The insects and animals all met at the pond before sunrise on a Saturday morning in late July. They lived in the fields surrounding the outside amphitheater just outside of Indianapolis. So far, this summer had been filled with concerts of every kind almost every night of the week. There had been hip-hop, heavy metal, thrash and dubstep, and the worst was the boy bands with the screaming fangirls.
The animals had come to the end of their patience. This land had been farmland and woods at one time. The fireflies had commanded the summer night sky. The frogs provided a bass line and the cicadas and crickets had laid down a tight beat. There had been no summer gathering for five years since the outdoor theatre had been built. Animals and insects were dying from the cars, hot lights and the poison sprayed on the grass. The only creatures that had liked it were the raccoons, for all of the overflowing trash cans. But last week, an older female raccoon who had been a mother to many of them, was hit by a car. Even the raccoons had had enough.
An older firefly took to the large rock at the edge of the pond, “Friends and neighbors, in the ancient times, I was told the humans came and joined our gatherings. They watched the fireflies, and they danced to the music of the birds and insects. There are legends of them dancing among us, as friends and fellow travelers on earth. I say they have forgotten this, but that we must teach them once again. I have watched these human gatherings for some time, ‘concerts’ they call them. I have a plan… gather closer and I will tell you.”
Later that day, the tractor trailers arrived and began unloading the sound equipment and lighting equipment. The roadies worked at a feverish pitch to be ready for the 8pm show time. No one took notice of the animals moving throughout the amphitheater and grounds. It wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary, just more of it than usual; several pairs of raccoon eyes peered from the dumpsters, songbirds began to perch in huge numbers on power lines and on the edge of the roof, yet they sang no song. What was oddest was under the roof of the amphitheater insects began to gather. Thousands of fireflies and cicadas hung to the painted metal with a light buzz. Under the stage, along with cables and power cords was another gathering: crickets and frogs and mice and rabbits, along with several foxes who stayed in the shadows under the stage, away from the view of the roadies stringing cables back to the sound booth in the center of the amphitheater.
The lights and special effects all tested correctly and after the initial sound check, the band came out to warm up. The lead singer was a young man with perfect teeth, and hair that seemed to defy gravity. He stopped the sound check and told the stage manager that the drummer had better be tight tonight because he couldn’t perform when the rhythm kept speeding up, it just wasn’t professional. Then he asked for a mineral water for his throat. He spat it out and threw the bottle into the arena when he discovered it was too cold. “The cold is bad for my vocal cords; it’s got to be tepid! Can’t you understand that?” The sound of the glass bottle shattering was improved by the superior acoustics of the amphitheater. The singer took no notice of the thousands of tiny eyes watching his tantrum, the tambourine player noticed all of the bugs and animals and mentioned it to the stage manager, but he told him that if he kept this up he’d send him for a drug test.
Several hours later, the people began to pour in and take their seats. T-shirts and CD’s were sold along with obscenely priced popcorn. Finally, the lights dimmed. The band took their places, ready for the first song. The drummer and bassist started, building an infectious beat. The crowd finally started to clap when the keyboardist came in followed by the guitarist and finally the spotlights exploded as the singer burst on to the stage followed by a roar from the crowd. The singer greeted the crowd warmly, telling them how he loved to be back in their city and that this next song was for a special girl he had known from this very state.
As the crowd of rapt fangirls and wives along with patient fathers and boyfriends listened to the band, the animals made their move. The raccoons crawled from the dumpsters and made their way to the electrical room behind the stage. The high school rent-a-cops soon fled from the crowd of hissing raccoons. The mice and squirrels ran out from under the stage and began to run through the crowd causing chaos and shrieks not inspired by the music. Birds began to fly in flocks throughout the crowd and over the stage. Several flocks took aim at the band, chasing them from the stage in the direction of the tour tractor trailers, but the singer remained. That changed as three coyotes appeared from out of nowhere and began to chase the lead singer, nipping at his heels as they howled. He screamed in a high pitched voice, running wildly until he tripped on a speaker cord at the front of the stage and was propelled into the air finding no crowd to surf. He hit the ground with a thud, passing out as the coyotes licked the gel from his hair. The raccoons gained access to the power distribution room and pulled switches and levers until everything went dark. Once it was dark, they set about chewing wires and cables so it couldn't be repaired easily and then finally made their way to the hot dog stand now that the vendors had fled.
The theater was now in total chaos, people trying to get out, screaming for refunds when they began to hear something new. Thinking the band had returned, the people quieted and turned to listen. The crickets began to chirp, but not just one cricket, but all of them chirping at the same time in a brisk tempo. They were soon followed by cicadas taking up the downbeat of the rhythm created by the crickets. From under the stage the frogs emerged. They separated into two groups of frogs, one group croaking in what sounded like F major and the other in B flat, forming a simple syncopated bass line that became the hook of the song. The birds stopped flying throughout the crowd and perched on the rigging for the darkened lights. The birds separated into groups of sparrows, finches, blue jays and cardinals. Each group of birds took up their own melody, mixing perfectly with the base of percussion and bass line created by the animals and insects below.
People began to sit down and listen. Many of them lived in the city and had rarely been out in the country. This was something totally new to them. As the humans began to sway to the music, the fireflies dropped from the roof and began to fly. The dark amphitheater was lit by a warm yellow light. The fireflies flew in time to the music at speeds and patterns more elegant than any laser beam. The people sitting on the grass crowded under the roof to see it all.
As the light from the fireflies became brighter, the rabbits and foxes emerged and came to the foot of the stage where everyone could see them. In response to their appearance, the music changed. It became more powerful and tribal, yet still sweet and natural. The humans began to clap and stamp their feet, not knowing why, but unable to help themselves. The rabbits and foxes started to dance together across the stage, leaping high into the air, doing flips and rolls, things no human could ever do. It was one of those things that was complex, but still had a simplicity that could be imitated. The little kids in the crowd that had been brought along because no one could get a sitter, soon ran to the front of the stage and begin to imitate the animals, jumping and dancing, clapping and yelling in joy. Soon the rest of the humans, starting with the youngest to the oldest began to follow suit until the whole theater was the biggest dance party ever.
It continued for another hour. The singer finally managed to wake up. He ran his hand across his hair and felt something wet and sticky. He managed to slink back to the tour bus, where the roadies had gathered in lawn chairs outside the bus to drink various cold beverages and listen to the music. His face was bruised and scratched, his clothes were ripped and his hair was disgusting. He walked past them to this private cabin in the rear of the bus, slamming the door without saying a word. Three seconds passed and a roar of laughter from the roadies filled the air.
The elder firefly landed on a steel beam and surveyed the scene. The Summer Gathering was back and it had been a huge success.
John Homan is a poet and percussionist from Bend, Oregon. He is a graduate of Indiana University. His work has appeared in Chiron Review, Misfit Magazine, Mojave Heart Review, and Constellate Magazine, among others. He lives in Elkhart, Indiana with his wife, daughter and their two cats, Henry and Lucy. His personal website is: https://about.me/john_homan