Once Upon A Time: The Fireflies.

Fireflies in the woods near Nuremberg, Germany...
Fireflies in the woods near Nuremberg, Germany, exposure time 30 seconds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(A continuation of the Blue Darkness, by request).

My name is Jed, Jed Parker. I count fireflies for a living. It’s a strange job for an ex-military man, but it meant I got to stay out all night and hang out in the woods. I had nothing to go home to, anyway, and never liked doing a day job.

I’ve got a talent. I can make the fireflies blink all at once. Learned it when I was stationed in Southeast Asia and the Philippines. Not many can do it, because it’s tricky. The science guys I work for call it phase synchronization, but they don’t know how to set it off.

Now, I’m not out here to make the fireflies go all at once for fun. We’re trying to get the males of one firefly species to work together and drown out the females of another species who like to lure the menfolk over and eat them. Yeah, femme fatales, indeed.

We need the menfolk of the one species to stay around because they create a kind of poison that the science guys want to try using as a medicine. It could be a good painkiller and may make people relax. But it also gives you the weirdest dreams.

How do I know? Because I was out there in the dark, doing my thing and getting all the fireflies to start blinking at once. Then a swarm of other fireflies came at me out of the dark where I was hunkered down in the marsh.  It looked like a luminescent mini-cyclone.  They swarmed me something good, getting in my hair, my eyes, and even my mouth. It was a big cloud of female fireflies from the other species. I know it was them, because when those females eat the males of the poisonous species we want to save they concentrate the poison in their bodies. I only got one or two of them in my mouth, but they must have been eating males for days because when I accidentally bit down it was like I swallowed acid.

I coughed and spit, but the fireflies kept coming and pretty soon the whole world started spinning like I’d been drinking for hours. My muscles felt all relaxed and I wanted to lie down. I barely staggered to solid ground before I collapsed. The females settled all over me and I was helpless to resist.

Then I must have started dreaming, because it felt like I was getting lifted up and carried. I think I even remember seeing my truck go by below, but that’s just crazy. In my dream we traveled for miles, with different clouds of fireflies taking over, catching me in the air and moving me onward. I settled down in a clearing, just looking up at the sky without caring and without being able to move.

In my dream, I was just lying there when this glowing person came floating over above me. As it came closer, I could see it was a woman, her hair all tangled up and her body supported by fireflies. They set her down next to me and moved off, leaving us both in the darkness. Then I got too drowsy to keep my eyes open and fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning, the sun was out. The birds were going crazy and my mouth felt like someone had scrubbed me out with steel wool. I craned my neck around and saw I was in a clearing, and lying next to me was some woman, peering at me over her glasses. She looked about as good as I felt.

“Houh howh Whoough Nough?” I said with a mouth that didn’t work at all.  She just drooled a bit and mumbled “Eh doough neoh” as an answer.  I don’t think her mouth was working very well at all.

We basically stared at each other for a few hours until our bodies got enough movement back to start working for us.  And yes, I pretty much had gone to the bathroom in my pants, which is just not a good way to meet anyone for the first time.  I also got to watch her grimace and finally give up.  We were both pretty much paralyzed, and you can’t wait for a bathroom break when you can’t move.  So we got what you might say was a fairly intimate relationship going pretty early on.  Nothing much bonds you like being mutually humiliated.

Eventually we got so we could move, and when I got a good look around I couldn’t quite figure out where we were.  Near as I can figure, I must have gotten delusional and wandered around until I collapsed.  Yeah, it’s pretty strange that someone else with the same sort of delusion collapsed next to me.  But what’s the alternative, we were kidnapped by fireflies?

Well, neither one of us could walk very well, so we had to lean on each other to move.  We started stumbling out of the clearing, looking for a road or some sign of civilization.  You’d think in that part of the country it’d be pretty hard to miss at least a back road, but let me tell you it was three days before we hit a dirt road and followed it as far as a farmer’s house.

In that time I got know Rosie pretty well.  That was the name of the lady I ran into, and I couldn’t have been luckier.  She was a survivor, and knew more woodcraft than I did.  We sucked on roots and ate flowers and bark, and drank from tree hollows to avoid the swamp water.  We both still got Giardia, which is a stomach bug you get from bad water, but it wasn’t bad until we got back.

Along the way I found out Rosie was another firefly whisperer, which is what she called it.  She could make the fireflies blink in unison too.  I also found out she was a military brat and her dad had served with my commanding officer in the Philippines.  We had a lot in common, and if we hadn’t both been drugged, groggy, starving, and stinking, we might have even been on a crazy camping trip.  I know we had to sleep cuddled up together for warmth, and that with the stink of the two of us we must have smelled like a bear cave in the spring.

So we finally made it back, though the first farmer we ran into thought we were swamp beasts.  Rosie had us stuff our clothes with moss to keep warm, and we were covered in mud to keep off the biting insects.  So he could be forgiven for running for his truck at the first sight of us.

When we got him calmed down, we used his phone to call our bases and arrange pick-up.  Turns out we were basically working for the same outfit, only she had a job through one of their subcontractors.

As you can figure, Rosie and I became something of a laughingstock for a while.  Lots of joking and an investigation of what happened.  It all blew over, and they never came to any conclusions.

Rosie and I took to seeing each other during the day when we weren’t working.  We working on the speed of our synching the fireflies, and it got to be a competition between us.  As you can probably guess, spending night after night with each other eventually led to us getting married.  Now we’ve got little ones and one of us has to take time off because it’s hard to get a nanny to do night shifts.

We’re training the kids to do the synch, but it’s hard to know if either one of them will pick it up.  It’s a rough going, raising kids, but I’m not so alone now.

Sometimes when I’m watching the kids I’ll speculate on what happened that night Rosie and I met.  Could it have been the female fireflies, trying to distract us from doing our jobs?  Nahh, it’s just a silly idea.  One thing bothers me though.  The clearing that I woke up in was more than forty miles from my truck, across a river.  On a good night I usually do ten or twenty miles, tops.  And that’s with my wits about me.




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