Locusts by R. Schlaack

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SUMMARY: A boy's mad obsession with a Biblical plague.

Jonah's mother came down the stairs and saw Jonah standing in front of the window again. "Hurry up and get ready, dear, we can't just stand around staring out windows." Jonah didn't move. She bent down to his ear and spoke more softly. "Jonah, sweetie," she said, "stop staring out the window, please...? Come on, sweetie..."

Father's irritable footsteps could be heard in the kitchen. "Is he at the window again?"

Jonah's mother pulled him gently away from the window, and he looked at her for the first time that morning, eyes big and luminous. She adjusted his red bowtie and made sure his hair was neatly parted, and then she led him through the house to the door.

Mrs. Kildritch was the Sunday School teacher at the First Methodist Church of Bedford. She was very old, and somewhere along the line her mind had slipped sideways a little bit, and she had become a bit glassy-eyed. None of the other parishioners seemed to notice. She seemed a nice old lady, good with kids, and kept them quiet at least until the service was over.

Mrs. Kildritch's mind was stuck somewhere in the beginning of Exodus. All she could remember about the story was the Ten Plagues of Egypt and so that was her lesson, week after week, since the children were very small.

Jonah was one of the slack-jawed urchins staring at Mrs. Kildritch this Sunday as she raked them over the ten plagues again. Jonah could repeat them forward and backward in his dreams now. There were pictures to go with the story, pictures of skeletal cows and men with terrible red boils covering their bodies, and even one with an inky black hand reaching into a nursery, illustrating the Plague on the Firstborn.

But there was one picture out of all of these that stuck in his mind the Plague of Locusts. It showed a field of green wheat, very lush, but in the sky beyond rose a cloud of brown things that looked like grasshoppers, and the brown things covered every stalk of wheat in the picture. They had red eyes. Miss Kildritch said they blew in on an east wind, making a terrible buzzing sound, and then descended upon all the trees and crops and ate them. She said that when these locusts departed, there was nothing to eat in the fields or on the trees, because they had gobbled them all up. Jonah looked upon these red-eyed creatures with their chewing jaws, and his mind manufactured their juicy, hungry buzzing.

They got home from church at around noon. Jonah's father kicked off his shoes and picked up the newspaper. Mother started making sandwiches.

Jonah went directly to the window.

"Jonah!" his mother said, nearly knocking over a bowl of lettuce, "Jonah, come away from there..."

Father shook his head and just continued reading the paper. Jonah's mother steered her son away from the window and up the stairs. She waited until he closed his bedroom door behind him, and then she came back to the kitchen and grabbed an onion for chopping.

Father folded his paper and set it aside. "It isn't right," he said.

Mother shrugged.

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