The Plague of Caterpillars
It had been two weeks since the plague of caterpillars, a time when the sky was heavy with larva falling in angst over the missing Douglas. A lingering earthen smell saturated the sewer in which he lay, his body covered in the grime of pupa, his breath heavy in the damp air, his throat hoarse from unheard pleas. He stared up at the arched brick roof, above which rode Londoners in horse-drawn carriages, completely ignorant to the desolation below.
Douglas lay in shackles, fettered to the underworld on the bricked banks of the foul Fleet River. The subterranean stream was a mirage of sorts—water not fit for human consumption. He’d survived on rainwater leaking in from cracks overhead. A few uncocooned caterpillars satisfied the deep pangs of hunger until he could bear the acrid taste no longer.
Elizabeth’s name bubbled in his throat for days. The soles of her shoes perhaps clacked on the cobblestone just above. They could be frantic footsteps searching for her lost beau, or they could be completely oblivious. He hoped it was the former.
It was her husband who’d left him there to rot after discovering their affair. He must have followed Elizabeth on her stroll to Hampstead Heath and watched their daily rendezvous among the colorful butterflies in their usual dense grove of yew. That had to be what happened. It must have enraged him enough to follow Douglas into the night to catch him and exact his revenge. But Douglas never judged himself for giving her the attention she craved. There was no guilt for the lingering kisses on the neck, the firm strokes of his hands down her back after unlacing her corset, the deep gazes into her eyes as he entered her. And there, languishing in a forgotten waterway, memories of every encounter numbed the pain. Elizabeth’s honey skin. Her apricot lips. Her cinnamon hair.
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But no power of imagination, no substitute for sustenance could prevent the inevitable. Douglas’ legs were mangled and bloodied from failed attempts to free himself. Bruises peppered his skin like leprosy. Fatigue overtook his body.
As the world slowly darkened for him, the tunnel of the River Fleet let out a yawn. The thousands of chrysalises emerged from their cocoons, taking a collective flight, swarming him. With his last breath, he hoped the fresh cloud of butterflies would migrate to the grove of yew, hover amidst the foliage, and wait for Elizabeth.