Jeffrey S. Callico
Rex was a kid, say thirteen, and he played a game called Caterpillar Death by Fire. It was simple. Take a regular, no-frills caterpillar—one crawling its way up a tree, for instance—and place it in the center of a metal trash can lid lined with newspaper. Light all four corners, watching the crawling caterpillar change directions as the flames close in, eventually engulfing it, leaving it a smoldering blob on the metal.
He killed one after another, in the exact same way, getting his summertime kicks.
One day the fat girl Sophie came by, saying she had seen smoke and wanted to know what was going on.
Rex had just incinerated yet another caterpillar, and was marveling at its death. He looked up at Sophie, his eyes squinting in the sun. “You wanna watch?” Rex asked. Sophie just stood there. Removing a caterpillar from a jar, Rex relined the lid with more newspaper and placed the victim in the center of the arena. “OK,” he said to Sophie, “watch.”
And again the four corners lit with fire, again the caterpillar crawling, crawling fast, away from the nearest flame, only to be met by another, then changing directions and finding that there is no way out, the heat is too much, death is certain, the flames are the means to the end. Poof.
Rex looked up once more at the fat girl Sophie and found her crying. “You’re so mean,” she said, her tears streaking into the creases of her mouth. “You’re the meanest person in the whole wide world.” And at that she turned and ran back home.
He knew why she said that, the if-you-kill-a-caterpillar-then-you’ve-also-killed-a-butterfly thing. Rex smirked at the thought. “Butterflies are so stupid,” he said to himself, and reached for caterpillar number thirteen, the last one in the jar. “If I were you,” he told it, holding it close to his face as it twisted its body between his fingers, “I’d face it. I’d face the fire head on, die just like the other ones.” Rex stared at the squirming creature and said, “Who needs wings anyway?”
Positioning it like before, he lit the four corners. Moments before its impending death, the caterpillar stopped and lifted its tiny black head, as if it were looking up at Rex. “Save me,” it seemed to say. “Save me.”
Rex did nothing. He just sat and watched the fire do its job. “I’ll save you,” he said. “I’ll save you from yourself.”
Yes, I incinerated caterpillars as a child and would love to do it again.