by R.S. Cooper
A small town is regularly beset by a magical phenomenon, but its exact nature is unclear.
|I was born and raised in Southwick. You’ve likely never heard of it. Or if you have, you’re likely thinking of the wrong one. We’ve hidden it away you see. We’ve been unincorporated for years, and people in certain places have ensured we’re not put on any maps that would reveal us to unwelcome visitors. We hide under the shadow of several other Southwicks, the most prominent of which is in Massachusetts. Our Southwick is not in Massachusetts. Where it is, I can’t exactly say. And there are other things, about how we live, and how we hide so well, that I can’t reveal. In fact, Southwick is not even the real name of our town. I just chose the name to use for the purposes of this narrative, and I’ve changed around several other important details too. Should I choose to write anything else regarding the town in the future, I’ll likely change more. But for now, Southwick it is, and Southwick it may as well have always been. |
Southwick is the only town in the entire country where magic still exists, and it exists as something called the Firefly Carnival. But before I say any more about it, you’ll have to understand a few things. First: Southwick is not a normal town, and although its abnormality is tied up and intertwined with the Firefly Carnival, the two things are not totally concomitant. Our past has long since faded into obscurity. I’m not sure if the town came before, and the Carnival after, or if the Carnival was always here, whispering its sensuous secrets to the sky and the earth long before humans ever arrived. It would not surprise me in the least if the latter was the truth. But that’s neither here nor there. Either Southwick created the Carnival, or the Carnival created Southwick, but the result of either story is that the people of Southwick are different for it. Those who have visited are often repulsed by our culture, our social mores, our moral codes. They don’t understand, and we don’t expect them to. We’ve long believed that understanding is futile. There is only the doing. The act, in and of itself. Raw, unadulterated experience, of rite and ritual, of sensation and seduction. The Firefly Carnival. I’ll try and give you a taste of it:
It comes every few years. Nobody knows the exact date. It may be only one year since the last arrival, or it may be over a decade. All you know, is that overnight, flags of deep black and gleaming yellow appear hanging from the streetlights in Old Town Southwick. That’s the first sign. The next week is spent in feverish anticipation. Life takes on a sort of hazy and dream-like quality. The daily drudge suddenly seems a bit less mundane. People smile at each other in the streets more often. Burdens are lightened, and spirits seem to raise. On about the third day, the smells begin to float in on the air. Apple cider first. Then pumpkin pie and spice. Coffee and cinnamon streusel. Cotton Candy, and funnel cake. All the wonderful aromas you can imagine whisk about in the cool autumn air together, and you can hardly stop your mouth from watering with a longing to try them all. But everyone is always patient. Perfection requires preparation. The remaining days go by in a manner that’s both monotonously slow and unbearably fast. And when it begins, no amount of warning could have prepared you for the spectacle. No amount of rationalization can account for it. It defies all logic, and makes a mockery of explanation. But it’s more real than anything you’ve ever experienced.
It goes something like this: one night, when your patience is wearing thin and your soul aches with a hunger you never knew you were capable of, you walk out your door, say at eight in the evening, and the Carnival will be there waiting for you, as if it’s always been there, and as if it always will be. The first thing (and for quite some time, the only thing) that you’ll look at are the fireflies. The streets are flooded with them. To step into the night is to step into a never-ending rainstorm of warm yellow blinking light. The insects drift through the air, coming together in groups as thick as spring pollen, and then splitting apart as easily as water is split by the stroke of a canoe oar. They float up and down roads, into alleyways, across green parks, and over stone courtyards. They alight on trees and streetlamps, on houses and shops, on fences and gates, on crosswalks and parked cars, turning all of Old Town Southwick into a flashing galaxy which reshapes itself into increasingly novel constellations as you wander amongst the winged stars.
They’ll even land on you if you will it so. That is to say, if you calm your body and allow your mind to relax, you’ll look down to find that the lightning bugs will use you as a perch. Even if you’re usually averse to arthropods, you’ll find your state of mind shifted (by means that escape your direct perception) so as to accommodate the twinkling travelers. In fact, you’ll likely find your new calling as a firefly ferry to be quite pleasing. As you recover from the awe-induced paralysis brought on by the sight of Southwick engulfed by the incandescent insects, and begin to meander down the streets set aglow, you’ll see other carnival-goers: some carrying a few fireflies on their hands or shoulders, others near completely covered in a coat of writhing bioluminescence, all with smiles on their faces. Should you need to be separated from your fulgent friends, perhaps to recover for a little while, feeling faint as you are from how impossible it all is, you can simply tense up your body and focus your mind, and immediately your noctilucent adornments will flutter away, leaving you with the odd feeling of melancholy contentment as they resume their journeys via tiny wing.
Once you being to reclaim your senses, which are still reeling from the beauty of the town becoming a dream-like labyrinth of billions of living lights, you’ll start to notice other changes. For instance: that the curious yellow insignias on the gonfalons draped from the streetlights are now properly glowing, as if the embossed emblems are larger versions of the little incandescent pilgrims overflowing the streets. And these aren’t the only places the luminous ensign can be found. Massive black-fielded banners have been stretched across intersections and draped over power-lines, while all flags of nationality and locality have been replaced by the radiant torchbug standard.
But these things are just a part of the foundation. Integral to the experience, but only setting the stage for the true attractions of the Firefly Carnival. Like near everyone else in Southwick, I was sixteen years old when I was first allowed to attend. And like everyone else, my adolescent mind would be utterly enraptured for years to come by what I found there.