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The East Coast Brood X

by Chelsea Stickle

 

During the last spring I was in middle school, cicadas polluted the air and their molted skin seemed to fall from the sky. It was a once in seventeen year event. There were cavities in the ground like it had been hole-punched by an overenthusiastic child. Transparent wings were everywhere. The long brown and black bodies with beady red eyes piled up alongside the molting. I’d never seen a cicada before, so I thought they were like locusts in the Bible, determined to eat everything and destroy our crops and punish us for our sins. During recess as we huddled under the safety of the eaves, Yolanda told me that those locusts were crickets. The bodies accumulated around us. Crunched under our sneakers when we failed to hop over them to the next safe spot of blacktop. We didn’t go beyond the overhang. Inside we could’ve played games or danced to the radio. Male cicada mating calls didn’t have the same rhythm. The random buzzing unnerved us. But outside recess was mandatory. They didn’t want us to become pale nerds fixated on our own ennui. Under the eaves we learned how to listen to each other and tell the truth. Our backs against the bricks and eyes on the bugs we could say things that were too frightening under anticipating, expectant gazes. Diane told us how she wanted to scream all the time. Gertrude told us how she was scared of her father. Yolanda told us she had a crush on her neighbor—a girl. We hated the oil on our faces and the odors our bodies produced. We wondered about our place in the school, our families, the world. Yolanda said the cicadas were proof that shit just happened. Gertrude said the cicadas were on timers and slept in the ground until it was time to mate and then die. Diane said that made sense since everyone was obsessed with sex anyway. We all glanced at the boys in our class stomping on cicadas for the crunch and how they shrieked when one glided down the backs of their shirts. They slid their sleeves over their hands and swatted cicadas out of the sky. Those sadists were our equals? From an accident of birth destined to be our paramours? We glanced at Yolanda, jealous. If we had cigarettes, we would’ve smoked them. The world was just so disappointing.

 

Chelsea Stickle writes flash fiction that appears or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Cleaver, Pithead Chapel, Hobart, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. She’s a reader for Pidgeonholes and lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and an army of houseplants. Read more stories at chelseastickle.com or find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The East Coast Brood X”?

I wrote “The East Coast Brood X” in Kaj Tanaka’s Bending Genres workshop where he talked about spark stories. My spark was a particularly ugly brood of cicadas that terrorized me in middle school. They were from Brood X, and yes, they made us go outside. The rest is fiction.

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