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. A few minutes later Max held the missing object aloft with a feeling of triumph. He placed the collection box and floral tubes on a long work bench and switched on the overhead fluorescent light. Using the magnifying glass, Max scrutinized the collected leaves and twigs. He needed to ensure that no insects were hiding under the leaves or bumps on the twigs. Insects were detrimental to grubs, could cause viruses and skin sloughing and thus had to be eliminated before feeding or metamorphosis started. Max moved on to the caterpillar, ascertaining that no insects were visible on its skin. In a moleskin journal he made a detailed sketch and recorded date, time and place of collection. Temperature and nascent humidity, as well as a scientific description of the surrounding area followed in his neat, precise handwriting. He studiously omitted the curious fact that he had at first glance thought the grub to be feeding on a mouse.
The next two weeks passed agonizingly slowly as Max struggled to feed the grub. No tree or plant in the area enticed its appetite; even the various fruit Max desperately tried left it cold. It sniffed the air forlornly and hung its weak head. Frenzied, Max raided the pantry and fridge; cheese, cold meat, baked beans, milk, cooked spaghetti and rice were offered to the caterpillar. All went ignored and Max paced worriedly in front of the cage. The once iridescent colors had faded away; it had shrunk in size and seemed to be barely hanging on to the thin rescue line Life had thrown it.
Desperate times called for desperate measures and Max hurried to the university library to check out various tomes on caterpillar research. At home he worked late into the night researching every possible alternative in literature and online. Working through a particularly dense piece of research, with the grub parked right beside him, Max cut his finger while turning the page. A tiny droplet of blood fell onto the workbench. Immediately the grub hungrily sniffed the air, energetically wriggling to the spot in its cage nearest to the droplet. It keened silently. Astonished Max held his bleeding finger to the opposite end of the cage. The caterpillar followed manically, sniffing the air. Max smeared some blood onto a leaf and dropped it into the cage. Immediately the grub gnawed every trace of blood from it, leaving the leaf lying forlornly in the corner.
Max dutifully recorded these strange scientific facts with a feeling of unreality. He felt a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole and ending up in an alternate universe. He fed the grub three times a day from his depleting stock of blood. As Max grew weaker and whiter the caterpillar grew larger and gaudier. He had to build new cages with increasing physical difficulty as the grub grew to unheard of proportions. In a week it had grown to 60cm in length and 20 cm in width. Every minute detail as well as photographs of its varying, shimmering colors was carefully recorded. Max was sure that a scientific research prize would be winking in his future as this was utterly groundbreaking.
Mercifully at the end of the next day the caterpillar became lethargic and stopped eating. Max watched it closely and realized that a metamorphosis was in the offing. A thin, wood beam was fastened to the top of the cage. The caterpillar dutifully moved forward on its stubby legs, wriggled onto the beam, found a space that was to its liking and affixed itself. Within the next hour tiny, silken filaments were woven around its body as it jack-knifed at its centre. Soon it was covered in translucent silk and the gaudy colors were veiled. The wet threads dried and the undulations inside the cocoon ceased.
Three weeks passed in which Max watched the chrysalis like a hawk, paced and drank numerous cups of coffee. Inside the legs, eyes, bristles and body lost integration and turned into a genetic soup. There was a brief moment wherein it was poised on the threshold of life and death. Nerve ends became sensory tissue and features were relocated.