Moths’ Bane

6 02 2010

[fiction]

Mam and Behem sat perched next to each other on a cool wet rock next to a small trickle, shaded from the sun by a branch from a milkweed bush.  It was late afternoon, and they had spent the entire day napping.  Their repose was interrupted by the arrival of a butterfly, which landed between them with its wings held up high, like a pompous banner bearer.  Moths are known for resting with their wings in a downward position, which is why they are so irritated by butterflies, who relax with their wings held up.  At first, they pretended not to notice the other species, hoping it would go away, but the irritant remained, making the assertion, “You know, you won’t always have the sun with you.  I don’t mean to be pushy, but you might do well to make full use of the light while you still have it.”

Behem glanced over at Mam and remarked, “Light, she says.  What use have we for the blasted stuff?  What, are we hiding in the shade so that we don’t take more than our fair share?  Begone, you pest.”

The butterfly stuck out its proboscis in insult, but to no effect.  “I don’t think I like you moths,” it said, simply.  “You aren’t very friendly.”

“Why don’t you go find yourself a nice little phoebe to play with and leave us moths alone?” the moth griped.

The butterfly sat there for three minutes, twitching its antennae uncertainly, before it finally realized the depth of the insult.  Then it excreted haughtily and fluttered away.  Mam just looked sideways at his companion and smirked knowingly.  For the next few hours they sat there, whiling the time away, until the sun died and buried itself under the horizon.  The two moths stared at it transfixed, unable to comprehend that their light source was leaving them completely.  Soon, it was gone, and its light died with it.

The two moths sat in the dark, bewildered.  “By Jove,” said Behem, “I dare say the sun up and left us.”  Ten minutes passed, and then Mam took to the air, with Behem following.  At first, they flew up and up, as though to get out from under the shade.  Then, when the stars began to appear in the sky, they spent some time chasing after those.  Their entire world was swallowed in darkness, and they lacked the mental capacity and the personal history to expect these circumstances.  The whole world was coming to an end.  The sun had died and gone away.  The stars were out of reach and impotent.

Presently, Mam lit on a large white flower, which he began to feed on.  Behem landed next to him, watching him silently.  “What are you doing, Mam?!” he asked, distraught.

Mam continued eating, then paused to consider the question.  “What does it look like I’m doing?” he replied.

Behem vibrated his wings angrily.  “Come on, Mam!  We’ve got to find the sun!”

“How do you propose we do that?” Mam asked, skeptically.

“It’s got to be around here somewhere!” Behem screamed, taking to the sky.  He flew solo through the inky darkness, desperate in his search.  In the distance, he thought he saw it.  It glowed in the amber hues of the sun, though perhaps not as bright.  He accelerated toward the light, desperate to draw near to that waning star.  There it was, next to a squarish structure.  He could already make out the form of several other moths dancing in celebration around it.  As he got closer, he could see the forms of several june bugs and a may beetle resting on the stuccoed wall near the ambiance.  In rapturous joy, he circled the light, over and over again, shouting, “I’ve found it!  I’ve found the sun!”  He joined his compatriots in a great fluttering dance around their god, shunning food, shunning reproduction.  All of the mundane necessities of life could wait.  In this “sun,” which was really just an old porch light, he found meaning.  He belonged here.

A few hours later, he landed on the acrylic cover to rest his weary wings, and Mam came by and joined him.  “Mam!” he shouted, “Isn’t this great?  I found the sun!”

“I know,” said Mam, skeptically, “I could smell your excitement pheromones from miles away, except….”  He looked around doubtfully and continued, “This doesn’t look much like the sun to me.”

“What do you mean?” shouted Behem incredulously, “It’s wonderful and bright!”

“Yeah, but…it’s not shaped the same, and…” Mam flew a circle around the “sun” and continued, “it’s all full of dead moths.  Man, I really don’t think this is it.”

Behem’s joy began to falter.  “But, Mam, It’s so pretty.”

“But, it’s not the sun.”

“But, Mam, isn’t it basically the same?  Shouldn’t we just stay here?” Behem begged.

Mam twitched his antennae thoughtfully, then replied, “No, I think I’ll just wait until the real sun returns.”

“But, Mam!  What if the real sun never returns?  Besides, this is a sun that you can touch and feel.  This is wonderful.  I don’t want to spend the rest of my life waiting for the big ball of light in the sky.  I just want this.”

Mam considered this for a few minutes, then abruptly answered, “Well, suit yourself, but I still prefer to wait for the real sun to return.  I’m going to go visit some flowers, find a mate, and sire some eggs. ”  And with that he flew away.

“But…you sell yourself short!” Behem called after him.  “Why would you live the ordinary life when you could have this?!”

Silence was his only reply, so he returned to his dance about the porch light.  He spent the rest of the night in this celebration, and when that wore thin, he began crawling around on the light, looking for something more.  He wanted more of it.  Finally, he found a way inside, which was pure ecstasy.  He danced wildly, overjoyed at having found his way into the inner sanctum.  He hardly noticed the pile of dead moths beneath him.

Meanwhile, Mam spent the rest of the night hopping from flower to flower, doing the things that moths are supposed to do, nothing glamorous.  Eventually, he found a mate and sired some eggs, and when the sun returned, just as he believed it would, he was sitting in his favorite place on the rock, basking in the cool humidity that emanated from the moist dirt.  He then resumed napping in the warmth of the sun.

When that fiery celestial orb crested the horizon, sending a ray of light to the photo cell of the porch light, that weak artificial light was extinguished.  The formerly exultant Behem would have danced for joy when that first ray of light fell upon him, except that he was dead, killed by the false god that he had wasted his life pursuing.

[/fiction]

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