New litters of blue moon cockroaches were piled in three cardboard boxes along the side of the farm wall and Ima Kölher was counting down the seconds until her mother came home so she could stop watching them scrabble against the walls of their boxes. The blue moon cockroach harvest had just been finished and Ima had been put in charge of watching them so her mother could go get the rest of the broiler baskets from one of their neighbors. Ima hated the way the blue moon cockroaches looked though, with their violently violet legs and their awkwardly aquamarine bodies and their beady black eyes. They were pretty in their own way, though, if you asked the other people in Ima’s town.
The harvest didn’t happen because the bugs were pretty though. No, the people of the town caught and collected the blue moon cockroaches because of the magic they had if you crushed them up and rubbed the crushings on the bottoms of your feet. Every single person in Ima’s town had rubbed blue moon cockroach crushings on the bottoms of their bare feet once in their lives, and every single person in Ima’s town was hoping to find a true match, so that they would then not be a single person, but a coupled person. You see, what the blue moon cockroach crushings did to the people was it brought out the true color of their souls through their soles, and every person had such a distinct foot glow, that once you found a person with the feet glowing the color that matched the color of your feet, you knew you were meant to walk with them for the rest of your life.
Ima’s parents had bright orange feet, and they were pumpkin growers as well as some of the finest blue moon cockroach harvesters in town. Ima was expected to grow up and do the same as they had; rub a dead bug’s proverbial ashes on her bare feet, wait for them to start glowing, and then wander around barefoot until she found someone with the same glow she had.
Only the issue was that a few days ago, Ima had realized that the bottoms of her feet were cracked and bleeding from running around barefoot all the time, so she went looking for some lotion. There wasn’t any in the house, so she walked down to the convenience store, but that was closed too so she had no choice but to go to the shadiest part of town, to the baddest little pawn shop, run by the most devilish man in the whole tri state area.
She cracked the screen door open and stepped inside. A smell of mothballs and arsenic hit her in the face as she looked around the pawn shop for Mr. Sundberg. She gulped, thinking maybe there was a better place to look for foot lotion seeing as this town pretty much revolved around feet, but decided for an adventure in skin care instead and stayed. There was a bell on the countertop, so Ima rang it and waited with her hands tucked into the pockets of her jeans.
“You have something to trade, little girl?”
“Then why are you at a pawn shop?”
“Well, I need some lotion for my feet. The Blue Moon Cockroach Festival is happening soon and I don’t want my solemate’s first impression of me to be that I have dry skin.”
“Solemates, huh? They still do that kind of stuff in town? With the big old bonfire and no one wearing shoes and everyone checking out each other’s feet? Sounded weird as Hal to me, to be honest, and I never saw the point.”
“Hal. You said it sounded weird as Hal.”
“Oh. Don’t mind that… I was just minding my manners is all I was doing. You said you needed some foot lotion?”
Ima nodded. “Yessir.”
Mr. Sundberg, all graying mustache and pierced ear and foal brown eyes, looked at Ima and her bare feet. He turned back to the shelves behind him to see if he had anything that would be of use. Between the vial of soap bubbles he had kept since he was a child and the jar of honey he had collected from his days as a janitor, there was a small bottle of face wash he had stolen from a hotel sink side. Ima wouldn’t know that though, not unless he told her.
Instead, he told her something else, something so fantastic and magical that anywhere outside the small town of Edyrhedmaine, the story would sound like a full deck of lies. But considering they had bonfires with fairies and cookouts with ogres, considering they collected cockroaches fallen from the blue moon stars and danced with the sons and daughters of the trees, nothing in their town sounded too wild too believe, and so Ima listened and took what Mr. Sundberg said to heart.
“This lotion was made by my great, great, great uncle and his best friend, who was the captain of the Piñata Cow Sunskiing team.” Ima nodded. She knew that sunskiing used to be a sport that her town excelled at, before the lawsuits of 2014, in which some busybodies complained that they were tired of ski impaled, sun roasted corpses falling back down into their yards.
“Go on, go on.” She leaned on the counter, excited to hear more.
“Yes, well, my Uncle Sundberg and his friend were trying to think of a way that they could win the sunskiing season, so they made up this recipe for the lotion in this here bottle. In it, they put the ears of a camel, the tongue of a merchant, the scars of a fallen- from-grace pro wrestler, and the ashes of a phoenix. So do you know what using this foot lotion would do to your feet?”
“No, sir, I don’t know.”
“Do you want the bottle?”
“I’d like to know what it does first.”
“Well, since you don’t trust me enough to see for yourself, I’ll tell you.” Mr. Sundberg leaned forward on the counter too, so close to Ima that she could smell his chamomile tea breath and look straight at his foal brown eyes. “This lotion makes you able to survive long distances without water.”
“Yes.” Mr. Sundberg pushed the bottle towards Ima. “And it would make you able to talk anyone into buying anything.” He pushed it another milli centimeter closer to Ima. “It makes you able to wrestle really, really well, until one day you get involved in a scandal so big it destroys your career.”
“That doesn’t sound too nice to me…”
“That’s not the important part! The last part is.” He took a deep breath. “This lotion will allow you to walk through fire and never be hurt. In fact, instead of being hurt, you will transcend human form and become like the famed firebirds themselves, perpetually being reborn as something more beautiful and strong than they were ever before.”
“I’ll take it!”
“Good, good. You can have it for fifty dollars, your firstborn child, or a full size turkey leg from the county fair this fall.”
“I’ll… I’ll just get you that turkey leg.” Ima knew she would have to give the man her full sized turkey leg from the county fair because she could only ever buy one, but she knew the lotion would be worth it. Mr. Sundberg handed her the lotion bottle and smiled.
“Done deal, little girl.”
And now here Ima was, sitting among the bluest cockroaches she had ever seen, getting ready for the Solemate Bonfire, and she had yet to notice any difference in her scabbed and cracking feet. How was she going to find her solemate if the bottoms of her feet looked like they had just been used as a dartboard for fans of using flamethrowers as darts? Ah, the pain. She was beginning to think the turkey leg promise wasn’t worth it at all.
“Stupid blue moon cockroaches. I never would have gone to see that ugly old Mr. Sundberg if it wasn’t for you.” She stood up and kicked over a box of the town's prized creatures. They went dashing everywhere but where they were supposed to be and this made Ima so happy that she kicked over another box, and another box, until there were no more blue moon cockroaches left in sight. They had all gone back to the woods, where they belonged.
When Ima’s mother came home, she was horrified to find what her daughter had done. “IMA, how could you do this to our town?”
“My feet hurt!”
“No one cares about your feet!”
“No, mother, everyone cares about my feet! Everyone cares about everyone’s feet and whatever stupid color they glow but my feet are dry and crusty like old undelicious loaves of bread and I can’t STAND it! So if I wasn’t going to find my solemate tonight, then no one else is either!”
“You’ll be old by the next time there’s a blue moon though! The next time the fields are prime for cockroach harvest, you’ll be past your prime and so will every single person in this town!”
“I think I can manage finding a solemate without the help of insects, mother!”
“Maybe you can, but you shouldn’t. It’s not our way here in Edyrhedmaine.”
“Well, mother, maybe it’s time we change our ways. Why should the colors of our glowing feet determine who we walk the path of life forever long with, hmm?”
“Because!” Her mother had gone through a similar phase when she was younger. “Because the blue moon cockroaches die in order for us to have a new life with someone who has already been chosen for us.”
“By the universe?”
“No, by the council of official solemates. They have meetings every Tuesday and go through catalogues of potential singles and go, ‘I ship them, I ship it, let’s ship that,’ and then what’s done is done.”
“NO! I was being very sarcastic. Why do you think we keep our tradition in this town? We keep it because one of the most beautiful things in the whole world is standing on your front porch with someone that has the same essence inside of them, and it’s just nice to have everyone else see that too. It’s our reminder that no matter how much we may fight or get bothered by our partners, that they were chosen for us for some reason.”
“And you can tell all this by their feet?”
“YES, daughter, yes, we can tell all this by their feet. Why in the world do you think they’re called solemates?”
“I thought it was just a mispronunciation of soulmates.”
“Nah, honey, that’s the next town over.”
Ima sighed heavily. “What am I supposed to do, then?”
Her mother looked at her curiously and wondered how in the word she raised such a cynical, ridiculous child. “I guess, Ima, that you’re going to have to go fetch those blue moon cockroaches before the witches get to using them for their exotic insect casserole contest next Friday.”