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Song of Seventeen
This title is under the Peabody Collection
The Opening Line
The lights of magic descend upon the earth once every seventeen years, enthralling all with their song. It is a game they play, to spy upon man who have heaved their hearts to the diaphanous pleasing of the lull, and to judge those who have not. Three pairs of wings color the wind and the rains, as their gossamer threads of amber run through the delicate sheets of stained glass, gently changing shades from molten gold streams to eventide tips. But it is the voice that snares, and fills our hearts with a sweet pleasing wine that springs forth the ground in a gentle maelstrom of the great resurrection, designed to beautifully choke.
The young grow up in the woodland enclaves, hidden from the sight of mortal man in the gashes of some well-chosen twig or nestled branch, under the protective realm of their silver shells. In there they remain warm in their fragile forms, awaiting the time to leave and fall into the mysterious earth, where deep complexes of passages and tunnels greet their rite of passage into the secret kingdom kept beyond watchful eyes. It is here that their lives begin, in the celestial haven flowing with elixirs of oak and maple – nature’s grand ambrosia.
But the real work has yet begun. Danger seeks both gods and men, and the oral tradition has been passed down through the passage of time. They were warned of risks, and were told stories of the heroic coups in the dystopian lands they came from. Fear consumed their teething souls, and casted a shadow on their languid wings. Told to beware the grand mistakes of the Fenton brood, they vowed to relearn the rules of the game.
It was simple. All they had to do was conquer their legacy. Seventeen years spent in the haven, before they leave to stock a new generation in the demonic world above. The adolescents knew the shapes, spilled down the lips of those in their fifth molting, who in turned heard it from the unlucky ones who tumbled back down into the crypt after barely escaping the deranged claw or talon of some beast in the crude lands outside their own sacred sanctuary, left to die with peace and honor in their own home.
They devised a plan. Deep down the deepest root in the Abode of the Grand Oracle the cicadas stood. They would brave the new world of unimaginable terrors in the seventeen year surge, a period so chosen by the High Priestess in her prophetic divination that no beast could outlast and match such a long and irregular cycle. And they would come together in a ridiculous surge, and pummel their way through the flying swans and the many-legged critters and the mouth of Hell and fling those bastards out with the troop of Dull Gret even the Devil has no defense. They would paint the sky red and sing their fucking song till the entire earth is impregnated with their seeds.
So when the time came, they were ready. Holes that ascended toward the skies filled with horrors were dug up secretly, hole by hole to arrest any thought of suspicion or wonder spurred in the passing traveler. They armed themselves with their voices, and steadied themselves in file at each exit. Thus the race began. Horde by horde they poured out into the lands, up the soil and past the tree branches in every and any kind of orifice they could find. They crawled up roots, vines, plants, sticks, poles, fences, gates, houses, buildings, signs, each other, and mankind’s legs. Like a thermonuclear fireball of black soot they flew, whipping around the skies in such commotion dawn turned to dusk and the people locked themselves in their homes. But then they descended, down the roofs and into the chimneys and crawled down the walls of the houses in search of safety from the flying swans and other such grotesque creatures atop the wicked earth. Thus there were two songs in the sky – the chorus of the cicadas and the consternation of the commoners, which combined into a symphony of synthesiatic flavors and textures at the unholy commotion the congregations caused.
But that was only the beginning. Soon the cards came. Thousands of spiders sprang out from every lawn and patch of grass across the entire stretches of fields and streets while the birds came down to feast. Men, women, and children all played their roles in joining in the chorus with their lovely screams that sounded delightfully genuine and true to the heart. Some fetched their weapons, and brought their drilling and earth-cutting machines to drive away the inferno, but the congregation did not pause. With a rejuvenated wave of energy they put on their armor and marched into pell-mell, charging at those who dared to compete with the Cithara of the gods. Only their voice could take the lead. Only their voice could outrank them all, in the thanksgiving feast of the gods by the gods. With that established, they made their next move.
The mating began. The cicadas separated into large factions and the competing voices intensified into a raw conquest for power. There was the periodic scratching, alternating with layers of jungle snake hisses and summer buzzes while the voice of tundra wind came in the opposite direction to drown them all out. But the ultimatum was the eerie waves of deep echoes emanating from the impersonation of a deranged banshee. And so the females flitted from voice to voice, going from swarm to swarm and seeking out the deepest tunes within, while the males continued their song. Lumps of pollen filled the air and spilled over into the Hell’s next of spiders, critters, birds, rats, snakes, insects, and humans below in a splash parade so vibrant and intoxicatingly drowning no one knew the better.
Each species that fed on the cicadas began their quest to explode their numbers while the lights themselves began to dig their seeds into the trunks again, going to and from the trees as they proceeded to get to every male member lined up in sight in this screaming madness of ecstasy and confusion. Tree branches began to crack and break apart with the weight of the seeds, while the non-native trees, so unprepared for such a rage of delight, withered and died. Meanwhile the critters multiplied and fed on all beneath them, while others fed themselves to death. And the cicadas thought their voices so angelic they decided to extend their range to ensure all men heard them, excelling so well in their roles of Muses that some of their ears bled in the loudest regions while the rest suffered permanent ear damage in the luxury of hearing too divine a tune they could never hear another.
And the singing continued for days and days, week after week, till the humans gave in and fled. The ones that did stay collapsed and broke down in their houses with the trauma, and choked themselves with the meat of the cicadas in grim despair. As the cicadas sang, they began their final shedding too, and doubled the mess and chaos with thousands upon thousands of their exoskeletons on the roofs, grounds, heads, and just about any place imaginable. The children screamed when they saw the disembodied carcasses, while the spiders and other small insects suffocated themselves in the cemetery of these burial mounds, or starved themselves to death never finding a way out of the miserable labyrinth of a terrifying freak show.
But there was a solution. Unbeknownst to the muses, a spore had already been sown. Massospora has wormed its way into the abdomen of these creatures, incubating in that warm, breathing lair biding its time to strike. That is when the singing mellowed, as parts of the cicadas began to fall from the sky. Their abdomens had been fed on by this fungus, and the real symptom shows in their sudden inability to mate and continue their song. And they would then die, in tribute to the first muses who sang themselves to death in their prior mortal lives, and spring again to continue their song in a new form, in their valiant quest of preserving their own legacy.
Why do we only hear these beautiful voices once every seventeen years? What mysteriously, why do they come up and what happens for everyone else, man and beast alike, when they do?