“Let it go! Let it go!” Shayla screamed shrilly, pounding Derek’s back with tiny fists.
“No! It’s just a bug and I can do what I want with it.”
An impromptu game of hide-and-seek with his little sister had quickly ended when Derek spotted and snatched an unknown bug from its perch on the trunk of a gnarled hawthorn tree, behind a large azalea bush. They often played in this forgotten corner of their mother’s garden where the property line abutted a dark patch of woodlands, overgrown and offering plenty of places to hide. Butterflies and moths, ladybugs and beetles, grasshoppers and garden spiders were quite common in the garden, but this bug was different.
The insect was long, nearly spanning his palm. Its long, slender wings transfixed the boy – frames of a hundred tiny windows reflecting rainbows like oily water. He hardly noticed the indigo body caught in his grasp, bent and bleeding green goo, or the miniscule limbs poking between his own fingers. A humming in the hawthorn tree behind him signaled that the bugshad noticed him. What could it be with those wings, longer than dragonflies, too brilliant for butterflies? A cicada, Derek decided, matter-of-factly. The teacher had told his class about cicadas. They were loud and only came out every seven years; that explained why he’d never seen one before.
With a quick twist, Derek plucked the wings, holding them to the light like little kaleidoscopes. A small cry, barely louder than a cricket’s chirp, erupted from the bug. Its blueberry head slumped onto Derek’s finger, draped in antennae like tiny wilted fern leaves. The droning of insects grew louder and faint snapping sounds could be heard from the tree.
“You hurt it! You’re so mean! I’m telling Mom!” Shayla ran off toward the big house up the hill.
Derek marveled at the wings a bit longer before tucking them gently away in his shirt pocket. He knelt before a chipped garden gnome, its paint faded by the sun. Tipping the gnome backward, he slid the bug underneath and let the statue fall back into place. He absently wiped his hands on his jeans as he trotted up the hill. He couldn’t wait to see the wings under his microscope. Lost in thought, he didn’t notice the buzzing had followed him from the hawthorn tree. Not until the indigo sprites were upon him – wings glistening in the sun, tiny hands clutching thorn lances – did Derek look up, and then it was too late.
Gary S. Watkins is a middle school teacher living in the Arizona desert. He has been published by Nevermet Press, 5×5 Fiction, and Trapeze Magazine. The long, searing summers of Phoenix will almost certainly inspire additional fictions, and not all of them fever dreams.
Illustration by: Delilah Buckle