Glow ~ fiction by Keith J. Powell

Like a lot of people, I started experimenting with bugs in high school. My first time was at a party after homecoming sophomore year. A girl wearing her hair in a towering beehive do fluttered a baggie of monarchs the color of Halloween in front of me. Butterflies were no big deal, I figured.

I cupped a lively one between my hands, sucked, and swallowed like I’d seen in the movies. It felt like pink lemonade fizzing in the back of my skull. The girl with the beehive and I spent the next hour bobbing and weaving around the room, bumping against windows and perching on flowers.

When finals rolled around, a buddy suggested we try dragonflies to help us study. He knew a guy who could score amberwings. We secreted ourselves in my basement after school, cupped and sucked, zipping through two hundred and fifty years of American history in a brisk four minutes before darting up, up, up, and out a window. We ended up doing wind sprints along the river near downtown, shouting manifest destiny! at the top of our lungs until we collapsed face down in the mud at dusk.

It went on like that for a while. Nothing more serious than kids doing bumblebees in the park, making ourselves fat and silly with pollen.

Of course, then the End of Summer Woods Party happened.

The night started off fine. We fed the bonfire until it was as tall as we were fearless. Then, some rando from two towns over started passing around a mason jar that twinkled with lightning bugs. I didn’t know that lighting bugs were the same thing as fireflies and took more than I should have. A consuming glow burned away my inhibitions like sunrise lighting up morning fog. Suddenly, I could say anything, do anything, which is great for pulsing to the beat of crickets but less great when that same euphoria leads to bioilluminating lewd comments at every girl in a tank top.

Anyway. Turns out one of the girls at the party had been a Girl Scout and knew Morse code. She told her boyfriend — some college dude hopped up on orange assassin bugs. The rest is a blur of fists and curses.

The next morning, I barely recognized myself in the bathroom mirror. My face was crusted with nectar, my body dotted with purpling bruises. Never again, I swore. I’d grown up hearing whispers about my uncle Jerry—the life of the party—who died one Fourth of July flying into an open flame, stoned out of his mind on moths. The thought of ending up like him scared me.

But I’ll be honest. I miss it sometimes. I do. To this day, there’s still a buzzing in the back of my head promising me that I can handle a few ladybugs, that June bugs are a healthy source of protein, that the flames are worth the risk to fly.

Keith J. Powell writes fiction, CNF, reviews, and plays. He is co-founder of Your Impossible Voice and has recent or forthcoming work in Rejection Letters, The Ekphrastic Review, Bending Genres, 100 Word Story, and New Flash Fiction Review. Find more at