I crawled among the shy-est of leaves as the morning broke forth. Sigh. Another day. Gazing up to the sky in longing, I see a mockingbird swiftly fly over me. Most caterpillars would panic at the sight of a predator but not me. I dreamed of a day I would fly with the winged creatures of the air.
Don’t be stupid, they said. Caterpillars can’t fly. You crawl. You are born on this tree, you live on this tree and you die on this tree. This is life for you.
I always nodded in agreement but never believed a single word they said. Something deep within me that knew I was destined for more than a life of just eating milkweed.
One morning I woke up with a start, a pain gripping my body. What’s happening to me?! I groaned in pain as I felt my skin tear off the tip of my head. Shedding my skin had never been this painful. My twitching has seemed to catch the attention of the others. One by one they watched helplessly as I wriggled to get out of my old skin. It was itchy and burning and a little more than the usual uncomfortable feeling I used to get when I grew bigger. I lifted my front thoracic legs to scratch the skin off while jerking spasmodically and almost violently from side to side. I had to get the skin off!
In the distance I could hear my friends mumbling in fear. We all knew what was happening. It was my time to die. We had all seen other caterpillars go through the same thing. Old caterpillars who would writhe in anguish for long periods of time trying to get the old skin off. Old caterpillars who would then disappear during the night to a forbidden cemetery, never to be seen again.
I bit my lip against the burning sensation and stretched, pulled and jerked until I noticed the usual whitish hairline fracture across my abdomen; a sign the old skin was slowly reaching a breaking point. Bending over backwards I finally hear a snap. Simultaneously I used all my legs to remove the skin. Gasping for breath, I felt relief the trauma was over. And I felt something else as I looked behind to my shed skin. A wave of sadness washed over me knowing my days were up. This was it then. What a meaningless life I had lived. I suddenly felt like I wanted to be alone rather than let familiar faces watch me die. Not wanting to attract anymore attention from my friends,I waited till they were all asleep, and during the dead of the night, I made my way out. I didn’t know where I was going but I knew it would be away from here.
Reaching a secluded area I had never been before, I spun a button of silk as I attached myself to a twig. Leaning backwards, I prepared myself to die. I felt an intense pain surge through my body as my back split open. I screamed in agony and curled reflexively. I tried fighting against the inevitable but as the torment took over I found myself slowly drifting into unconsciousness.
When I woke up next, I found myself in an enclosed space. This can’t be heaven. Then it dawned upon me I was still alive. The will to survive grew stronger within me and I fought my way out through a small opening. As I pulled myself out of the cocoon on to a nearby twig, I assessed the situation. I felt different. I felt lighter. I looked at myself and saw a pair of beautiful wings attached to my back.
Smiling to myself, I realized my dreams were worth the wait, and definitely worth believing for.
This short story was inspired by Pr. David McCracken.
Thinking of: Dawson’s Creek