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Keeper of the Crackling Lights of Sudden Death

Few heed the warnings of the Keeper of the Lights, but it's a steady job.

“Don’t do it,” said the moth to the mosquito. “Don’t fly into those lights.”

The old moth was sitting on his perch next to the blue lights, trying to talk some sense into the mosquito.

“Those lights will suck the life right out of you,” he warned the mosquito.

But the mosquito flew into the lights anyhow. For once the blue lights got into their eyes there was no talking to them. And it only got worse when there was a full moon out, like that night.

For these weren’t just any lights. They were known as the Crackling Lights of Sudden Death, or just the Lights. Who knows how long the Lights had been there? Some say forever. And they always had a Keeper, and that’s what the moth was. Keeper of the Crackling Lights of Sudden Death.

The Lights were housed in a metal cage with openings big enough to accommodate night flyers of all sizes. And every night bugs came for the Lights.

Some flew straight into the Lights. Others hovered first, bug-eyed and blue, and then flew in. Some sang as they flew in (always songs about the moon), and others flew in solemn silence. And all met the same end. A crackling flash of lightning, a hot grill of metal, a sizzle and the smell of burning wing, antennae and thorax. Whatever they sought, it was death that always found them.

What was the Keeper to do? Why warn them, of course. Until his proboscis fell out, if need be.

“Get back! Get back! Just let it be!” he warned a beetle - Crackle!

“It’s better to fade away than burn out,” he advised a firefly - Flash!

“You’re making your brethren look bad,” he admonished a fellow moth - Sizzle!

“You have your whole life ahead of you,” he pleaded with a fruit fly - Poof!

He had been at this game so long he could close his eyes and by the burning smell alone tell precisely the type of bug that had flown into the Lights, and what he’d been wearing.

Why did he even bother?

Well, for one thing it was his job, and it was a steady job at that. But it was more than that. Truth be known, it made him feel good about himself. At least he was smarter than all those fools who flew into the Lights. And when he was good and ready, when he could no longer remember what he had for breakfast that morning, he could always fly into the Lights himself.

On lonely nights, which included most, he always could count on his “friends.” These were the fried bugs who hadn’t dissolved into ashes, who remained intact for a long time, carbonized tributes to their former selves. Most had looks on their faces like they’d been hoodwinked, except for his favorite, the praying mantis, whose supplicant corpse stood as a testament to the eternal promise of prayer.

“It’s gonna be a long night,” he was saying to the praying mantis, when he noticed something unusual. A young butterfly, and a pretty one at that, fluttering near the Lights. She positively glowed with reflected blue lights. If ever a bug belonged to the Lights, this was the one.

“Child, isn’t it late for you to be out?” asked the moth.

“Gramps, aren’t you too old to be playing my father?” answered the butterfly.

Cheeky bugger, thought the moth. Actually, she reminded him of himself as a young moth, when he first came to the Lights. Wasn’t it a full mooned night just like this one? That long ago night an old moth rested on the perch that was now his. That old moth was the Keeper then. But then the old geezer flew into the Lights, leaving the perch open, and so he had taken up his spot, becoming the new Keeper.

Come to think of it, it was something he’d told the old Keeper that had caused him to fly into the Lights. But now, for the life of him, he couldn’t recall what he’d told him.

“Look, it’s just we don’t usually see butterflies out this late,” said the moth, returning to the moment.

But the butterfly seemed too busy figuring out which way to enter the Lights to respond.

“There’s no right way to fly into the Lights,” called out the Moth. “It’s a death trap any way you enter. If you don’t believe me, ask any of my ‘friends’ in there, just don’t expect an answer.”

“They just didn’t know the way in, is all,” answered the butterfly.

“Suit yourself,” said the moth, though the thought of such a beautiful butterfly burning up in the Lights suddenly saddened him.

But instead of flying into the Lights, the butterfly flew over to the moth and alighted next to him. Up close the moth could see the butterfly was blue not because she was reflecting the blue lights, but because she was in fact blue.

“Do you know what those lights are?” asked the young butterfly.

“Do I know? What kind of question is that? They are the Crackling Lights of Sudden Death and I am their Keeper!” exclaimed the moth.

“No, no, no. Those lights are a moon portal,” explained the butterfly, as though addressing a butterfly even younger than herself.

“A moon portal? What in the world is that?” asked the moth.

“A direct path to the moon,” answered the butterfly. “If you enter the lights from the proper angle and with a heart pure of love for the moon, you’ll find yourself awash in her everlasting light.”

“That’s powerful stuff, if complete nonsense,” said the moth. “But let’s just say you’re right. Why would you, a butterfly, care for the moon? You’re a day flyer. A sun worshipper.”

“Now that’s the first good question you’ve asked all night,” said the butterfly. “You see, I used to look at the moon during daytime, an ashen skeleton compared to the sun, and I myself wondered why anyone would fuss over her. But then I saw her at night and all that changed. My life changed.”

“How so?”

“Look, no one does power like the sun, but when it comes to mystery, no one holds a candle to the moon,” said the butterfly. “Have you ever noticed how many songs have been written about the moon? Moon River, Blue Moon, Moon Shadow…”

“Trust me, I know them all,” said the moth.

“But there are no songs about the sun,” said the butterfly.

“There are plenty of songs about the sun!”

“OK, but there are no mysterious songs about the sun.”

“So she’s mysterious! This means you have to throw your life away for her?!” cried the moth.

“The sun beats down on our backs when we toil, but the moon, she accompanies us when we dream,” waxed the butterfly. “Stare at the imperious sun and you’ll go blind, but the moon, she beckons your eyes to dwell upon her. The moon is an ephemeral enchantress…”

“I hate to break your stride, young poet, but if you like the moon so much, why don’t you just fly directly to her instead of through this incinerator?”

“Bah! Even a dreamer like me knows you can’t fly to the moon!” said the butterfly.

Just then there was a crackle as a bug went up in flames. The moth closed his eyes and sniffed. A mayfly, wearing a bow tie.

“Come on, you see what happens when bugs fly in there! You really think your love of the moon is purer than all those other poor souls? You think you’re more pious than my friend, the praying mantis?” said the moth.

“I can only see inside my own heart,” said the butterfly.

Then changing to a formal tone, the butterfly declared, “O’ Great Keeper of the Moon Portal, my love for the moon is pure! Please allow me to chance the moon portal!”

“Be my guest, young lady. No one’s stopping you,” said the moth.

The butterfly took to the air and flew towards the Lights

But she came back.

“You have to admit the irony of this. I mean, here I am, a butterfly, a day flyer, singing the virtues of the moon to a moth of the night!”

“I suppose it is ironic,” said the moth, suppressing a yawn. He kind of wished the butterfly would just take the plunge already.

“Do me a favor, sir,” said the butterfly. “Before I go. For my sake. Take a look at the moon. Not a glance, but a real good look.”

“Alright,” said the moth, who would’ve done a whole lot more for some peace.

The old moth looked up at the moon. It was the first time he had really considered her since he was a young moth. And the light of the full moon filled his eyes and he was bewitched, enchanted, absolutely moonstruck. He had to get to the moon, and as everyone knows there’s only one way to get there. So the old moth lifted off his perch and flew towards the Lights.

“Where are you going? You are the Keeper!” cried the young butterfly.

But the moth would have nothing of it. The blue lights were in his eyes. He would take his chances on the Moon Portal. As he flew closer to the Lights, he wanted a song to sing about the moon, but though he had heard hundreds of them, he couldn’t recall a one. He couldn’t even remember what he had for breakfast that morning. He drew closer and nodded at his old friend, the praying mantis, and he heard the crackle, saw the lightning coming toward him and he remembered. Not the moon songs or what he had for breakfast, but what he had told the old moth, the old Keeper, long ago that had convinced him to fly into the Lights. It was the same nonsense about the moon portal the young butterfly had told him. And just as he was consumed by the irony of it all, he was consumed by the crackling light. His wings and body went up in flames and flittered away in ashes. But his head remained intact and stuck on the grill, preserved with a bemused look that would keep many a future Keeper company on a cold night.

The young butterfly watched the old moth’s end, and then flew over to the perch where she commenced her duties as the new Keeper.

She didn’t have to wait long, before a blue-eyed dreamer flew toward the lights singing “Blue Moon.”

“Hey, friend!” cried the butterfly to the bug. “I know you’re thinking those lights will take you to the moon, that they’re some Moon Portal, but that’s an old moth’s tale. These are the Crackling Lights of Sudden Death and I am their Keeper, and I command you to stop.”

But the bug flew into the Lights and went up in smoke.

For once the blue light filled their eyes, there was no stopping them.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © Copyright for all stories submitted by QuirkyStories belongs to D. Benjamin Baskin. This copyright extends to any original characters featured in stories submitted by QuirkyStories. Please consult with author if you wish to incorporate any QuirkyStories story in a publication or compilation, adapt it to another format or media, or profit by it in any manner.

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