Yanci frowned as two baby silkworms crawled out of their eggs. He was furious. All three hundred should have died. The moth had who laid them was so sick that none of them should have hatched at all. He would have to work harder if he wanted his mission to be successful.

* * *

Silkworms arrived in California only a few years before Yanci was born. When he was young, he watched from a distance as their every need was met. Mulberry seeds were imported from Europe because silkworms couldn’t eat leaves from other trees. Yanci watched with envy as their silk thread was unraveled carefully. He wondered why their silk was more valuable than the one made by spiders. Why was local talent being ignored? Why were foreigners being given preference over citizens? Yanci was very angry and decided it was time to fix the situation.

Fortunately for Yanci, it wasn’t difficult bringing the foreign workers down. Silkworms had been enslaved by humans for centuries. They were already weak and completely dependent on their masters. Silkworm larvae were born with withered legs. Adult moths couldn’t even fly because their wings were so useless. Their end was already near and Yanci was going to bring it to them sooner. In Yanci’s first year of life, he’d seen ten generations of silkworms come and go. To him, this was more evidence that spiders were naturally superior.

Every day, Yanci carried tiny pieces of tobacco leaves from the fields nearby. He mixed them with the mulberry leaves that the silkworms ate. He knew tobacco was poisonous for silkworms and that it was addictive. The weak larvae wouldn’t be able to handle the toxins, nor would they be able to resist them.

* * *

The two baby silkworms he saw hatching from their eggs were listless and very small. Lola, the weaker one, was finding it difficult to eat the fresh mulberry leaves lying next to her. Esperanza, her sister, made an effort to move but breathing was not easy and her tiny body hurt.

When she could see more clearly, Esperanza looked around and saw the mulberry leaves covered with other baby silkworms. They all looked miserable. She didn’t know what was going on.

“Are we being punished for something we did before we were born?” she whispered to Lola, but her sister was too confused to reply.

Esperanza closed her eyes and drifted off into a restless sleep. Lola just lay on the leaves. The smell of tobacco was in the air. With a sudden spurt of energy, Lola crawled over to a speck of tobacco leaf and swallowed it. Then, she lay in a daze for the next few hours. Other silkworms did the same, all day and every day.

The smell of tobacco reached Esperanza too, but when she saw the state of the others, she tried to control herself. It was very difficult and she struggled with her desire to nibble on the tobacco leaves that lay everywhere. Esperanza promised herself that she would only eat healthy mulberry leaves, but every day the smell of fresh tobacco leaves appeared out of nowhere and the temptation was huge.

* * *

Lola’s health deteriorated. She lived on tobacco leaves and crawled around the tray looking for more. Her body became infected and swollen, and her skin was so fragile that it would burst at the slightest touch. The other silkworms were getting sick too. Esperanza watched sadly as her sister got sicker. She was determined to give her own babies a better start in life, so she stayed away from the tobacco leaves.

* * *

Three weeks passed, and it was almost time for the silkworms to build their cocoons. Yanci’s sharp eyes noticed that Esperanza was still well enough to build a healthy cocoon, so he decided to do something about it.

One evening, when Esperanza was feeling particularly weak and alone, she heard a soft voice whisper to her.

“You look tired, my friend.”

“It’s been a difficult day,” she replied as the spider moved closer.

“Our body is not always as strong as we want it to be. There’s no harm in giving it a little help.” Yanci offered her a small piece of tobacco. Esperanza felt herself weaken. She wondered if her discipline was worth anything. The rest of her community was in shambles.

“What difference does one healthy silkworm make?” she thought, “I assume that my babies will live on after me, but what if this is the last generation of silkworms? What if there is no life after the cocoon? Am I putting my body through so much pain for nothing?”

Life as a silkworm larva was not easy, but Esperanza was so near the end. She didn’t want to give up now.

“No, thank you,” she replied with great difficulty.

Esperanza desperately hoped that life would be better when she emerged from her cocoon as a moth. More importantly, she hoped she would have a life.

* * *

Two weeks later, there were thousands of cocoons lying on the tray, but they were damaged and completely useless. Silk farmers all over California were having serious doubts about silk production. On the farm where Esperanza and Lola lived, all the trays were emptied out. The farmer threw the cocoons into the field of mulberry trees and decided to grow a more profitable product, tobacco.

* * *

Days later, on a bright sunny morning, a little sparrow watched a tiny head coming out of a cocoon. It was followed by a pair of wings. The moth sat quietly experiencing her second entry into the world. As she turned her head, she discovered her pain was gone. She saw another silkworm moth sitting next to her. They smiled at each. They were both healthy, and they were both free.

* * *

Babieca Takes a Break

“Babieca is in trouble and he needs your help!” shouted the seagull to Yanci as he flew over the Pacific Coast.

Yanci rolled his eyes. He shuddered whenever he thought of his cousin’s chaotic life in the ocean. He wished the marine animals could manage their own affairs, but they couldn’t. And unless he took full responsibility for sorting out their problems, nothing would change. The spider walked purposefully towards the beach to help out his cousin Babieca, a sea spider.

“Land creatures are so civilized,” thought Yanci arrogantly, “We can control the forces of nature, use them for all our needs, and we have a system that works. Perhaps a few insignificant groups in our community might not be happy,” he admitted grudgingly, “but it’s their own lack of motivation that’s to blame. There are so many opportunities out there for sheep and cattle but they just don’t know how to make use of them.” Yanci had no sympathy for victim mentality.

Yanci believed that the natural beauty of the marine world was ruined by its backward culture. Male sea-spiders carried large bundles of eggs on their bodies and walked around like old women. Spiders on land had liberated themselves from domestic chores years ago. Looking around, the spider didn’t see much hope for his inferior relatives. Just then, he caught sight of Babieca. His cousin was slumped unhappily against some coral, his ovigers, which he used to carry eggs, were completely empty.

A few meters from where the two cousins sat talking, Elodia, the halibut, lay in the entrance of an underwater cave. Her flat body was half buried in sand and a mass of quivering yellow eggs was stuck to the exposed side.

* * *

Because of the recent oil spill, Elodia had swum away from the contaminated water. She’d let the ocean currents carry her exhausted body to the still clean shallow waters of the coast. Once there, she sank into the sand by the cave happy to still be alive.

* * *

Babieca was telling Yanci his story:

“So, as I walked past the cave, my legs aching with the weight of the eggs, I saw a halibut resting in the sand. She offered to take care of my eggs, so I could take a break. She told me that halibut never carry their eggs around with them and that’s why their offspring are so independent. She said we pamper our young too much. And I was so tired, cousin…”

Yanci sighed. “Then what happened?”

“When I returned to pick up my eggs, they were stuck to Elodia’s body. If I ‘d tried to remove them, they would have died. We came to an agreement that I would send fish to the cave everyday for Elodia’s dinner and she would look after the eggs till they hatched. Everything was going well until one of the fish managed to escape. She told all the other fish that I was tricking them. Now they won’t go near the cave.

Elodia is hungry and threatening to swim off into deeper water to find her own food. My babies will die in the deep ocean water. I can’t let her leave. Help me, cousin Yanci. Please help me.” Babieca begged.

* * *

Elodia was worried too. The oil spill had not been cleaned yet, and there was a severe food shortage in the deeper waters. She had threatened to swim back, but that was a not really an option. What worried her more was that she had become enormous just lying there and eating all day. When she tried to get up off the sand, she could barely move. Her only option was to keep the pressure on Babieca so he would keep sending more fish to the cave. She could see him now walking towards her with someone else. As they came closer, she recognized Yanci, the Chief of Police. Oh how she hated that arrogant Yanci.

“You cannot leave here until the eggs have hatched,” barked Yanci as soon as he got close to the halibut, “if you do, I will have no choice but to impose on you the harshest penalties that the law allows. The International Coalition of Spiders is drawing up a list of sanctions as we speak. These sanctions will be imposed on all halibut in the Pacific if you continue to move forward with your plans.”

“I am leaving at the next high tide,” said Elodia calmly and closed her eyes.
Yanci was furious – and stunned. No sea creature had ever been so disrespectful of him. Then, as he was trying to calm himself down and think of an appropriate response, a dark cloud of oil floated towards them. It hovered above them for a while and then slowly sank into the water covering all the eggs on the halibut. Within seconds the eggs were dead, smothered by the poisonous black liquid.

For a few seconds there was complete silence. Yanci was the first to recover. He straightened himself slowly and prepared to leave. As far as he was concerned, the crisis was over. Without saying another word, he turned around and walked away. Fate had generously provided him with a fig leaf and he accepted it. Babieca stumbled behind him, sobbing uncontrollably.

* * *

A few days later, one of the clean-up volunteers discovered Elodia. She washed the oil off her body and returned her gently to the cave entrance. As the halibut lay in her favorite spot, she saw a young sea-spider walk past her. She called out to him in a gentle, sympathetic voice.

“Those eggs must be very heavy. You look as if you need a break, young sir.”

* * *

When Chickens Fly

“Why is this panel darker than the others?” asked Chiquita looking at a scorched wooden board as she got ready for bed.

“It’s one of the panels that survived the Big Fire,” replied her grandmother.

“And what are these scratch marks in the wood, Granny?”

“That is the mysterious writing that caused the fire in the chicken coop.” The old hen closed her eyes and shook her head sadly.

“Tell me about the fire again, Granny.”

Chiquita had heard the story before but she loved listening to it over and over again.

“Come here, little one. Come and sit next to me, I’ll tell you how it all happened.”

Chiquita settled herself comfortably in her grandmother’s soft feathers and waited for her to start the story:

The Big Fire happened five years ago when I was just a young chicken like you. My sister, Aixa, was beautiful. She had reddish-brown feathers that shone like flames in the summer sun. We were both new in this country, the only Spanish Penedesenca chickens on this farm. The farmer was very proud of us. Every day, the farmer’s five-year old son took Aixa into the house so she could play with his talking parrot, Leta.

Aixa and Leta became best friends. They learned to communicate in a very special way. Leta spoke like humans and Aixa replied by making scratches on the floor with her claws. I think my sister created the first written bird-language in the world. And that’s the writing on the wooden panel. Those are her own words.

One day, Leda asked Aixa if she could fly.
“Just a few feet at a time,” said Aixa, “Can you?”

“No, not now,” replied Leta sadly, “I used to fly before I was captured. My wings have been clipped. I can’t fly anymore.”

“Is flying fun? Is it dangerous? Did you like it?” Aixa wanted to know everything.

“Flying is magical,” said Leta thoughtfully, looking into the distance.

“I can teach you if you want to learn,” she said suddenly, smiling at the chicken.
Aixa wanted to learn but felt a little nervous. She didn’t know any hens that could fly – fly properly, that is. She thought for a while and then said softly, “Yes. Please teach me. I think I’d like to fly.”

From that day on, Leta started teaching Aixa the techniques of flying. At night, my little sister scratched notes on the wooden panel to remind herself what she had learned. During the day, she practiced behind the barn so that other chickens wouldn’t see her. She was being watched though, but not by chickens. Yanci, the spider, was keeping an eye on her from his cobweb in the window of the barn, and he didn’t like what he saw. No, he didn’t like it at all.

* * *

One morning, while Galiano, the rooster, was strutting majestically near the chicken coop, Yanci walked up to him.

“Good morning, sir. May I have a word with you?” Yanci very respectful.

“Yes, of course,” replied the rooster preening his feathers in a stately manner.

“It’s about one of your chickens, Aixa. I’ve seen her trying to fly behind the barn.”

Galiano raised an eye-brow skeptically. “Chickens can’t fly,” he responded, and walked off to welcome the newest chickens on the farm.

Yanci crawled back to the barn. He felt humiliated by Galiano’s dismissive response. The world was changing right under the rooster’s nose. He was living in denial. One day all his chickens would fly away, and then it would be too late. Yanci decided to talk to Aixa himself, and warn her of the terrible consequences of her behaviour.

There was no one inside the chicken coop when Yanci crawled in, but just as he was leaving, he saw the scratch marks on the wooden panels. Yanci froze.

“These are not random scratch marks,” he shouted in horror. “They look like symbols. My God! They are words!” Chickens were learning to read and write. Galiano was a useless leader. Yanci would have to take action himself.

The spider went back to the barn and returned to the chicken coop with a matchbox.
It had been a very hot summer and the straw inside the coop was dry. It took just one match and within minutes the whole structure was ablaze.

The farmer was puzzled. He didn’t know what had caused the fire. “It’s a good thing the chickens were not in the coop when it happened,” he sighed with relief. Then he counted them again. They were all there, all except Aixa, who was probably in the house with the parrot. We found out later that Aixa was not with the parrot. She was never seen on the farm again. Yanci wasn’t seen again either, but no one really noticed that he was gone. And life continued on the farm as usual.

* * *

“Granny, did Aunt Aixa fly away?” said a small voice from under her feathers.

“That, my little one, is a mystery,” replied her grandmother, “Nobody knows where she went.” “I want to fly too.”

“Yes, my dear, you can learn to fly too. Now get some rest.”

Chiquita closed her eyes and fell asleep.

That night, Chiquita dreamed of a little chicken with reddish brown feathers flying over the ocean with the sea gulls. She snuggled deeper into her grandmother’s soft feathers and smiled her sleep.

* * *

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