𝘣𝘺 𝘡𝘷𝘪 𝘈. 𝘚𝘦𝘴𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨
I first noticed the crickets the night I came home from dinner with Solana. Crickets were usually green or black, not red. I saw ten of them on the outside wall of the apartment complex and thought to take one as a sample to the local health department, but as I put my thumb and forefinger on its hard little body, it bit me.
Can’t be a cricket, I thought, dropping it and rubbing my finger hard against my arm. Entering the apartment building I wondered where John, the doorman who doubled as security guard, was. I figured he was making his rounds.
There are only ten units in this seaside building, five on the first floor and five on the second level. It was lucky that an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Boskins, live above me. They go to sleep early and hardly make a sound when they are awake. Once Mr. Boskins dropped a frying pan in the middle of a weekend day and was profusely apologetic. Later, while writing a letter to the health department about these red crickets there was another clanging crash. I thought about how old people have trouble holding onto things. If the Boskins did not think anyone was home under them another apology would probably not be forthcoming. It really did not matter.
My girlfriend Solana, who had gone home to change into jeans and a hoodie, was coming over for dinner. Last night, we ate in one of the fancier places downtown, so tonight I was baking a meatloaf from ground hamburger which I mixed with chopped onion, garlic powder, paprika and Worcestershire sauce. I had layers of meat, mashed potatoes and spaghetti sauce poured over it all. Not too much, of course. I preferred Newman’s Tomato & Basil for added flavor or Newman’s Marinara for a more subtle taste. I put it all in a small, rectangular pyrex dish and baked it at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Solana never cared what I made but always appreciated my cooking. She once said I would make a good cook if I concentrated on it.
Solana knocked on the door and I let her in. She asked, “Where’s the doorman?”
“Probably playing security guard and wandering around the place,” I answered, annoyed that unwanted strangers might enter the building unobserved.
I started thinking about old Mr. Boskins upstairs and maybe the thud from upstairs was some thief knocking him down.
“I wanna check on Mr. Boskins. Wanna come, he likes you.”
We headed for the stairs and saw a few more red crickets as we ascended to the floor above.
“Weird little things, one of them bit me earlier.”
Solana said, “I’ve never seen one of these before. Didn’t know crickets bite.”
“They don’t unless you’re a blade of grass.”
“What’s that noise and awful smell, like a stink bug?” she asked.
“You stepped on one, maybe that’s it.”
When the door opened at the landing to the second floor, we screamed with surprise and fear, not expecting what we saw. There on the hallway floor were two skeletons covered with red crickets eating what was left of the flesh. One was John the doorman with his hat beside him and the other were remnants of Mrs. Boskin’s dress. The hall was so full of crickets it made the hallway appear to be moving. A horrible sight.
I pulled Solana back and slammed the door shut, then we scrambled down the stairs like an insane couple. My car keys were in my pocket so we clambered in. As I backed out, we ran over a number of the insects to the same screaming sound and smell. We almost gagged.
As we drove to the police station, we saw more and more crickets. They were all over the building and skeletons were lying everywhere.
“We’re doomed!” Solana cried. I hit the gas and the car lurched forward. On Main Street, as I ran over hundreds of crickets and Solana became hysterical, we made for the highway and went north. I was scared, but for Solana’s sake and mine I kept my composure. Inside, I shook like jello.
After explaining my plan to Solana through her tears, she said to head for the marina in Bay City. Though panicked, she could still think ahead. It was a good thought because we might be able to commandeer a boat.
Though Bay City was fifteen miles north of our location, it seemed like a hundred miles, but with a full gas tank and the car at eighty miles per hour, we would be there in under fifteen minutes.
The further north we went, the fewer red crickets we saw, and Solana began to calm down.
“What if they are on the boats?” she asked.
“It looks like they are slowly moving south to north,” I said calmly to reassure her.
“I hope that means we’ll be safe?” She shivered a bit and said, “I don’t want to be eaten alive.”
“You won’t be.” I pulled a Beretta out of my jacket pocket. “I’ll use this on us if there’s no choice.”
We were as quiet as two strangers for the rest of the trip to the marina at Bay City.
The crickets had not arrived there so we made our way to a small cabin cruiser, but then spotted a larger one and found the ignition to start it. Solana checked the state rooms, deck, and engine room. No crickets, no people. I started the motor, told her to cast off, went to the fueling pumps and filled up. The boat had a radio, radar, guidance system, food and drinks in the refrigerator. After fueling we set off toward open water.
“Where are we going?”
“Well, the boat’s large enough to make it to Moon Island, and Moon Island is far enough away that crickets may not be there yet. Perhaps they’ll not even show up.”
“Oh, God, I hope so. What’s on that island?”
“Nothing living except trees and plants, berries and the like. Used to go there with friends and we’d camp out for weeks. No reason we can’t.”
Solana seemed mollified by that and slumped into a deck chair with a pillow from another chair pressed up to her stomach and chest. The moon had risen to full height like a giant light bulb and shone on her hair and her face revealing a still worried look, or perhaps she was praying silently. I turned my attention to piloting the boat in the dark without running lights or spotlights. I wanted no illumination of any kind in order to avoid attention from any creature or human. It would be several hours before we reached our destination and I wanted to ensure we arrived safely.
Solana’s head was slumped forward so I knew that the fright and excitement had caused her to fall asleep. Solana slept maybe twenty minutes and when she woke up, she looked around and asked how we were doing.
It would be another hour or so to reach Moon Island, but for now we were fine.
“Why don’t you rustle up some food for us?”
“I can’t eat on the boat, I’ll get sick,” she said.
Laughing to myself I told her to skip it since neither of us was really hungry anyway. However, my mind could taste a turkey sandwich and cold beer.
We were lucky the moon was full and there was a high tide and calm sea with periodic swells for a rocking effect which made it easy to pilot. We were going at slow speed to conserve fuel and not have engine trouble on an unfamiliar boat that was not checked out when we left the Bay City marina. If the boat broke down out here, we’d be at the mercy of the tides and currents. There were no other boats that I could hear or see—no light on the water, actually a good sign. There were no crickets either, as far I could tell, and that was really good news. I did not need Solana to panic, and I certainly did not want to have to use the Beretta on us.
We only had on what we were wearing. For Solana, it was jeans and a long sleeve sweatshirt and for me, pants and a long sleeve sweatshirt. We both had sneakers and socks, and I had a wrist watch. Solana scrounged around and found a couple of jackets, both big enough to fit bears. The people they belonged to must have been big—probably a hundred pounds more than me and the woman probably twenty or thirty pounds heavier than Solana. We wore them anyway to keep warm and Solana found a couple of adjustable baseball caps.
Solana said there was more clothing that we would be able to make use of, and I told her we would live on the boat after we tied up to the shore and put the ropes around a tree or rock. She nodded in agreement and the rocking of the boat on the swells put her to sleep again as I watched her head loll and drop. This time she slept the final hour to Moon Island and woke up to the slowing of the boat when we were only minutes away.
We circled Moon Island and did not see other boats or people, and most importantly, no crickets!
On the boat’s radio, we heard that they were not really crickets, but rather alien creatures that somehow got into the rover we had sent to the planet Proxima Centauri b, orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri. After getting into the rover, it reentered the rocket ship which returned to Earth. They escaped and thrived in our generous oxygen atmosphere and ecosystem with an abundance of food, animals, and people. It was also conducive to their reproduction, and multiply they did! Now the military and scientists were working on finding a way to eradicate them before they did us.
The newscaster said, “Already the cream of the military and scientific communities have been somewhat successful with the alien creatures. In the Mojave Desert and the Rocky Mountains, a combination of pesticide and nerve gas has killed thousands of them, but that same cocktail will put us all to sleep—permanently.”
The next few days, Solana and I scouted the island. We combed the woods, hills, and beaches. No people. No animals. No alien creatures. We found edible berries and mushrooms, but no animals. No deer, rabbits, or even snakes. Nothing.
However, Solana said some other roots and flowers were edible and, of course, we could do some fishing, though we really did not want to start any fires, even in a pit.
Moon Island was considered useless, so people generally stayed away. We were happy here as we learned to live with what was available. There was a little stream that provided drinking water and allowed us to clean our food and wash ourselves and our clothes.
It was nearly a year before we could return to the mainland, but after a long talk we decided to stay on Moon Island.
The Beretta always stayed within reach. ✦