Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Myth of the Cicada Killer

This is a short story I wrote some time ago. It's my first insertion of fiction into this blog, unless you count statistics.

Myth of the Cicada Killer

When the man called Calvin rode atop the noisy green thing to shorten the green grass, she inevitably found all manner of interesting things to look at and pounce upon. So after the roar of the green thing faded to a distant enough part of the large yard, she would wander among the freshly mown grass swatting at anything that moved and many things that didn’t. Her leaps and pounces onto frequently invisible prey always ignited amused mockery when observed by her human caretakers.

"Look, Kayana is attacking nothing again," one of them would shout, and she would hear laughter in the distance, sometimes of only the woman and the child, other times of all three if the man had put away the noisy green thing. Their ridicule never bothered her, though. These creatures, after all, willingly covered themselves in water almost every morning. What could they know?

One late summer day, Calvin mistakenly ran the noisy green thing over an elevated clump of grass, exposing a small patch of earth and sand. She moved quickly to investigate the site, but at first found nothing to keep her attention. Before long, however, she observed definite activity in the vicinity of the newly found dirt mound. The following afternoon, she noticed a tiny burrow had been dug in the area; what was more, the burrowing creature was still at it, as she could see by the slight vibrations just beneath the sandy soil. She immediately put paws and claws to work, batting at the motion and caving in some of the miniscule tunnel. Before long, a creature emerged from the burrow, and it did not look at all friendly. It had wings and yellow and black bands around its body and carried a fierce, determined look. Kayana reared back and waved her front paws at the beast, but it did not attack or even appear to take much notice of her. Instead, it began repairing the damage Kayana had done to the burrow. At that moment, she heard a loud buzzing approaching from behind; she whirled to find a smaller version of the same animal, but far more aggressive. It harangued her for several moments as she made vain efforts to swat it, even once lunging straight up in the air in an attempt to bring down the pest. Presently, Calvin swept her up into his arms.

"Crazy cat," he cried, dashing away from the dirt mound and her antagonist as quickly as he could.

She struggled to free herself, but his grip was strong. Soon, she was back in the house, agitated, but also slightly relieved that he had extricated her from something she could not have hoped to escape on her own. Not that she was physically incapable of simply running away, but she was, after all, a cat.

"You won’t believe what Kayana did," said Calvin, breathlessly, as the woman and child looked on, perplexed.

"She was going head to head with a pair of cicada killers," he continued. "Those things are so dangerous!"

Dangerous. Kayana wished now she were back outside playing, frolicking with the creatures. How were they dangerous?

"How are they dangerous?" asked the child.

"They have a very painful sting," Calvin explained. "And if you have an allergy or go into shock when they sting you, you can get very sick, so stay away from them."
The child looked shaken, but kept its poise and nodded.

After that, Kayana could not resist stealing a glance at the cicada killers whenever she had a chance. Generally, Calvin would appear before too long and whisk her away from the area, but not before she leered at the large, placid digging wasp and the smaller, more bellicose flying one. On occasion, she would witness the large one dragging around another flying bug, presumably a cicada; hence the name. She was never stung.

Toward the end of summer, she found herself half-napping on a window ledge in the early evening sun when she heard Calvin call to the rest of the family, his voice both cheerful and astonished.

"I’ve been reading about cicada killers," he said, "and it’s very confusing."

The others asked how this was the case; by this time, Kayana had made her way into the same room, her ears perked and her sleepy eyes clear.

"Well, first of all, the big wasp down in the burrow is the female and the little one who buzzes around your head when you get close is the male. She’s nesting and he’s guarding. Thing is, males can’t sting at all. Only females can."

This sounded about right to Kayana. The male had bluster and bravado, like Wrecks, the loudly barking neighbor dog, but the female had the truly powerful weapon.

"But there seems to be some question as to how strong the cicada killer sting really is," he continued, "When we were kids, they told us it hurt more than any bee, wasp or hornet, that it was the worst thing to get stung by. Some of what I’ve read backs that up. But others claim the sting is just a kind of urban legend, that it feels like a pin prick or sweat bee sting."

The other two agreed this was strange.

"So maybe I’ve been protecting doofus here," he indicated, pointing to Kayana and snickering, "from nothing more than a pin prick."

"Well, how do we find out for sure?" asked the woman.

"I don’t know," Calvin replied, "but I’m not gonna be the one to get stung myself and I don’t recommend any of us do that, you included, Kayana."

Now Kayana had to know. What did the cicada killer sting really feel like? She decided to conduct an experiment to find out for certain, to prove herself to Calvin, whom she knew loved her despite often referring to her as "doofus", "knucklehead", "twitface" and "bonehead cat". It was Calvin, after all, who had taken her away from that place with all the other cats. It was he who fed her and protected her. The woman was kind enough, but only in an obligatory, common decency sort of way and the child ought to have its eyes scratched out for the things it did to her. But Calvin. She would prove herself to Calvin, establish her value by revealing the genuine nature of the cicada killer sting.

This would not be easy. The female, she recalled, was conspicuously non-aggressive. How could she provoke it enough to sting? Following several days of napping, eating, prowling around the stairs and occasionally pondering, she arrived at the obvious answer. Only the neighbor dog Wrecks could be annoying enough to induce the female cicada killer into stinging, and since she did not really wish to feel the sting herself, even if it did prove only a pin prick, she decided it was the perfect solution. Anyway, no one else would be dumb enough for her to hoodwink, aside from the child, who deserved it, but she knew Calvin would never forgive her.

Her plan worked faster and more effectively than even she could have imagined. With the dew-kissed grass of early morning at her feet, Kayana sauntered over to the neighbor’s yard and begin to hiss at Wrecks, who took the bait and lumbered after her. Wrecks didn’t run fast, in part because he couldn’t, but also because he wasn’t really trying to catch and maul her as his barks may have hinted; he merely wanted to play.

Kayana halted at the dirt mound and began to plunge her claws lightly into the cicada killer’s tunnel, just enough to get it moving, she hoped. The male did not seem to be around. Typical. She then flopped on her belly and rolled around, blissfully inviting Wrecks to join her in a friendly wrestling match. He stopped dead on the dirt mound, saw the cicada killer in motion beneath the ground and stuck his nose into the tunnel. The big wasp made a loud buzzing sound and shot upward from what was left of the tunnel. Suddenly airborne, it rocketed straight up and lunged toward the dog’s back. For a moment, all fell silent. Then Wrecks emitted an earsplitting howl of agony and rolled over on his back, in a near apoplectic fit. He clambered to his feet and bounded back to the yard from whence he had come. The cicada killer, now evidently doing her best to be unassuming, went back to work on her burrow and the male appeared suddenly to hassle Kayana. She ignored him.

It was only later she realized her mistake. Well, two of them. First, no one besides Kayana had witnessed the sting and subsequent panic, although perhaps Wrecks’ owner might behold a mighty welt on the dog’s back some time in the near future. Second, and more critical, involved the very nature of Wrecks the dog. He was such a flighty, excitable, easily panicked mutt that even a pin prick might have sent him into hysterics. Unless someone observed evidence of a ferocious sting somewhere on his body, the real power of the cicada killer sting would remain a mystery. For now.

That is, until she could somehow trick the child into getting stung. Oh, life was good when you were a cat unburdened by scruples or ethics, which is to say, when you were, quite simply, a cat at all.


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