I want to sit in a graveyard, alone, at night. Part of me fears that doing so will invite something bad to happen, that I will open myself up to some evil possession, but another part of me believes that it will be a very peaceful experience, that God will be there with me. I will have a communion with those that have passed on before, and if I am alone, and quiet, sitting beneath an ancient oak tree in the middle of the cemetery, I will receive a gift of great value.

I know which graveyard I would choose. It would be the small one out by that old, country church far beyond the edge of town; the one where we used to hide our liquor when we were young. The one we would irreverently drive through after a night’s partying and always choose the same tombstone behind which to conceal our half-empty bottle. Who would think to look for a teenager’s bottle of Jack Daniel’s in a graveyard? It also happens to be the same graveyard where my friend and I got stuck on a tombstone in his big, blue Pontiac one night after we had hidden our bottle. It was funny at first, rocking back and forth on a nearly flat headstone, obscured by the unkempt grass, but later it was scary. What had we awakened? Would it be safe to go back?

Within ten years, that friend would be dead.

A curse? An icy hand extended from the disrespected grave to exact a measure of revenge?


When I was a teenager, we called them dry flies. It wasn’t until much later that I learned they were actually cicadas. In the hot, summer months they would begin calling at dusk, their dry, raspy chorus beginning sporadically with one or two individuals striking the first notes of the nightly symphony before being joined by untold legions of their brethren. The old-timers called them dry flies. According to them they sang because the land ached for rain. I paid attention, testing their theory, and noticed that it didn’t matter, rain or drought they still called. I used to try to find them in the waning light, guided only by their sound. It was an incredibly difficult task, isolating only one when so many called. From every tree there would be dozens. I felt like a disoriented bat trying to find one sound to pursue as the cacophony of voices reverberated inside my skull. Usually, the night would overtake my vision before I could find one, but occasionally luck was with me and the hidden singer would be revealed. I was always surprised that they never flew away; even as I stretched out a tentative hand to snatch them from their perch on the limb of a maple or oak, they offered no resistance. I would slowly turn their crunchy, green bodies, studying them, mesmerized by their size and alien appearance before letting them go, watching them flutter noisily off into the night.

They call them dry flies, but the old-timers were only half-wrong. It has nothing to do with rainfall. In the Appalachians they call them dry flies because of the dry husk they leave behind. I never knew if the shell was left after they molted or after they died, but I used to collect them. I would keep them in a shoebox, my own little hoard of summertime memories, and marvel at how perfect they were; an exact replica of the insect that once called it home, like a boxful of Turin Shrouds, only much less controversial. I never kept them for very long. After a month or so I would toss them out. At the time, I didn’t know that in Asia they use cicada shells for medicine. I wonder how many cures I tossed away with my used Kleenex and empty Coke cans.


I’ll arrive at the graveyard at dusk… so I can hear the dry flies. But this night I won’t search for them. I will sit, and listen, and remember. Their sound will engulf me and whatever spirits may wish me ill will be fended off  by their calling. Sounds so rich with memory are always powerful, protective things. I will sit in the graveyard and meditate on the dry flies until they fall silent –as they always do once the real, deep night sets in. Then my work will begin in earnest. With my back against a familiar tree, I will extend my mind out into the night and allow inside whatever will enter. The dry flies will be silent, but I know I will remember their husks in a shoebox under a fifteen year old’s bed. I will think about a friend dead too young and wonder if the husks of those dry flies could have been ground up and brewed as a tea and poured down his dying throat, and once poured drag him inch-by-inch back to life.

Once the dry flies are silent the mosquitoes will emerge, bringing an end to my reverie. It will have to end that way because I will only make nocturnal graveyard visits in the summer. I could never sit in a graveyard in the winter. It would be too cold, and there would be too much death. Death above ground as well as below. And the dry flies wouldn’t be there.

They only last a summer.


Dry Flies - William "Cully" Bryant (c)


Copyright 2009