BY LAUREN OSBORN
The first plague arrived in waves of leaf-green flesh and wing. The locusts swept through the air, choking out our sun. By then, we were used to famine. We opened our mouths, replaced grains with grasshopper legs—grateful for our obliging stomachs. We became accustomed to the static sound of wings that stole away our silent spring. We crunched their gathering bodies underfoot, closed our eyes, and pretended it was snow.
The second plague wasn’t far behind. Our water soon sapped thicker—the scarlet tint, a welcomed improvement to the ash gray tap. Our politicians preached our fortune. Blood was more nutritious, they said. Cleaner. Full of the vitamin D we lacked from loss of sunlight. So, we made blood pudding. We bathed in blood baths. Blood Pops™, the newest summer treat, melted sticky on our children’s chins. The viscous rain pooled in puddles perfect for splashing. Some blamed our diet of pure plasma and protein for the sores festering on our flesh—fissures which refused to heal. That, too, we could bear. Fashion models styled disease with Dior; covered blisters with Balenciaga. So occupied were we that when our first-born daughters disappeared, we scarcely noticed. We imagined they found refuge in brighter places. Less people meant more food. Whatever grief their loss planted in our stomachs served only to fill more space.
No one expected what came next. The sky to split open—raining not blood but billions of flowers, polychroming the earth in vivid hue. The butterflies shortly followed. Scaled wings and corolla covered streets and houses; bodies we couldn’t bury. We found no rhyme or reason to either species. The crescent curve of white lilies collected alongside emerald swallowtails. Delicate glasswings perched upon piles of ruffled iris. The sickly scent of honeysuckle polluted the air. Our scientist sought answers. They explained how butterflies thrive on nectar and fluids alike—the excess of blood and bloom a theory for their advent. Yet, we needed no explanation. No cause for miracle. We gathered outside to watch the flowers flake downward, cupping trembling wings in our hands. Our children ran into the streets with tongues extended, palms full of peony, flesh alit with Papilionidae.
And just beneath it all—beneath the hum of grasshoppers, the wailing mothers, the flitting of insect bodies and soft tap of falling petals—was the sound of bells. They were quiet at first. Some of us closed our eyes, focused our ears on the familiar chime of worship and weddings. We imagined sleighs. We reminisced about holiday charity drives and the somber toll of funerals. Mere moments before the sun waned permanently and we sank into darkness, before the petals clogged our throats, suffocating, before the butterflies turned to fill their thirst from our unwilling tears, before the fires scorched away flesh and wing, sons and daughters alike, before the toll was deafening and we could no longer turn back, barter, or beg for a different outcome—we listened to the bright peal of ringing bells and danced and danced and danced.