A Symphony of Cicadas
Author:Crissi Langwell

Four



I leaned up on my elbow, a slow panic growing inside me. I turned my head to look around. The gnarled trunks of trees surrounded me in all directions. I was alone, trapped within my forested cell under a canopy of pine that reached up into the fog. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. The workers and the broken car had vanished; it was unclear whether they had evaporated into the forest or had simply gone without my noticing. The only sounds were a few distant birds and the stirring in the creaking trees around me. Even the insects had ceased their buzzing where I sat. I was left with an eerie silence that covered me like a protective bubble, keeping me separate from the world I was no longer a part of.

“Joey!” I called out. The word hung in front of me, trembling in the air but traveling no further than the space around me. “Joey!” I tried again, only to have my voice swallowed by the thick atmosphere surrounding my presence. I took a deep breath and screamed his name once more, using all of my power to force his name to travel with the wind, hoping it would reach his ears.

“JOEY!”

I could sense a sudden release in pressure as my voice shattered whatever was separating me from the rest of the forest. I was joined by a thousand cicadas, casting their deafening mating call in the trees as they, too, screamed for someone they loved. A flurry of birds broke out of the trees, creating a dark cloud in the sky. With each gust of wind, the cloud of birds above the forest rippled and shifted in shape, soaring and dipping through the sky in an ebony wave. I watched as the mass swirled above me. It was like a ghostly presence, the haunting movements of the birds growing and shrinking, becoming small before expanding to a large fog. The cloud above the forest grew darker and darker, pulsing in a hypnotic beat as if part of a dance. The hum of the cicadas around me mirrored the movements, keeping time with an urgency that ebbed and flowed.

I got to my feet, moving with care not to disturb the dance going on around me. I wasn’t sure what was happening. It was clear that I had affected the forest in some way, but I didn’t know why or how. All I knew was that the increasing energy that surrounded me was mirrored within me. I could almost sense the thought of every living creature reliving the scene around me. I lifted my arms out to my sides, closing my eyes to feel the rhythm going straight through me. The vibrations only got more intense as I submitted myself to the energy. Could they understand me? Could they maybe help me find Joey?

“Where’s Joey?” I whispered. The sound of my voice sent a murmuring surge through the hum, reaching the skies with a shiver that rippled outward and then inward again before being handed back to the singing cicadas that surrounded me.

My mind was flooded with a million images and sounds in one instant, a static electricity that blinked rapid visions of the forest, the sky, the sound - everything that was happening right in this moment from copious points of view. Every thought included a small glimmer of light that shone around where I stood, wavering with a comforting brilliance.

I gasped when Joey’s body appeared on the forest floor, the thoughts around me zeroing in on him like a kaleidoscope before focusing on him as a single image in the exact spot I was standing. I reached my hand out to touch him, forgetting that he was just a thought and nothing more. His body was bruised and cut up beyond repair, though the peaceful expression on his battered face gave the impression that he was sleeping. The image of his broken body sent a shock of pain through my chest as I saw my child hurt beyond repair. To keep from unraveling, I focused on his halcyon expression, willing him to open his eyes and see me, too. Instead, a small spark of light, the same light that had been sent to me earlier, emerged from his forehead and hovered just above him. His body and the encompassing forest glowed under the small glimmer of light, the glow adding a haunting beauty to the entire scene. I held my breath. The light grew in intensity, showering the surrounding area in a bath of white, swallowing it all with its blinding brilliance. And just as sudden as it gained strength, the light dimmed again. Joey’s body appeared once more under the weakened glow from the light, but my focus was on the dying ember hovering above him. It gradually faded altogether, evaporating into thin air, leaving Joey’s body abandoned on the forest floor.

Peering into Joey’s face, I was taken aback by how unrecognizable he was. Even though it was still the image of the boy I had raised with all my heart for thirteen years, he looked more like a stranger than my son. Tears streamed down my cheeks as this image also faded, the thoughts scattering like leaves in the wind.

“But where is he?” I pleaded in a whisper, afraid to amplify my voice any louder under the quiet murmur around me. There was no answer this time, only the steady hum of a symphony of cicadas, singing the same song that had been sung now for hours. “Please,” I said, “just show me where I can find him.” The cicadas continued to ignore me, their hum growing quieter as they went about their business. But I was desperate to get an answer, feeling wild in my resolve. “Was he the light?” I begged of them. “Is the light still here? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

It was no use. The hum continued to waver, losing the amplified energy that we’d been drawing from each other before as the sounds of the forest began to take on a more natural resonance. Fearful this was the last chance I had of finding my son, I took a deep breath and threw my arms out wide.

“Where’s Joey?!” I screamed at the birds, the insects, the forest. I used all my force, doing my damnedest to ensure I wasn’t going to be left without an answer. A resonating crack thundered nearby, and I jumped at the sound. The trees were blown around by a violent wind that burst through the forest, whipping through my hair before crashing into the trees with great force. The crack sounded again, this time right above me. I moved just in time as a branch splintered from the tree, crashing through the branches below it before landing at my feet.

The birds burst away from the sky, the cloud they had formed now divided into a million pieces of vaporing ash. As they scattered, the afternoon clouds moved aside to offer a glimpse into the universe. I watched as the millions of stars within this window of space increased in brightness, revealing the planets and their moons, soaring meteors, and swirling galaxies billions of light years away. I stood mesmerized by this mystical image, for the moment forgetting the storm that was brewing around me. But the clouds moved back into place, concealing the heavens with their angry darkness.

A bolt of lightning crackled from the sky, landing its brilliant tip at my feet with an electrifying sizzle. It sent me to my knees in fear. Flames materialized upon the pine-needle-covered ground, licking at my skin without burning me. The fire grew larger and larger, surrounding me as it tore at the trees around me. I whipped off my sweater and swung at the fire, trying to keep it from spreading through the whole forest. If I didn’t concentrate on the branch of the tree, my sweater sank through it without even touching the bark. But when I focused all my energy on making a connection with the tree, I managed to hit it with a satisfying blow. Unfortunately, the process of trial and error as I re-learned how to do simple tasks left my firefighting skills ineffective. Every time I managed to get one flame out, several more would start up around me. Soon I was engulfed in flames. And while it didn’t burn my body, I still felt the intense heat from the fire against my spiritual skin, and the sting of the heat in my ghostly lungs as I panted from the effort I was making. It felt like hours had passed when I fell to the ground and gave in as the fire closed around me and devoured the trees that once held thousands of humming cicadas.

In its final gesture, the sky broke, sending large drops of water from the black clouds above. It started out as gentle taps that landed with a sizzle on the fiery ground. And then it picked up with gradual speed until it was a torrential downpour. The water waged a war against the flames, coming in like white stallions that trampled the flames into a quivering death. Soon the forest was reduced to a blackened and soggy skeleton of smoldering stumps and ash. I lay in a protective ball in the middle of it all, curled up in a fetal position to protect myself from any further attack from the elements.

I couldn’t understand what was going on. It was unclear how long I had been here, how long the forest had been raging against my presence. It seemed like time was more of a suggestion than a rule. It could have been hours, or even days.

And what of this place I was in? Was I the only one? Did we all have separate worlds to occupy when our human lives had passed and we found ourselves in the afterlife? Is that why my son wasn’t anywhere to be seen in the place where we both died?

And what made the lightning bolt start the fire? Or the rain that put it out? Was it me? Was it God? It felt strange to wonder that, given I wasn’t even sure there was a God. But with everything I had just been through, believing there might be a God seemed like the least complicated of all answers – an ironic revelation since the idea of God seemed so complicated while I was still alive.

The wind slowed to a cool breeze, the rain subsiding to a light mist that brushed against my skin. I held my hands at the base of my neck, the way we had been taught as children during earthquake drills - as if our tiny hands could withstand the crushing blow from a falling ceiling. My hair was matted from the rain and charred pine needles, my clothes full of dirt and ash. I moved my arms underneath me and hoisted myself into a seated position, hugging my knees against me. The clothes I was wearing were the same ones I had worn to the bridal shop; a time that felt like a thousand years before. They were the remains of a nice blouse over a pair of what used to be white pants; not the kind of clothes meant to withstand a car crash and wild fire. At this point I was no longer wearing shoes. I didn’t know where I’d lost them, but it didn’t seem to matter. The jagged rocks and pointed pine needles I walked on weren’t noticed at all as if my feet were calloused from years of walking barefoot. Pain wasn’t an easy thing to come by in this world, and yet I welcomed the way it made me feel somewhat human in those brief twinges. Even the terrifying heat from the fire had felt somewhat energizing.

But now I had nowhere to turn. I couldn’t understand the point of this, why I was here, where my son was...I was tired of being stuck in this world hidden within the only one I had ever known. I no longer wanted to be alone. I wanted answers to all of the questions I had burning inside of me with no one to ask. But most of all, I missed the sound of someone speaking to me, and hearing me when I spoke back to them.

“Well, you’ve really created quite the spectacle,” a voice said next to me, almost making me jump out of my skin. “Are you done with your tantrum yet?”