Like a plague, they’ve returned to River City: billions of mosquitoes. They’ve come back with a hunger not seen since the 1970’s.
Before this year, the Year of Many Rains, River City residents have enjoyed three decades of relative freedom from mosquitoes. City crews here and all across the prairies along with years of drought-like conditions had virtually wiped out the needle-nosed pests. Indeed, it was generally believed that mosquitoes were extinct across western Canada save for a particularly hostile strain in Winnipeg. There, the so-called Mutant MXquitoes (or MMXers) began as thugs that deftly bit chunks out of people’s arms before sitting down in trees to chow down. Before long, they were swooping down in hunting formation to carry off Chitzous, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, and other rodent-dogs. In time, growing ever stronger and more and more militant, the MMXers took on the Teamsters, took control, and banished them to other burgs. Today, the MMXers control Winnipeg Transit and the powerful City of Winnipeg Water and Waste Department.
Although publicly presenting a confident front, behind closed doors River City authorities fear the worst: that the billions of mosquitioes now dining on local yokels are a whole new breed with genetic links to Winnipeg’s MMXers. One factor driving that unease is that River City’s 2011 mosquitoes are proving highly resilient to insecticide. One senior City Parks and Recreation Department official suggested they’re not just resistant to the spraying that’s been done in and around River City, they seem to be thriving on it. The more the city sprays, the more mosquitoes are in the skies and on the prowl. No longer are they aggressive only at dusk — now they’re on the hunt 24/7.
This week, city and provincial biologists and scientists are huddled in emergency meetings to design and develop a Plan C. And fast! Plan A was the historic, tried-and-true insecticide spraying of all standing-water sites in the River City capital region. In 2011, this has been a colossal, epic fail. Plan B was a brilliant new strategy in which one million ravenous dragonflies were imported from their native Draconia to ingest the mosquito plague here in River City. In June, this transport was hailed as the single largest orchestrated movement of dragonflies in world history. Children clapped, women shed tears of joy, men turned aside to blink away shiny eyes. Mayor Mandel wet his pants when President Obama called to congratulate him. But as brilliant as the strategy first appeared, the back-slapping ended with annihilation by a sky full of mosquitoes in a massive, silent strike that darkened the sun. It was a devastating and sobering loss of every single dragonfly squadron. The scenic river valley remains littered with hundreds of thousands of dead dragonflies — their dry husks blowing about in the cool breeze like so much chaff. It is to weep.
While officials desparately seek new strageties and new tactics to combat the mosquitoes in the Year of Many Rains, River City denizens try to live their lives as normally as they can. But it is a different year, a trying year, perhaps even a dangerous year, and the signs are everywhere. Deep Woods Off and other repellants cannot be found on any store shelf although a thriving black market has opened with unscrupulous souls selling watered down repellent at obscene prices. Still, people are buying it when they can. Off factories in Brantford, Ontario and Racine, Wisconsin are running round-the-clock shifts.
People in River City move about in hurried, spooked trots, seeking to get indoors as soon as possible. Mosquito head nets are in vogue and trench coats are popular. A local rock band, Whitemud Drive, has just released a new hit, Slap Slap Itch Itch. NOW 102.3 plays it incessantly and when people hear it, they bounce to the catchy beat and smile ruefully. It is all the buzz.
But always, reality is but a street light standard away. It is around these poles that black clouds of mosquitoes congregate….communicating, planning which humans to capture in their collective crosshairs. And so life goes on darkly and grimly in River City.
And yet, there is hope. It is soon to be August and then people will smell the cleansing snows of the Great Winter in the air.
Pray that the snows will not come too late.