A caterpillar crawling on the forest floor sparked a memory. A memory of when I was a boy, when my mother was still alive.
We were walking through the woods near our village and a caterpillar caught my eye. It was an ugly bastard. Green and red with spiky parts poking out and my mother told me to stay away from it because it was poison.
Its very touch could kill, especially a young child like me.
My mother said that this caterpillar, this worm, was unique. She spent her whole life wishing she could be something else and then, after emerging from her cocoon, she spread her gorgeous painted wings to fly, but there was a price. During the transition from poison worm to fluttering butterfly, an irreversible and catastrophic change had taken place.
Flying from tree to flower, and dancing with her newfound beautiful friends, a sadness began to overcome her, for during her metamorphosis she had gained wings and beauty, and yet she had lost the ability to eat. Her mouth no longer worked and she landed on her favorite leaves only to find that they no longer brought her joy and she realized that her time was now so very limited.
This sadness was overcome when another butterfly caught her eye and, forgotten, she left her leaves behind forever. Now, forever isn’t very long when you can no longer eat and soon the pair died, but not before she had laid a glistening egg, ripe with the promise of new life.
She wanted to wait until the egg hatched, so she could tell her sons or daughters about their fate. She wanted to tell them that maybe it’s ok to be a worm. She wanted to tell them not to spend their whole lives running towards a light that burns when you finally reach it.
Instead she just smiled, looked at her mate, and together they flew away.
I had often thought about this story and wondered if it was really ok to be a worm. If you have one chance to irreversibly change your life, will you take that chance and fly or continue to wriggle through the dust?
I looked at the caterpillar now as it climbed over a twig, probing the air and ground it into a green paste with my heel.
No more time to crawl.
Night fell. My pace quickened. A fog rolled in.
A fog so thick you could almost touch it and the heat made it hard to breathe.
The jungle got denser as I went on. Even if there had been a path it would have been impossible to find it. No moon, no visibility. No smell.
A distant rustle. They come for me. Their pride will not allow them to allow me to leave.
Just let me go. Leave me alone. I don’t want to have to hurt you. Just let me go.
I’m running now. Full speed ahead. Skip a root, duck a branch. A thorn bush tears at my leg and I can feel little beads of blood dripping down. Keep moving. Maybe if I run fast enough they will cease to follow. Maybe if the future can become a blur, the past can too. Maybe if the lights become a streak instead of a point, the point can disappear.
The lights. Shining through the fog like an iridescent halo. Gaining on me. Faster now. Faster. Faster.
My boot sinks into a mud bog and I stumble at full motion. I struggle to stay on my feet, my body leaning forward, my arms flailing and I trip into the light.
I leap to a crouch and pull my knife from belt and see I am surrounded by unfamiliar faces. They are afraid. They shield each other with their arms, pushed back against their tents. I look at them and they look at me and the forest behind me bursts open with my kin that had given chase.
I turn and stand and draw Thursbanr and swing and it rings out and sings before finding a mark. The sounds of bone and flesh being severed replace the ring, followed by a meaty thud as Oddr’s head rolls to the ground.
“Go.” I say. “Is this what you wanted? You’ll find nothing but an early grave here.”
A man named Nikolas steps forward and kneels on one knee. “Pl..please…spare us, master Kol…we didn’t come to hunt you down…we came to join you.”
I look down at Oddr’s body and in his grisly hand is clutched an amulet my father wore.
I turn to look at the strange people standing behind us and as I do so, they flinch.
I turn again and bend down to Oddr, and take the amulet from his hand. It was a symbol of Sjofn, the goddess of love, and it had been my mother’s.
“Go.” I say. “I am no leader and I have no use for you. As you have cast me out, so will I to you. Go, before I change my mind.”
The proud men standing before me visibly sank and turned to leave and a feeling I don’t often feel fills me and I say, “Wait…I’m sorry about Oddr…I didn’t know.”
Nikolas just nods and the group vanishes back into the fog.
I stop for a long while, examining the amulet in my hand and Oddr’s corpse. Is it possible that I was less alone than I was always made to feel? Is it possible that I can be regarded by other feelings aside fear and disgust?
I spin slowly to face these people…these strangers and sit on the ground, Thursbanr across my lap and I try my best to smile. Crooked grin and broken maw, I smile.
I toss my axe and shield away, out of reach, and Thursbanr, too.
These people, they don’t know what to think. A girl comes up to me and offers me something in a waterskin. It smells foul. It tastes foul.
I drink it anyway and I smile.