I lay sprawled on the couch when an intrusive buzz encroached on my restless mind. Probably a mosquito eager to borrow some of my blood, I fancied.
“Have you ever heard of insect politics?” it asked me.
“I haven’t, and I don’t want to. Insects don’t have politics,” I mumbled drowsily, wrapping myself in the terrycloth blanket.
“Right. Back then, we were very brutal.” Its voice took a justifying overtone. “No compassion, no compromise. Humans couldn’t trust the insects.”
Judging by how chill the room had become from the fluttering of the wings and the peaceful course the discussion had taken, I assumed it wasn’t a mosquito, not even a particularly large crane fly.
“I became the first insect politician. You see, I became, but I’m afraid I’m just like you: a human who dreamt he was an insect and his stomach loved it.” It giggled softly. “But now the dream is over, and the human is awake from the cocoon.”
These words broke the limit of my un-curiosity. I couldn’t ignore some… one being inside the room along with me.
I opened my eyes and for the first and the last time in my life beheld a real stag beetle of distinctive male proportions.
Intrigued, I asked him from what natural reserve he had fled. He started a lengthy and thorough tale on the peculiarities of his career as well as his nation, sentient as much as him, standing apart from others on the map of wonderland realms and banana republics.
The bug introduced himself as Thorax and said his species went by the moniker of ‘changelings’.
“How did you end up in our world, little thing?” I asked him.
The story he told me was worth Starevich’s puppet play.
* * *
On the day of the May coup, the day of the velvet revolution and national liberation, when Thorax proclaimed himself a new leader, the entire race of sapient love-eater bugs went through a metamorphosis.
The era when the changelings lived at the expense of the others came to an end, and the black-carapaced bugs transformed into imagos: the actual fairy insects satisfying their hunger by caring for each other.
The newly-made king declared the Black-Free Day a national weekend for every reformed bug that lived in the hive and beyond.
The bugs never worked in their life anyway.
It wouldn’t be a joke to say they needed no actual food. The bugs did cooking only for leisure, growing hops and brewing beer. To put it short and simple: now the changeling race as a whole could dump any thinking of how to survive and start living a bohemian lifestyle.
After ‘sharing love’ – which was just a soft phrase for copulating – they laid humongous amounts of eggs that hatched and spawned new drones no less eager to reproduce.
And there was nothing, no Malthusian reason to prevent the uncontrollable growth of the hive’s population. Back then, the number of larvae was restricted by their old leader, Queen Chrysalis, and the tyranny of an unbalanced diet: only the queen could afford breeding and eating as much as she wished.
Maturing to one of the first world problems was surely impressive. But unlike the first world, their historical renewal happened all too quickly, safe from long, hungry perestroikas. Under the magical veil, the changelings were shielded from both the macroworld’s pesticides and undesirable military interventions.
From now on, the jaded bugs, which knew neither starvation, nor bug spray, nor even military service, radiated an aura of complete reluctance to migrate. Why bother if you could satisfy all your needs right where you lived?
Some part of the young left the homehive to study abroad. Yet, once they moved away from their kin, they tried to settle down in Equestria for good. This way the hive lost Ocellus, Larynx, and Phallus.
The ‘traitors’ made excellent sellers, insurance agents, and mystery shoppers. The new, colourful form of the changelings confused the Equestrian ponies even more than their former fiendish fashion. They feared the migrants as ones who shook off the food chain burden from their shoulders, the next step of evolutionary progress that might take over the world.
Though Equestria was not the only nation that felt apprehension towards it. The hive also dreaded how it might end. And for this, the changelings had Thorax to loathe to all of their hearts’ content. The king was banned from any form of sympathy, thought, or fancy about him. He decided to decree the prohibition himself for the sake of a solid hierarchical structure, lest virtually any changeling could lay claim to the title.
The hive had also other reasons to dislike Thorax. In the end, he was the one who had once betrayed them, turning them into what they were now.
* * *
“We need a new hive. Living space is practically no more,” Pharynx, the king’s brother, exhorted in one of ‘feelings forums’.
“You know I’ve already notified Starlight.”
“Gah, that Glehmmer again…”
Starlight Glimmer was another liberator to the changeling people. A well-known anabaptist and an Equestrian ambassador, she headed the school to where the king sent his most talented subjects.
Just a month later, one of her students brought home a cage filled with spiders. These creatures somewhat helped the situation, but at the same time, they made things far more complicated.
They were not some cute little star spiders or even hairy tarantulae the size of a fist, but formidable king-sized arachnids, a product of some radiation or Glimmer’s alchemical dabblings.
The spiders had preferences other than love for lunch, but they still were arthropods like the changelings. When presented with changelings eggs, they found them delicious, so the hive proudly named them ‘gloits’ after their famous heroine; her student, who had brought them salvation, was also given a fitting name ‘Glammer’.
The gloits burrowed a spider district of their own and settled under the hive. The common changelings were not allowed there.
The plan of community development was abandoned until Equestria would propose more significant aid. But no matter the time, no answer came from Starlight and – alas! – the changelings didn’t possess the knowledge to design and make buildings.
“What a hope! They and Glammer are no more useful than your stupid meetings.”
“And what would you suggest, Pharynx? Devouring our own children by ourselves?”
* * *
The fact that the changelings by nature are chameleons should be treated with all due seriousness. These guileful beings could mimic enemies, switch sides, and easily disguise themselves to blend in to the environs.
It is unknown whether this was a natural mutation or a specific magical gift, yet before, in the times of primaeval savagery, they needed it for hunting. For example, a changeling could swap places with the wife of a notorious Equestrian stallion and thirstily drink her spouse to the bottom.
This came to matter when a handful of naive changelings including Pharynx (especially him) began to suspect the gloits grew tired of being stuffed with the same eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, even if nothing had happened yet.
“You made an ant colony out of our hive,” Pharynx said. “Yes, now we are like ants in a besieged antheap.”
The king’s brother decided on a risky secret mission. In order to gain info on what the gloits were doing, he founded the Order of the Scanners, the changelings who cloaked themselves as spiders and infiltrated the enemy’s base to eavesdrop.
However, what his investigation brought to light was a plot of a very different kind. The secret agents were quickly exposed: instead of spying, the perverted changelings with their shapes on tried to breed the actual arachnids.
According to all rules, they should have died since the gloits were prone to devour the partner after mating. But as it turned out, the spidery ranks of the gloits had already been flooded with mimicking changelings. And the impersonators outnumbered the originals.
The dominant species of the hive happened to be the only threat to it. Or was it not a threat but a solution? Putting up with the hairy hide, these bugs were delighted to eat the eggs and bed the ones they pretended to be. Chasing after unconventional pleasure. Seeking the tantalising exotica.
Pharynx could not comprehend it. He started to wonder if he’d had better accept disfavour and refused to change in order not to see all of this.
Others might not get his point, but he was the last of the old race to adopt peaceful ways and had long been loyal to the matriarchy. Only after he defeated the maulwurf, he had agreed to accept change and resumed his status of a stalwart defender to the hive.
But would they love him for punishing the inner enemy? Would they adore him if he tried to avert the nation from the path to ultimate degradation?
At last, Pharynx took a decisive stand. “You remember Chrysalis capturing all the Princess’ guards? I won’t let these gloits and their supporters imprison us in our own hive.”
“The reformation is irreversible, my brother. I fancy you might want it the other way, but we cannot return to our former selves. They may pretend to be hostless parasites, but they will also understand it soon enough.”
“But tell me, Thorax, don’t you think Equestria has become our new lord? Do you not fear the spiders were sent here to subdue the hive and end your rule? Might not it be that your friend instigated her student to take the crown and be an obedient puppet?”
“Even if all you speak is true,” concluded the king, “I will need my mandibles no more.”
* * *
Pharynx’s suicidal attempts met an eventual doom. He forayed into the spiders’ territory never to return. This was the first loss – the full and final disappearance of a changeling.
In a couple of days, other changelings found an empty carapace followed by the discovery of an entire graveyard of exoskeletons, husks, and fossils heaped to resemble an altar.
The changelings were so much into their new hobby they gave up the natural armour to stay in the new form for good.
The gloits grew quiet. At day, they hid down in their burrows, but during nights they crept out and spun webs. Soon the hive entrances were stitched shut. The pure changelings did not even give it a thought that soon they would be caught and ‘disrobed’ as well.
King Thorax locked himself in the throne room. But as before, he just didn’t care about the enigma of his brother’s fate or the arachnophiliacs or a new pretender that was going to ascend the throne on the backs of fanatics after the brutal consumption of the old monarch.
“With your carapace or on it.”
The king waited for the sake of waiting. His hunger for power slumbered and didn’t wake up.
In that part of the hive he occupied, echoes of the past resonated through time. The historical figures – Strachkvas, Chrysalis, Starlight Glimmer – fought each other with vengeance for the right to rule. For the right to be.
Their voices flocked to the throne, “We have returned! We shall return! We returned many a time!”
Little by little, like a shadowy shadow, a piquet of spiders crept towards Thorax. Their jaws flexed in hunger, and their beady predatory eyes ogled the royal antler mandibles.
The mastermind behind all the cahoot was Glammer himself. Though it might have been Pharynx or somechangeling else. The executioners didn’t cast off their vestures.
“You know, I, too, can become anyone I want,” Thorax licked his lips.
The picture froze. The whole hive and throne and conspirators faded to the white under a web of dead sticky threads.
* * *
I woke up from what felt like a particularly exhausting, painful nightmare. To be honest, I had never suffered arachnophobia or fear of insects, so the dream invoked in me a feeling of anxiety rather than terror.
I spent the rest of the night awake and musing. This time no bugbears spoke to me.
Every little thing inside this story from the post-added beginning to the rewritten ending was ambiguous. Tawdry political satire full of references to modern society, religion, and Czech history. A mix of Kafkaesque horror and Shakespeare’s bootleg translation. A fusion of a baroque fairy-tale and an essay on biology made in a hurry before classes in 6th grade.
How had my subconsciousness managed to give birth to such a grotesque conglomeration? How did a monologue I had watched in Cronenberg’s film eternity ago transpose from one tragic context into another?
The whole thing was damaged. The world of Equestria and the TV show Friendship is Magic just cracked in half. Perhaps as did my disoriented mind.
Maybe it was only a part of the transformation? This sure means something if I keep feeling the hot, blood-like flow of vigour as I speak of it, doesn’t it?
Why do I think I didn’t see the true ending of what had happened?
The end might as well be the one thing that does not seem false to me. I’m pretty sure to the core of my soul that, unlike the other events, it does exist in our reality.
I wasn’t fond of telling my dreams to the people who took such anecdotes at face value. So I reached out to my younger brother to help me discover the true ending. He dreamt scary things too.
My brother was twelve years old, and I was moderate in my re-telling, leaving spicy details aside. Having listened to the shortened plot, he stupefied me with a simple question, “Those eggs other bugs except Thorax and his allies loved to eat, what did they taste?”
I knew the answer, but I kept silent, as if it didn’t matter a bit and he would never remember the story again.
I’d felt the taste when I became human.