The crickets chirruped their summer song as Pablo walked down the main road out of town, down to the olive tree fields. Olive oil was the lifeblood of all the small towns in this Northeastern area of Andalusia. Chiclana, like the other towns, lacked the sounds of playing children in the streets, Pedro’s school bus would travel through 8 towns before reaching school, gathering up what little children remained. But it was the harvest, so school was closed.
Nobody in his town or in his class had ever seen a cricket, everyone knew they rubbed their wings when they were warm, crying out in the late afternoon until the moon was well above the olive trees. Nobody cared about never seeing the source of the chirrups. Perhaps understandably so, the yearly disappearances of random children from the surrounding area remained unsolved, there was much unrest among the remaining families. Pablo had lost his best friend Paco two years ago, but he was tired of the fear routine, he was going out on his own this evening, and he was going to catch one of those damn crickets.
The crickets were going strong after the day’s heat. Pablo wiped the sweat from his face with the bottom of his muddy T-shirt, leaving him dryer but dirtier. He paused under the shade of the oldest tree and took a licorice stick out of his pocket. The chirping seemed to come from behind the unfarmable hill terrain on the edge of the Peseta plot. Pablo’s father worked that plot this season, he made his way to the top of the hill.
This was the loudest Pablo had ever heard it. The other side of the hill was deceptively steep, the dry grass was too weak to hang on to. The way down shamed the way up in its tediousness, it had to be descended belly-up on all fours. The droning crickets engulfed the atmosphere when Pablo reached a small level area surrounded by dead, thorned, impenetrable thicket. He stood before a man-made cave in the hillside. The size and look of the megaliths carrying the load from the earth above them hinted at a time long before his. The chirrups ceased immediately as Pablo stepped into the cool darkness. His eyes slowly recalibrated to the light coming in from behind him, stretching his shadow before him into a circular cavern within the cave.
Hand-carved wooden cages were scattered at different heights around the concave walls of this inner cavern. Their tiny shadows dancing in different directions as they dangled from their intricate wooden chains. Pablo looked into a brightened cage by the entrance. Two nervous antennae reached up to him from the small head of what looked like a smaller, stubbier, shorter-legged version of a grasshopper. Large circular onyx eyes investigated his, two brown wings unfolded from the top of its bulbous, dual-spiked abdomen.
‘’A cricket’’ Pablo whispered. There was something carved on the side of the cage’s base. Pablo turned that side to the light. It read Jose. A knot formed in his stomach. He checked the next cage, Manuel. A drop of cold sweat ran down his spine as the hair on the back of his neck stood to attention. Maria…Ana…Paco…they were all names of children that had disappeared over the years. Pablo stood petrified staring at the last name…Paco. The crickets all stood in silence, watching Pablo.
He turned his attention to the center of the cavern. A carpenter’s workbench and a wooden stool. Alone on the workbench, a carving blade, and an empty cage. He slowly approached the brand-new cage and held it up against the light…Pablo. The cage fell to the ground as something blocked off the light from the entrance.
Luis P. Verhelle was born in 1983 to a Spanish mother and Belgian expatriate father. His youth was spent living in multiple countries. With a master’s degree in banking and corporate finance, he works as an accountant out of Barcelona, but his mind always drifts to the most nightmarish landscapes.
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