Zero Hour! Halloween 2014 — The Emperess Cicada

This third offering, from Episodes from the Zero Hour! Managing Editor Jason Butkowski, is loosely tied to his Rex Rockwell: Weird Game Hunter series of short stories.  For more on the adventures of Rex Rockwell, Weird Game Hunter, check out EZH Volume 3: Weird Game Hunter, available now, and look for more Rex Rockwell adventures in the Weird Tales from the Zero Hour! anthology, coming soon.


The Emperess Cicada

by: Jason Butkowski


My dear friend,

I know that it has been far too long since our last communication. My work, unfortunately, leaves little time for idle correspondence; as does your own. However, I have recently come across a matter of interest, and given our shared affection for stories of the strange and unusual, I thought you would enjoy hearing this one.

In many of the native traditions of the indigenous peoples of the American colonies, there exists a peculiar legend about the end of the world. As most aboriginal legends tend to be associated with the natural order of things, this one is no exception.

On the American continent, there exists a particular species of cicada, which spends most of its life-cycle underground, sustaining itself on the fluids from deciduous trees. What differentiates these cicadas from those of our native Britain is that they emerge from their solitary, subterranean existence all at once, creating huge swarms of the insects for a short time, before the adult dies off, and the juvenile of the species grows below the surface of the earth, awaiting its own brief time in the sun.

Can you imagine the clarion song of hundreds, perhaps thousands of the creatures filling the forests, droning on to the point where grown persons can barely hear their own voices over the din? Can you imagine the air around you, briefly alive and teeming with the winged little critters as they flitter to and fro in search of a mate? Can you imagine the littering of carapaces as they molt their skin, shed to make life anew? It is truly a remarkable experience, particularly for someone of my entomological leanings.

While cicadas are not unknown to our part of the world – nay, I believe they are likely to be found in all corners of the globe – I must say I have never experienced anything quite like the swarms I have seen in the New World. The massive brood of cicadas that emerge from their underground nocturne every 13 to 17 years certainly remind one of the Biblical reports of the plague of locusts that descended on Egypt in the time of Pharaoh and the Israelites. Perhaps it is appropriate that the call of the North American cicada almost sounds like the word “Pharaoh!”

However, the natives of the American continent have a story so strange that it makes the ten plagues from the Book of Exodus seem like a perfectly logical and scientific event.

Noting the longevity of the American species of cicada, the native peoples tell a tale of one such insect that, many, many moons ago, dug itself further than any cicada had ever been before. It dug past the taproots which typically provide sustenance. It dug deeper still, past ages-old rock that had lain undisturbed as civilizations came and went upon this world’s surface. And finally, it reached the hollow core of our planet, where it sleeps to this day, and grows to monstrous proportions.

Generations have passed since this creature made its journey to the center of our world. Eons have passed. Exactly how long is a mystery lost to the ages. But one thing is certain – the indigenous tribes of the Americas believe fervently that this story is true. And like its smaller cousin, one day, the Emperess will awaken from her long slumber, and will shed this planet like a simple discarded exoskeleton.

The destruction that the awakening Emperess Cicada will cause, according to the native legends, will be total. Our Earth will not be able to survive the stretching of her wings into the Heavens. She will shake loose the world, bursting from the ground beneath us, and will take wing from the shattered remains of our planet into the cosmos in search of her mate.

Of course, these are just the superstitious words of an uneducated people. But as I thought about them, and thought about some of the natural phenomenon that we have seen in our lives – quaking earth, fire spewing from mountains – I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Could the natural disasters that affect our globe be the rumblings of the Emperess Cicada in her sleep?

I recognize that relaying this story to you may have the effect of encouraging you and your team of specialists to investigate the validity of this legend. I would urge you against such an expedition. As I said from the onset of this letter, if the legend is to be believed, the natives hold this to be the natural order of things. I would caution against going against that natural order… who knows what sort of calamity you could inspire by disturbing the giant beast’s slumber before the appointed time?

Supposing that the legend is true, perhaps it is our destiny as a species to simply await the awakening of the Emperess, and to hold dear the days that we have, however brief, on this planet.

If it appears that I’ve become too fatalistic, or even sentimental in my advanced years, I assure you, it’s probably just too much time spent studying bugs. In any event, I hope all is well, and I look forward to your thoughts on this bit of legend. Give sweet Evelyn my deepest and sincerest warm wishes.

Your admiring friend,



Dear Georgie,

We land at Reykjavik two weeks from Thursday. I suggest you find transport. From there, we set out for Snæfellsjökull. If our research is correct, we’ll be able to enter the subterranean world through a crater in the side of the volcano.

Adventure is afoot! As for Rex Rockwell, I write my own destiny. There be bugs to squash!

See you in Iceland, Georgie-boy.



“The Emperess Cicada” © 2014 Jason Butkowski
Originally Presented for Episodes from the Zero Hour! Halloween 2014