How living creatures never fail to defy the expectations of science and logic!
Take, for example, the extraordinary case of the Magicicada tropicae: a periodical cicada that spends years buried deep in the sand. Only after it’s been in such a stasis for seventeen years does it burrow back to the surface to sing its mating call and repopulate… All so another generation can spend another seventeen years underground.
It all began with that song.
To the untrained ear, it simply sounded like another ordinary spring on the island, various cacophony sounding from the jungle. But the Professor knew the chatter of the cicada when he heard it.
His excitement was immeasurable; the tropical cicada was exceedingly rare, only found on a handful of South Pacific islands. When he’d heard the distinct call of the cicada, he knew that their very own island was one of the few that hosted the rare tropical cicada.
As the spring wore on, however, the Professor’s excitement waned. Although the song of the cicada was too loud to drown out on some evenings, Professor found himself entirely unable to locate a single specimen near the camp.
The cicadas, he theorized, were likely to populate the thickest parts of the jungle, on the southern side of the island.
Of course, that was a daywalk away, and while there wasn’t much danger on the island, the castaways were largely resigned to travelling in pairs when making long journeys. To say nothing of the fact that the emergence of the tropical cicada was an entomological event to be beheld.
Based on their individual personality traits and numerous past experiences, the Professor should have known that announcing his plans to observe the cicadas would not be met with the reception it deserved.
Still, when he first realized that the only way to observe the creatures would be to venture onto the other side of the island, he wanted to share the experience with the others.
He found Gilligan lounging in his hammock, jamming along to the radio. He was hardly a scientific prodigy, but Gilligan did harbor a greater enthusiasm for the fauna on the island than any of the other castaways, so the Professor was certain he would jump at the chance to witness the mating event.
To the Professor’s dismay, however, Gilligan had less extraordinary entomological plans.
“Sorry, Professor.” Gilligan shook his head and turned down the radio. “Mary Ann and I are going butterfly hunting tomorrow.”
“Butterfly hunting?” the Professor repeated, dismayed.
“Sure. It’s the last day of spring, and we want to make sure we’ve found all the prettiest ones before they’re gone.”
“Precisely! Spring is coming to an end!”
“Yeah, and when spring ends, there won’t be any more butterflies, so Mary Ann and I will have to catch caterpillars and wait for ‘em to turn into butterflies, see?”
“Gilligan, we’ve heard the cicadas all spring, but we haven’t seen a single one! Don’t you realize that once they go underground again, we won’t have a chance to observe a Magicicada tropicae until the next brood arises, seventeen years from now?”
“Yes, but you didn’t even tell me what makes the cicadas magical.”
Professor was scolding himself internally for ever believing that Gilligan could appreciate the specimens for the wonders of science and wildlife that they were when the Skipper waltzed in.
“Skipper!” the Professor exclaimed. Surely, the Skipper would want to witness such an important event? He had been around the world, after all, and there were few things he had never seen. The Magicicada tropicae had to be among them. “I won’t bore you with the scientific details again, but remember last week when I mentioned the exceedingly rare subspecies of cicada on the island?”
“The magic ones?” Skipper asked with a shake of his head.
“The Magicicada tropicae,” Professor corrected. “Well, they only come up from the underground to mate once every seventeen years, and I was hoping you would want to accompany me to the south side of the island to observe such an event.”
“Well, Professor, that’s a mighty long walk,” Skipper cautioned.
“I know. I was hoping we could lead a small expedition through the jungle.”
“Hang on there, Professor, I’ve got to stay here at camp and take care of the gang. Or are you suggesting that all seven up of us pack up and traipse through the jungle?”
“Ohh, no!” Gilligan cut in. “I told you, Mary Ann and I have butterflies to catch. Right here on this side of the island!”
“But, Skipper this is a stunning and unique event that takes almost two decades to—”
“Professor, I don’t care if the Fourth of July fireworks finale is happening on the other side of the island, I am needed here.”
“Oh, very well,” Professor said with a sigh. “Perhaps I can convince the Howells and Ginger to come along.”
Of all the possible responses to an invitation to watch one of the greatest entomological events on the planet, the Professor was certainly not expecting laughter. But that’s precisely what the Howells did.
“Dear Professor,” Mr. Howell had chortled out, “you must understand that a Howell couldn’t possibly be seen travelling miles on foot to attend the social season of a bunch of bugs.”
“But, Mr. Howell, the Magicicada tropicae spends seventeen years—”
“Really,” Mrs. Howell had interjected with a wave of her hand. “Even if the cicadas are magical, you simply must know by now that Thurston despises anything he doesn’t have to pay for.”
Preposterous! Standing outside the Howell hut, reeling, the Professor told himself not to be angry with his friends. Perhaps they simply did not understand the magnitude of the event, or perhaps it was simply a matter of their interests lying elsewhere. Still, he had to face the fact that he would most likely have to cross the island on his own. He’d done it before, and it usually wasn’t very dangerous, but it would have been nice to have someone along for the experience, to share the Magicicada tropicae with someone.
He stole a glance toward the women’s hut. He knew that Mary Ann had a butterfly engagement, and Ginger…
Well, he decided after some thought, he didn’t want his intentions to be misconstrued.
And yet, in a remarkable defiance of logic and reason, his legs were moving toward her hut.
“Ginger,” he was saying before he could talk himself out of it. He reasoned that she, too, would be less than taken with the idea of hiking through miles of jungle just to observe some insects. The more people he talked to, the more he was beginning to believe the whole thing was a silly sentiment.
“Professor,” she regarded him softly, with that suggestive smile. “What powerful force of fate brings you by?”
“A rare species of tropical cicada,” he answered truthfully.
“…Oh.” Ginger sounded disappointed, but the Professor hoped anyway that she would find some interest in the rarest species of cicada in the world.
“Yes. The Magicicada tropicae.”
“There are magical cicadas on the island?”
Professor suppressed the urge to sigh. “No, Ginger, the Magicicada tropicae is the scientific name of a rare subspecies of cicada. They’re a periodical species that spends seventeen years buried deep in the sand. Their emergence is a tremendous rarity, and I’m trying to find someone who will share the experience with me.”
“Well, I don’t really understand why you’d want to march all the way through the jungle just to look at a few bugs, Professor.”
His heart sank. “Of course, I understand now that not everyone on the island shares my enthusiasm for the wonders of zoology and entomology. I, uh, I’ll be taking off tomorrow morning, then.”
“All by yourself?”
“Well,” the Professor said with a shrug, feigning disinterest. “It’s a mere daytrip, and it’s not like the island is really dangerous.”
“But nobody at all is coming with you?”
“I’ve made the journey alone before.”
“But going alone just seems so… lonely.”
The Professor chucked. What Ginger had said was true, but the sentiment probably could have been phrased in a more intellectual or eloquent way. “Maybe so, but be that as it may, it seems everyone else is either entirely disinterested or otherwise engaged. If I want to be witness to this scientific event, it’s got to be a one-man expedition.” He wasn’t trying to sound dejected, but the Professor couldn’t keep the disappointment from seeping into his words, even if against his will.
It was clear that Ginger noticed, and her face twisted from sympathy to resolve, then she shrugged. “Well, Professor, I can’t say the idea of tracked down a swarm of bugs is my idea of an exciting Friday night, but…”
“It’s alright, Ginger, you really don’t have to—”
“No, really, Professor, I don’t mind. It’s not like I’m going to miss the Howell cotillion. Why not?”
Professor hesitated. He was overcome with a new emotion—a mix of excitement and anxiety, like the moments before a rescue attempt, when everything could fall into place or completely apart…
“Well… Alright then,” he finally stuttered. “We’ll meet in the morning and set out as soon as possible. We should aim to reach the other side of the island by dusk tomorrow.”
Professor was waiting at the dining table in the clearing hours before he could have possibly expected Ginger to be awake. It was still dark, but the sun was beginning to tint the ocean horizon a slight orange.
He hadn’t been able to sleep, anyway, flitting in and out of strange dreams he could no longer remember. The excitement kept him awake and, when it was no longer tolerable, he packed the last of his provisions into his backpack and made his way to where he and Ginger were to meet.
It was scientific excitement, of course. At least, he assumed he was excited by the Magicicada tropicae. Usually when he was on the brink of some great scientific experience or even a new discovery, his brain couldn’t stop imagining the future in vivid detail, but, lying awake in his hut, he was overcome by a more general sense of excitement and anxiousness.
The feeling was still rattling at his bones when Ginger emerged, not at all clad for hiking across the island, and Professor told her as much, she simply shrugged and claimed she’d made the journey in heels before, so a dress wouldn’t be a problem.
Professor didn’t argue; they had had similar conversations before, and he had never persuaded her that perhaps an evening gown was not the most suitable attire for island life.
“What’s in the backpack?”
Professor tore his gaze from Ginger’s dress to the backpack slung around one shoulder. “Oh, food and freshwater, and a few glass jars, if I’m lucky enough to capture a few specimens.”
“I like it. It’s rugged.”
“Rugged?” Professor didn’t think of the backpack as a fashion accessory; it was a necessity, a valued piece of gear, but he said, “Oh, right, uh, thank you,” anyway.
A small part of him did enjoy the prospect of being seen as a handsome, rugged outdoorsman.
How Ginger Grant could walk so fast in heels and an such an elegant dress was beyond the Professor. Another biological mystery, he mused, another blatant defiance of logic and science.
But the fact was that the pair was making excellent time. By now, the sun was high in the cloudless sky, and they were over halfway across the island. Professor was itching to know whether the cicadas would be out come nightfall, whether he could capture one, and the closer they got, the more he worried that they would be unexposed, or that they would have returned to the sand and the dirt underfoot…
Having someone along helped the Professor keep his mind off of that particular possibility. They had started the day with smalltalk (both were doing fine, in good health and spirits). Then they recounted the major events of the week (the impossibly massive fish Gilligan had caught for dinner, the story the Skipper had told of his time on a submarine, and whether the party the Howells kept discussing throwing was going to really happen).
Despite his uncertainty, the Professor was now talking about the cicadas again. “Up to 98% of periodical cicadas can die in the first two to four years of their nymph stage. Imagine if all those cicadas made it to adulthood… Almost fifty times more cicadas! Ah, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Another reason our tropical friends are so rare!” Ginger didn’t comment much when he talked about them, but she did listen. They trekked side-by-side, and she watched him as he spoke, and she nodded along, though he wasn’t sure she understood the what he was saying. If she did, why wouldn’t she ask more about the cicada’s fascinating life cycle? They had a long way to go, so he kept talking anyway, hoping that something he said would give her an appreciation for the remarkable specimen they would (hopefully) be subject to. “Now, periodical cicadas typically survive their juvenile stages by taking nutrients from deciduous trees, but being as there are no deciduous trees on a tropical island such as this one, their survival is a mystery of nature and science. Seventeen years, they survive like this, and only then do they emerge to mate.”
Professor realized he had no more riveting cicada facts, and that he had done all he could to sell his companion on the Magicicada tropicae. He laid the topic to rest, though at that moment Ginger quipped, “You think that’s impressive, huh? Well, I don’t know about you, Professor, but I know plenty of people waited more than seventeen years to mate.”
The comment caught Professor by surprise, and he let out a laugh. Ginger laughed, too, and for a while they continued like that, chuckling through the jungle. Longer than they should have, longer than the joke warranted, and a few minutes later, Professor was wondering why there was still a smile plastered on his face.
“I’m hungry,” Ginger said eventually. They had both eaten breakfast before they left, and they’d been snacking on fruit as they walked, but when Professor checked the position of the sun, he surmised that they’d gone several hours without a proper meal.
“Now seems like as good a place as any to stop for a meal,” Professor said. He brushed the grass down and took a seat, unzipping his backpack while gesturing for her to do the same.
They were surrounded on one side by impossibly green trees, and by the cliff face of a mountainside on the other. Above, the blue sky was smattered with puffy white clouds. It was a pleasant spot, Professor thought contently, although on the island, it was difficult to find a location that was not aesthetically pleasing.
“Do you take all the girls here?” Ginger joked with a smirk as she sat down in that graceful way she had of doing everything. Professor noticed himself pausing, just to watch, before he took out the coconuts, breadfruit, and dried fish he’d packed the night before, she began telling him that their whole ordeal reminded her of a movie she was in once.
“Oh, and what movie was that?”
“The Ship of the Voyagers.”
“The Ship of the Voyagers? Isn’t that a bit redundant?”
“It’s art, Professor.”
Professor wasn’t sure how that was supposed to answer his question, but he let it go anyway. Ginger seemed intent on telling the story of the voyagers, so he didn’t interrupt. He sat back and listened, surprised by how much he enjoyed hearing the tale of an entire ship of voyagers that sank under the frozen sea, only to be unfrozen half a century later to continue their quest.
Of course, the main character was distracted by his own tortured past, particularly by the romance he’d left unresolved. Even Ginger admitted that it was low-budget and second-rate, but the empty action story was punctuated by surprisingly compelling flashbacks to their lost romance, and by the tail end of their dinner, Professor found himself hanging on her every word.
There was something about how she spoke, especially when she spoke about romance, that he found pleasurable. Yes, her voice was soothing, beautiful in its own right, but what captivated him was her ability to pour so much emotion into her every word…
“…And so, they do the only thing they can do,” Ginger whispered breathlessly. “They look at each other for a moment that seems to go on forever… And right when you can’t take it anymore, when you know for a fact how passionately they love each other, the lean in…” Ginger leaned in, emulating the tale she was telling, and without realizing it, Professor was leaning forward, too.
So close that he could hear her every breath, so close that he could smell her perfume…
He leaned too far, lost his balance.
One arm jolted out unsteadily to keep himself from falling facefirst into the ground, and with a crash, he knocked their coconut cups into each other.
“Oh!” Ginger cried as coconut milk spilled out onto her.
“I—I am so sorry,” Professor stuttered, regaining his balance. He picked the coconut cups back up, but of course they were empty, and the sticky milk was everywhere. He patted the ground, his arms, and, briefly, Ginger’s legs before realizing that the effort was in vain.
Ginger didn’t seem to mind, the Professor realized. In fact, she was laughing softly. Relieved, the Professor sat back and chuckled, too. And then, for seemingly no reason at all, the two were laughing loudly and confidently.
“My—my bad, I’m sorry—”
“Professor, really, don’t worry about it.”
A beat as their snickers died down, then Professor shrugged. “Ah. Of course.” He picked up one of the coconut cups and, even though it was empty, considered proposing a small toast.
To us? To friendship? Or…
He was trying to think of what to say when it happened.
A loud rustling of leaves, and then a boar erupted from the underbrush.
For a moment, the three of them stared at each other, Ginger and Professor meeting the boar’s wild eyes. Professor heard Ginger start to say something—whether she was as worried as he was, he didn’t know. Wild hogs, when alarmed, can be almost as dangerous as bears, and twice as volatile. If Ginger spoke—or worse, shouted—the boar might charge…
Slowly, carefully, the Professor raised one hand behind him to signal for her to say nothing.
That was enough.
The boar let out a horrible cross between a squeal and a growl, and then it was racing on its deceptively quick legs toward Professor and Ginger.
In the moment, he couldn’t tell whether it was charging toward himself or her; regardless, they both had to move.
During a boar attack, the most useful thing to do is to sidestep the angry beast, and climb to higher ground or else fight back.
Professor knew they were both defenseless, so he made a split-second decision to go for the former. He sidestepped, quickly, grabbing Ginger by the wrist as he scrambled out of the boar’s apparent path. She was surprisingly quick, just as alert as he was, and in a moment, he was pushing her toward the cliff face.
“Climb!” Professor shouted, giving her a boost up the rock wall. With a frightened cry as she stumbled—and almost fell, Professor realized in horror—Ginger scrambled for a solid foothold.
When he saw that she was stable—a foot higher than himself and in no danger of slipping down again—he readied himself to follow her to safety.
He glanced over his shoulder once, quickly, just in case, and glimpsed the wild boar.
He did a double take, realizing that the boar had rebounded and rounded, was ready to charge again.
He grabbed at the wall, but couldn’t get a hold, and, epinephrine surging in his veins, leapt again out of the boar’s path.
This time, the beast missed by an unnervingly narrow margin and, epinephrine roaring through his veins, Professor realized he was now too far from the cliff to climb it. He heard Ginger calling his name from the mountainside, and realized as he groped for something to defend himself with that she was throwing rocks at the boar.
The hog, of course, was huge, furious, and made of muscle. The rocks were a mere distraction. But one that bought Professor enough time to stumble backwards into a tree.
And not a palm tree; a tree with limbs, a tree he could climb.
The bark tore at his hands, but Professor was perched precariously on a branch by the time Ginger was out of rocks.
“Don’t move,” he breathed to her. He wasn’t sure if any sound came out, if she was just reading his lips, but in any case, the two of them were motionless for a moment.
In one last attempt to drive the two away, the boar charged headlong into the base of the tree the Professor was balanced on. It shook tremendously, and as the Professor attempted to regain his balance, the branch he was relying on snapped and gave out.
He grabbed for the body of the tree, hugged it desperately, and his hands and face screamed as it slid against the bark.
The boar stared up at him, then in the other direction, up at Ginger, then shook its head with a grunt, stamped its foot, and started off into the underbrush.
It took its sweet time marching away, both Professor and Ginger watching with bated breath as it did so. When at last they could neither see nor hear it, Professor heard Ginger let out a sigh, and he finally released his iron grip on the tree.
Slowly, he slid down to the ground.
“Come up here,” Ginger motioned. “In case he comes back.”
Professor cast a glance behind him, on the lookout for the boar, then nodded, and climbed up the rock face.
How easy it was to scale now that his head was clear, now that he could plan his footing.
When he reached the jut where Ginger was sitting, they were both breathing heavily, exhausted.
Professor let himself fall so that he way laying on the rocks on his back. Ginger followed suit, and the two of them just stared at the sky. The fluffy clouds from earlier had gone gray and heavy. Professor hoped it wasn’t going to rain.
But of course it did.
Moments later, Professor felt the cold flick of a raindrop on his forehead, and then another, and another.
Ginger pulled herself up, then offered Professor a hand. She helped him to his feet, and she reached forward, grazed his scraped face with two slender fingers.
“Just a scratch.”
“Come here.” Ginger took him by the hand and, with surprising agility and care, eased him along the overhang. The rain was coming down hard now, and Professor was worried that, given the reduced friction from the rainwater on the rocks, one or both of them slip.
Eyes trained on his footing, Professor asked “Where are we going?”
“Look,” Ginger said gently as she gestured forward. Professor realized that they were wandering into a cave. “Let’s hope there are no bats,” she added as they crouched in the safety of the shade.
Professor let out a nervous laugh, that would be just what they needed. But no, the cave seemed to be of the bat-free variety, so the two of them sat down again.
Out of the rain. Professor shut his eyes for a moment, listening to the sound of raindrops on the leaves and the rocks outside. He heaved a sigh and noted the petrichor emanating from the jungle. This would be the first rainstorm the island had had in a long time, and even though it was, at best, an inconvenience in their journey, the island needed the precipitation.
He was wondering when the sound of the cicadas would join the natural symphony outside when he felt something cool and soothing against the hot wounds on his arm.
“Don’t move,” Ginger told him when he stirred. “I’m just cleaning you up.”
“Ginger, really, it’s just a couple of scrapes.” Professor’s protest was halfhearted; the wet cloth (which she must have salvaged from his knapsack) that she was using on his arm was agreeable, as was the feeling of her fingers against his skin.
“Please,” Ginger didn’t stop, “that tree tore you to ribbons.”
Professor was aware that it went on longer than it needed to. Ginger was moving slowly, letting the Professor savor the feeling of being cleaned.
If it was not proficient, Professor wondered if it might be personal. He had cared for the castaways a great many times over the years they’d been stranded. If they someone was sick or injured, he was usually the person to go to. He always wanted everyone to feel better, but he was efficient, sensible. His touch never lingered, and he was sure it was never as soft as Ginger’s was now…
She eased him into a sitting position and went to work cleaning the shallow gashes on Professor’s face.
The shadows of the cave and the darkness of the rainclouds were not enough to keep Professor from staring into Ginger’s eyes. He should have pulled away his gaze, looked somewhere else, but she was staring at him, too.
Her hands were caressing his face, and for a moment, she stopped the cleaning and they just looked at each other. She blinked. He blinked.
He didn’t know what to do.
This felt… This felt like something. Ginger was a notorious coquette, but this was different. Ginger had never been above using tactics of seduction to get what she wanted, or what the castaways needed, but Professor had nothing to give to her. And it was just the two of them! There was no audience, which he knew Ginger loved.
They had kissed before, Professor recounted, more than once. Always for a different reason, but always for a reason: to make someone else jealous, to film a compelling scene…
This was like nothing Professor had ever experienced.
“Ginger,” he whispered, starting a sentence he didn’t know how to finish. When they’d first been shipwrecked, he had been nervous to talk to her. He felt like they were just getting to know each other again; it was strange and enchanting and nerve-wracking.
She was waiting for him to say something, he realized, her hands moving again, gingerly, toward his clavicle.
He said the only thing he could think to: “You never told me how that movie ends.”
“The movie?” The tone in her voice wasn’t angry, it wasn’t disappointed, but it wasn’t what Professor had been anticipating, and he knew he’d said the wrong thing. “Right. The movie.”
She pulled away, and Professor could feel it in his gut, what a magnet might feel when its torn from a precious metal. “I mean, I was just wondering—”
“The voyager returns to find that his lover grew up and got married while he didn’t age a day.”
“He was just too late.”
They were fictional, the voyager and his lover should have meant nothing, but Professor was disappointed anyway.
“But he does avert the apocalypse. He ventures to the ends of the earth and recovers The Eye of the Blind Gods, which he uses to sate the hunger of the hellhounds.”
“And then he finds that his young lover’s daughter is very attractive—of course she is, I played her—and he marries her.”
“Well sure; she’s even braver than her mother. And twice as attractive, if I do say so myself.”
“I…” Professor was at a loss for words. He would never understand Hollywood. “He marries his lover’s daughter? I mean isn’t that a little… perverted?”
Ginger laughed and pushed herself to her feet, staring out at the jungle. “Yeah, well, it broke even at the box office, so we all considered it a success.”
Professor looked outside. The rain was still coming down. They wouldn’t make it to the other side of the island by dusk. An immeasurable disappointment washed over him. “I wonder if I’ll see the tropical cicada,” he said with a sigh. When she didn’t say anything, Professor again said the only thing he could think of.
He began explaining the cicada’s role in the food chain, how their emergence marks a time of abundance for wild animals, how they nourish various mosses and keep tree populations in check.
To his surprise, Ginger was listened to every word until finally the Professor was out of cicada information.
They were farther apart now, sitting at opposite ends of the small cave, but it was still just the two of them. He remembered how Ginger had talked about The Ship of Voyagers. It had been alien to the Professor, but beautiful. He wondered if Ginger felt the same way when he talked about entomology. Perhaps to her, it was strange and foreign, and she didn’t understand half of it (she was only nodding along, as he had been when she talked about star-crossed lovers), but that was okay. Perhaps, Professor thought, they learned from each other. Perhaps that was all he was feeling, the ecstasy of learning something new.
It was comfortable.
It was fine.
Ginger was all things irrational and unreasonable; she was a Hollywood actress, but perhaps that was why he loved her.
(Just like he loved everyone on the island, he added internally.)
He was about to ask her to provide the synopsis of another movie when he heard it over the sound of the rain.
The buzz of the Magicicada tropicae.
Louder, clearer than it had been at camp. Professor launched himself to his feet and stared out of the mouth of the cave.
“Ginger! It’s the tropical cicada!”
She joined him at the mouth of the cave, and rested one hand on his shoulder. “Do we go out in the rain?”
They were so loud. They had to be close by, had to be… “We have to!” Professor slung his knapsack onto his shoulder and leapt out of the cave and fleetly down the rock face.
Ginger followed slowly. She was less enthusiastic about the whole ordeal, of course, but was right behind him nonetheless.
Professor tore through the jungle, soaked from the rain and sore from the wild hog attack, he couldn’t stop.
“Professor,” Ginger called after him. She was laughing, but he could tell she was falling behind, so Professor, begrudgingly, stopped running.
He looked left, right, frantically.
He didn’t see any.
But he heard them. Not in the distance, like they had been at camp, but all around him. Everywhere. There had to be one visible, somewhere.
“Professor,” Ginger panted as she caught up. “Wait up.” She gave him a playful smack on the shoulder as she came to halt.
“I don’t understand,” he snapped at the jungle as she draped the arm on his shoulder. “I can hear them. Everywhere. Where…?”
“We’ll find them.”
Maybe he was scaring them. Maybe he just had to stop and wait. Maybe they would come to him.
“Okay,” he whispered. He leaned back, further into Ginger’s arms, and waited as the raindrops subsided to mist on his skin.
It felt like forever. It was unbearable, waiting for this life-changing thing that might never occur again.
And then he saw them.
It was just one at first, crawling out from under a palm leaf, iridescent antennae wiggling in the air, sensing that the rain was gone.
And no sooner had he seen that one than his eye caught another, and another.
Even Ginger gasped, glimpsing one for the first time.
Professor steadied himself and wasted no time. He scooped up one slow cicada in a glass jar, admired it up close.
“Look at that,” he whispered, his words thick with exhilaration.
“Professor,” Ginger said with an equal wonder, “I was expecting them to be kind of gross.”
Professor looked up at Ginger. “What?”
“Why didn’t you tell me they were so beautiful?”
Professor looked down at the cicada again, at its shiny purple exoskeleton and its delicate gossamer wings. “Oh,” was all he could manage, seeing them in an entirely new light now. “Oh. I… I guess you’re right. They are, they are. Beautiful, that is.”
“Magical cicadas,” Ginger said.
Perhaps they were, despite all science to the contrary. They continued to perplex, and their beauty, Professor was realizing, was extraordinarily dazzling.
The sundown passed in a seemingly timeless manner. It was surreal; Professor caught more cicadas than he knew what to do with, and even more still were flying overhead.
It was Ginger who finally said, “It’s getting dark.”
“You’re right.” As much as Professor hated to admit it, they had to find shelter before nightfall, lest they fall prey to another boar, or worse. “You’re right,” he said again, to convince himself. “We have to get moving.”
“You know,” Ginger wrapped her arms around the Professor again, and he tore his eyes from the last of the fleeting purple cicadas to look at her. Her face was damp from the rain, and her hair was uncharacteristically un-perfect, but now that he was looking at her, he couldn’t take his eyes away. “If this were a movie,” she said, “we could stay here forever.”
Professor knew that wishful thinking was fruitless, but he indulged the thought anyway. “Oh? We could just stay here, in this moment, until the credits rolled. And that would be all?”
He wasn’t sure, exactly, what he was asking for. But he was asking for something.
And she sensed it.
“Well, strictly speaking, if this were a movie, there would have to be a romance.”
Professor could feel his heart in his throat now, and all he could choke out was, “How?”
“Well, first…” she took hold of Professor’s arm, “you would put one hand here,” she guided it along her waist, and Professor held her accordingly. “And then you would pull me close.”
Professor pulled her close.
“And then, we would just do this.” She leaned in and kissed him. She had kissed him in the past, but this was different. She was softer, more cautious, as if she might be doing the wrong thing.
She wasn’t, of course.
If this were a movie, Professor mused, he would pull her into a dramatic dip kiss and they would stay like that until the music played and the credits rolled.
But he was shaking and flustered and confused and excited and he wasn’t sure he was strong enough to hold her over the ground like they do in the movies, and so all he could do was lean in and kiss her back with everything he could.
Of course, the music never played. The song of the cicadas faded, and of course no credits rolled, so afterward, they were still standing there, close and still.
Staring at each other yet again.
“We should get back to the cave,” Ginger Grant whispered in that voice of hers.