Author: Katlina Sommerberg
The grey tabby crouched low to the earth, her belly collecting dust. Duchess’s eyes tracked an iridescent gleam zipping across the sky. She wiggled in place: a final preparation before takeoff.
Her human had adopted her from a shelter, scooping her up in arms reeking of iodine. His home, a tiny house stinking of iodine and filled with jars of mosquitos, became her castle. His warm laptop, covered in coding puns and academia stickers, was her favorite bed.
He always made time to entertain her. As they played, he muttered about his Ph.D. thesis and deadlines. She barely listened to his rants about the ethical concerns or his advisor suggesting new genes to target. Occasionally, they had visitors – humans fiddling with his equipment and observing his trapped mosquitos.
Eventually, the captive mosquitoes reached a population where their buzz became an intolerable roar. Their habitats cluttered the floor. Duchess hated them and spent more time outside; her human didn’t notice. She watched him slave over mosquitos through the windows, until winter came around.
Then he yowled, danced, and rushed outside to scoop her up in his arms – interrupting her mid-stalk. He rocked her side to side as she squirmed, eyeing the fleeing mouse, but he kissed her belly anyway.
She scratched just above his blue eyes. He dropped her. She ran out to the forest and didn’t come home until he was asleep.
When she returned, the house was silent. All the glass habitats were empty. Duchess ate stale sashimi off the table, next to a printout of his thesis, covered in red ink.
His abstract declared the modified mosquitoes, once released into the wild, would reduce local populations to 10% of their current numbers in three years. He drew on previous work analyzing the failed endeavors to cull malaria-carriers from the mosquito population and speculated mosquitos would be extinct at the decade’s end.
Over the next few months, she rarely saw him. One of his friends came over every day to wait on her, and Duchess appreciated this new caretaker. But she missed her human. She scattered his awards in hidden nooks. The temporary caretaker cleaned them out of her hiding places once a week.
This stopped the night her human came home. He crashed in front of the television, where a reporter explained diagrams with exponential decay rates for a multitude of species populations.
“Spiders and dragonflies are hit the hardest, after the abrupt decline of the mosquitoes. Many reached critically endangered conservation status this morning,” the reporter said.
Her human threw a beer bottle at the screen. It exploded against the wall and drenched him in glass.
The next day, journalists lined up outside their house, screaming questions. He stayed inside, only appearing to retrieve delivered groceries or boxes. When he gave her dried food, Duchess screamed for three days. But he refused to brave the crowds to retrieve fresh fish from the market.
She snuck out a half-open window. Grasshoppers and crickets blared in her sensitive ears, but she mercifully heard none of the mosquito’s evil whine.
A human’s arms circled her body. Duchess yowled her protest. The human stank of coconut oil, and Duchess craned her neck away from the clammy skin.
“Kitty, you can’t kill a dragonfly –” she said, her lecture broken by one swipe.
Duchess landed and shot off to a bush. Wide-eyed, she watched the woman nurse her bleeding arms. But after a few minutes, the woman picked up her cardboard sign and re-joined the crowd in front of the house.
Duchess slunk off to find more iridescent flashes.
The Butterfly effect. Change just one small thing and who knows what might happen. I often wondered if what one small thing could we change that would have little or no effect on life as we know it.
Life’s delicate balance. Good story.