Time waits for no man. I start to unravel your dress, one filament at a time, and lay them out carefully on a mat of leaves so they cannot snag on the undergrowth. When I have a dozen threads I retrieve a fine needle from my small bundle of belongings, and with infinite care and patience start to stitch the gossamer wings together. Edge on edge, overlapping like scales, they slowly expand into a rough square about six inches on each side.
I see you looking. What is that look? Curiosity, a question maybe? It certainly isn't fear any longer. I'm glad. You don't have to be frightened of me. I'm as gentle as a butterfly. A benevolent Monarch indeed, you are safe in my kingdom.
Once the square is completed it goes to the back of the cave, in the dry, along with many, many others, all the same. I start on another. I think I nearly have enough. Nearly; enough is never enough. I will sew until dark, you may watch if it pleases you. There isn't anything else to do. No television or wireless here, girl. When it gets dark, it really gets dark. The clouds are still low, and there'll be no moon tonight. Really dark.
Then what shall we do, hmmm?
No, let's not even contemplate that, I can see the fear flickering in your eyes again. It's as if you are telepathic. And I swear, I never even thought it. I would never...
I continue with my task until the light starts to fade, then conscientiously move everything to the back of the cave.
You are so unpredictable, much like the others. One moment you seem calm, the next your eyes are wide again, silently screaming. Ah, I see. I forget, you see. I'm alone here most of the time. I have no need of clothes. And please ignore that - I see where your eyes are pointed. There are some involuntary reflexes that cannot be mastered. I apologise.
Now, how to stop you running and hurting yourself in the dark while I sleep? I have precious little tape left, not enough to bind your feet as well. Ahh, I have it; the male who was with you.
I trot the few hundred yards or so to where I left him, still laying face down on the grass. His jeans are still around his ankles, just as I found him, pinning you so cruelly. The blood on his head has dried black and shiny, like the skin of an ant. I rescued you, and still you fear me.
It's not often I see other people, and I make comparisons to see how far I've come. He's pretty skinny by my old standards, but his wrists are similar in girth to my thighs. His thigh is comparable to my waist. I've progressed further than I had hoped! I must be nearly there! I look up to the skies, where the Monarch butterflies are circling, settling in the treetops for the night. Soon, my children, soon!
With difficulty I remove his jeans and bring them back to my cave, my steps feeling lighter than usual. Why were you both so deep in my forest, I wonder, so far from the civilisation from which I have exiled myself? Rutting like animals so close to my haven?
I see you haven't moved - that is good. The rough cotton cuts easily into strips, and I can now tie your hands and feet properly. I risk removing the tape from your mouth, and you are thankfully mute, at least for the moment.
Let me just check those knots... ahhh, you are unable to move. Like a wingless Monarch, you can be my queen, my pupae queen. So helpless, so vulnerable...
No! I have work to do. The male must be hidden, in case others come like they did before. I return to the body. Why do people have to be so heavy? It's so hard, dragging him across the forest floor, his feet snagging on the gnarled roots of a dying tree. I drag him to the crevice hidden at the base of my hiding tree, and with utmost, exquisite difficulty push him in, past the little ledge where sometimes I hide, until suddenly greedy gravity snatches him from me. I am sweaty and exhausted by the time I get back to my cave, but still find time to check your bindings before I wash myself from the bucket, then help myself to another little corpse.
You confuse me. I see revulsion in your eyes. Do you not eat meat? I hold another carcass out to you. Are you not hungry?
It seems not. And then the noise starts, panting, sobbing, words mixed in that I cannot decipher. But I will not gag you again unless you start that screaming again. There, I'm smiling at you, doesn't that make you feel more at ease?
It's fully dark now. I'm laying in the mouth of the cave, but you won't know that because the blackness is total. But I can see you. Yes, I can, not with my eyes, but with my ears. That muffled sobbing and snuffling, you're still awake. I'd like to put my arm around you, comfort you, but I really don't think that'd be a good idea. I really don't, oh no no no.
I need little sleep these days, and even when I doze I'm still aware. Several times my ears alert me as you shift position, no doubt testing your bonds or trying to get more comfortable. It pains me that you should want to leave me, if I could only make you understand you wouldn't want to go. You'd stay, willingly, and save me putting you in that hole like I had to with the others.
I feel a real kinship with you, I could see into your soul through your eyes and I am sure that if I can show you what can be achieved you'll stay and help me.
The first light through the branches wakens me. We have both slept, and I feel better for it. Focused. You sleep on, my lovely. Sleep on. I'm sure you need it. And I have jobs to do.
I potter around the cave, being quiet as a beetle so as not to disturb you. I wash myself without making a splash, then breakfast extravagantly on three - no, let's make it four, I have a lot to do today - moist morsels, before gently carrying my piles of butterfly squares out to the front of the cave where it's lighter.
And I am lighter. I feel it now - without anything to compare myself to, I hadn't realised how skeletal I had become. Now, having seen the young man, I realise I have finally spent most of the heavy flesh that once made my dreams a flighty impossibility.
I sew all day, and feel your eyes on me constantly as I carefully join the squares together. I do not look around, fearing my own thoughts. The squares grow slowly into a sheet, and, as the light fails, two sheets. I finish shaping them as the sun finally disappears, making any further work impossible. Finally I turn to look at you. You have been patient, watching me in silence all day, unmoving. And now it is dark in the cave, darker than out here, and you have become invisible. Just as well.
Patiently and with absolute care I gather up my handiwork, two incredibly light, unbelievably fragile wing-mosaics. The evening is still; that is good, the slightest wind would send them skimming fatally across the ground or into the trees. They are taller than me whichever way I hold them, and will not fit easily into the cave. With incomparable care I ease them to the flat area at the back of my hole, feeling my way as I go. To damage them now would be to damage myself.
I hear you breathing. The darkness is total now.
It is impossible to sleep. I cannot prevent myself from trembling, the excitement is total, orgasmic, as I imagine sex would be.
I hear you breathing.
As sex could be.
Your breathing catches, stops, as if you can read my mind and are trying to hide from me. I crawl to where you are sitting, where I left you this morning. My hand touches cool skin, and your breath catches again in your throat, mixed with a sob. You are frightened. Taking pity, I remove the strips of cloth that bind you. It is too late for you to betray me, and anyway you will not run now. I know you won't.
I remember what lies ahead of me on the morrow, I need to conserve my strength. Time would pass quicker if sleep would come. I return to my place, clear my throat so you can hear I've backed off.
Morning is a long time coming.
But come it does, as indeed it must, as inevitable as my destiny. At first light I rise and extract my apparatus from the far back of the cave. You haven't seen this before, I finished it many months ago. Treading with extreme care I step over your sprawled, staring form. I take no notice of you now, I have a higher purpose.
It takes all morning to attach the wings to their frame, delicate yet strong stitches weaving those multitudinous parts into a single whole. The bright sun beats down on me from directly above my head as I finish, but midday is good for me. Conditions at the ridge will be just right. Satisfied that all is as it should be, I start to walk. It is no more than half a mile to the ridge, and I'm making good time. I have to take care with my wings, but I have walked this path many times and removed any obstructions, or any stray branches that might snag and tear. The occasional snapping of a twig betrays you, I know you're following. I knew your curiosity would get the better of you! After today you might understand me more.
The ridge! I am trembling, not fear, no, just exhilaration.
Stand next to me. Regard my world. The land falls away sharply, two hundred feet to the ribbon of blue below. Suddenly, momentarily, the sky darkens as a flight of monarchs goes overhead, maybe half a million little pairs of wings heading south over the ridge.
No time to waste. I ease the harness onto my back, strap, strap, arms into place, strap, strap, flap, flap.
You have the strangest eyes, I can feel them on me. I look to my left and there you are, standing fearless on the edge, disbelieving. Do not fear, my child, I will not leave you alone for long. I'll come back for you, and when I do you shall have wings of your own.
A couple of experimental flaps, no time like the present, step to the edge, I am ready, the ultimate monarch.
A second on the edge, I'm ready, I launch!
I feel the thermals catch in my wings, not enough lift yet, nose down, gain some airspeed, faster, faster, land rushing up to meet me, feel the thermals, feel the lift, time to flap, I beat at the air with all my strength and it's almost unbelievable but I knew it would work and I'm rising...
I feel your eyes on me.
I crane my neck to look at you, I want to see your look of understanding, of admiration. The action upsets my delicate equilibrium and I start to tumble, corrective action puts too much strain on my left wing. In an instant it shreds, the fragments all take flight like the ghosts of the bodies they were once part of. The ground is rushing up to me, impatient.
I feel your eyes on me.