Murtha Snattleby decided she was going to eat bugs, and that was that.
She started with what she found under her bed, a solitary spider surrounded by a few lonely mummified gnats. It didn’t back off as she set out her tongue as an on-ramp, but stepped up instead, its legs tickling as it walked further and further in. As she swallowed the spider, Murtha imagined it setting up shop in her stomach, a web stretched across the width of it to catch what falls in. A warmth spread out from the center of her body. She was pretty sure it wasn’t spider poison, but spider good-feelings, the arachnid finally belonging somewhere.
Murtha Snattleby sampled ants next. She’d heard they were a delicacy. People ate them drowned in chocolate. They tasted like Rice Krispies. The front yard was dotted with dirt cones like infant volcanoes, each disgorging streams of black ants. She knocked a hole in one nest to rile the ants, and in a few seconds they covered the damage like a bandage. They swarmed over her hand, and she stuffed it into her mouth, licking every tiny black-pepper morsel until her hand was clean again. The ants were poppy seeds with legs, miniature kernels squirming between her gums and her cheeks, exploding with a snap between her teeth.
A cicada was harder to get. Murtha sampled the husk left behind on trees, an unsalted potato chip. And she snuck out of her house at night to catch an emerging cicada as it dug itself out from its self-imposed exile and tossed the dirt-covered bug into her open mouth like a kernel of popcorn. But what she really wanted was the harsh buzz of the adult cicada, its car-alarm cry rattling through her teeth, her skull, her entire skeleton.
But adult cicadas hid in the high tops of trees. And if Murtha got too close to a cicada, it shut up right quick, its scream silenced like a computer shorted out by a lightning storm. When she stepped away, the cicada would start again, letting her hear the smarminess in its song. You can’t catch me! You can’t see me! You can’t find me! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Most people would have given up at this point and turned to easier fare. Lovebugs, for example, who hitched together at their hind parts and unconcernedly waltzed into your open mouth. Or Junebugs, those clumsy fliers, who always seemed to be discovering just where they were, startled antennae nervously aflutter. Murtha Snattleby was a Snattleby, however, and Snattlebys never admit defeat.
She climbed every tree on the block, scouring every limb for the cigar-stub shaped cicadas. She stole the cigar stubs from her father’s study and created cicada decoys with her pens and her paintbrush, with paperclip legs and tinfoil wings, and set them around her house, hoping to lead the real cicadas into making new friends. She mimicked the cicada’s raucous rattle, so perfectly she even fooled her parents into thinking a cicada had broken into their house, though the effort left her voice scratchy and cracked like one of her mom’s treasured vinyl records.
None of her plans worked.
In fact, when she finally found a cicada to eat, she almost missed it. Murtha was walking home from school, her mind occupied with what a scorpion would taste like, and whether it would make friends with the spider in her stomach or they would fight, and, if they fought, would she feel it, and would it feel like a stomachache or like a massage?
And while her whole being was engrossed in imagining this, she almost stepped on the cicada, only stopping because right before her shoe came down on the insect, it rattled, it buzzed, it screamed as only a cicada (and now Murtha) can. She barely kept from crushing it, freezing at the exact moment the sole of her shoe rested on the hard cicada head, and its wings blurred so much they looked like the plastic wrap Murtha’s dad used to wrap her lunch sandwiches.
Murtha pulled back, but the cicada didn’t fly away even though its wings hummed for a few seconds longer. It took a wobbly few steps towards the edge of the sidewalk like a cheap mechanical toy. She knelt down close to it, putting her lips inches away from where she imagined the ears were.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Cicada, it won’t hurt much at all.”
She picked up the cicada quickly and didn’t let go when its wings went into overtime. She expected that it would scream at her, that its piercing siren buzz would emerge as a last-ditch effort to free itself. But it didn’t do that. Its wings stopped. It turned its head towards Murtha’s face. It wanted to know, she knew, what kind of creature was about to eat it. She could see her reflection in its glossy, pea-sized eyes.
She tossed it into her mouth and smashed her teeth together, eager for the texture and the taste of the bug.
But the cicada wasn’t there. She could feel it deeper in her mouth, its legs dancing on her tongue as it moved towards her throat. Before she could spit it out, it climbed down, and she couldn’t feel it anymore. Her mouth felt dusty, but other than that, the cicada could never have existed at all.
That night, her stomach rumbled and vibrated. It burbled and sang. Her bones shivered and her skin tingled the way Pop Rocks felt on her tongue. When she opened her mouth, the cicada’s scream came out. Her bedroom window rattled with swarming cicadas, eager to find the way in.