There is no love for the lanternfly. The profligate planthopper, the habitual hitchhiker, who arrived, unbidden, from across the tempest-tost sea. A shipping container stowaway, the color of a dirty old newspaper. The spotted lanternfly has landed in Pennsylvania and hopped…skipped…flitted to picturesque Dorney Park. The first one I encounter loiters brazenly on the notice board that instructs visitors–somewhat ironically–to keep an eye out for the invasive pests.

They are everywhere. These drab insects, gray and muted pink, dappled with black spots like the errant drips of a fountain pen. An old woman crushes one between her withered fingers. Children laugh as they trample droves beneath their feet. And I marvel at the lanternfly’s steadfast passivity, its complete apathy for remaining alive. It is as confident as a hornet and as idle as a pufferfish but lacks either creature’s defensive ordinance. One alights on the hem of a young girl’s dress. This same girl who has casually stomped several of its brethren is brought to the verge of tears–until her father flicks off the interloper and a sudden draft of warm air sends it soaring into the sky. Up up up like a kite, its bright crimson underwings blazing in the sunlight–as if it were lit from within. And I finally understand how the lanternfly earned its name.

The late summer breezes sweep up the dead like fallen leaves. The children trudge toward the park’s exit, stooped and weary from their savagery, and when they travel home, rocked to sleep by the rhythm of the road, they dream of funnel cakes and roller coasters and lanternflies. Lanternflies littering the ground like crumpled flags and broken kites. So much wretched refuse. So much destruction wrought. All the carnage we unleash when we are only granted permission.

Born and raised in South Africa, K.P. Taylor came to the US at 29 to work at an amusement park (not Dorney) for the summer and never left. His work has appeared in Identity Theory, Gargoyle, Maudlin House, Roanoke Review, and others. He currently lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, their son, and two rescued cats.