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A Changing World
I never asked to be different, but I guess that’s just the way things are in this world. Recessive genes are revealed and some of us are kicked out of the social scene. So that’s why mum never loved me, I thought as I scuttled down the pale bark of the tree where I rested every day. Others either pushed me aside or tried to avoid me. A shadow cast over the sun, and I stopped suddenly.
There it was.
A large, grey blur was flying amongst the branches at the treetops. Everyone else around me froze, clinging to the lichens on the tree for their dear lives. Lucky for them, their beautiful white bodies provided enough camouflage to stay safe from the impending doom. I knew I was dead meat. I lifted my feathery, black antennae away from my eyes and looked around. In the far distance I could see the faded outline of another tree. I could barely make out the moths from the bark, except for five black splotches. I imagined that they were just like me; outcasts doomed to predation.
My proboscis quivered as I looked up at the menacing bird. Two big, black orbs flicked about, eyeing the other tree intently. I tried to look as small as possible, hoping I could hide underneath someone else’s wings, but the bloke next to me just whispered, “Stay still, bloody mutant, or you’re gonna get us all killed,” and knocked my tibia out from under me. I scrambled to keep my grip on the branch, but I fell towards the ground. I unfolded my wings and tried to flap my way up, but they were still too wet from the morning dew. I tumbled to the ground, thankfully still alive, praying that the bird wouldn’t notice me.
But it did.
The beast flapped its wings loudly as it approached, beak gaping open. I scrambled around in the dirt, looking for cover. I weaseled my way under a patch of dead leaves and hoped for the best. I couldn’t see, but I heard the sparrow land with an ominous thump. It scratched around the leaves with its giant claws, and I inched my way towards a large clump of dirt in between two mountains of tree root. The bird made a deafening chirp and lifted up into the air again. The air current nearly sent me flying into the side of the tree. I gathered myself and poked my head out of the leaves. The bird was terrorizing the other tree, and by the time it took off, apparently satisfied, there were no more black splotches left. I tried not to think about it.
I climbed back up the tree, rubbing dirt out of my eyes with my antennae. I was about to return to my resting place in the shadow of a large branch, when I felt a soft, velvet wing brush up against mine. I turned around to see a black moth like me, only female, and much prettier.
She said politely, “Excuse me,”
“Uh, hallo,” I muttered. A female had never spoken to me before.
“I saw you out there. Those white-wings are terrible, aren’t they?”
“Oh, is that what they’re called?” White-wings. Somehow that seemed offensive. My entire life I had been led to believe that white moths were better and more deserving than black ones.
She laughed, her slender antennae quivered slightly, “You’re funny; I like you,”
I was taken aback, but I managed to ask, “What’s your name?”
“My name’s Laria,” she said, “what about you?”
“Ah, er... I’m Biston,”
“Biston. What a great name. You know what? Meet me in that tree at nightfall,” she pointed her foreleg towards a sickly tree bent in an unnatural sort of way.
“Uh, alright,” I said.
She giggled, “See you later, Biston,” she scuttled down the tree, and disappeared before I knew it. What a strange female, I thought.
At nightfall, the moonlight guided me to the twisted tree, small slivers of light reflected off of the dark, waxy leaves. I settled on a branch and looked around. Everyone else was flying around looking for mates or tending to their larvae. We had little time on this world, and most of it was dedicated to the next generation.
A voice whispered, “Biston!”
I turned around sharply. It was just Laria. “Bloody heck, you scared me,” I said.
“Follow me. I got something to show you,” she took off, her delicate wings kicking up something black, dusty, and simply awful.
It got in my eyes and I had to brush it away with my antennae as I flapped quietly after her. “Where are we going?” I asked.
She waggled her proboscis towards the sky up ahead, “See those big black things up there?”
I saw three large dark shapes in the distance resting among the clouds. They looked something like trees, but they were much too straight, and some sort of smoke billowed out of their tops. They looked like they were attached to a big block of rock underneath that had giant creatures walking about it, carrying heavy loads or shouting commands.
“What’s that smoke?” I asked, “And what are those creatures?”
Laria fluttered down on a nearby tree. It looked even worse off than the other one. She explained, “Those creatures are called humans. They use those big blocks to make the smoke stacks, and that smoke will be the key to our success, Biston.”
I landed next to her, black powder getting all over my legs, “Huh? Our success? What do you mean?”
“Look,” she lifted her leg up and shook the black stuff off, “That powder is called soot, and it gets all over the trees around those blocks. Remember this morning?”
I nodded slowly.
“That kind of thing will be happenin’ to all the white-wings once the trees are all covered in soot, because black moths will have the camouflage. That means that moths like you and I are in the clear, and soon we’ll be the ones in charge,”
I said, “But that’s not right. We weren’t meant to be around anyway. We’re just- just-”
“Inferior?” Laria said sharply, “Go on, just say it. We’re mutants, right? We don’t deserve to stay alive. That’s just the natural order of things, eh?”
“Well, no...” my voice trailed off. I wanted to tell her that wasn’t what I meant to say, but it was.
“Biston, these humans are different. They change the natural order. It doesn’t have to be this way,” She looked at me with brilliant, moonlit eyes, “We don’t have to be eaten anymore,”
“I don’t like this,” I said, looking down at the polluted bark, “I assume the trees must be miserable from all this awful tasting powder, and think about all the good moths out there that’re gonna die!”
“Were they good to you, Biston?” she asked.
I had no answer.
“Think about that, why don’t ya?”
Laria took off again, and soot flew into my face. She flapped away into the blotch of darkness ahead.
The sun rose up again and I settled on my branch to rest once more. Just as Laria had said, the soot was beginning to accumulate on the tree, and darker moths like us were getting better camouflage. The birds sang their ominous songs. For many moths, it was a sign of inevitable death. Today, I would not be one of those moths. The sparrow from yesterday came swooping towards our tree, and I watched the spectacle from my branch. Several of the once-beautiful white-wings were pecked at, their thoraxes ripped from their bodies, and their wings torn off violently as their carapaces made their way for the bird’s stomach. I clutched my soot-covered branch firmly, while the bird pecked loudly on the branch above. It never noticed me for a second, but the white-wings seemed as out of place as squirrels swimming in the river.
Laria inched over to me and giggled, “Isn’t this great?”
“I don’t know...” I replied.
“Oh come on, Biston, still pitying the white-wings?”
I looked down in shame.
She said bitterly, “They never gave you a second thought. Why should you give them the luxury?”
“I... I guess you’re right,” I said.
At that moment, a worried little white-wing approached me. She was shaking in fear, and her proboscis was curled up tightly. “Please, please sir!” she cried, “Please let me hide under your wing. I don’t want to get eaten. I only evolved into an imago yesterday, and my wings aren’t dried yet,”
I lifted my wing slightly, but Laria slapped it back down again.
“White-wing,” she said, “This is a new age, and moths like you have to learn who’s on top.”
The little female was terrified.
“Teach her, Biston,” Laria ordered me.
I hesitated, “I don’t think-”
“If you don’t we’re all gonna die.”
Without thinking, I shoved the poor moth in the thorax with my forelegs, and the white-wing tumbled away helplessly towards the dirt. On the ground, the contrast between her snowy wings and the dead leaves was even worse, and the sparrow noticed her right away. I looked away, horrified, and Laria glanced at me.
“It was her or us, Biston. This is a changing world. If you wanna survive you’re gonna have to be prepared to adapt yourself. If you can do that, you’ll be a king. If you can’t, you’ll die.”
I sighed, “I wish we could all just survive together,”
Laria laughed, “Oh, silly Biston.”
By twilight, there were barely any white-winged moths left, and the black moths began to huddle together. The white-wings that were still alive wandered aimlessly in the night, lamenting the loss of their family and friends or being bullied by the black moths. I fluttered close to the ground, but I wasn’t quite sure why. I was probably hoping to find any sign of the little, newborn imago that I had brutally shoved to the ground. I didn’t find any sign of her, but I did find a large block of leather and some leafy stuff. I remember Laria calling it a book; something that humans would read in their spare time. I didn’t know what she meant by spare time. I landed on the faded, yellow cover, which read, “Charles Darwin: On the Origin of Species.”
I had no idea what it meant, and it didn’t really matter to me, anyway. I felt my way around the edge with my antennae and reached a white, leafy patch. I tasted it with my proboscis: It was delicious. So for the rest of the night I ate to my heart’s content, without a care in the world. After all, I was going to be a king in this “new era” Laria spoke of, wasn’t I?