“She has sad eyes,” the four-year-old girl said, tapping Terrell’s crossed knee and watching the creature on the examining table. “Can I show her my dog?”
She was the beetle Professor Terrell brought back from his travels. The shiny black Madagascar beetle tipped the scale at 176 pounds. Her six splayed legs drooped over the table edges. The beetle’s compound, black eyes glistened under the lamps. Smaller simple eyes glinted along its dark-bristled forehead.
Without lifting his eyes, Terrell nodded and pointed an index finger from the touchpad.
Little Jenny dashed to the lab table, carrying a squirming golden retriever puppy in her arms. “Want to play with Chloe?” she asked. She offered the puppy to the dark, horn-ridged creature. Terrell noted the time and turned on the recorder.
The beetle touched the sniffing puppy two or three times with its antennae then extended a clawed forward leg. Chloe leaned into the outstretched claw, stretching to better feel the saw-toothed edge comb across her back and down her rump and tail.
Jenny laughed and said, “Chloe likes that.” She sidled up close to stroke her dog’s head and look into the beetle’s eye. “Can you talk, Mister Beetle?”
The beetle ratcheted a few squeaks.
“It’s okay if you can’t. Mommy says I talk enough for two people. I talk to Chloe all the time, and she never says anything. Some of my stuffed toys talk, but you have to squeeze them.”
“Aaaaa,” Jenny’s mother screamed and raced into the room. “Jenny, don’t.” She snatched up her little girl then backpedaled, keeping her eyes on the beetle. The beetle arched one antenna in her direction. Chloe curled tight and closed her eyes as the beetle continued smoothing and stroking her coat.
The mother screamed her outrage at Professor Terrell. “How could you let such a thing happen? Put my precious little Jenny in such terrible danger?” The professor shrugged and made another note. “I’m calling the police. I’ll have you investigated for child endangerment.”
She looked down at Jenny, nearly crushed in her tight-wrapped arms. “Are you okay, my darling? Did that nasty, nasty thing harm you? Oh, when I think … oh my, what it might have done, killed you, eaten you.”
She pressed the back of her hand to her lowered face then glared at Terrell. Waving to the beetle, she said, “We don’t know anything about this, this awful thing.”
“We know it likes Chloe, and it likes me,” said Jenny, wide-eyed and smiling. “Mommy, could you get me one? Please? It’s very sweet.”
Her mother winced, baring her teeth. Jenny wiggled free and ran to the beetle, handing it the fuzz-stuck, lime lollipop from her pocket.
Professor Terrell made a note. “Observation: the child has good instincts as does the dog. Unlike the adult subject, they appraised the situation with open minds.”