BÉBÉ MÉLANGE


A woodcut of locusts going buckwild
          Michel Wolgemut – “Vijf sprinkhanen”, 1493
At the mouth of the bay,

A whole shipyard bent all of its powers

To accommodate one job—the last of its kind.

A megayacht of ungodly proportions—a floating city to raze,

Or rather, dismantle with environmental consciousness.

Gone were the times of conspicuous consumption

And of monuments to individual avarice,

And so the megayacht would die.
The grandfather brought his whole family—

Son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren as well.

He brought them to bear witness to the end of an era

But they laughed in his face, laughed at his emotion.

Bitter tears flowed until his eyes ran dry,

And a time later, they flowed again.
The yacht had a flexible hull in three parts.

It was to flex with the waves of an ocean in full fury.

Those hull sections would be the last part dismantled,

Until that time, holding up the savages that crawled inside

So many termites taking apart a thing of true beauty.

This was the end of opulence, of nobility,

But the noble family could not see.
The grandfather sought their hearts one by one.

“Father,” said his son, “You still have your mansions on land.”

“Why do you need one at sea?” asked his daughter-in-law.

“You just don’t get it,” he cried and tried again.

At last, he came to be understood.

His grandson felt his sorrow.
They watched and wept.

The termites did their work, taking it all apart—

Furnishings first, then electronics and hardware.

Walls and decks came out at the same time as pipes and wires.

The fuel was drained with the greatest care of all.

As the hulls were at last carved apart,

They held hands and moaned.
That grandson understood the beauty lost.

As he grew into a man, he came to understand why.

Society had nearly been destroyed by endless consumption.

The world still burned from the aftermath of those fires.

Months of the year were spent indoors and cooled,

And the people blamed his class.

They blamed billionaires.
But it needn’t have been so!

The technology existed that such opulence

Would not need to run on fossil fuels and waste.

If they’d just stayed their revolution a few more years,

Solar and wind and nuclear castles could have

Been raised to honor the aristocracy,

And the world would still live.
What was needed was need.

The grandson knew that the engine of capital was need—

Not the natural needs of humanity, though hunger did help.

It was the needs that capitalists created by advertising.

That’s why advertising was strictly regulated

In the wake of their filthy revolution.

But the grandson did not need it.
He plied scientists with his wealth,

Schemed to stimulate need through other means.

All that was required was a subtle push—so slight a thing.

Make people feel reckless greed, reawaken their true nature.

Insects provided the model—socially communicating hunger.

They would find what made the locusts swarm,

They would instill just a drop in humanity,

And opulence could be reborn.
Amador was a repairist in the city.

People like him kept the electronics running.

When they did their job well, they didn't have much work to do

And as the indoor season approached, Amador was done.

He was ready to fold up shop and relax in the cool.

Gold screens coated every window around him,

Protecting from the spring sun, gleaming.
But it was spring, and love called.

Amador’s affections fell on a barista—

A young man named David—but could the love be returned?

Did David prefer women? Or simply avoid customers?

Either would leave Amador cold, even as

The heat of the world began to boil.
One day, he saw David’s keychain—

A rainbow flag in resin and cheap metal.

Amador had put in the work to get familiar,

At least as much as was appropriate for a customer.

All that held him back at that point was the pain of rejection.

It was not an inconsiderable thing—but it would be brief.

Get it over with, like taking a shot in the arm.

But still… maybe tomorrow.
High above the coffee shop

The scientists had labored for years.

Their works were astonishing, unnatural:

A monkey that could eat its weight in minutes,

Mice that could leap over a desk if unrestrained.

The mammals subjected to these treatments had

Some qualities of the insects that infused them—

Yellow flesh and red eyes—for so long

As the effects did linger.
That was key—the effects should be subtle.

The final delivery to the people below must go unnoticed—

Something invisible in the air and the people go a little mad,

To want more than they need—and to need what they want.

They could make the effects fierce and short lived

Or subtle and longer lasting, but not perfectly,

And not predictably.
The grandson was convinced, though.

It was time, whatever over-cautious scientists felt.

The delivery mechanism was built into the HVAC system.

His engineers had been deceived about the purpose.

The substance would be dispersed from one room—

An untraceable concentration, so very low.

His ambition would be achieved.
“Release the chemical, Dr. Mercado.”

“I cannot. This could be a disaster beyond imagining.”

“Release the fucking chemical.” He tried threat and reward.

Dr. Mercado gave in, and the grandson’s excitement grew.

They sealed the room and activated the release remotely.

The concentration within the room would be deadly,

But if all worked as designed, no one would die.

The people of the city would be the first

Of a new world of consumers.
The grandson and Dr. Mercado felt it.

A vibration began in their limbs, their hearts raced.

They looked down at twitching fingers turning yellow.

A few stray molecules of the substance must have escaped,

But the chemical was triggered by proximity to others.

They scrambled away from each other and

The grandson locked his office door.
A high power venting system roared to life.

The release room evacuated its atmosphere through vents.

The substance blew across the city unseen.
David, taking a break outdoors, saw it beginning.

Wherever people were close together, they transformed—

Extremities wiggled, skin yellowed, faces and bodies expressed

A violent excitement, an overwhelming impulse. To do what?

They didn’t even seem to know. Everyone stood still.

Then they sprang into motion, leaping about.

One would imagine werewolf howling,

But they spoke like people—

Crazed people.
Amador knew David was on break.

He rounded the corner of the coffee shop.

It was on an open plaza, shouldn’t seem creepy—

Not like approaching him in a dark alley at night.

But as he neared, he felt his fingers twitch.

They locked eyes, and David stood up.

He stopped Amador with a gesture.
“When people get close, it happens!”

Amador looked down at his hands, growing jaundiced.

A smiling woman ambled toward him from the other way,

Her legs shaking, eyes red as if every vein had burst at once.

The only way to retreat was toward David. He shouted,

“Run away from me! They’re coming!” and he ran.
They were in an invisible tandem—

Closer to each other than to anyone else,

But far enough away to keep the twitch minimal.

David was looking for a way to get farther from the busy street,

Amador letting him lead the way, in this unspoken agreement.

Everywhere they turned, the details of the strangeness

Came to greater clarity.
People were yellow-skinned and red-eyed,

Jittering and leaping with unnatural energy, and

While they had enough presence of mind to not hurt others,

While they had enough control to use human speech,

They were horrifically, comically hungry.
They ate everything they could find.

First, everything that resembled food was devoured,

Then unreadied food—a popcorn vendor guzzled dry kernels.

Then they ate their own or each other’s clothing.

In minutes, they began to eat paper and plastic,

Trees and potted plants and dirt and cement.
Whenever close enough to be acknowledged,

One would ask David or Amador, “Are you going to eat that?”

“Yes,” they would say, as if they meant to eat their own clothes

And that was sufficient deterrence for the maddened crowd.

Somehow, at least they were still people at heart—

Somewhat constrained by propriety.
But the naked yellow springing hordes

Could not help but notice the men in tasty clothing.

“God, I’m famished, aren’t you? Is it just me? No, you too?”

“Hey buddy. Hey pal. Could you hook a brother up?”

“Hey good lookin’. Spare a nibble on that apron?”

David tossed his apron aside to distract.

Dozens piled into each other, all

“Excuse me,” and “Lo siento.”
High above them, in the tower,

Dr. Mercado could not escape people.

Break rooms, offices, laboratories, halls…

The grandson had his office locked, was barricading,

But there was no such safety for the scientist,

And soon he joined his fellow employees

In the mad feast.
“This is great. We should do this more often,”

They said between mouthfuls of wood paneling,

Drop ceiling tile, light fixtures, waste baskets, staplers,

Office supplies, lab equipment, beakers, burners,

Chemicals, specimens, and biological samples.

The only thing that gave them pause was

Compassion for the living lab animals,

But it didn’t hold.
Naked men and women bounded and bumped

Against each other, but none were aroused sexually.

Their only remaining passion was to consume everything.

In the frenzied scramble, minor injuries were sustained.

What would happen if one of them died? They were

Not cannibal enough to attack one another,

But was a dead human fair game?

“Are you going to eat that?”
In the streets below, David and Amador ran.

They were exhausting their stamina, but was there hope?

David found an unlocked door and waved for Amador

To follow him inside. They were in a stairwell,

And lacking strength to ascend, they

Hustled down that stairwell—

Down into cool darkness.
At the bottom of the stairs the door was ajar.

David had gone through first, not wanting to risk

Waiting too close to where Amador would follow.

Amador went through the door and came out

Into a nearly black mausoleum of some kind.

Bare slivers of sunlight filtered through

Distant half windows near the ceiling.

Black beasts lay waiting and dead.

It was a garage of cars, left for

Future scavengers to recycle

In a post-petroleum world.
Amador saw David out among the relics.

His form was a silhouette, scarcely visible.

He called out to him, “Hey David, I’m sorry.”

“Do I know you?” he replied, breathless.

“I’m just a customer. Venti americano.”

“Oh, I saw you out on the plaza,

It was just a moment before…”
David gripped his head.

“What the hell is going on?” he begged.

“How could we possibly know?” said Amador.

“We have to take it as it comes, whatever it is.”

The beautiful barista shuddered.

Was it a tremble of fear?

Unfortunately, no.
“—I found something to eat, guys! Come on!”

People flowed into the garage like grains in a silo.

David’s body spasmed as it transfigured.

Amador couldn’t handle it, didn’t have

The strength for another flight.
If it’s happening to me, he thought, let me be with David.

He ran through the dark and tumult, striving until it took him.

The vibration, the rush, the spasm, the speed—

Manic hunger precluded all other thought,

All memory. Should they survive, they’d

Remember nothing but rushing

And devouring.
High above the streets, the grandson’s office

Was coming apart at the seams. The walls snapped loose,

Piece by piece into grabbing fingers and past frantic lips.

They were inside, and he had nowhere to run.

They pretended not to hear as he pled

For them not to inhale his desk,

His carpet, his cufflinks.
Soon the grandson was eating whatever scraps

Of his own clothing they left to him, exchanging blood-eyed

Glances, nods and smiles with the press of naked humanity.

“Thanks, Dr. Mercado. Dr. Flenser. Mrs. Fukushima.”

They excuse me’d and thank you’d and

Pawed past each other in a rush for

The next scrap, the next piece of

Anything and everything.
His old body could not handle the strain.

The grandson was bouncing down the hall at the lead

Of the naked gabbling horde, eyes rolling, arms flailing.

He gripped his chest once, spasmed so hard that

His body backflipped, and that was it.

He was so much food.
Thunderheads darkened the spring sky.

Booms and rumbles and flashes of light across

The city skyline, out into the hills of farmland.

Nothing remained for the rain to touch

But skeletonized buildings and

Very strange mounds of

Gold-flecked feces.
Out in the fields, they crawled.

The human locusts swarmed there.

The crops had been grazed to the ground,

The roots ripped up and devoured as well.

Worms and soil, fistfuls, becoming mud.

The warm rain came down in a

Miserable sheet over them.
They ran out of strength. Their eyes were still red,

But their bodies began to regain their natural colors.

David and Amador were naked together, eyes in

Visually alarming disrepair, but still working,

Seeing each other as the light of reason

Returned to their minds.
Two naked men in a muddy field, where once a farm grew.

“No, no,” Amador cried, crawling backward in shame.

David swooped down and took his hands.

“It’s OK,” he said. “It’s all over.”
It was a city worth of refugees

In the wake of the grandson’s ambition.

No building was intact enough to shield them

From the heat of the indoor season.

But life moved on in its way,

Because capitalism remained in its grave.

A simple drawing of a locust.
Julie de Graag – “Sprinkhaan” (detail), 1918


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3 thoughts on “LOCUSTS

  1. Pingback: INTRODUCTION | The Midnight Collection

  2. Pingback: SAPSUCKER | The Midnight Collection

  3. Pingback: BLOOD IS THICKER THAN BILE | The Midnight Collection

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