Something tells Caroline it is a trick. But she is curious. If they have something that belongs to her – she wants it back. ‘I’m not afraid of them,’ she mumbles, making her way up the familiar path that leads to the cave. A hint of pink begins to spread across the horizon, brightening up the sullen skies. On approach: she stumbles over an overgrown bush; then a few paces later, over a rock – tumbling and scraping a knee. ‘Wrong shoes, wrong clothes,’ she scolds herself, ‘I should have gone home to change.’ She picks herself up, and waves off a stubborn wasp humming around her. As she wipes the trickle of blood, she notices a tear in the hemline of her yellow dress. ‘Mum’s not going to be happy,’ she sighs.
At first she sees no one. Then she hears Beth’s call: ‘Come on, Caroline... we’ve been waiting.’ She enters the cave. The damp hugging the limestone assaults her senses. She blinks momentarily while she adjusts to the dim enclosure. Its darkness illuminated only by the glow of six torch lights. She takes several steps forward, and slips on a slippery stone. The laughter that follows is cutting and hideous. Caroline trembles when she finds herself inside their circle. Their shadowy silhouettes loom large as they hem her in. Like a butterfly trapped in a bottle. Thankful for the darkness concealing her fear, she says: ‘What do you want?’ Her tone is calm and steely. Beth is the first to speak again, moving in closer until they stand nose-to-nose. ‘We want to be your friend, Caterpillar Caroline,’ she sniggers. Her angelic face – fuelled by her venom – contorts into a demonic caricature. The others join in: a chorus of sneers and taunts. Then: someone hurls a bucket of biting insects all over her. She can’t tell who. More laughter. More scoffs. Ignoring the prickling sensation on her skin – Caroline runs.
They are not far behind; hunting her like a wild deer. Uphill: she runs. The clearing has closed in with stretches of thick trees. Through the green and brown, her feet wind up a steep slope. They: continue to chase the blur of yellow in the distance. Their taunts soar louder and louder; echoes ringing in her head. She reaches another clearing – leading to a ledge overlooking a lake – and stops. She has run as far as she can. For a second time: she is cornered. Gasping, sweating – she waits for them.
‘What are you going to do now, Moth Girl?’ Kayla asks. She is the second in command, the tallest of the six.
‘Leave me alone...’ Caroline shouts.
‘What are you going to do now?’ They edge towards her. One pushes her, and she loses her balance.
‘Leave me alone...’ she says again, scrambling on all fours, before getting up. The tears are welling up, blinding her. In front of her: six pairs of vultures eyes. Behind her: a sharp drop into the lake below.
‘What are you going to do, Caterpillar Caroline?’ they cry in unison. ‘What are you going to do, Caterpillar Caroline?’ They charge at her, lurch forward with the energy of a bull to a red rag.
‘What are you going to do, Caroline?’ an inner voice asks.
‘I’m going to fly...’
By Catherine Mark-Beasant