PULP of the WEEK 

Elton stepped out of his house and felt something go crunch under his foot; a cicada shell. He hated them, as did everyone, but they were to be endured if one chose to live in the Midwest. He reached back inside, grabbed the broom and swept off his porch. It would make him late but he needed them out of his path or he wouldn't be able to concentrate at work.

The June air was unseasonably crisp, as it had been the last few days. A nice breeze kicked up, rattling the branches. A squirrel perched in a tree chattered angrily at him. He fought the urge to cover his ears and concentrated on the sound of his broom. Finally, he scooped up the bug husks and poured them into a gallon size, Ziploc bag, then he deposited it in a Rubbermaid container with a bright blue lid, on top of dozens of similar bags.

A few minutes later, seated in his car, he turned on the A/C. Elton leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Blessed silence.

At work, he settled into his small office. A room slightly bigger than a closet, with brown walls, sound-proof ceiling tiles, and an insulated door. His old humming computer had been replaced with a new, quiet one. Sometimes it was nice having a legal disability; you got things other people didn't. During his eight-year tenure, Elton's exceptional graphic artist skills had been instrumental in rocketing this company to a strategic position in the gaming industry.

That day, like most, he only left his office long enough to warm his food in the microwave, careful to stop it before it beeped at completion. The lunchroom was alive with everyone talking about the cicadas.

"I heard they bite," said Maureen.

"No, they don't bite or sting," corrected Joe.

"So why now? I've lived in St. Louis six years and I've never seen anything like it." Maureen slammed the bottom of the dry creamer against the counter to loosen it up. "I really hate them. Those big orange eyes, that grating noise." She stirred her coffee, the spoon going clank, clank, clank against the side of the cup. Elton gritted his teeth.

"It's not so bad now because it's been cool, but wait until the sun heats them. They sing to attract a mate, you know," said Joe. "They shed, they mate, they plant their eggs in tree trunks, then the babies hatch and tunnel back into the ground for another thirteen years."

"That's disgusting!" Maureen slurped her coffee.

Can this woman do nothing without making a sound? thought Elton.

"So, they only come out every thirteen years?" Maureen slurped again.

"That's it. Cool, huh?" said Joe. Knowing of Elton's sensitivity to sound, Joe waited for him to retreat before cooking his own lunch.

"Sure if you have that much patience." They both laughed.

A shiver ran down Elton's spine.

Maureen slapped him on the back. "What's the matter? Someone walk on your grave?"

Elton looked at her, horrified, scooped his food out of the microwave and hurried off. He heard Maureen say behind his back. "What's his problem?"

Elton stopped on the other side of the door to listen.

"Elton has hyperacusis. It's a sensitivity to sound," said Joe rummaging in the fridge for his lunch. "A collapsed tolerance to normal environmental sound."

Elton heard Maureen giggle, "You're sexy when you talk all scientific like that."

"I'm also married, Maureen," Joe snapped. He exited the lunchroom and almost ran full into Elton. "Eavesdropping?" Joe brushed past him, not waiting for an answer.

Elton retreated to his office and tried to ignore the irritation he felt from Maureen. How could one human being make so much noise, literally and figuratively?

After work, the hot sun caused the temperature to soar into the nineties. The cicadas were in full screech. Elton worked through the multiplication tables in his head, to focus on his own voice. I really must apply for a handicap parking sticker to get closer to the door. Fifteen times seventeen. He punched the quiet unlock button, now just steps away from the sanctuary of his car. He slid in and gently pulled the door closed. He could still hear the thrum of the cicadas through all the additional sound proofing he'd had installed. He covered his ears and squeezed his eyes shut but the buzzing still bore into his head. Like an asthmatic looking for an inhaler, he started digging through his CDs, fumbling he dropped the one he needed. It clattered against the gearshift on its way to the carpeted floor. He recovered it, popped it into the player, then laid his head back and took a deep breath. Ocean sounds. White noise, yes, but its familiarity made it tolerable.

He sped home along the highway, then crunched through the cidaca husks on the way to his door. Once inside he could no longer hear them. He got out his calendar and checked to see how many sick days he had left. How could he continue to venture out every day through this barrage of noise? Damn, only one left. Elton picked up the phone and left a message at work that he would not be in the following day.

The next morning, his alarm clock vibrated him out of a gentle dream. The sun leaked into the room through the blinds. Back to the searing heat. He rolled over and went back to sleep.

Hours later, he waited for his coffee to finish brewing. It sounded like a waterfall. Elton's modest trust fund allowed him to buy specially engineered items like a coffee maker that didn't beep when it was done, clocks that didn't tick, and the highest quality heating and air system that only whispered. He'd been begging his boss to let him work from home. Maybe it was time to revisit that request.

Damn cicadas.

He powered up his computer and dug for information on the pests. He'd done this before, but the answers he found were not acceptable. Three to four weeks of this wretched noise? Maybe he could take a trip, he had some vacation time. But the thought of staying in a hotel with all that uncontrolled noise was beyond comprehension. He knew he had to do something to relieve the stress or he would break down again, like last time.

He began researching Maureen. First he did a background check, not very good at managing money, but no felonies. Then he hit the dating sites. He found her on two of them. Hmm. Double dipping. He read her profile, then hacked into the sites to see who she had matched up with recently.

On Wednesday, Elton wore sponge earplugs, and a dark purple button-down shirt with a midnight black silk tie, taken straight from Maureen's male wish list. He also had on a pair of jeans that hugged his muscular legs. He'd spiked up his short blond hair and wore a diamond earring in his left ear.

Maureen walked into the lunch room and caught her breath. Elton turned on the charm for her. He smiled, pulled out a chair, and bowed low. He reached for her frozen dinner. "Allow me," he said.

She was speechless as she watched the back of his broad shoulders during the preparation of her meal. When both of their meals were finished, he sat down across from her.

"Where have you been all my life?" he said, leaning his chin on his hand.

"You read my mind," said Maureen, then she giggled. "Do you treat all the girls this way?"

"Only the pretty ones."

Maureen blushed. Joe came into the room with three other men from the office. They were joking and laughing. Elton said a prayer of thanks for the earplugs that filtered most of the noise.

He reached across the table and took her hand. "Dinner, tonight?"

"Sure," she said.

"Great. I'll pick you up at eight." He winked at her. "Wear something quiet, okay? How about we keep this to ourselves for the time being."

"Sure," she said as she watched him walk out of the room, her mouth open.

* * *

Dinner at her place on their third date, Elton dressed sharp, all in black. He carried the Rubbermaid container with the blue lid to the trunk of his car. The heat had gone down with the sun, and with it, the ratcheting sound of the cicadas. He stopped for a dozen roses, certain that Maureen would make a raucous trying to find something to put them in. The thought set him on edge. He'd have to set an appointment with the dentist next week—he'd been grinding his teeth again.

Before climbing the two flights to Maureen's apartment, he tucked the container under the stairs. At her door, he presented the roses and kissed her slow and languorously.

She seemed frazzled, wearing a bib apron over her little black dress. She really did have a nice figure. Too bad she was so boisterous.

"I'm running a little behind with dinner. Want a glass of wine?"

"Yes, please," he said and kissed her again.

She hurried to the kitchen, clanked two glasses together while getting them out of the cabinet, then fussed with the bottle opener. He came to her rescue and quietly eased the cork out of the bottle, tipped the glass as he poured the wine, then offered her one with a smile. She clinked it against his.

"To us," she said and sipped. "Mmm."

She continued to clunk around the kitchen. Elton escaped to the living room, meandering the circumference with his hands tucked behind his back.

"Mind if I play some music I brought?"

"No problem. I've got some great jazz in there."

He popped his CD of whale songs into the player. He began to relax a little until she hollered from the kitchen.

"Almost ready. You hungry?"

"Sure am," Elton replied.

She walked back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room, her heels clacking across the tile floor then the wood floor. He rose and started helping her carry things. Finally, he stopped her, pinned her against the counter and kissed her, taking her breath away.

"Oh my," she said when he stopped.

He put one finger against her lips, then he ran both hands down to her hips. He stooped and continued to run his hands along her bare legs. With one hand on the back of her ankle, he raised her foot and removed her shoe. She shivered. He set down her stocking foot, and then repeated the moves to take off the other shoe.

He stood, sighed, and said, "Let's eat."

"Yeesh," she said. "That was really nice. Those shoes were killing me anyway. You know, my girlfriend told me they were great f—um, shoes for a date."

Elton held her chair, served her soundlessly. She yammered and chatted all through the meal. He smiled and nodded, distracted. "What's wrong? Cat got your tongue?" she said.

"I'm just eager for dessert," he smiled and winked. That shut her up for a few seconds.

"Well, I only have brownies. Is that okay?"

"No," his eyes bore into her.

She blushed again.

"I want you. Now." He downed the rest of his wine, took her hand and led her to the bedroom, where he proceeded to undress her. The whales called from the CD player.

"What is that anyway?"

"Whales mating, now hush," he said covering her mouth with his. He took his time, kissing her often to keep her quiet. But he should have known, she moaned and talked incessantly. The sound scratched inside his head, distracting him. He focused on the ryhthm of the ocean and made her scream.

"Oh. My. God," she said. "That was amazing."

"It's the best you'll ever have," he replied.

"Oh, really?"

"There is no doubt in my mind that you will never be made love to like that again."

"Very sure of yourself, aren't you?"

He nodded, swung his legs off the bed, reaching for his clothes.

"You can stay the night."

"No, I've got work to do."

"On a Saturday night. Come on, stay."

"Can't. Walk me out?"

"Sure." She sprung out of the bed, flung open the closet door so it crashed against the wall. She pulled out a running suit and slipped it on. It fit her well.

Elton collected all his things, checking to be sure nothing had fallen out of his pockets. He retrieved the CD from the living room.

At the door, they kissed for a long moment. Then he grabbed her again at the top of the stairs. "Ever done it on the stairs?"

"Not these stairs, I have neighbors."

He had her pressed up against the wall above the first step. He felt her melt against him. He turned her back to the steps. Pulled her arms off his neck and looked her in the eye.

"What are you doing?" she said with just a trace of fear.

He pushed her backward down the stairs. She let out a little yelp, then thumped down one flight. He watched her land. She started to groan. He hurried down the steps.

"My God, are you alright?" He helped her onto her feet. She leaned against him for support. Then he turned her back to the second flight of stairs and let go. This time he heard her neck snap.

A woman called out from her second floor apartment. "What's going on out there?"

He couldn't see her but called up to her, "We had a little too much to drink. Sorry for the noise. We're okay. We'll be quiet."

"Well, just see that you do," she said and slammed the door.

Elton checked for a pulse, nothing. He went behind the steps and methodically opened each bag of cicada carcuses and poured them over Maureen's body. Donning a pair of latex gloves, he then went back up to her apartment. He spent the next ten minutes wiping off prints then collected things that couldn't be wiped like the sheets and the roses, and stashed them into the Rubbermaid container. He cleaned the kitchen and started the dishwasher. Then he quietly slipped out the window and down the fire escape taking the container with him.

* * *

The police were knocking on doors, talking to neighbors when Detective Benedetti arrived. A uniform filled him in.

"And the weirdest thing is these cicadas. Thousands of them. We probably would have thought it was an accident, but the bugs—"said the uniform.

"They're not alive right?" said Benedetti.

"Nope. All dead."

"This is weird."

"Yeah, weird, huh?"

"No, I mean really weird. I remember a case like this thirteen years ago," said Benedetti stooping over the body. "Shame. She was kinda pretty."

Copyright © 2014 J. M. Landon.

Classically trained pianist, roller-skater, cake decorator, Microsoft Office expert, art gallery owner, jewelry designer, dragon tamer, writer. With this eclectic blend of creative experiences, J. M. Landon has explored all the above outlets for her inspired tendencies, landing in writing as a favorite passion. Born in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, in a room haunted by a suicidal hanging, how could she be anything else?

Landon is currently working on an MFA in Creative Writing at Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Missouri and has been published in Wired Ruby, The Sun, The Scareald, and Kansas City Voices.

She is excited to present the debut of Detective Andy Benedetti in "Hyperacusis." Watch for more if his crime solving antics in the future.

About the Author

J. M. Landon