The Eighth Plague by Hannah Rose Neuhauser
The locusts came without a queen, yet all of them go out in ranks. They came with the noise of the sun burning. We braced ourselves, hand over squinted eyes, coiling and recoiling our muscles as the locusts dripped in gold, crowned and prepared for battle.
Josh and I were careful—we only moved our bodies in innocent ways while everyone else moved to kill. How could they be so flippant with their hands, I wondered. We weren’t even sure if we were going to stay—what right have we to inflict, to deoxygenate. We just wanted to feel a pulse, so we reveled in the green sound.
We knelt beneath a tree, knobs dug into the mulch. The live ones played like accordions, stretching, shrieking. Their stomachs, tiny amphitheaters, echoed. The ground covered with exoskeletons. We were tired of our own skin, we tried the brittle shells on, and with pinkies armored, our hands buzzed together. We turned film canisters into coffins and shut them into our suitcases. At night, ice cream dripped down our fingers, absolving our grass painted kneecaps from nothing. We pressed frozen tongues against the roofs of our own mouths, trying to thaw thoughts. We found solace in the space between stars.
The locusts came out of the smoke, powerless. They looked like horses beaten in battle, faces like the faces of condemned women. His mother was raw and sunless—eyes beaded red. I pulled the sleeves of my dress, feeling my throat swarm. I know he hated velvet, but it was the only thing black that I have, I silently pleaded for forgiveness. “He loved you,” she said. Later, I emptied the coffins and crushed locusts one by one between my fingers. He lay still in a powder blue suit.
A scorpion of the earth said Josh died for his parents’ sins. I wondered who hardened that priest’s heart, remembering the plague of that summer and how much we loved, how we endured, passed over our chances at cruelty. I no longer move my body in innocent ways—I am reckless with oxygen. They say it is going to be a summer of the locusts. I have many black dresses for when darkness settles.
Hannah Rose Neuhauser lives and writes in Ann Arbor, MI, where she is a Program Assistant at 826michigan. She spends most of her time with words, young authors, and robots.