"Tim," called Dora, "did you hear about Saul?"
Saul was Dora's twin brother. He had lived there at the Redfield's farm for most of his life, but had left for New York three years ago. According to Dora, he hardly kept in touch with his mother and had no hand in the business. Tim supposed it was all Nora's fault, the meddling old hag.
"No. How's he doing?" Tim tried to sound at the very least polite, but could hear the sarcasm dripping through his words.
"He's coming back to the farm. For good!"
Tim felt an icy flash down his spine as the cicadas sang even louder outside. Saul's return wasn't happy news for him. He wondered if Saul would be any trouble over the inheritance when Nora finally kicked the bucket.
Nora's husband, Paul, had died last year after a long illness, contracted soon after Saul and Dora were born. Nora had controlled the Redfield businesses and fortune ever since. Dora and Saul were very close and, according to Dora, had kept in touch after they had both left the farm, at least until Dora had met Tim. Then Saul stopped calling and never responded to her letters. He hadn't even gone to their wedding, though he had been invited. Tim thought that was a bit strange. After all, he and Saul had never met or spoken to each other. This didn't bother Dora though. "It's his loss," she would say whenever he brought up the subject, and with those words she would close it. Nora, to her credit, mentioned more than once that she thought Saul's behavior was "in bad form."
Saul had married, but had no children. Rumor around town was he was impotent, and that probably had much to do with his subsequent divorce. Now he was coming back.
As far as Tim was concerned, Saul could have any money Nora left, but Tim wanted this house and all its attached farmland. It was the source of the Redfield fortune and the heart of their agribusiness.
Every year the crops came in, regardless of weather conditions. There was always plenty to feed the cows, pigs, chickens and horses, and to ship out to store chains around the country. The cows, raised in one of the many farms owned by the family here at Crater Lake, supplied the famous Redfield brand of dairy products and fine steaks. Then there were the pork and poultry products, and the racehorses, all in separate farms. My God the Redfields owned lots of land, practically all of Crater Lake in fact. That's what Tim wanted.
Yes, Saul could take the money. It was obvious he didn't have what it took to run an operation like this, to take control of the business away from Nora and impose his will onto it. Tim would take the business and make it his own. He would make it even more lucrative than it was now. Maybe he did grow up a city boy, but he was a quick learner. He had a vision and a plan. He intended to make both real, and when he was through, to hand the empire he would build over to his children.
He glanced at Dora's swollen belly. Strange, how twins ran in the Redfield family. Dora was having twins, a boy and a girl, as had her mother and grandmother and the generations before them. Then there was that weird Redfield family tradition of naming the children Nora or Dora, Saul or Paul. What was with that, anyway?
He smiled coldly again. His children wouldn't be Redfields. They would be Trents. And none of that Nora-Dora-Paul-Saul bullshit either. He'd leave his boy and girl a fortune when they grew up. They wouldn't have to wear worn-out hand-me-downs on their backs like he did when he was growing up, or endure the disappointment that comes from looking into their father's wounded gaze as he tells them that he can't afford the toy or the shoes or the trip they want, something he had endured many times with his own father...
Tim blinked back the tears, keeping them from running from his eyes. He needed some air. He walked out the back door and stared at the
fields. God, they seemed to go on for miles. The crops were sparse this year, and the dry weather wasn't helping.
Not to mention those noisy bugs. Tim hated insects, had hated them ever since he was a boy being shuttled from one roach-infested
apartment to another. Bastard bugs would sometimes crawl into his food while he was still eating. The worst time was when he was nine, and his family was between apartments, living on the streets in an old Chevy station wagon. One hot summer day (much like today), with the windows open and flies buzzing all around, Tim had opened the last box of breakfast cereal, poured it into his plastic bowl, and noticed small white things among the squares of shredded wheat. When they had moved he had begun to cry. His mother had made him eat it, insisting that they not waste any food. Remembering it made Tim swallow back heaves, just as he had while pouring the almost-spoiled milk and watching the maggots swirl around, not quite as white as the surrounding liquid. It was the worst meal of his life
Tim shook off the memory and focused back on the dried field before him. He could turn things around, given the chance. He had studied
agribusiness, ever since meeting Dora two years ago in Chicago. Back then, he had looked at her as his meal ticket, his elevation out of being a poor struggling college student to being one of the wealthy and powerful. He had figured that he could fake his love long enough to make his name, with the help of her money. Nine months ago, he had had enough. They had argued all the time, with Dora always acquiescing with an annoying, "OK, you're right, I don't want to talk about it anymore." Always said with a bite, a barely detectable snarl of anger. He had been about to ask for a divorce when she announced she was pregnant with twins.
After much stunned silence and many mixed drinks, Tim had decided that he couldn't leave her. Maybe he couldn't love her, but he could love his children. He could be the father to them that he never had. He would work hard to give them all the chances and luxuries he had never had. They would never be wanting.
He had also tried to improve his relationship with Dora. Divorce was no longer an option. His first step in this was to just listen to what she would say without arguing. To his surprise, he found her to be very intelligent and perceptive. She knew much about her family's business, and even helped him with several of his plans for the farm. He had realized before long that he had been hearing but not really listening to her all this time, because she had been just his meal ticket. He really had known nothing about her.
As his knowledge of her as a human being and not a means to an end had grown, so had his love for her. She'd delighted in their newfound intimacy by injecting some edgy fun into it. Even now, nine months pregnant and ready to burst, she would flash him a breast in public when she thought no one else was looking. Once, before she had begun to show, they had went to a crowded restaurant and, taking his hand under the table, she had let him know without saying a word that she had ditched her underwear. They had made out so passionately there, his fingers stroking and teasing her beneath her short skirt, that they left without ordering, went to a public playlot around the corner and made love by the swings. Even today Tim was amazed no one had seen them there. That evening he had discovered, happily, the difference between having sex and making love.
Tim turned to see Nora standing behind him, looking out at the farmland. She had a small smile on her face, as if she knew a secret.
"You can turn this around," Tim said. "Proper irrigation and nourishment should do it. I know some new brands of fertilizers that'll help. Maybe some gene splicing on some --"
"No. Nature has its own ways. We're not gods to be subverting the natural order of things."
"All the big agricultural firms do it without any problems, and they make millions of dollars. It's more efficient."
"We've made millions of dollars without messing with genetics and chemicals. What does that tell you?"
"That you've been lucky." Tim swigged the last of his beer. "And from the look of those fields out there, I think your luck's run out."
"My family has been here ever since the lake and eventually this town was formed almost two centuries ago by a rock dropped by God," Nora answered, still staring at the fields of corn and wheat. "We've always followed a few simple rules, handed down generation to generation. You work with nature, nature works for you. You feed the land, the land feeds you. You cooperate with the natural order, Tim, not try to dominate it."
Yeah, whatever, he thought, and went inside, vast conglomerate dreams in his head.
Tim's dreams that evening were less affirming.
He stood in the fields of the Redfield's farm, stalks of swaying wheat and corn as tall as he was stretching out as far as the horizon. Golden buds and blades of long green leaves whished and crackled in the wind. He took it all in, smiled at the thought that this was all his, every single acre. Then he heard it. Not quite chirping, not quite whining, and yet it was both. All around him, within the crops, the sound grew into an earsplitting spiraling siren. He tried to block it out with his hands, but it made no difference. Suddenly the crops
exploded around him into a rush of whirring translucent wings, tiny black things buffeting him, blotting out everything….
Tim woke with a start. For a moment he thought he was still dreaming because he could still hear the sound. He jumped out of bed and stood in the dark, listening, his eyes straining to see the room.
"Tim?" Dora's sleepy voice mumbled from the bed. "What's wrong, honey?"
He sighed. He wasn't still dreaming. Those damned noisy cicadas in the tree outside the bedroom window. He opened the window and yelled out into the night, "SHUT THE HELL UP!!! GODDAMNED BUGS!!!"
Quiet. Tim started to close the window when the churning whine wound up again. He leaned out again. "DAMNIT! SHUT UP!!!"
Tim turned. "WHAT?"
"I think my water just broke."
The twins were born ten hours later. A boy and a girl, as was Redfield tradition. As Tim watched the two of them nestled in their mother's arms, he thought about how little they looked like him. They had some of his characteristics, sure. The shape of his head. A little of his nose. But mostly they looked like Dora. He felt a vague disappointment, but then realized that they would grow into his looks. Then they would be very distinctively Trents. He smiled at this prospect.
"Why don't you go home?" Nora said to him, sitting next to her daughter's hospital bed as the children suckled. "You must be exhausted. I'll stay with them for now."
"That's all right," he answered. Something in his gut didn't trust leaving his kids alone with her. Besides that, he didn't want her convincing Dora to name the children after her and her husband.
A few hours later, Tim started to doze. A nurse nudged him awake. They were about to take the children to the nursery.
Dora said, "Please, Tim. Get some rest. You hardly slept before this. I'll be fine. And when you wake you can pick us up and take us home."
Tim thought about it, and then smiled. His children will be home tomorrow. "OK. I'll see you soon." He bent and kissed his children, then Dora.
The late afternoon sun hung over the horizon as he drove back to the old Redfield house. As he got closer, his energy drained from him. He was going to sleep very soundly when he got to bed. The thought kept him going until he had arrived at the house and trudged up to the bedroom. Without removing his clothes or shoes, Tim dropped onto the mattress and closed his eyes. As he drifted close to sleep, the chittering whirring of thousands of cicadas rose in volume to knock him back to consciousness. He clenched his eyelids as if that would blot out the insanely sibilant song. He put Dora's pillow over his head, hugged it over his ears, but still the sound wound its way into his head.
"Damn it!" Tim flung the pillow away from him and jumped out of bed. He went to his dresser and pulled out a handkerchief, then headed down to the kitchen. In the pantry, by the back, he found the can of bug spray he had brought with them from their house in the city. He was starting to miss the sounds of constant traffic and blaring radios all day and night. At least he could sleep through them. But this was too much.
He tried to spray them from the bedroom window, his mouth and nose covered with the handkerchief. It was a bad idea. The spray drifted away in the light breeze while some misted into his face. Tim closed his eyes at the first sting. He waved the fumes away and looked at the tree again. The chirping never abated. "Goddamnit goddamnit goddamnit!" he hissed, his rage throbbing in his forehead. He would have to attack them more directly.
He walked out to the tree beside the house closest to the bedroom window. It was a big oak tree, older than dirt and full of leafy branches that stretched out over the roof of the two-story house. It would be one hell of a climb, but that didn't matter. He was about to take care of the problem once and for all.
He stuffed the bug spray as far into his pocket as he could, stuffed the handkerchief into the other, and began climbing the tree. The noise never stopped, which just fueled his fury. He pulled himself up faster, muttering, "Death's coming, you little bastards."
He was halfway up the tree, the leaves thick and dense around him, when the chirping stopped. He did too, and looked around.
Tim had seen cicadas before, in the city. To him, they looked like large houseflies, though he never thought they were as disgusting as houseflies. There was something oddly fascinating about them. Their coloring, their translucent wings, their song. He had never feared them before. Not until now. Now, in the densest part of the tree, the singers of his fear surrounded him. Hundreds of them.
They didn't look like cicadas.
The wings were the same, like a fly's wings, except longer and larger. Their bodies, however, were more angular and pointed, and no smaller than four inches long. They had three sets of eyes. Unusually green eyes.
Tim stared at the now silent insect choir. They were all around, above and below him, sitting still in the leaves and branches, staring back at him.
Then the insects shrieked.
They took flight and swarmed around him, tiny pincers scratching his skin. He swung at them and fell out of the tree, branches whipping him on the way down. The impact rattled and shattered some bones.
The last thing Tim saw was the swarm coming down, being joined by larger ones from the other surrounding trees. He closed his eyes and screamed as he felt thousands of tiny translucent wings fluttering into his mouth....
His stomach and groin hurt when Tim came to. It was dark, wherever he was. The cicadas' song still rang in his ears, but in the background he could also hear something else. A wet sound. He tried to move, but his arms and legs were stretched out and stuck in something very solid. Even his fingers were stuck in place. He felt like he was spinning, then he passed out again....
A light danced in front of his eyes when they opened again. It came closer, and Tim saw a hand clenched over it. A lantern.
"She seems very pleased with you," Nora said, stepping close to him. "Maybe it's the different flavor. Whatever it is, she likes it."
Tim stared at her, uncomprehending. Then the thought occurred to him. His gaze darted down to his stomach.
A large cicada, or whatever these things were, rested there, its body stretching down to his crotch. It had to be a couple of feet long at least. Its lower body was knobby with large warts that its wings could barely cover. Its six eyes stared up at him, and Tim noticed the thing's mouth stuck into his belly.
"She's going to want you alive for a long time," Nora continued. "She won't devour you like she did my brother Paul. His seed was weak, though it kept this farm going for many years. Saul, unfortunately, was born defective. That's why we had to break from family tradition. Your seed is alive and strong."
He tried to speak but his throat felt like something had torn it from inside. Brother? he thought frantically. Her brother Paul?
"Shh. Save your strength. You know, I've always known you didn't like me. But I like you, Tim. You knew there was something wrong with the crops, and you really wanted to help. When I saw your face as your children were born, I began to love you as a son. You love your children, and now you're giving them a great gift. Their future is now secure."
Tim looked at her, wondering if she was crazy, or was he going crazy. He tried to move his arm again, glanced at it in the dim light. It was embedded in what seemed to be smooth slick amber.
"Don't fret about that," Nora said. "It's for your own good. This can be painful sometimes."
As if on cue, his crotch felt like it was burning. He looked at the thing on his belly, and it dawned on him. He began convulsing, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
The thing wasn't on his crotch. He was inside it.
Nora stroked his hair. "Shh. Calm down now. It's good. She'll give birth to many young, and they'll keep the crops strong. Just bear with it a few weeks and it'll be over. Then you can come back to us, to your beautiful children. You'll be bringing life into this land. It's nature's way."
As the room began to spin again, Tim heard Nora say, "It's almost time for them to feed you. Let them into your mouth. You are special to them, and the old consider it a privilege to sacrifice themselves for your health. Don't fight it, or they'll find other ways into your stomach."
The darkness enveloped him as she said, "I love you, son. I'll be back soon."
Sometime later (maybe weeks, maybe months; he couldn't tell), Tim dimly recalled seeing Dora's brother Saul come into the hive with Dora. Saul was yelling angrily, and his mate, the Queen, trembled and shrieked, and her subjects, her children, his children attacked Saul and covered him until they completely consumed him. Then the Queen, his Queen became warm again, as more of their children emerged from the warts on her lower body.
Another eternity later, Tim opened his eyes and found himself on his own bed, in the Redfield house, staring at the ceiling. He didn't move the entire day. He watched as the shadows moved across the ceiling and dissolve with the day into night. He sensed Nora and Dora entering and talking to him, but he didn't really hear them. As it became dark, he felt Dora slide into bed next to him. He felt her hand stroking his groin, then her nude body mounting him as her mouth covered his. He still only saw the ceiling, even as he involuntarily thrust his
hips forward and shot his seed into her.
Early the next morning, while Dora slept and the sun crept over the horizon, Tim went downstairs to the back porch. He sat on the steps and watched the wind blow over the fields. The cicadas sang in the trees until the sun had freed itself from the horizon, then they flew into the fields, to do whatever magic they did to keep the crops flourishing. As he watched them, he felt an odd sense of pride.
Sometime later, Dora and Nora came carrying the twins. They handed each of them to him and Nora said, "It's tradition for the father to name his children."
Tim looked at each of the squirming infants, their half-lidded eyes trying to focus on him. His children. He looked at Nora, smiled, and said, "The girl will be named Nora, after her lovely grandmother."
Nora beamed at him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He looked at the boy and said, "He will be named Jim."
With a burst of song, the cicadas flew from the fields and over their heads. As Dora hugged him, Tim watched as all his little Noras and Jims returned to their Mother.
© 2006 by Don Traverso
Bio: Don Traverso says: "I'm a Chicago-born writer who moved to small town by a lake in Wisconsin two years ago. Ironically, I wrote "Nature's Way" before I even knew I was moving! No kidding! I've been published, long ago, in Twilight Zone Magazine, Midnight Zoo and Aberrations, all defunct unfortunately. I'm currently writing a novel about magic, subliminal images and street gangs, and on a horror story about Father Christmas that doesn't involve psychotics with hatchets."
E-mail: Don Traverso
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