The Caterpault – Part One

caterpillar

Timmy Harpsburg pinched the caterpillar lightly between finger and thumb. The creature clung to the leaf with head and hindquarters so his gentle but determined pull teased its back into a taller and taller arch.

For a beast that would sprout wings it had a pronounced fear of letting go. The leaf wasn’t especially high and the azalea bush was bounded by lush grass. The fall wouldn’t kill it. Probably. Its body was on the puffy side, like a lot of deflated leathery footballs strung together, sparsely porcupined with downy soft spines. Not one of those full-on hairy caterpillars then, but with more than enough of a covering to cushion a forced landing on a lawn.

Timmy tugged the animal free from its leaf. He considered dropping it to confirm his assessment. Instead, he knelt and dropped it into his jar. Then searched around in the grass for where he’d set down the lid.

The caterpillar bent over backwards trying to scale the glass walls of its prison.

It was a fine specimen. Streaked with yellow and green, juicy shades of lettuce and custard. Those black hairs standing tall like coal needles, looking hard as diamond but actually soft as feathers to the touch. Wonderful. Yes, this fat fellow would be monarch of his collection.

Timmy found his lid and screwed it on tight. He stuffed the jar in his satchel and raced across the lawns, hurdling the occasional KEEP OFF THE GRASS sign. The meandering paths of the Botanical Gardens were bendier than caterpillars, but with none of their endearing characteristics.

Whenever Timmy had a destination in mind, he preferred a straight course.

***

Timmy Harpsburg loved butterflies.

He had no idea where they’d gotten their name. He’d tried spreading them on bread once but they tasted pretty grim, even with plum jam. He’d asked his uncle, who was Mayor of Tortenschloss and therefore likely to know everything of importance, but he hadn’t seemed too interested in the question and he’d offered up an explanation the way he sometimes tossed a spare coin to street entertainers when he went on one of his tours of the city. “It’s a corruption of ‘betterflies’. They’re like flies but better,” he’d said, while poring over some ledgers on his Mayoral desk in his office that was supposed to be off-limits to nephews. “They’re not such a pest and they look nice flitting about a garden. Over the years, ‘better’ became ‘butter’. Because of accents and all that sort of thing.”

Timmy had hmmed and left the office unsatisfied. For one thing, he didn’t believe butterfly could be a corruption of anything. Still, he agreed with his Uncle Mayor on one point: they did pretty up a garden. Like flowers that took flight. Oh, they weren’t perfect. All Mother Nature’s creations had their share of flaws. They didn’t soar or swoop or glide, they merely fluttered and bobbed about rather skittishly, with aerobatic skills marginally superior to sycamore seeds. But they beat flowers, hands down. Timmy didn’t have a lot of time for flowers. Sure, they looked bright and colourful, but they didn’t do anything.

Brightness, Timmy always believed, should be put to good use.

Take his latest specimen, for example. Those bright lettuce and custard colours, great camouflage on some bushes. Hiding from predators. But – luckily – not from sharp-eyed collectors.

“There you go, chum.”

Back in his workshop, Timmy opened the jar and tipped the fat fellow into his new home.

The Caterpillary.

A scientific term he had invented. Aviaries for birds, apiaries for bees (apparently). So, caterpillaries for caterpillars. There was more logic to Timmy’s invention, since aviaries and apiaries housed neither aves nor apes.

It was, in essence, a large glass tank filled with plant cuttings in a bed of soil. All of the contents liberated one night from the Botanical Gardens. Deep in the shadow of the Sunken Spire, so as not to be spotted in the event the wizard glanced out of his window. That Kuchenmonger was a grumpy old sourskin, not the sort Timmy expected to ever give a fig about gardens but nevertheless the sort to turn Timmies into toads if he caught them digging up his flowerbeds.

Anyway, the Caterpillary provided a comfortable environment for his subjects while affording Timmy good visibility from all angles on all their daily activities. Which consisted in large part of crawling and munching. Crawl and munch, crawl and munch. Never in a hurry either, unlike the ordinary people of Tortenschloss. A fact that led Timmy to theorise that caterpillars were, like cats and sloths, among the nobility of the animal world. The more leisurely the creature, the higher up the hierarchy it presided.

Timmy watched the latest princely addition settle in. The others didn’t pay its arrival much notice. After a very brief period of orientation, the lettuce-and-custard-coloured newcomer crawled a short distance then munched on the nearest leaf. Crawled and munched.

They were, of course, building up their strength for more exciting times to come.

Timmy couldn’t wait for the moment they would start spinning themselves into their chrysalises. Cocooning themselves for the spectacular transformation.

Mother Nature wasn’t the fastest of workers, but luckily Timmy had plans. Literally: he’d drawn up several detailed sketches. Using blue pencil so as to make them authentic blueprints. The construction process was liable to be fiddly and time-consuming. So he would have plenty to keep himself occupied while his creatures crawled and munched.

He rushed over to the chests and cupboards, opening doors and drawers, fetching all the materials he’d gathered in preparation for this grand project. He carried them over in big handfuls to the counter where the Caterpillary resided.

Springs, cogs, lollipop sticks, glue, tiny screws, bottlecaps, a pin cushion.

Everything he needed.

He pulled up a stool, smiled in at his subjects. They crawled and munched, with no idea of the grand surprise he had in store for them.

Timmy settled down and started building the Caterpault.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

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