Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Zerynthia temernika

Wake up, kids! It’s time for another

Tonight’s story is called

Andrei and Lilya were cousins, and much in love. They spent most of every summer at her father’s dacha near Rostov-na-Donu, playing together in the forest. One June afternoon, when Andrei was eleven and Lilya eight, nineteen strange aircraft flew overhead, issuing colorful clouds that steeped all the trees in a new pesticide. While this pesticide scarcely accomplished its purpose, it did manage (in a matter of days) to make the local bats as small as bees and the butterflies larger than seagulls. This was especially true of the vibrant Ciscaucasian festoon butterfly (Zerynthia temernika), a species common to that part of the woods. These insects had in fact become so enormous that they could no longer fly in the usual manner, but were obliged to scramble up a tree trunk and glide off a suitably elevated branch. This made them easy to catch, even for a pair of children with fishing nets.

Upon apprehending one of the creatures, Lilya would hold it still while Andrei gently sliced off its wings—which they would store away with the intent of using later for binding books. Then they would epoxy the butterfly by its legs to a long, sturdy stick. This they would suspend over a large jar of honey, chutney or a similar preserve, granting the lepidopteran full access to the sweet substance.

Without fail, the long probosces would uncoil willingly and slurp ounce after ounce of the stuff. The insects’ bodies grew visibly plump, and their multiple corneas would twinkle with possible merriment. Perhaps they ate to forget their recent mutilation—or perhaps they’d forgotten already. One the jar was emptied, the children would twist off the creature’s head and hold the body over an open fire, roasting it to golden brown.

Ah! The pastries of Copenhagen and Provence could never compare with these succulent layers of melting flakes interspersed with wells of true ambrosia! Lilya’s father couldn’t understand why they were never hungry for dinner. Were there ever a snack one could never tire of, this was it.

Sometime in early September, while the adults were out mushroom hunting, both Andrei and Lilya quite suddenly became ill with pronounced gastric pains. Their conditions swiftly worsened and they were rushed to a hospital that very night. There they lingered for weeks, incontinent, heaving violently whenever fed, staining the sheets a bilious green. The doctors had no idea of how to proceed with these mysterious cases, and by the month’s end both children were found dead in puddles of their own filth, their faces frozen in painful grimaces usually not seen on patients so young.

THE MORAL: It’s always fun until someone gets hurt.