The Moth

by Robert Bagnall

And at that moment, the Prince saw the dragon.

He saw its ruby red eyes and darting tongue and the snorts of smoke from its nostrils. And he felt his limbs turn to stone.

Literally turn to stone.

Everything below his neck was now the grey of granite, the weave of his cloak merely scratch marks.

He turned his face to the statue of the princess and saw that she had become flesh. He was caught between terror at the approaching monster and sheer wonderment at her release.

He felt his neck grow cold, his tongue thick.

“Why?” he asked groggily.

But even as he said it, he knew the answer.

Doctor Kilty paused, searching the horseshoe of faces in front of her, as if letting an echo fade.

“Come on, people. Let’s offer criticism without being critical. The assignment was to write your own fairytale. Did Gypsy succeed?”

Foot scraping.


From the corner, I raised a hand. There was some snickering, and I caught the word ‘cripple’.

“I didn’t see any foreshadowing.”

I kept my gaze on Gypsy. She had turned her work over and was absent-mindedly doodling, but I saw her darting gaze challenge me through the curtain of black hair behind which she hid her eyes.

“Well, we ought to somehow know that Oberon can turn the prince into stone in advance. Otherwise, it just comes out of nowhere.”

I had more to say, to casually drop in Deus ex Machina, but Doctor Kilty had pulled up. Her fingers went for her collar as if gasping for air. We all stiffened—was this what a heart attack looked like?—everybody except Gypsy. She just carried on sketching.

Doctor Kilty had gone pale.

And then Gypsy stopped and looked across at me.

“I think that’s enough for today,” Doctor Kilty managed, catching a breath, eyes on the wall clock.

After she had been helped away, brushing off the clucking of girls, I saw, abandoned, what Gypsy had been sketching. A moth, in miniscule detail, albeit incomplete. The outline of two wings: one reaching forward, one paddle-like behind; the body: thorax and abdomen. Deft flicks of the pencil suggesting the facets of a compound eye. Antennae, each with wisps of hair.

Benzedrine thin, she had been dropped into our class as if from Mars rather than Ogden, Utah, where she said she came from, halfway through a semester, chewing gum and studying us from behind the redoubt of her fringe. Somebody said she was an exchange student from a wandering Dada theatre company. She always wore black but on her it was somehow more colorful than all our denim and hoodies combined.

I recognized her accent, but in every other way, she was from no place I had ever been or could ever imagine. When they asked her name, she said ‘Gypsy’, because she used to collect moths, with no sense of the outré or the theatrical. Wordlessly, she challenged us to find it off the wall. I don’t think she ever told us her real name.

The rest of the class had departed; it was my fate to forever walk in other people’s wakes. I propped a crutch and snatched the drawing up and loosely rolled in into a pocket. If she didn’t want it…


The next time I saw her, she was delivering flyers, a military-style knapsack swinging at her hip. She’d hop up the steps of the brownstones and slip a card through each mailslot, skitter back through gates.

“Hey, you want me to do the other side?”

She shook her head almost imperceptibly as she brushed past me.

“I can take some if you like.”

But she was onto the next house.

I limped up a path to where one of her cards stuck out of a sprung letterbox. On it, in bold black print, were five words.


Just those five words, bold and black on a plain white card. It made no sense.

“What’s it advertising?”

I wondered whether I should mention stealing her drawing. But if she left it behind it wasn’t stealing…

“Isn’t advertising anything.”

For once, my withered limbs had no problem in keeping up with her as she went from door to door.

“Is this some kind of art project? Like Dada or something?”

“Like Dada or what?”  Words shot back at me, returns of serve that I couldn’t catch to my tentative forays, like checking for depth whilst crossing unfamiliar waters.

I laughed, unsure, tongue-tied, and she made to walk away.  The next set of houses was a way off.  They had traditional mailboxes on poles out front.  I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her nor catch her on the next drag.  I had to do something if I were to have just a few minutes in her orbit.

“I think you’re just like me.  Damaged.”

She stopped and turned.  I quaked slightly, uncertain at what her face would tell me.  There was a sneer in there—it wouldn’t be Gypsy without a sneer—but something else as well.  A quizzical quality, like she’d just seen me for the first time.  Like she was studying me.


Afterwards, in bed, I asked her why she sketched moths.

“They’re my familiars,” she said simply. “You know what a familiar is?”

I shook my head.

“I’ll sketch you,” she offered.

She pulled her shirt back on, missing out buttons, before draping herself sideways in an ancient recliner. Finding pencil and paper from my desk, she began to sketch me. In order to stay still, I concentrated on her legs swinging over the duct-taped arm, straight and slender, fragility and strength combined.

I suddenly wanted her gone. Suddenly, those legs, so perfect, felt like they were mocking my twisted and disobedient limbs.

I made to rise.

But my limbs felt as if they were glued to the bed. As if they were made of stone. I tried to move, but I couldn’t. Confusion was replaced by fear, my mind no longer speaking in any language that my body could comprehend.

I think I made some sort of gurgling noise as I tried harder to move, not caring if my effort showed.

But Gypsy just carried on drawing, quickly, efficiently, carefully, and yet without a care in the world.

My chest constricted, tightened, like metal straps being ratcheted. I had to really pull to breathe. But if all my effort, all my energy, was focused on merely breathing, then what had I left?

And then she breezily dressed, as I gurgled and gasped, and was gone. I didn’t even see her go. My eyes were closed, all energy focused on trying to draw in air, no concern remaining for my spastic body.

My greying gaze settled on the drawing that she had left abandoned on the carpet. A moth; perfectly executed. Each eye with its countless facets, each leg dotted with hairs. The ridged abdomen. Pencil on paper, monochrome and two-dimensional, but with such a sense of vibrancy, of life. It even left you with a sense of the dust on its wings.

As my vision grew narrow and dim, I knew. I knew the truth.

The moth may only have been scrapes of graphite on paper.

But I was the one who had been collected.


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