The Shadow (IV/IV)

The shadow is corrosion. The shadow is decay. The shadow is the dissolution at the heart of all things. The hungry caterpillar bites the shadow. CHOMP!

“Hey, ” says the shadow. “That hurt!”

The hungry caterpillar bites the shadow. CHOMP! GULP! That’s it for the shadow.

The hungry caterpillar’s eyes turn black. Its skin seethes. It weaves a shadow cocoon. It sleeps three days. Then it emerges. Now it’s like a monster. It lives only to destroy. It crawls out onto the branch.

“Hi, shadow caterpillar!” says the ant. The ant is industrious. The ant is busily storing food for winter.

The shadow smiles at the ant. It eats one antenna. It eats the other one. It eats two of the ant’s antennae!

“Great,” says the ant. “Without my antennae, I can’t communicate with the home planet. I hope you’re happy.”

The shadow isn’t sure whether to be happy or not, so it moves on.

“Hi, shadow caterpillar!” says the grasshopper. The grasshopper is frivolous. It frolicks without thought for the future.

The shadow smiles at the grasshopper. The shadow eats two front legs. It eats two middle legs. It eats two back legs. The shadow eats six of the grasshopper’s legs! The grasshopper bleeds out and dies.

“Now I won’t starve to death in winter,” says the grasshopper ghost. “You’ve deprived me of my basic moral function in society. I hope you’re happy.”

The shadow caterpillar isn’t sure whether to be happy or not, so it moves on.

“I promise I’ll haunt you!” cries the grasshopper ghost.

The shadow caterpillar isn’t worried. What can a grasshopper ghost do?

“Hi, shadow caterpillar!” says Mr. P. Mr. P. has been held in a South Carolina jail without access to an attorney for 19 months. This is because Mr. P. is allegedly a threat to national security.

The shadow smiles at Mr. P. It eats one of Mr. P.’s arms. Then it eats the other. It eats two of Mr. P.’s arms! Mr. P. rapidly sprouts four arms. Oh, no! Mr. P. isn’t an enemy combatant. He’s a lernean hydra! The shadow eats two of Mr. P.’s arms. Then it eats two more. It eats four of Mr. P.’s arms. Mr. P. sprouts eight more.

“I can’t very well use a dirty bomb when I’ve got eight arms,” says Mr. P. “I hope you’re happy.”

The shadow is not sure whether to be happy or not. Nor is it entirely sure what percentage of Mr. P.’s arms it has actually eaten. Can YOU figure it out?

“Excuse me,” says the Justice Department. “I don’t think Constitutional freedoms are meant to apply to lernean hydras.”

The shadow smiles at the Justice Department. It eats twelve and a half lawyers. It eats another twelve and a half lawyers. It eats one department after another. It eats ONE HUNDRED of the Justice Department’s lawyers.

“The consumption of our lawyers is going to substantially delay any public trial of the Nemean Lion,” says Mr. A. “I hope you’re happy.”

Mr. A. is a striking figure. He’s wearing an invulnerable lion-skin suit! It’s like he’s stepped right out of the Greek myths.

The shadow stops to think. A spotlight shines on the shadow. You’d think this would destroy it, but it’s a blacklight, so it’s okay. The shadow clears its throat.

“I’m actually not happy at all,” it says. “I just want to eat things and dissolve them in my stomach. But it seems like everything I do in the interests of mindless consumption and decay has a complex moral character that I did not originally intend.”

“I know what that must be like,” confides Mr. A. He’s startlingly sympathetic in this portrayal. “Perhaps you should retreat to a quiet place and meditate?”

“I’ll do that,” asserts the shadow caterpillar. “Perhaps I’ll find enlightenment and become a truly baneful demon.”

The shadow caterpillar travels for seventy days. It gets lean and hungry, so it eats a bunch more people. That satiates its stomach! Finally, it finds a place of peace and quiet and settles down to meditate.

CHIRP.

“Damn you, ghost grasshopper!” cries the shadow. “Will I never know peace?”

CHIRP.

The sound is getting closer.

“I’ll meditate despite you. You’ll see! I’ll achieve an all-encompassing enlightenment devotion. Then I’ll eat the whole world!”

CHIRP.

The ghost grasshopper drags itself into view. It has to drag itself, because it has no legs. It does, however, have a handgun.

“Say goodbye, shadow caterpillar.”

Guns don’t kill shadow caterpillars. Ghost grasshoppers do.

As the caterpillar dies, the shadow suspires from its wound. It hisses into the air above the corpse. It sulks. “Now I won’t be able to use my immensely powerful caterpillar body to dissolve all things back into the darkness of nonexistence. I hope you’re happy.”

The ghost grasshopper doesn’t know whether to be happy or not, so it leaves.

“I’m going to the show,” says the shadow. “But I won’t enjoy it!”

In the distance, Mr. P. wrestles ten federal agents. He’s got three million arms! Can even highly-trained federal agents defeat him now?

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