It was late summer in a sleepy little hollow of a sleepy little town in Illinois when a young child first felt the rumblings of another world. She was sitting alone outside, digging with her sand bucket and bright blue shovel when she heard a tiny voice whisper from beneath the ground.
“Wait, little girl! Don’t unearth us from our beds…we are sleeping here. Wait!”
The child was so surprised she dropped her shovel and sat frozen, listening.
How had she never heard it before? Thousands upon thousands of tiny little snores, echoing from beneath her feet. The constant steady hum of life made her fingers tingle when she touched the ground.
“Who are you?” the girl asked, captivated by the sound.
But the only answer, faint as a breath, was “Wait…”
Each day the little girl sat outside in the shade and thought about the creature that had spoken to her. What did he look like? How many of his friends and family were sleeping in the ground? When the little girl stepped on the grass she stepped lightly as to not disturb them, and when she sang to herself she sang softly so they wouldn’t wake. Summer drew to a close, with fall close behind, then winter and then spring. When the snow melted from the ground the girl was another year older. She played outdoors all summer, climbing trees and throwing rocks in the pond, catching fireflies in a jar and sleeping out on the porch when the air was cool and pleasant. Sometimes the little girl would whisper back and forth with the creatures underground, who would only say a few words before drifting back to sleep.
Year after year the seasons changed, and the girl grew taller and stronger. She was not so little anymore. The little friend she had made so many years ago spoke less and less.
“When will I get to see you?” the girl asked, frustrated and impatient.
“You will meet me soon. The time has almost come…wait…” replied the creature softly, joining in the steady hum of his underground companions.
Fall, winter, spring, summer. The girl waited, listening. All summer she waited. There was no little whisper to reassure her, only a soft hum. After a while the girl wondered if she had only imagined the voice from before. And what was this soft hum? Perhaps it was just a buzzing in her ears. The girl was sorry she had ever believed in tiny little creatures that spoke to her from beneath the soil. The idea seemed so silly and childish. When spring came again, followed by the heat of summer, the girl did not even bother to press her ear to the ground. She played inside with her dolls or helped her mother in the kitchen. She learned to sew and practiced writing her name in cursive. The girl almost forgot about the voice she had heard so many summers ago.
One night, as the girl slept soundly in her bed, the creatures woke from their long slumber. Quietly, quietly, they burrowed up from underground. Silently, silently, they stretched their little legs. Without a sound they moved by the hundreds, tiptoeing up into the branches of the tallest trees.
When the girl awoke in the morning the air was filled with the loudest song she had ever heard. Rushing from her bedroom, the girl ran outside into the woods and looked up into the trees, where she saw a most miraculous sight. Hundreds and hundreds of little creatures, too many too count, adorned the branches and flitted from leaf to leaf. They had bright green and yellow and black bodies with golden wings and big shiny eyes. All of them were singing at the top of their lungs, a great big buzzing that made the trees resonate and sway.
“Hello!” the girl shouted, and watched as her small friends waved back.
They were in constant motion, shedding the delicate shell of their sleeping body and emerging with glassy wings. The girl was so happy to meet the tiny creatures that she spent every day in the woods listening to them sing as she played in the shade. As the weeks passed, the sound of the creature’s voices grew softer. The girl started to notice fewer of them nibbling on grass or resting lazily on a flower petal. One day the girl awoke not to a chorus of voices, but a single melody. Frantically she searched to find the source of the buzzing, and at last she found one lone little creature, resting atop a tall blade of grass.
“What is happening?” the girl asked, “Where are all of your friends and family? Where have they gone?”
The winged creature stopped his singing to look up at the girl.
“The summer is drawing to a close, and so are our lives. When the first leaf changes color, it is time for us to pass on.”
The girl’s eyes filled with tears, “But I don’t understand! You spent year after year sleeping underneath the ground, only to see the world for a few short weeks! Why? Why did you waste your life dreaming when you could have been singing in the trees?”
The creature nodded and thought for a moment before speaking.
“Our years spent underground are not wasted years. While we listen and dream we grow wise, so that when we finally emerge we can fully appreciate the beauty of the world above. We are content to sing and warm our backs in the sun for the few weeks that we have.”
“I will miss you,” the girl said softly. “I never even learned your name.”
“My name is Cicada. Don’t worry. Our family is very large; you will see us again. Wait…”
The girl smiled as the cicada resumed his singing, and slowly walked back to the house, thinking quietly to herself.
That evening, as the last low notes of the last living cicada echoed in the trees, the girl gathered a few things and set off into the woods. There was just a hint of coolness in the air as the sun set, orange and bright. Finding a small clearing in the woods, the girl took her little blue shovel from so many years ago and began to dig.