Story time: Tibicen Politicus

I think this story is publishable, but I also think I wrote it too late to be published anywhere. So, in celebration of this U.S. election season, I present a freebie for everyone,

Tibicen Politicus
a Thursday prompt by James Steele

A family of four sat on the back porch, watching the trees as they shook and undulated. Several thousand trees all across the country seizured, quivered, swelled and contracted, and then burst open. Loud shockwaves cascaded over the entire country. The family of four, like all citizens of this nation, was wearing construction-worker's ear cups to protect them from the noise of the hatching insects.

They crawled from the bellies of the trees. Tall as a single story house, they had six arms, six different faces all looking in different directions, three distinct body segments and most of them were dressed in expensive suits which they had instinctually woven from saliva and digested wood pulp during their two years in hibernation.

They perched at the tops of the broken trees and looked around. They sought not food. They had eaten the insides of the trees hollow, so they were fed for life. Now it was time to compete for mates.

The insect atop the tree in this family's backyard looked down and noticed them watching. It spread its wings, flew down and landed with the force of a crashing helicopter. Three more insects saw the family at the same time and slammed down into the backyard. They stood on their hindmost legs, as was their natural instinct to do, and faced the family in a straight line.

"My opponent wants to take away your freedoms!" said the one on the left.

"My opponents are engaging in a negative smear campaign, which is unprecedented!" said the one on the right. "We must focus on the issues!"

The third giant insect, not wishing to be left out, jumped into the debate. "I am in favor of more jobs and more education. My opponents want to take that away from you, but I will bring both sides together and fight for you and your rights!"

"That is completely inaccurate!" said the one on the left. "I am as focused on the issues as much as the people are!"

The family of four was still wearing the ear protection and couldn't hear a thing the political cicadas were saying. Nobody ever did these days, but they watched, they gestured, they acted as though they were following along.

In backyards all across the country, giant cicadas were gathered in groups of three, four, six, or sometimes twenty or more.

"We're going to change the system!" one cicada was saying. "With your help, we'll get it done!"

"I love this country!" another cicada in another backyard said. "My competitors don't love this country as much as I do!"

"My opponent has failed!" said another in a faraway backyard. "If that tragedy had happened on my watch, I wouldn't have reacted the way my opponent did."

"My opponent is lying again! Let's bring honesty and transparency back into the process!"

"We're facing a real crisis here in this country. It requires real leadership, for the real world, to bring opposing sides together to solve real problems. I am the real candidate!"

"I represent everybody in this great nation! Choose freedom. Choose democracy. Choose the future!"

Human beings all over the country stood still, wearing their ear protection, pretending to pay attention. The insects couldn't be stopped, reasoned with, or exterminated. Giving the insects what they wanted was the only way to end this.

It was a cruel trick of evolution (or, some said, proof of God's sense of humor) that the mating calls of Tibicen politicus happened to be human words. The insects, of course, were not actually speaking the language or saying anything, rather just stringing words together that sounded good.

Nonetheless this correlation of language enticed the insects to look to the inhabitants of the country to choose who should mate with whom. They'd say any words, in any order, to impress people to vote for them, and not for someone else. Natural selection, ironically, dictated which random words were most likely to receive votes, so these days the insects pretty much all said the same things.

Life stopped while the insects campaigned. School was shut down, nobody worked, nobody talked to one another. The sound of their calls was so loud it was impossible to hear anything else. The insects didn't need sleep, didn't need to eat, and their mating calls shattered the sky day and night. The campaigning continued for weeks and weeks.

"My opponent wants to raise your taxes! I don't! I want to lower them!"

"I am for the middle class! I am for education! I am for jobs!"

"We must achieve positive results! We must fight for our right to move forward!"

"The electorate cares about ideals! People are smart, I know they are, so they will make the right choice for freedom!"

Weeks turned into many long months of debate. Finally the day came to cast votes for the cicadas. It was never that simple. There were always problems with the antiquated voting system and recounts were common, but somehow everyone muddled through the process and victors were chosen.

Satisfied, the cicadas took to the sky, the elected ones pairing up and the losers trying to squeeze in. The noises they made were loud enough to crack the moon, and they continued for days. After mating, the cicadas laid their eggs in the surviving trees and flew off to some unknown region where they probably shed their exoskeletons and died. Nobody bothered to follow them after the election.

Finally, men, women and children all over the country removed their ear protection and started conversing again. The family of four resumed their lives, relieved to be able to hear themselves think again. They tried not to dread the next hatching cycle.

People had proposed finding out what would happen if they refused to participate, but nobody dared try it. The citizens feared the insects would campaign forever if they were ignored. Other measures were proposed, but everyone was too used to the system to try changing it now.

 2012 James Steele. Do not reprint or alter.


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