Grasshopper Vertigo

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As most h2g2ers know, the Alternative Writing Workshop is a fund of fascinating works in progress, a forum where h2g2 writers meet, greet, read, critique, and generally tease the life out of each other.

Recently, Cactuscafe poured inspirational fuel on the prose fires with her story entitled Grasshoppers in the Park. Soon everybody was grasshoppering around. The results were so good, we thought we'd share them with a wider audience.

All the grasshopper stories are here. While preparing this, I thought that mine [DG] would remain a casuality of the moderation process. The moving finger of the Moderator clicked, and having clicked, moved on, leaving no email in her wake. However, the story reappeared without explanation a few days later. If it has survived translation to smiley - thepost, you may read the saga of one man's phobia. If not, it's because we never managed to find the earmuff.


Grasshopper Vertigo

The year they came, I forgot how to stand upright.

At first I was perplexed: Why was I terrified? The insects, though ugly, neither bite nor devour. They do not spread disease. They merely swarm and make noise. At night, they whirred in their tens of thousands, making the tin roof of the cabin hum. My mind, unable to cope, went blank, refusing even to acknowledge the truth – that the winged things from hell were flying grasshoppers, and for no sane reason, I cannot abide a grasshopper. A katydid in the breezeway will cause catatonia. I spent the days of the religious retreat in a state of hypervigilance, unwilling to think about one of red-eyed monsters landing on me. I refused to attempt to play baseball under these conditions. I retreated from the retreat, heading into the woods until I found sanctuary, a locust-free zone in the forest with a log-benched amphitheatre.

There I meditated on an inchworm, sang to myself, talked to angels, decided that even Elijah wouldn't eat one of those things. I went back to the inferno, since I suspected they'd be looking for me to play the piano.

Dinner-time. The kitchen ladies were not happy with the accommodations. Squirrels in the oven pipes were not what they'd signed on for. I liked the squirrels, and loved the bat that had got into the girls' cabin the first night, providing them with the excuse to stay up and scream ('They get in your HAIR!') until grumpy Mrs Waggoner yelled at them all to cover their heads with blankets and sleep, darn it, they were supposed to be awake enough to be spiritual tomorrow...

As I headed across the clearing toward the mess hall (no bugs, they were settling down on the roofs in the twilight), I heard another kind of buzzing in my head. I wasn't fast enough to recognise the symptoms before my vision solarised, and the next thing I knew, I was being jolted back from a faint with smelling salts and fussy ladies. Humiliation, nursing, and the discovery that a certain brand of fizzy stomach powder could actually make you feel more nauseous than before. I turned down the offer of an early ride home. This looked like bravery, and it was. I would very much rather have spent the night away from the leathery horde of cicadas, but I knew that taking me back would mean a pointless two-hour drive for someone, so I stuck it out. I expect my reward in heaven.

Sunday afternoon and home. Never have I left the woodland so willingly. Back to the suburbs, back to boredom, back to a nap on the sofa. Waking for dinner, two hours later. Standing.

No, not standing. Falling down.

For three days, my head spun whenever I lifted it. A point on the wall, focussed upon, moved to the left until, like a ball on a rubber band,; it snapped back into place, only to begin moving again. Sitting up meant nausea. Standing up meant falling down. Locomotion – from bed to sofa to bathroom and back again – was on hands and knees. At fifteen, I was devolving, back to infancy. Thowing a tantrum was not an option, although I was developing a yen for warm tinned milk.

My mother, too frugal for physicians, was finally faced with a medical dilemma: Either I became ambulatory again, or the houseguests who were coming next Monday would be severely inconvenienced (she needed my room). So I was bundled into the back of the car, where I lay during the two-mile drive to the doctor's. Dr Bruce was a fine son of Scotland, not easily perturbed. He shook his head, shrugged, said he had no idea what this was (I was betting on either extraterrestrial intervention or vampires in Pittsburgh's South Park, but knew better than to say so). He offered pills for vertigo, gratis from the pharmaceutical rep. The office visit cost, as usual, two dollars. (A housecall would have been an astonishing five.) We went away, I took pills, stood up and took nourishment the next day, and was able to move to the cot in the den in time for company. Problem solved.

Vertigo. Vertiginous...what? I am not afraid of heights. In fact, I am annoying about them. I enjoy them. I don't mind nature. I feel at home there. What was it about those flying grasshoppers – or any grasshoppers, for that matter – that froze me in my tracks? That caused my brain to forget how to see the world, my ears how to balance, my body how to walk? Where do those things come from, anyway, Alpha Centauri or the cave of Ali Baba?

If they were to become extinct, would the planet stop spinning? Would the inchworms stop inching and the roses smell less sweet? Why are there seventeen-year locusts? Do they fulfill an ancient curse by a forgotten deity, or signify a blessing to someone other than me?

If I never see them again, it will be too soon. If they were not to be, I would not mourn them.

Let the lady mourn for Grasshopper. Not me.

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