By Logan Arey
Jerusalem Cricket. That’s their real name. But we always called them Sand Puppies.
I was walking along the top road. The desert was scattered all around me, and there were lizards sunbathing on rocks; absorbing the last of the sunlight before our star ducked over the horizon. Dust rose up as my boots came down upon the dirt; rocks were scattering about from my lazy footsteps.
I reached my destination at the edge of the cliffs. I sat there awhile – taking it all in. It had been nearly two decades since I stepped foot on the soil that sat high above my old residence. Everything was still in its place; nothing had changed. I felt melancholy when I acknowledged that.
The town lied 600 feet below me. I cast my eyes down upon it, and with the sun against my back, my shadow loomed over the uncivilized world. Cliffs, rocks, and sagebrush stood between the town and me, and I watched the cars move about. They were going nowhere.
There are a total of five traffic lights in town and I stared down and watched them cycle through – green, yellow, red – pretending like their existence was justified, but they’re just obstructions. Everything below was an obstruction. Always in the way of people who wanted to go somewhere – that’s what lied beneath my feet.
The wind was blowing as usual so I let it blow against my back. I sat and stared out into the distance while the wind caressed me from behind. Then I saw a bright flicker from the corner of my eye. I immediately turned my eyes toward the movement and that’s when I saw it. A big, plump Sand Puppy crawling on the rock that was parallel to me. It froze and looked me straight in the eyes.
A sense of unease surged through my veins like it always did when I was around one of these insects. My heartbeat accelerated as the creature stayed still and looked intently upon me. Why did it still evoke the fear in me? It was ugly that’s for sure: the orange head, the black, beady eyes, the enormous jaws, the black and yellow butt, and the six skeleton-like legs that they used to crawl upon was a sight of horror. But appearances aren’t everything, and that wasn’t the reason for fear.
When I was ten years old, I squished my first Sand Puppy. It was in the driveway, and when I stepped on it, the guts splattered all over. In the gore, there was a wire-y worm that squirmed all around. I was terrified. When I asked about it later, somebody told me that when they bit you, they ejected that worm into you. My eyes widened with shock and the insect forever became associated in my mind as a parasite. I harbored a prejudice against the bug for a long time.
Collecting my thoughts, I calmed myself down and let the Sand Puppy occupy its small territory. In the meantime, I gazed about the town.
The streets are full of losers, I thought to myself. The meth addicts shrivel in the daylight as the drug dealers breed unstoppably in the trailer park palaces while collecting government money. The city officials’ companies get city contracts and rape the market while a father’s small business crumbles beneath the roar of a bulldozer. Now he works graveyards stocking food in the grocery store to put bread on the table. He tries his hardest to live an honest life.
My friends’ ambitions were blown away in the wind. Where are they now? Locked in the basements of their parents’ homes playing video games, smoking weed, watching porn on the devices that their mothers bought because they refused to work, and feeding on their parents’ income? That’s where I left them and I don’t see them now.
I used to blame the place on the way my future turned out. I had dreams, but I felt the place drained me like a parasite. The place was an easy scapegoat. I blamed everything on it so I wouldn’t have to own up and take responsibility for my lack of drive and my lack of success. In truth, my goals were never achieved because they never came easy for me. That’s the real reason. Not the town.
Later on in college, I gained some clarity from my Intro to Ontology class. I found out the truth to what a Horsehair worm was. When my professor projected an image of the black, wire-y worm on the screen, I had a moment of suspense when I realized what I was staring at; the worm that belonged to the parasite.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong. My professor told us that the Horsehair worm was the parasite itself. It used the Jerusalem Cricket as its host. He said that the worm inhabits the gut of the insect and feeds. The worm can also alter the behavior of the insect and force it to seek water. Water is where the worm thrives. Once the Jerusalem Cricket is in the water, the worm bursts through the insect’s abdomen in order to find a mate. The insect then dies from the wound that the Horsehair Worm created.
This revelation made me think. For almost three decades I thought the Jerusalem Cricket to be the most vile thing out there, but I was wrong. The insect wasn’t the parasite. The insect was invaded by the parasite.
I sat there and gazed down at the town and thought about my discovery from years ago while my eyes traced its streets. Then I stood up.
The Sand Puppy was still there. I gave it a gentle poke and it scurried off the rock. It fell onto the dirt and started scraping into the earth until it was below me. I stared out again then walked away from the Jerusalem Cricket that laid behind me.