The Caterpillar



As the sun reached the very top of the tree, its light cascaded down through its branches, glistening off the droplets of dew on the leaf where the caterpillar was resting. The glint of the sun’s reflection aroused him from his lugubrious slumber. He sulked, like a prisoner awaking from dreams of sandy beaches and freedom, only to find himself back in reality, in a dank, enclosed prison cell. And wasn’t this a prison after all? To be stuck in this fleshy carcass, without friends or family – hideous to look at – only able to awkwardly slink along the branches of this tree; lethargic and apathetic. His only purpose: to destroy everything around him. The only things he felt: fear and jealousy. His entire existence seemed pointless and arbitrary. When he wasn’t annihilating the leaves of this beautiful tree for his own sustenance, he was shamefully hiding from the birds, who desperately wanted to devour him, even more so now that he was, in his own estimation, fat. The more distended he became, the more he knew he was a target. He could almost feel their gaze as they circled overhead.

His current physical condition also saw him become even more languid than usual. It took him twice as long to climb that branch today as it did yesterday. Wholly, it was a sad and torturous existence. To add further insult to his already shattered image of self, he had to see, on a daily basis, those stupid fluttering butterflies; those fairy-like dalliances, floating through space without a care or a worry in this miserable world. They didn’t have to hide away for fear of being some hard-nosed fowl’s mid-day snack. He had already seen most of his brethren devoured by these feathered devils. This was a terror that the butterfly would never have to experience. Just yesterday he saw one of them passing the day away on the pedal of some exotic looking flower. It just sat there, drinking in the beauty of that blossom, right out in the open, for everyone to see. The caterpillar remembered feeling a pang of hatred every time that flutterbye extended its wings, as if beckoning all of the ‘lesser creatures’ to gaze, in covetous enmity, upon the colorful patterns that adorned them, like so many stained glass windows. If he could, instead of eating holes in this leaf, he would chew holes in every butterfly’s stupid, beautiful wings. He knew that he would never have the freedom that these arrogant, trumped up moths took for granted.

Suddenly, he understood the strange behavior of that curious looking caterpillar, whom he perplexedly surveilled for an entire afternoon. This was back when he was younger and much more curious about the world around him. There were many other caterpillars around back then, though they all seemed to be about their own business, not even noticing him, so he dared not interrupt them. He hadn’t seen one for at least two days now. Back then, however, he looked on as this striped, wormy guy began excreting stringy, gummy fluids. It took him a while to figure out what this caterpillar was doing. At first, he lowered himself from the branch. Was he trying to reach a lower branch? Maybe this was a genius way to get around more quickly. No, he stopped and dangled there for a while. Then he began to spin a little pod. He was enclosing himself inside of this pod. He watched this all the way until you could no longer see the caterpillar anymore. He was now just a bulbous extension of that high-hanging branch.

At the time it made no sense to him. There was so much to see and do out here. Why would you shut yourself in and hide from the world. To an older, wiser caterpillar it now made much more sense. That striped caterpillar knew something that he hadn’t figured out yet. This world is cruel. You either spend your time hiding from the things you fear, or daydreaming about the things you’ll never be. He knew at that moment that it was his time to crawl inside and shut out the world, just like ol’ stripy. After a particularly voracious last meal he finally succeeded in satiating his eternal hunger. For as long as he could remember he could not satisfy his never ending appetite. He was always eating, but never fulfilled. It felt nice to finally be contented, but now he was so fat and so slow that he knew he couldn’t possibly hope to remain invisible to those damned birds any longer. Building an enclosure seemed a logical measure of protection. Sealing himself into that pod would be sad, no doubt, but at least he wouldn’t have to look at another butterfly for the rest of his life. It was worth it just for that. With his mind made up, he set upon building his private residence. He remembered the fate of that striped caterpillar. Dangling out in the open like that, his enclosure was discovered and eaten. he was determined not to meet that same fate. He camouflaged his pod with small pieces of twig and leaf, and made sure to build it on a part of the branch where the leaves were densely packed. This would be sure to throw off any creature aimed at making a meal of him.

It was hard work and it took him most of the afternoon. Just before sealing up the very last of the pod, the caterpillar stopped and marveled for a moment at his own creation. He felt pride in the home he had made for himself, and the feeling confused him. Then he took one last bitter look at the world he was leaving. A sharp pain almost like regret shuddered through him, but it was too late to turn back now. He spat one last caustic look at the world that despised him. Everything went black as he completed his chrysalis. Once alone in the dark with no room to move, the caterpillar succumbed to sluggish torpidity. He smiled to himself as he thought of the dreams that lie ahead: dreams of wings and fluttering; of the intricately painted patterns and swirls that would adorn his majestic wings; of dancing through the air, like all of those butterflies. He might never become one in real life, but in his dreams he could be anything he wanted. Anything at all.

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