One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar. He was alone, except for his hunger, and his hunger was a writhing and a hissing thing.
He started to look for some food. On Monday he ate through one apple, but he was still hungry.
On Tuesday he ate through two pears, but he was still hungry. He wept, because he was alone, because his only companion was the hunger in his stomach, and he ate his own tears. He built a smaller caterpillar out of burdock leaves and he called it Leaf-Friend, and then he ate it, and then he cried again because his friend was dead.
On Wednesday he ate through three plums but he was still hungry. He had always been hungry. Famine filled his mouth and his throat and his lungs; even his veins felt empty. Death wore him like a hollowed skin.
On Thursday he woke again and wished he had not. Even the peace of sleep had left him. When he slept, he dreamed, and in his dreams he dreamed of eating and he chewed on nothing, wore his teeth down to raw and flaming stumps, champed at the air and woke with a burning throat and an empty belly. I will starve, he thought to himself, I will starve to death. His hunger was an inferno that was never exhausted, and never turned away fuel, and savaged everything in its path.
On Thursday he ate through four strawberries but he was still hungry. On Friday he ate through five oranges but he was still hungry. His jaw cracked and popped with every chew; he was so tired. That night he slept and as he slept he dreamed and as he dreamed he saw a vision: two spirits frozen in a single hole, packed so close, one head hooded the other one; the way the starving devour their bread, the soul above had clenched the other with his teeth where the brain meets the nape.
He visited Leaf-friend’s grave and ate the headstone.
On Saturday he ate through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon.
That night he had a stomachache.
The next day was Sunday again and the caterpillar ate through one nice green leaf and after that he felt much better. Now he wasn’t hungry anymore — and he wasn’t little any more. He was a big fat caterpillar.
He started to build a small house called a cocoon around himself. He stayed inside for more than two weeks. Then one day he nibbled a hole in the cocoon and pushed his way out, and he was hungry again. “No,” he sobbed, to nothing and to no one. “Please.” All around him there were damp, iridescent newborn butterflies pushing themselves out of their own cocoons. Everyone has made the change but you. And he was still hungry.
Still weeping — always weeping now — he hauled his enormous bulk across the dirt and began to feed on his brothers and sisters. Some of them were screaming. Some of them hadn’t even noticed he was coming, and still struggled ridiculously against their cocoons. If he could not fly, neither would they.
He was a very hungry caterpillar.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.