The Gathering of the Eclipse

By Jeff Couch

In a nondescript part of the plains of the North American continent lies the town of Blutiger. It sits in the middle of flat farmland, and in its downtown square are the only trees for miles around. No building is taller than two stories, no courthouse imposes judgement from above, and even the people seem to walk with their heads bowed. They do not lift up their eyes to the hills, for there are no hills to be seen.

The town sits on the luscious earth that attracted the original settlers. It was said that you could drop a pebble in the dirt and reap a boulder. Everything grew. And so, they stayed. Few people came. Nobody left. It was a dead end, a stagnant pool. It was where they were born and where they died. It was Blutiger.

Below the rich soil lay the limestone that the buildings in town were built from. The limestone underground was the same as above, pitted and cracked. Water seeped down and etched furrows in the deepest part of the bedrock. Hollows and burrows. And deep, where the heat began to rise and the pressure grew, in the crevices furthest from the surface, lay the blood-red seeds.


“Good day, Judy. How’s it going today?”

“Doing fine, Jasper, doing fine. No time for chit-chat, I’m afraid. The Women’s Auxiliary needs to get our order in for The Gathering. You can get these things ready before the 31st, can’t you, Jasper? We don’t want a repeat of last year, do we?”

“I’m sure we can, Judy, I’m sure we can. Let’s see that list. Pumpkins, of course. The farmers have already started bringing them in as soon as they are harvested, so we should have plenty. Dried corn stalks, same way. Candles, yep. Still have plenty stocked up from last year, and another shipment on the way just in case. Got the wooden stakes we used last year, so should be no problem there…”

“Well, I seem to remember…”

“…and I have Jerome makin’ some new ones to replace the ones the Grobe boys broke horsin’ around when they were puttin’ em away. As I said, should be no problem there.”

“And the crates? I hope you don’t have the same soft-headed buffoon building them again that built them last year—do ya? We nearly had another Calamity!”

“Now calm yourself, Judy, not to worry, not to worry. I have the Zimmerman’s girl Jenny building them. She’s a whiz with the tools and such. They’ll be the finest crates you’ve ever seen. Better than in ’94.”

“A girl! You have given the responsibility of the crates to a girl? Have you lost your mind?”

“Now, now, Judy. I’m supervisin’ her myself. She is doing a fine job.”

“They’re not too wide now, are they? You know too much wiggle room can be deadly!”

“They are precisely the right size. Not too wide, not too long. Foot ’n a half long by half a foot wide and a bit. It’s the bit they always forget.”

“And the gaps? The gaps in the wire can’t be less than 3.8 inches, ya know!”

“I know Judy, I know! You aren’t suggesting I don’t know how to do my job now, are ya? After all these years?”

“Well, no, no, Jasper, of course not. It’s just…after last year!”

“You know good and well I was laid up last year. I wasn’t supervising it and my boy hadn’t been fully trained yet. Now just leave your list and we’ll get everything on it ready. Just leave it to us. You come by before The Gathering and it will all be here ready for you, you’ll see.”

“Well, it better be is all I have to say. I’ll be back, Jasper Roth, and it just better be.”

“Of course, Judy, I know how important this is. It’ll all be ready before Halloween.”


“Infected plant parts are mostly the fruits … Fruits may show premature drop. Adults penetrate the skin or rind with a strong, barbed proboscis. Damaged parts become spongy and with many lesions.”

“Eudocima phalonia” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 May 2021,


They always knew. Buried deep, there was no way to see the phase of the moon or the change of the seasons, yet somehow every year, like clockwork, the crimson cocoons cracked open. The jet-black worms began their long crawl to the surface. It would not be a rush to the finish. Slow and steady would win this race. Slowly, they would creep toward the appointed time, 30 days later.


“My bunny’s name is Theodora, like in the fairy tale book.”

“We don’t name our bunnies, honey.”

“But I want to! I want to name her after the acorn-warrior!”

“Honey, we don’t name them.”

“Mommy, I wanna! I wanna, I wanna!”

“Janice, I said no! “We do as we’re told if we want to grow old.” Now put the bunny back in its hutch and get dressed. The sun’s getting low in the sky, and we don’t want to be late.


“Hemiceratoides hieroglyphica of Madagascar has been noted to visit and suck tears by inserting their proboscis into the closed eyelids of roosting birds.”

“Mud-puddling” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 August 2021,


The black leaves flutter in the breeze, with a flicker of red here and there. The trees stand tall, solemn sentinels from ages past. The townspeople file into the square carrying hutches, their clothes a mirror tribute to the trees around them, black with flecks of red. They form a line around the trees. One by one the men open the hutches, remove the small squirming creatures, and take them to the wired crates under the canopy. Then they quietly return to their place in line. Next, the women step forward to light the candles in the jack-o’-lanterns. As the dancing flames glow, they once again take their place in line. The youngest of the children run to play under the watchful eyes of the scarecrows. Those of age stand quiet and tense, waiting for the sun to touch the horizon. They are no longer individuals. They are now one. They are the Bewohner. The Ältere dressed in scarlet robes steps to the middle of the clearing, surrounded by scarecrows, jack-o’-lanterns, people, and cages of terrified rabbits. He speaks softly but his voice carries on the crisp, fall air.


Ältere:              Why do we gather on tonight of all nights?

Bewohner:              To bolster the strong and protect the weak.

Ältere:              Why do our children cover themselves, face to toe?

Bewohner:              To bolster the strong and protect the weak.

Ältere:              Why do we stand silent, without a sound?

Bewohner:              To bolster the strong and protect the weak.

Ältere:              Why do we bare forearms and let the blood flow?

Bewohner:              To bolster the strong and protect the weak.


“The insect rocks the proboscis from one side to the other, applying pressure until it pierces the skin. It then uses a rocking head motion to drill the tube deeper into the skin. The blood pressure of the victim supplies power to raise hooks on the proboscis to ensure the insect is not easily detached.” 

“Calyptra (moth)” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 August 2021,


The sun sinks below the horizon. In the waning light, the leaves on the trees begin to rustle more loudly. Mothers and fathers grab their children and bring them into the line. All at once the Night Dragons lift off the trees and flutter down to the crates below them. They land softly and crawl between the spaces of the wire. Soon every crate is completely covered in flickering black wings with glimpses of red spirals. The quiet lasts for a moment more as the townspeople hold their gathered breath. Then the squealing begins. Frightened innocents that do not comprehend what is happening squirm in their parent’s embrace—adult hands clamped tight over their mouths for fear of a single whimper setting off a Blood Frenzy. The squeals ring on and on as the glow of the setting sun slowly fades.


Junior was tired of this town. He was tired of the endless days of the same thing. He was tired of “Early up, hearty sup.”  He was tired of never knowing what was going on in the outside world. And tonight, of all nights, he was tired of The Gathering. He knew what his dad said. He knew that it was their duty to protect the outside world: that as long as they stayed in Blutiger, then the infection wouldn’t spread. Follow the rules. Stand quietly. Respect the Eclipse of Blutmotte. Don’t kill any or it could set off a Blood Frenzy, a feeding frenzy where they didn’t sip a normal amount of blood but kept going until their host was dead. He saw what had happened last year. It hadn’t been so bad. They had lost a few more rabbits than usual. So what?

He didn’t get it. He’d asked his dad. Why didn’t they try insecticide? His dad said they were immune to every one they’d ever used. And if one died, then…Blood Frenzy. His dad said there was a Calamity every generation, where someone got a bright idea for how to stop them. It would fail, many hosts would die, then everyone would comply until some young person that didn’t remember would get a bright idea. His uncle had been the one from his dad’s generation. He’d brought back a flamethrower from the war and had stopped an entire Gathering. It was great. For one year. The next year, however, there were more, and they were angry. Many hosts died.

It wasn’t worth it. Fighting them was useless. That is what his dad had taught him. “Don’t fight a bit, just submit.” Well, he wouldn’t fight them. He would just leave. While they were down at the square, he would take the pickup. Drive out of here. He wouldn’t look back. Let them have their town and their duty to “bolster the strong and protect the weak”! He would go find a life in the world out there. Even without a license, he knew how to drive! He’d driven the tractor often enough. He would go find out what happened out there in a modern city. Bye-bye Blutiger—hello the future!


“Fertilized egg cases amass in the blood of the host. As long as there is a heartbeat, they remain dormant. Once the movement of the blood stops, the eggs hatch and the larvae consume the nutrient-rich liquid. After growing to sufficient size, they emerge from the body and burrow down into the ground seeking a place to pupate.” 

“Calyptra Noxdraconis” Mothipedia, Tinea Papilio Institution, 04 October 2021


As the night fell completely, the square was lit by the light of the moon. It was a waxing moon this year, but there was still plenty of light to see by. The worst nights were new moons, with only the candlelight from the jack-o’-lanterns. As one, the Bewohner each pulled up a black sleeve, baring their right forearms. The lowest branches of the trees began to rustle. One by one the largest of the insects lifted off, the venerable Night Empresses. They floated on the cool breeze of the night and alighted on the freshly unveiled flesh. One Empress per person, adults only. The children were masked and cloaked and so they were spared. As the Night Empresses descended, a few were left fluttering without a host. Slowly, some bared a second arm. Their families silently wept. You would most likely survive one Empress feeding, but two…two was dangerous territory.

Everyone remained silent. The female Night Empresses were heavier than the male Night Dragons. The largest of the Dragons had a wingspan of only 3.7 inches wide. The Empresses, however, averaged 9 inches. Their bodies were the size of a large thumb. As they fed, they began to swell, their bodies stretching and elongating. The smell of copper was in the air, and the sharp musty tang of the Blutmotte, the blood moths. The squeals of the bunnies continued, whipping the smaller Night Dragons into a frenzy. As they had their fill they dropped to the ground, too heavy to fly anymore. No human dared make a sound. As long as they were still, the blood moths would not get greedy. As long as they gathered here to meet them, every year, the scourge would not go looking elsewhere for food. As long as they faced their duty, the vile plague would not spread. This was the sacrifice. This was their responsibility. Bolster the strong, protect the weak.

One by one the Night Empresses, now swollen to the size of sausages, dropped to the ground. The Night Dragons already on the ground crawled toward them and they swarmed under the ancient trees. Slowly they began burrowing down below, to find the ancient stone, to spin sanguine silk, and to grow until their next turn to rise and feed.

The townspeople carefully turned to attend to the weakest among them. Some left to prepare the funeral feast. Inevitably every year they lost a few of their number to the blood moths, and now was the time to celebrate their bravest warriors. Children were given candy and taken to houses to play and sleep and to hopefully forget the horrors they had seen. The Gathering of the Eclipse of the Blutmotte had passed for one more year.


Junior was having a little trouble. He had been fine on the road heading out of town. Straight as a plow furrow, just push the gas pedal and go. The sun was just starting to lighten the sky when he hit the first hill. That had been easy; he’d only had to slow down a little. But then the hills got steeper, and the road got curvier. He had never seen anything like this—the drop-offs on either side were so steep. As he came over the rise, the sun’s full glory hit him in the face. He couldn’t see anything until it was too late. As the truck tumbled down the side of the cliff, he was thrown from his seat and through the windshield. He had been so close, only a few more miles and he would’ve finally seen a modern city. He had been so looking forward to it. He lay broken on the hillside and strained to catch a glimpse of the buildings. He sucked in another breath. There—he could barely make out the skyscrapers silhouetted against the rising sun. A smile spread across his face. His features relaxed as his heart slowed and then finally stopped beating. That is when the eggs in his bloodstream hatched open.


“Insect Armies! Terrifying Bug Groups Explained”,© 2021, LLC,

“Moths in a group are called an eclipse.”

Jeff Couch has lived everywhere from Colorado to The Canary Islands. He now resides in Indiana with his family and their beloved dog. He is the foremost expert on the events and historical context of the Blutiger incident. His book of interconnected children’s stories, “The Nicholas Tales”, will be available this Fall. You can read his blog at and his Facebook page can be found at