[Table of Contents]



Lauren Osborn



When he arrived home from work, his wife had spun herself in a cocoon. The left half of their mid-century style bedroom hid in thick, felt webbing. He shed his coat, then shoes, moving in the meticulous manner forged from years of working with heavy machinery. No rush. No panic. He was an engineer, not an entomologist. Insects and machines had their similarities—whirling cries and internal hydraulics among others—still he felt unqualified to understand, yet alone solve, her acute metamorphosis. Had there been signs? Omens of change? And if there were, could he have prevented the outcome? In the previous weeks there were rare instances of her eating more than usual during dinner, days she slept through morning, neglecting breakfast and sending him to work empty-stomached. The evidence was sparse and inconclusive. This was the natural progression of her shifting moods. A matter of aging hormones. Nothing more.
     He gently groped, trying to distinguish the shape of his wife through the warmth of the cocoon's casing. Hello? he called. There was no response. How long she would take to emerge—and would be the same wife or someone, something, new? He phoned his boss and requested his vacation time early. A family emergency, he said, best not to say. He didn't want to miss the moment his wife emerged from her chrysalis in evolutionary triumph. The idea stirred something untouched for a long time. He lay in bed, sheets covered in a thin film of glimmering gossamer residue, and imagined his wife reconceived, butterfly wings as wide as pillowcases, kaleidoscopic patterns hypnotic in his visions. 

As a child, she lacked the fear of flying things: gnats, bees, butterflies. Wasps, with their stingers aimed at her exposed legs as she ran wildly through back fields bordering her family's farm. They could all be tamed. In her mind, domestication was a matter of will. Though on whose part, she couldn't say. 
    She collected jars, each labeled with the name of its hostage. Papilio polyxenes, Bombyx mori, Latrodectus. Fireflies torched and snuffed and torched again. She snatched moths mid-flight with her fists, marveling at the millions of microscopic scales shed against her skin in a silky dust. They swarmed around the flame of her bedroom window's light, gathering like smoke. She wished to be made of something so light. So fleeting in their frailty, like the women dancing ballet on television, or her mother's hands as she worked thread into skeins into dresses they could never afford. In her cocoon, she dreamt of childhood, surrounded by moths, sheer as sawdust. She clasped her hands around them, but captured only air.  

His wife revealed how silk was made after he surprised her with a new set of sheets on their seventh wedding anniversary. In ancient China, fourteen year old empress Leizu rested in her garden, beneath a mulberry tree, leaves withered golden in autumn. Speckled between the leaves were fluffs of moth cocoons, hung like molded fruit. She plucked one from the tree and rolled it in her palm, weighed it against the familiar. She collected a few in her pockets. Later, perhaps inspired by boredom, or the kind of casual cruelty only known to teenage girls, she dropped them one by one into her boiling tea. The cocoons unspooled, spreading through the liquid like heavy cream. She dipped her finger in the scalding liquid, twirled the silk around, and unwound it into a lovely thread.
     Does it hurt? he asked, when they're boiled alive? 
     Do they have the choice? she replied. 
     He thought for a moment, and decided it wouldn't matter. There was too much pleasure in the slick feeling of sendal against his body, the way it glided against flesh. Who cares if caterpillars choose to become glossed pupas; if silk moths choose to become stained sheets?

His wife slipped while making tea not long after their wedding, scalding the top half of her right palm. The crease which crisscrossed her hand was pinked smooth. Her heart line, vanished. Rather than mourning this new physical flaw, the tenderness of wound fascinated her. He caught her in the bathtub, peeling the new flesh away to peek at what was hidden underneath, as if she were revealing something about herself unknown. Each time her skin began to heal, she would break it open once more. He supposed if she was able, she would boil away the rest of her flesh, husk layer after layer. When he asked what she was looking for, she cryptically replied something pure

The dishes piled higher in the sink. The clean laundry dwindled down to mismatched socks abandoned underneath the dresser. On the television, reruns of gameshows flickered through the darkness, canned laughter seeping between the drywalls. He avoided the bedroom when he could, reminded of the reason behind his wife's absence. Of the possibility she might never hatch. Reality became a sequence of still-life studies. Here, abandoned work shoes thrown haphazardly by the front door. There, a man sleeping another night on the couch, arm numb under his head, a microwave dinner cold on the coffee table. Two weeks passed and winter was cracking through stale fall. Against the dry desert landscape, as if my miracle, it began to snow. Heavy flakes like a million white moths shivered in the air, falling one by one. He watched them melt through the window's frost. 

When the Empress Leizu married, she asked her husband only for a grove of mulberry trees. 
    Trees? That's all? he asked, amused. But I can give you anything, whole cities gilded gold. Countries, even! 
    She smiled and shook her head. No. Just trees. 
    From this grove, she domesticated the first silkworms. She watched them as closely as she would a child; allowed them to feed on the precious leaves until they were ready to pupate. She boiled them in great masses, producing enough raw silk to weave into thread, from thread into cloth. She gifted her invention throughout China, her people embraced with lustrous new attire weaved the bodies of her children. And so she became known as Silkworm Mother. 

It was a strange feeling to feel your heart in your palms, your stomach in your brain, your fingers where your knees should be. It was like puberty, but less shameful. She closed her eyes, located somewhere where her left elbow once was, and reveled in the delicious feeling of transformation. She felt a tickle as her enzymes digested her old body. She laughed inaudibly in the soup of herself. 
    Transformation was a familiar concept. After marriage, she imagined herself at last transformed from child to woman. Her mother educated her on the next stage, how a woman becomes a mother, belly swelling with shifting cells, transmuting egg to zygote to embryo to baby, slipped wet and screaming from the womb into her arms. She marveled at how a single cell could unfold itself into human. Nine short months from a wiggling worm in a woman's stomach to a pink fleshed baby. Yet she found ways to keep that particular transformation at bay. She struggled to frame its burden to her husband in a way he understood. She compared it to the curse of silkworms, how before they can mature, they're boiled for silk. Their bodies, reduced to a tool for production. 
    He took her hand, kissed the pink scar of her palm, and asked what use did they have, if not silk? 

A month carved itself silently away, and her husband became impatient. He paced the bedroom, demanding his wife to emerge. She didn't. He considered leaving, having the affair mindlessly dreamt of while filing spreadsheets at work. But then, he must explain away the giant organic structure which had overtaken his bedroom. How could he have sex with someone while his wife was a few feet away, consuming herself in a coffin?
    He collapsed, exhausted. Please, he begged, please just come back to me. The bedroom held its breath. Dust collected on the edges of her chrysalis. He cried for what felt like a long time. Then, he started to dig. 
The thick casing gave away easily beneath his fingers. He pressed further into its shell, recoiling at the wet, earthy odor. He imagined finding his wife whole, curled raw in a fetal position, new wings tucked neatly beneath her arms. But the deeper he pushed, the less he found. A green ooze pooled at his feet. His hands slicked in viscous warmth. Only when he broke completely through, the cocoon's insides bared hollow, did the realization of what he had done lodge in his throat. He retched but found his stomach empty. What was left of his wife mingled with the bedroom carpet, staining a sickly jade. 

His wife saved a cockroach from beneath his boot the morning before she cocooned. He was leaving for work when he caught it scurrying from the kitchen sink, beneath the door, and into the foyer where it paused as if saying its final goodbyes. He raised his foot above the small brown body. His wife snatched his arm.
     Let it go, she said.
     But it's a pest, he argued, they're filthy
     Wasn't it Nietzsche who said "if you crush a cockroach, you're a hero. If you crush a butterfly, you're a villain"? she asked.
     He rolled his eyes as his wife scooped the roach into her hands and let it out the door. The insect landed on its back, kicking wildly before righting itself and vanishing into the bushes. She looked satisfied. She washed her hands, kissed his cheek, and saw him off to work.
     He wondered why she bothered. Millions, if not billions, of insects are killed every second. She couldn't save them all. To try would be the same as trying to stop the sun from sinking below the horizon each night. To try would be the same as trying to spin silk from dust.





Grasshopper (Dissosteira longipennis): The first time she sees a woman nude, she thinks grasshopper—finds similarities in skinny stretched legs, the sleek curve from head to foot. She touches her own soft body and searches for its hardness. Her stomach rolls doughy like caterpillars across cracked branches. Her breasts are tick bites. When she can't seek herself further, she captures crawling things and tries to find herself within. 
    Soft bodies are separated and pinned. Ocher insides teased out—impossibly slick. Impossibly lovely.  Still, grasshoppers up close look less like herself and more like the pinched waist pin-up girls on her walls, watching. Watching her perform insect autopsies. Watching as she burst ant blisters rashed red across her ankles. You're but a nymph, they say in high striated voices, one day your skin will crack loose. One day you will emerge beautiful like those who crawl from the dirt.
Mantis (Mantis religiosa): She will lose her virginity at thirty-one. When it's over and done with, she won't be able to shake the hunger hollowing her stomach. Nothing will quiet it. She will try more sex, more food, drink liquor until her blood runs thin with it. The hunger grows and grows and grows. Her belly will balloon, the hunger made solid. When she kisses a man, his taste will echo eat me. She will genuflect before the toilet, purging what she ate, making room for more.

Girl (Homo sapiens): At age six, she stepped barefoot into a fire ant beda careless mistake. She was playing with her favorite barbie, a headless pin-up blonde with right leg snapped backwards in plié. The doll was seeking her head. The real tragedy was how close the plastic-girl was to finding her skull skewered neatly on a twig when the real-girl's foot sank ankle deep into the mound of ant-dirt. The ants trickled out in stream, then river, before they burst forth in red tsunami. All she could do was watch. Each sting puckered in blister. The burning lit her from the inside, electrifying nerves. Beyond the pain, she imagined what she might taste like to the ants. She took the red insects between her fingers and tried them on her tongue. They filled her mouth with bitter citrus sting.  She took a bite from herself—disappointed at the taste of empty.

Ant (Dasymutilla klugii): When ant stings weren't enough, she opened herself up to let them inside. Her mouth was a door. She peeled back her skin like cheap motel bed sheets. The ants found comfort in her hollows. They rested beneath the blanket of her tongue.

Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus): Here is the beginning of the end: fast fashion models are wrapped in Palos Verdes blue. Plastic wings dangle from their ears and silicone breasts—which can't be buried by the American Burying Beetle or dissolved by waxworm—clog the dirt. She's stained with Scarlet Lily Beetle lipstick. Her cheeks are blushed pink with Lyme. A Bubonic diet helps her slide easily into size-two bikinis. Her favorite dress: a red mini dotted with lady-bird spots. 
     She will soon die with the rest—humanity blinked out by ways of fire, flood, and ice. Violent deaths. The ants will return to fill her shell. They will marvel at her stretched body. They will flip through nude magazines to find her pinned in posters. They will explore her new spaces: breasts bulging against tube tied tops, fire-red heels pinching her feet. Others will join too, and her insides will be kaleidoscoped by wings and shell and wiggling flesh. She will be digested in frenzy, finally returned to the warm womb of earth—soft and silent. Pure.




The creatures in the woods turn woman under full moon. We know them by the soft sway of their hips, the hungry lick of their teeth when they see something, or someone, they like. They are neither boar nor bear, but some marriage of the two—birch-bleached antlers tangled around their skulls; pink mouths brimmed with tusks. Once a month, the creatures venture into our village. They streak through our streets, fur transformed into sheer white frocks and antlers softened into halos of hair framing tuskless faces, struck silver by moonlight. We know these women from our own if only by the ethereal beauty, the languid scent of honey-suckle and smoke that gathers in their wake. They walk in packs, elbow to elbow, gazes flickering across streetlights and halogen signs blinking in bar windows. One looks to another as if to say happy hunting before they scatter and scurry into open doors. The lack of locks—an invitation.
     I asked my mother why we let the creatures live knowing each month they'll spill past the trees and into our men's homes, chewing flesh and decimating men into bits of blood and bone in less time than it takes to say No. Don't. Stop.
    Because, she said, they didn't ask to be what they are. They didn't undress themselves. It was only when I was older, breast budding and body bleeding from places contested, that I understood.

The first time I lay with a man, I try to take control. I pinch my arms bruised in preparation, channeling the pain I know to come. He is a farm boy recently passed boyhood, the stubble freshly prickled on his cheeks, yet he already knows his power. Power is as natural to him as fear is to me. I feel shame as I undress. I am too young, my body still reimagining itself through puberty. My soft breasts implicate me as harmless. He kisses them anyway. I hesitate as he flips me on my stomach and catch a sharp slap with my cheek. The sting reminds me of my position, the teeth and claws I lack. I hide my tears and wish him dead but can't find the will to resist. 

We gather to watch from our windows as the beast's forms unfold, their steps becoming light and unburdened by hooves. They smile, wind fingers through their sisters' hair, spin on bare heels like moths caught in breeze. I try and visualize my own metamorphosis. My flesh ripping, regrowing. Skull fracturing and expanding to accommodate antlers and tusks. I focus on the surface of my skin and imagine the pain of it all. Perhaps the pain justifies their hunger, their violence. I struggle to conceive an unfamiliar form. I crawl on my hands and knees to find a new perspective, knuckles bruised blue from the effort. I chew with my mouth open, legs wide. When someone asks my name, I let my tongue loose and scream. 

The farm boy is dead two years later. We all know why, but don't dare say it. To speak is to manifest—to permit the lie that some victims choose themselves. Instead, we blame wild coyotes. A rabid wolf. The obituary writes him as a kind boy with a bright future. A man's potential snuffed too soon. I tear the pages from the paper and eat them whole. The pulp concretes itself in my stomach—hardens something within me.

I follow the creatures back into the forest, attempting to glimpse the moment they change. The moment they use jaws for grinding bark and bones, not wide lipped smiles. The moment they release their hair and let it bristle loose against their backs. The moment they stumble full and satisfied into their dens for another moon, snoring softly against their sisters' ballooned pink bellies.
    But the change happens so quickly I miss it. I find myself alone amongst the trees, knees dirt-stained, and body naked—struck silver against the moonlight






Notes on "Silk": One morning, I wondered "what if I could avoid getting out of bed by cocooning myself in the sheets?" However, the problem with forming a chrysalis is that a change must occur within—a metamorphosis. I wrote this piece to confront the process of change, its catalysts, and all the forms metamorphosis may take.

Notes on "Eaters of Men": I've always loved the idea of werewolves. Transforming into animal beneath the full moon feels like the perfect excuse for release. It feels very liberating. It feels inherently feminine. I wanted to explore the ways in which gender binds, transforms, and frees us by complicating the idea of werewolves and how we define 'monster' as both animal and woman.

Notes on "Entomology of the Pin-Up Girl": "Entomology of the Pin-Up Girl" was written after an André Bazin essay of the same name. After reading it, I was disappointed by the lack of insects within. Was it a mistake? Did he mean "Etymology" rather than "Entomology"? Was it a complicated metaphor I failed to grasp? These questions still haunt me. I wrote this story for my own peace of mind.