I am busy reading Perdition Street Station by China Mieville and it sparked the following short story. This is part one I hope to finish part 2 tomorrow. Amazing how the mind works!


18. Autopoiesis:

“My, oh my and what have we here?” Max Avery whispered under his breath.

A well-known lepidopterist, Max had been collecting caterpillars and watching them turn into butterflies for as long as he could remember. Aunt Agatha had bought him his first caterpillar habitat box when he turned ten and had nurtured the budding scientist until her death several years ago.

He knew all the species and sub-species of the 660 butterflies commonly found in South Africa and had even travelled abroad to Germany, France and Italy to study some of the rarer species which were endemic to these countries. What was more he knew them not by their common household names but by their variegated Latin names.  Cassionympha cassius, Hamanumida daedelus, Andronymous ceaser settled on his tongue and melted in his mouth like chocolate, sending a frisson of excitement down his spine.

Max loved caterpillars and their metamorphic product, the wispy butterfly, equally well. Some whispered that Max was so in love with the whole butterfly thing that no living, breathing woman could compete. Nevertheless, on this mild spring morning Max had found a caterpillar that he could not identify. Anatomically it resembled every other caterpillar the world over, but as to coloring it was an anomaly. Its body was covered in brilliant rainbow hues and seemed to shimmer and change depending on where and when the dappled sunlight struck it.  Stranger still, was the fact that the fat little grub seemed to be feeding on the body of a field mouse. Max shook his head resolutely to clear the absurdity of the notion and glanced at the nearby trees. There was no

Kiggelaria Africana or Citrus trees present; however a lone Acacia karoo stood ten meters to his left. Briskly he walked over to the tree, snapped three twigs off a branch and gathered fresh leaves.He deposited the gathered materials with the exception of a twig into floral tubes which were always washed, packed and ready in the leather specimen case he took with him on caterpillar expeditions. The filled containers were returned to the case. Max rummaged in its cool depths for the caterpillar collection box he had designed, marketed and sold to pet shops worldwide as well as a small steel shovel. The box was made entirely of wire mesh with a hinged opening at the top to allow easy access and a detachable plastic tray at the bottom for cleaning. The wire mesh gave the caterpillar something to cling to and allowed a hygienic environment in which the caterpillar could behave as normally as possible given the circumstances.

Max returned to where the caterpillar still lurked beneath the log with its unseeing, unfortunate mouse companion. With the shovel he scooped up an inch of grass and soil and deposited it into the plastic tray at the base of the box. Next, he gently coaxed the grub onto the twig. Rule number one was never to touch the specimen with your bare hands as the bacteria is transferable and said specimen could become severely ill or die. Rule number two and equally as important, was never to pry the specimen from its natural habitat. The suction pads beneath its body were fragile and could be irreversibly damaged. This required great patience on the part of the scientist as you had to wait for it to make up its mind to accept the twig and wait for the tiny body to crawl onto the twig in question. With the grub securely on the twig, Max took great care in transferring it to the collection box as a fall from human height would turn its insides into a mushy mess. With the collection box safely secured in the specimen case and a satisfied, idiotic grin on his face, Max trudged back home.

*         *        *

In his study/science lab Max searched for his favorite magnifying glass, the one that was an exact replica of Sherlock Holmes’. He could never remember where he had placed it.



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