The Little Brown Moth

Fairy tale / A library / A coffee pot / 864w

Once upon a time, there was a room that had once been the private library of a wealthy family, who had lived on the same countryside estate for many generations. The estate had once been very grand, with a bountiful orchard, a stable of fine horses, and a pond full of ducks and chirruping frogs. The library, too, had once been grand, but not so anymore, for the family had been forced to abandon their home at the start of a terrible war. Shortly thereafter, the library and its books had become home to a large clan of moths.

Now, moths will eat wool and silk and muslin uncomplainingly, but they are particularly partial to words. Some claim to prefer quality papers and inks; however, no moth will refuse a truly flavorful story. When this clan moved into the abandoned library, they sank with delight into every page and seam and began to eat, voraciously, stopping only to sleep when the sun rose. Classics painted in gold and silver leaf, dense encyclopedic texts never opened, slim volumes of fairy tales—all were sampled, and stored away in their very long memories.

One day during this long, long feast, a little brown moth discovered a book with an unfamiliar taste. Some flavors it recognized, like the savor of a woman’s voice, and the brightness of love-at-first-sight, but the story as a whole was unique. Realizing it had discovered a delicacy, the moth decided not to tell the rest of its family about the book. It acted as if the small volume were nothing remarkable, and said nothing about the story when the clan gathered, just before sunrise every morning, to describe what they had eaten.

I am eating a tale of a city destroyed by a vengeful army, centuries ago, said one moth. Join me next nightfall, so we can reach the end.

I am eating the story of two children, said another moth, who become lost in a wood. It is short and nearly done, but come enjoy the rest with me so we can remember it together.

I am eating a book of recipes, another moth offered. It is simple but sweet, and good for the young ones.

The little brown moth did not share anything about the story it was slowly eating, within the simple leather binding every night. The writer, the woman, wrote about a man who had come to court her at her family’s home, despite the resistance of her father, and the jealousy of her sister. She had been uncertain at first, but the man had been so kind, and so patient, that she had found herself falling in love with him. Here the story was sugared, and the little brown moth emerged for several mornings lethargic and dizzy.

I have completed a story of exploration, one moth said at another daybreak. It ends with the explorer’s suicide at his destination. He felt that he had no purpose anymore.

The other moths, especially those who had not tasted this book, exclaimed their satisfaction. This was a good story, one to remember.

I have nearly finished with a book of poems, said another moth. The flavor is different, but cleansing. I have saved several choice verses for the old ones.

The old ones fluttered their thanks.

The little brown moth still did not share, for the story had grown more complex, more richly seasoned.

In the final quarter of its solitary meal, the moth noticed that the woman’s story began to taste ever so slightly familiar. The man had left, suddenly, for reasons the writer did not provide, but her sadness was not unpalatable until she began to write about the books she read to console herself. The little brown moth, chewing carefully, realized that she was writing about stories that it itself had tasted not long before. They were some of the other books in this room, this very library. It realized that the story was a diary, and diaries were rare indeed.

Thrilled by the value of its find, the little brown moth rushed to finish the woman’s words, gorging itself every night. It gagged through the bitterness of fear and confusion. Once, stuffed with longing, it staggered from the diary in the dead of night ­– a risk, with the clan active – to alight on the rim of a silver coffee pot, where the woman had written about hiding a gift from her vanished lover before fleeing the house. Inside the pot, the ring glinted – but why had she left it? The little brown moth resolved to find out.

But one night soon after, the moth clan’s feast came to an end. The house and its library were aflame. Most of the clan sounded the alarm and rose from the chewed and tattered pages of books, escaping safely through the now ruined ceiling. However, the little brown moth was drunk on the diary, and could not fly high or fast enough.

Its family hovered high above, full of poetry and mysteries and comedies of errors. But the little brown moth and its story were eaten by fire, and as every creature on earth knows, fire does not remember.

Writer’s Note

Is this a fairy tale?

I hope so. The genre description said “usually for children…fantastical creatures/talking animals…predictable beginning/ending language…universal truths.” I wonder how they define “universal” and “truth.”

I had a hard time making the elements in the prompt work together for a bit, until I  came up with this “moths eat books” idea. The biggest challenge was keeping the tone from straying into the overly-descriptive, a weakness of mine. I wanted this to be something at least theoretically accessible to children. It’s short but since it’s a fairy tale, I’m okay with that. Also gets a bit dark perhaps, but hey, don’t most of the original Grimm’s tales? At least I avoided cannibalism.

Also fairy tales within fairy tales, SO META.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Sarah says:

    I absolutely love the “moths eat words” idea! And you execute it so fittingly with your food/taste language. Especially since the word count is low, I’d love to see you expand the end or more fully explore the idea of “remembering.” Why is the fact that fire doesn’t remember the sentence you chose to end the story? If it’s about how moths eating the words are actually “remembering” or memorializing stories (or at least diaries), then it may be good to thread a little of that theme earlier, into your descriptions of what moths do.

    Liked by 1 person

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