerful? “Couldn’t sleep in all this heat and the cicadas kept me up all night.”
“Oh, my! Let me look at you.” She fussed over my swollen eyes and pallid cheeks for a few minutes. “I know just the thing.” She pulled some milk from the fridge and poured it into a small saucepan, adding a pinch of nutmeg. “You know, locusts only come out in droves every thirteen or seventeen years. The last time there were this many was the year you were born.” She handed me a steaming cup. “Here. Drink up and I’ll tell you a story my grandmother told me when I was little.”
The buzzing in my head lessened more with each sip of the warm milk. Satisfied that her concoction was working, she continued her story.
“One year, when Gran was young, the summer was so hot, she said, ‘you could fry eggs on the front stoop.’” I laughed at that. Great Gran had a funny way with words. Visibly relieved at my mirth, Mom continued. “That was the year of the cicada children.” She raised her hand at my puzzled look. “At night, the cicadas would chitter so loudly, it was believed they were possessed by demons. Their droning chirps kept the villagers up all night. The kids most of all. It was like they were calling the children. Not long into the summer, a shout rand out and people came running. Someone or something had killed a dog near Gran’s house. Its throat was torn out as though hacked by a saw.”
“That’s horrible! Who did it?”
“Patience.” Her stern look didn’t fool me one bit. She reveled in telling old tales.
“The constable was called in to investigate. He brought in a local tracking hound to follow the scent trail. Oddly, it led right to the door of the dead dog’s owner. Inside, the owner’s wife was weeping and trying to shake sense into her daughter. The constable found the girl rocking back and forth, eyes rolled up in her head and humming a strange buzzing noise. The girl was still dressed in her night clothes which were stained brownish-red. This was the first of the cicada children.”
“Gross! The little girl did it?”
“Yes. And she wasn’t the only one. Every other morning or so, screams could be heard all through the village as townsfolk discovered pets and people with their throats cut. Worse yet, were the children in each home, rocking back and forth in blood-soaked night shifts holding bloody knives and mumbling and buzzing like the locusts outside.”
“What did they do?”
“They rounded up all of the children and tied them to hospital beds.”
“Did it help?”
“Not a bit. Somehow, the children all became infected by the eerie chirping of the locusts. The townsfolk were up-in-arms. Nobody knew what to do. They turned to the parson, but his prayers seemed to go unanswered. They turned to the local doctor, but he had no solution either. Finally, they called on the constable once again.”
“What could he do?”
“Well, as it turned out, his great aunt was some sort of local witch doctor. Some of the older men and women of the village went to her for homemade cure-alls and such. She told him a most unbelievable story of how every thirteen years, when a certain breed of cicadas rose, the town children would act in such a way. The constable asked her what they did. And when she told him, he brought the recipe straight to the hospital. Within the hour, every child was cured with no memory of what had happened.”
“Really? What was the cure?”
Mom put on a sly grin as though she were pulling my leg. “Warm milk and nutmeg.”
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