This is a draft of a horror/magical realist story I wrote, inspired by Julio Cortazar’s “Beastiary.”
“Magicicada” tells the story of Riley, her cousin Maggie, and their bizarre return to Perth, where she spent summers as a child. She finds her grandmother’s ranch a changed place, her cousin Eric a mysterious man and the return of a legendary brood of insect looming over the town.
I’ve sent it out, so I can only keep it up for a few days. Enjoy it during the Halloween season.
In the dark the children squealed, delighted by the roiling earth between their toes, those moist, glistening grubs. “Bring the light over here! The light over here!”
“Magicicada,” the elders uttered from rockers on the porch, singing the song, tzitzika, tzitzika, tzitzika. “They get bigger every cycle,” one speculated. “Big? These? Wait for the brood to rise.”
From the porch the children were evidenced only by shrill voices and the long arms of flashlights, extensions of their always pointing fingers, racing around the prairie…one stood apart, a girl in a dress that was glowing, it seems, the loveliest amber. She stood by the swing set under pale garlands of the old willow, examining the husks still holding to the tree, ghost shells, not living or dead…she might turn one to dust with a finger—she had magic like that—but the wind had not dislodged them, nor had bat or bird or either of the girls’ deranged cousins. They’d fall on their own, she knew, or else the willow tree would be a jaundiced mountain of shells from all the broods before, ten thousand summers old. They’d fall.
She shrieked, excitement keying up her throat, and rejoined the race, not willing to miss another second.
“That’s not unusual,” Bobby said in response to Riley’s observation that the farm seemed less than she remembered. She could have sworn there’d been a fourth or even fifth floor. “A decade…that’s awhile. You probably thought you were on another planet too.”
Riley murmured “Yeah, but still….” She had a notion to tell Bobby that the yard looked picturesque as ever, the scrubby plateau an impossible postcard, the otherworldly heat of Perth’s summer the same mythic hell—only the house, as she perceived it through twisters of dust, seemed to have changed, aged like an old man, shrunken and frail.
“The bugs are loud though, you weren’t kidding.”
Riley pocketed a crooked little grin; the one Bobby hated and described as “childish.” This? she thought. This is nothing. These weren’t the imago, not even the dog day cicadas. These were dragonflies, hornets and bullfrogs. You should see the brood, she wanted to tell Bobby, but what was the point? No one ever believed what happened—they had to see it for themselves.
i. A Farm out West
Riley saw herself in the mirror. For most girls this mirror—ribbed with onyx and opal, near unreflective—was not a full length, but it captured Riley perfectly: short and sallow, snow-blonde hair, plump lips and a round, boyish face. She’d come warily into curves several years ago but now, at nineteen, felt like herself…knowing how to walk into a room.
But these rooms were no place to swing a wrecking-ball backside like hers: parlor, kitchen, toilet—every room was stacked with antique edifices of books, letters and bills; Jenga towers trembling in the presence of Riley’s rolling hips. Warped planks creaked underfoot, dusted with dirt and the dissolved shells of the imago.
In the parlor lanterns danced in every corner, humming vanilla beans and spiced rum. Grandma Eloise sat at the table, loose skin in gnarled, white bunches at her throat, bobbed hair purpled with age. She sat where her husband had sat ten years ago, the last time Riley had come to Perth; now Grandpa Jon perched on the mantle, reduced to ashes in a bronze urn. On Friday the first anniversary of Grandpa Jon’s passing (and the “guilt beyond words” Riley associated with having missed it) would be observed during a swamp excursion.
“Riley dear, so lovely.” Eloise moved to stand, but instead Riley went to her.
“Thanks.” She dropped a kiss on her grandmother’s straw hair.
“I washed your sundress this morning, the one you wore, remember?”
“I’m not sure grandma. Maybe.”
“Should still fit,” Eric sniggered. Cousin Eric sat on grandma’s right. The oldest (22) on that side of the family, Eric had elected to move in with Jon and Eloise five years ago…flying Florida to Perth, never to return. So far Eric had hardly looked at Riley, the forgotten cousin, and when he did his eyes appeared black and hungry, consuming Riley.
“Yes, perhaps,” Eloise murmured carefully.
Riley sat beside Cousin Maggie, who was Riley’s age and had continued vacationing in Perth exactly one summer longer. Thin with black-and-blue hair almost to her waist, same milky complexion as her cousins. She’d drawn on violently arched eyebrows for her evening arrival and spoken precious little since.
“Where’s your friend Riley?”
“Bobby’s not feeling well grandma, he said to eat without him.”
“How long you and Bobby been friends?”
Riley blushed. She hadn’t heard Eric’s voice in ten years, when it had been a pitchy, depthless squeak. “Since school started, September.”
Eloise nodded vaguely, not wanting to puzzle the pieces together too definitely.
Eric turned on Maggie, an iridescent twinkle in his eye. “I forgot you were here.”
“I doubt that.”
“I mean it seems…out of character…for Riley to ask such a new friend to take part in our personal matters.”
Riley opened her mouth to admit that, Okay, we are slightly more than friends—but Maggie seemed content to argue on her behalf. “Maybe she wanted someone she could talk to?”
“That’s exactly what I’m here for,” he replied evenly. “You can talk to me Riley…both of you can, day or night.”
Eric and Maggie exchanged an inexplicable series of silences—Eloise eating unaware, Riley reddening—until she retreated to her plate. “Anyways, I don’t mind at all,” Eric continued, holding his voice exceptionally toneless. “The more men in the swamp the better. Everywhere is crazy around now, the swamp especially.” He piled his plate with a second helping, demonstrating a comfort in the house that Riley had forfeited in exchange for summer camp in the States.
Riley regained herself. “What are you talking about Eric?”
“Oh, didn’t you know? Did you both not know?” Eric’s eyes…those eyes, how black! Riley shivered. “It’s this summer the Gangara brood is hatching…the brood.”
Eric put Eloise to bed. Riley could not find Maggie, who seemed to have vanished while Riley was blinking. Instead of checking on Bobby, whose illness she doubted, Riley slipped quietly out the screen door and made a pass of the porch, taking in the yard panoramic: the ancient willow, weeping yellow neon over the rusted swing set; the clothesline—the length of a football field, it once seemed—strung with sheets of every color; the prairie…lights from Perth…the black forest….
From the shadowed wall of trees emerged a red iota of light, dragging behind it a waxen shadow, pausing just out of reach of the porch light. Riley thought of calling out but decided not to…the way she stood, with grave deference to the farm, drinking her cigarette down in long, meditative breaths, suggested she did not care to be seen.
“How was dinner,” Bobby asked, looking sly behind a stack of pillows. He hadn’t been sick at all.
“It was fine. Grandma didn’t feel so hot though.”
“I’m hot,” Bobby reminded her, emerging from the vale without a stitch on. “Are you?”
She wasn’t, but there was no use saying so. Bobby rarely heard “No,” not half as often as it would take for him to understand it anyways.
ii. A Girl with Owl Tattoos
The note was pinned to the inside of Riley’s bedroom door. Bobby snored into the mattress, white sunlight sneaking up the sheets to his exposed torso. Gone w/ Eloise to Perth for meds…get (skim) milk + whatever you need tomorrow. As Riley descended the stairs she wondered how Eric had come into the room unnoticed…she wondered, adjusting the low cut collar of her blouse, what he had seen.
No still mornings in Perth. The sunlight bounced off a billion reflective leafs; butterflies rose with the evolving heat; peculiar mammals explored the prairie. Riley found keys in the truck bed. She turned the ignition as Maggie appeared soundlessly in the passenger seat, startling her. “Morning….”
Maggie hid behind oversized sunglasses. Her foundation was chalky, blush uneven, indicating she’d fallen asleep with her makeup on, or hadn’t slept at all. “Let’s get out of here.”
The summer parkway roared. Troops of kangaroos huddled on the side of the road, dining on roses and upturned cans of garbage. Riley remembered the way, somehow. She parked in a dirt lot beside the market. The natives buzzed about, boarding up shops, emptying wares at discount prices, talking with the grim enthusiasm that precedes a hurricane. “Is it supposed to hail?”
Maggie shrugged. “The brood I guess.” She ducked into the convenience shop. Riley joined her under a rattling AC, a rainbow of frozen dinners playing off her glasses.
“You think so? They’re that bad? I hardly remember—”
“I don’t remember either Riley,” Maggie said quickly. She grabbed a jug of milk, paused at a cigarette display by the register. Maggie frowned at the unfamiliar brands—she’d never bought cigarettes in Perth before. “I need something unfiltered,” she told the clerk. “With menthol. I want to smoke.”
The cashier indicated a pack of Ashfords.
Maggie’s eyes did a frantic dance. “Red or blue?”
Riley shrugged. “I don’t smoke.”
“Not what I asked.”
Outside on the porch of the convenience shop Maggie opened the pack and lit an Ashford Blue. “Why are you here?” Riley asked—a fair question, she thought, considering how clearly unhappy Maggie was, how much she hated Eric and Perth and, she feared, Riley herself.
Maggie drew on the cigarette. She spit at once. “Fuck.” She breathed again, face static behind the shades. “I came every summer forever except the one that meant anything. Because I feel the same as you, is why.”
Riley nodded. “I feel like Eric—”
“Eric’s a prick.” Maggie ditched the Blue, not half smoked. She had a curious way of smoking so the ash never broke. It lay in a gray column in the dirt. “Hmm.”
Riley followed her cousin’s gaze across the street to where a shop owner had bolted a steel plate over the store front. “Overkill much?”
“Definitely.” Riley smiled briefly, talking to her cousin this way, like they were family. Riley observed the shop owner, his brow furrowed determinedly, hammering away at a second aluminum shield. For the second time in a handful of hours, despite the sun hanging close enough to touch, despite Perth approaching Mars temperatures, Riley shivered.
Bobby looked cartoonish ducking under sheets, weaving in and out of grandma’s blouses billowing in a breeze off the Indian Ocean. Riley was glad to not have to meet him again in the bedroom, where she felt helpless.
“What’re you doing?
Bobby shielded his eyes. “Riley.” His face grave. “There’s a girl out here. I saw her.”
Riley frowned. Bobby saw girls everywhere. She looked up and down the lanes of swimming linens. Rice-winged butterflies glided from one cotton cloud to another…but no girl.
Bobby’s face fell—he looked in poor condition. “It’s hot as hell. It’s not even noon.” He checked his gold Daytona. “It’s not even ten,” he rectified, wandering dazedly toward the house. “Coming?”
“I’ll take these down I think.”
Bobby looked her over for a careless moment and went inside.
She wondered if the thought of helping her had crossed his mind, even briefly. Then only the wind, fluttering shirts and sheets, and Riley absolutely lost, not knowing where she was or why she’d come there. For nothing, she thought to herself. A vain attempt to inject herself into the past, to be a part of Perth again. But there was no making up ten years. She moved to the nearest fabric, when on the other side of the sundress there appeared a shadow, unpinning the blouse—the curtain dropped and Riley stood before a remarkable face, one she’d never seen, rapidly advancing up her list of favorite faces.
Where are my manners, she wondered, unable to work her jaw.
This girl was flames, a hot red t-shirt and nefarious hair, a fiery kiss pinned to her lips. Adorned with tattoos: a pirate’s ship moving through a sea of roses around her right arm; collarbone and breast emblazoned with an enormous eagle whose tail feathers enclosed a psychotic, primeval eye that simultaneously gazed down the depths of the girl’s top and accused Riley of doing the same…she looked away, up to the girl’s face—marked with a musical staff by the left eye, or was it the number 13? And her hands…as she took down the dress Riley observed dorsals illustrated with identical red horned owls. Her white shorts showed a thigh dominated by a bucking black stallion.
Riley felt naked. She managed a quiet “Hi, who are you?”
The girl in red allowed a cruel series of notes to pass as laughter. “That your best line?”
Riley fumbled for words, better words. The girl with the owl tattoos folded the sundress and knelt to lay it in the basket. As she did her breasts fell from behind their claret vale. Riley looked away, mostly.
“Mom named me Lupita, which I hear is very offensive if you’re Mexican, which you’re not, because actually you’re whiter than Eric, somehow…and also my dad’s surname was Kukushkin, so people feel some need to call me Kuku, or Loopy. I’d ask you not to call me anything along those lines.”
Riley felt feverish—had she caught whatever Bobby pretended to have? “What should I call you?”
The girl rose, the wind blowing their hair together. “I suggest coming up with something completely new.”
Riley felt the morning spinning away from her, tried to root herself back in reality. “You know Eric?”
“I’ve been helping around the house.”
“Isn’t that what Eric does?”
Lupita fell silent. She found the question interesting. “Eric does lots of things. Rarely do they include anything helpful.” She bent down again (this time Riley shut her eyes) and came up with the basket at her hip. “I need a drink. Do you need a drink?”
Lupita looked Riley up and down, examining her closely, closer than Bobby had a minute ago, closer than anyone had ever. “That’s it? That’s your best line?”
It was delightful, Bobby in the company of other women. He explained it afterward, every time, as “a need to entertain”—a need characterized by his acting like Riley was his sister, if not a fly on the wall; in turn Riley pretend they weren’t flying back to Orlando together, to the same campus, the same dorm, the same hallway…but to different corners of the country, never to meet again. What a thought!
She watched Bobby from the shadows, strutting the porch with a beer in hand, swinging his arms and doing impressions and trying so hard to get the attention of Lupita, who stood with her body pointed—coincidentally, surely—into the dark at Riley; or Maggie, it didn’t matter to Bobby, who could not be bothered to fake interest. Instead she focused on multi-tasking: draining her bulbous glass of wine while reaching for the bottle.
“You forgot your drink.”
“Huh?” Riley tried to maneuver herself to the seat closest to Lupita, but Bobby intercepted her and guided her onto his lap.
“You said you were going to make a drink, that’s why you went inside.”
“Oh, right.” Riley tried to get up but Bobby held her.
“Just have a beer.” He handed her his bottle, forgetting or not caring that beer made her sick. Riley put it aside. They floated in the black lake of night, moored to the porch light as the escalating sounds of the forest endeavored to strike out not only sound but human life itself, Perth a mystery somewhere on the horizon.
Maggie made some meek noise.
Eric stood in the yard. “Bobby, I need your help.”
Bobby’s face fell. “Are you sure?”
Eric grunted. “Come on. Just a little drop bear.”
“A what?” Bobby put down his beer and walked down the yard.
“Like a koala, but meaner….” Swallowed by the dark, voices lost in the chorale of crickets and screeching fruit bats.
“I think Eric hates Bobby,” Riley speculated. “I think I do too.”
“At least you got him out here,” Maggie said grimly.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Do you think if Grandpa was alive Eric would be so, so….”
Maggie sighed violently. “Can you drop it already?” She refilled her glass. “I don’t want to talk about Eric.”
“I want to talk about grandpa.”
Maggie stared at her cousin. Her lips (pale pink) trembled in an attempt to smile. “Grandpa was sixty eight last July. Basically he raised Eric his whole life. If Jon was alive today it wouldn’t change at all what Eric is.”
“What is he?”
Maggie finished her glass and went inside, left Riley holding herself miserably.
“How can you be cold?” Lupita snaked the vacant seat. “I watched you shiver all day. It’s like a thousand degrees in the shade.”
“You’d be impressed how cold I can get.” She took up the bottle. “You live in town? Or you come from the city, or…?”
“I sleep here sometimes,” Lupita answered. “Come with me.”
Lupita took Riley and led her off the porch. Small amounts of alcohol became dizzying in the dark…Riley felt lost in a song of insects and aliens, opening her eyes wide but seeing nothing but Lupita, the red beacon, and the birds on her hands, grinning and growling at Riley, daring her…where were they going? The yard seemed to have rearranged itself, no longer the place she’d once known, a long time ago. Lupita stopped at the tree. She let go of Riley’s hand and parted the glowing garlands. “Coming?”
Riley considered it, what it meant—then a blood boiling scream. For half a beat the storm of bugs lessened to a docile racket. Lupita stepped from under the tree as Eric came up the drive, Bobby lagging behind. “Drop bear got the drop on Bobby.”
“It’s not fucking funny.” Bobby cradled both arms, hugging himself in pain, covered in blood.
“Don’t touch me.” Bobby groaned. “I’m going to puke. God, I’m going to be sick.”
“You’re losing some blood there bucko. Better get bandaged up.”
“You said it was a god damn koala…ah.”
“I said something like that,” Eric admitted.
Riley could see even in the dark that several of the gashes were deep. He’ll need stitches, she thought. “Come inside, I’ll fix you—”
“No,” Eric interrupted. “Let Loopy do it. That’s what she’s for, right Loopy? To make everyone feel better.”
Lupita mirrored Eric’s twisted smile. She put an arm around Bobby’s waist and led him to the house. “Come, Bobby.”
Riley watched them go, heartbroken, and found herself alone in the dark with Eric, suddenly afraid for her life. “We were in town today,” she croaked. “They were boarding up all the shops. I thought maybe it was going to hail but Maggie said it was for the brood….”
Eric nodded absently. “The Gangara wreaked havoc last time, remember?”
Riley tried to think. She remembered distantly, dreamlike, the bloated maggots emerging from their earthly tomb by the thousands, tens of thousands, more. “I guess so.”
“Things change Riley. Things happen even when you’re not around to see them. Jon’s dead.” He said this very simply. “And the cicada, they get bigger every year. Jon used to say it all the time, remember that?” In that moment Eric desperately wanted his cousin to remember. “He was afraid he’d live to see them the size of dogs. Dog day cicadas,” he murmured. “The brood this year….” He shook his head. “Probably won’t be any worse than hail.”
Eric eyed his cousin, barely the height of his chest. “You should check on your friend. Sometimes Lupita is…rough.” He turned and walked away, but not to the house—back the way he’d came, into the night, toward the forest.
Bobby lay unconscious beside her. Without the moon and stars she saw nothing, could not be sure if her eyes were open or shut, whether she was awake or dreaming…until she heard Eloise moan, a painful song she sang in her sleep. Eloise had warned her nieces she might disturb them at night, and was painfully sorry about doing so. Riley felt like crying. Lupita slept somewhere, on some floor of the house…maybe with Eric? Riley couldn’t make sense of it…and the song changed; still a shrill, hurt melody, but one familiar to Riley, a song awash with memories: tzitzika, tzitzika, tzitzika…. The moon emerged, blowing light on the deep green scars carving Bobby’s arms. They looked so bad. Riley could not identify the proper emotions—for Bobby, for Maggie, for Lupita…only a small, growing fear at the center of herself…tzitzika, tzitzika, tzitzika.
iii. A Little Western Flower
…her lens of vision latticed with trains of fog so if she held her arms out they faded in the miasma. The only way to go was forward…following the red dress, the willow tree aglow. In pits of fog eggs were hatching, cracking shells like falling trees, and the song that emanated from within was deafening, rattling Riley’s dream to the point of waking, loud enough to wake up Bobby, so loud—Riley was sure—it would wake Lupita, wherever she slept….
But she could not escape. The monstrous larvae crawled from their cocoons, lumbering shadows trying to break the fog. She stared ahead to where the red dress slipped behind the mess of neon creepers…so close she could reach for those burning tails, taste them, Lupita….and then the morning thunder.
The rain cleared at dawn and before ten they were deep in the swamp, sun shining. Bobby too sick to move. Riley had arranged for a flight the following morning, and Eloise elected to stay behind with Bobby. “The swamp is no place for me.”
“No,” Eric had agreed. He led his cousins and Lupita beyond the black wall into the forest, Jon’s urn under his arm, down a winding path through storms of ivy to a stinking, inky bath where a motorboat was anchored. Eric rowed to the river and primed the engine. They pushed into the oppressive mid-morning heat, rising notes of the swamp song sounding all around them.
Eric stood akimbo at the wheel in a way he could manage the twisting river while also keeping an eye on the girls, Maggie at the back of the boat, legs to chest, sunglasses deflecting the world; Riley and Lupita together with their hands skimming the water, close but never touching. Eric pinned the urn between his sneakers.
“This is where the brood comes to play,” Eric yelled over the engine.
“Hear that?” Lupita put her lips to Riley’s ear. “He said we came here to play.”
“They hatch on the farm,” Eric explained. “But they make for the swamp and it’s a free-for-all, total insect orgy.” He grinned. “A solid week of mating. Then everyone dies. What a week though.”
“No one cares,” Maggie snapped. “No one is obsessed with bugs like you. No one cares about the brood. No one cares….” She sunk back into her seat, holding herself together.
Eric looked pleased. “Cos?”
Maggie practically screamed. “SHUT UP.” She shot to her feet and for a moment Riley thought she might jump overboard, but instead Maggie bent over the side of the boat and wretched. Her sunglasses fell. “Oh no,” she moaned, but she wasn’t done. The porridge and toast she’d ingested an hour earlier trailed in a muddy current behind the boat.
Riley tentatively rubbed her back. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry.” Maggie’s eyes, small and wet, ill-prepared for the sun. “Maggie’s sick,” Riley said. “We need to go back.”
Eric observed his cousins, beautiful girls who shared his pale skin and a few chains of genetics. He crossed his arms, clearly the winner. “Sure. Here’s as good a place as any.” He cut the engine and lifted the urn. “Eulogy? Anyone?”
Riley helped Maggie up, wiped a streak of vomit from her lower lip. Lupita joined them, standing in a line staring out at an especially ugly stretch of black water.
Lupita toasted an imaginary glass. “To Jon. A man who, among other things, could grill the hell out of a turkey burger.”
Riley smiled weakly—it was true, Grandpa Jon had been a prideful barbecutionist, a facr she’d entirely forgotten. Eric seemed unamused. He regarded the girl with murderous shark eyes. “When Eloise goes the way of her beloved husband, which she soon will, you’ll be next.”
Riley gasped. “That’s…that’s horrible.”
Lupita blanched, only just, before taking the urn from Eric, who did nothing to stop her. Gingerly she peeled back the stopper, stood up to balance on the edge of the boat—Riley took her by the waist, for balance—and swung the urn in every direction, showering the swamp with a thin, gray mist. Film on the water, infinitesimal specs for the bugs to crawl over.
“How was the swamp,” Eloise asked over a late lunch. She’d gifted Bobby thirty grams of Sublinox and assured him he’d be asleep until morning. Long shadows cast across the prairie. A row of crimson rosellas funambulated on the phone line at the end of the driveway, their songs like creaking door hinges. When no one spoke, Eloise forgot the question she’d asked, that she’d said anything at all, and went to replace the urn on the mantle. Eric stood in the yard, sublimating in the setting sun, a villain transposed with Lordly omnipotence. From the screened porch the girls watched: a parade of wood ducks going west over the red wastes; a salty gale pushing through the mass of rumba creepers, banging shut the shed door like Latin claves; and Eric, whose disposition indicated he had, at last, inherited the earth.
At first they moved around the room with delicate steps, careful not to wake Bobby, whose wounds had started to reek. It became evident—after Lupita bumped a small stack of books, crashing to the hardwood floor—that Bobby would not wake up.
“Is this it?”
“I hardly unpacked.” What a nightmare Perth had been. What an absolute—
“Here.” Lupita handed her a small white bundle…the dress she’d been folding yesterday—the dress, Riley realized. She held it to the light, as if to test its authenticity. The translucent cotton print she’d worn as a girl, as someone else, fluttered in the fanned current.
“How did you know?”
Lupita’s fingers found Riley’s fingers. “Eric had me wash this dress a thousand times. I’ve been waiting forever it feels like to meet whoever is supposed to wear it.”
Riley, surprised: “Eric?” Plate tectonics in reverse, the toes of their tennis shoes melding together, smooth noses sliding past one another to be buried in damp, sunburned cheeks. “Lulu….”
A sequence of images flashed as Riley blinked in quick succession: eight years old, chasing Eric and Maggie through the dark, armed with a flashlight; Jon smoking a pipe over the grill, nonchalantly waving off the brood—new to the air, unable to maneuver around the flyswatter hands of humans; Lupita wearing the glowing dress kneeling on Eric’s bed; Lupita not wearing the dress, kneeling on Eric’s bed….
“I can’t think.”
Lupita promised this was a good thing.
“I can’t hear myself think.”
Outside the window—only dark, porch lights and stars and the orange Australian moon consumed with a song…porcelain thorns spinning helically down an endless rainstick. Riley burped, a noxious gas rising up her throat, acidic and odorless. She would be sick soon. “Where’s Maggie?”
Lupita cocked her head, like it had never taken this long to talk someone into bed before. “Downstairs?”
“I need Maggie.”
They held hands down the spiral staircase, lightless, into the parlor, into the library, hunting bathrooms and closets for the beautiful, broken, fair-skinned cousin…her black hair fell like sheets under a flickering chandelier in the guest room. One by one the crystal bulbs burned out. Red-faced, shaking; a cornered animal.
Eric, somehow without moving, only standing under the failing light with broad arms folded across his barrel chest, appeared to be advancing on her. Riley squealed—ejecting a string of bile down her chest—and rushed into the room. Flash: Maggie cornered so many summers ago, alone in a room, without Riley.
Eric seemed annoyed with the game he’d been so keen on playing earlier this week. “You think it makes any difference being here tonight?” He looked at Maggie, hungry with his eyes, but the words were for Riley, definitely. “It’s too late cos. Ask her. Ask her. Ask her.”
Maggie slapped him, twice, a third time—he seized her wrist with two fingers, slowly bending back…Maggie remained soundless, staring at Eric until he loosed his grip. She stormed out of the room. “Maggie—” But she didn’t stop for Riley, marching out into the night. A moment later she screamed.
Eric stood there as the chandelier winked off—a creature who, if ever experiencing a sensation of remorse, would nullify its past existence. He shrugged.
Riley searched the room for sharp objects, blunt objects, objects that would be sealed in a big Ziploc bag and used later as evidence against her. She found a pair of metal scissors, brandished them wordlessly, before Lupita rejoined the scene and stole off through the house dragging Riley down winding halls—hands sharing the blade—to the parlor and onto the porch. “Where’s Maggie?” she asked again—it was all she could think to say—but her words were lost in the noise. The scissors clattered mutely against the hardwood.
Off the porch onto the black lawn. The porch light breathed on and off…slow, bobbing shadows filling its eye, drawn to it. The buildings and walls of Perth would crumble. The city would be theirs.
Lupita dragged Riley through the yard—barefoot, both of them—while the earth heaved underfoot, huge sections of lawn bursting in the manner of Giger’s Necronom, new to the world but already knowing the song: tzitzika, tzitzika, tzitzika. The girls dove through sheets of willow and landed on the ground in a wreck. Lupita hugged her close. Bugs everywhere. “When he told me about Maggie, all I could think was to protect you, and I didn’t even know you.”
Riley choking, sobbing, searching for her cousin, but the yard was too busy with black hulking figures, dozens of them, rearing to full height, flexing their plated wings in the last shards of light as the house was consumed—smaller than ever—buried under the monstrous brood; TZITZIKA, TZITZIKA, TZITZIKA.