The Child Has Good Instincts

“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.”

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S’kinky

The writing prompt this week was, “Talk to the animals.”

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“Nice day, don’t you agree?” The small voice caught me by surprise—no one else was on the deck. I looked down over the rail and up at the low cumulous clouds speeding across the blue mountain sky. A pair of hawks whirled in the breeze high above.

Then my eyes fell upon a six-inch lizard, a blue-tailed skink, perched on the bench beside the picnic table.

“Excuse me. Did you just speak to me?” I asked. The skink bobbed its head and body as if cheating on a pushup. It wag-walked closer.05031302pd_skink

“Yes,” the skink said. “I come out whenever I see you cooking, so I thought we should get acquainted.”

“But you’ve never spoken before.”

“Don’t you think it’s about time? We live in the same forest, practically the same space.”

I pulled over a chair. “I admit, I look for you when I’m out here. It cheers me to see a forest creature on the deck. I’m surprised you never seem afraid.”

“I’m a pretty good judge of character,” the skink said. “And besides, my real enemies—hawks, snakes, raccoons, that sort—won’t come around when you’re here. So I can relax and catch some rays. I always marvel at your great hunting ability.”

“My hunting ability?” I said bewildered—having never successfully hunted.

“Don’t be modest. Every time I see you, you’re roasting some big bird, fish, or animal. No wonder my enemies keep a safe distance.”

“Ah,” I said, getting a sudden intuitive flash. “The sort of hunting I do is called shopping.”

“Shopping?” the skink said and licked its pink tongue across both wide eyes. “Well, it’s very effective. Is it something you could teach me?” I chuckled at the thought of taking a lizard to Food Lion.

A goldfinch swooped across the deck, alighted on a lantern hanger, and hopped around to keep us in view. Considering my recent revelation, I didn’t feel silly asking, “Do you talk, too?” It gave out a short trill followed by two chirps.

“What a handsome fellow,” the skink said, “such a pretty shade of yellow. When I’m older, I think I might become a bird.”

I hesitated to comment. The skink’s admiring gaze at the goldfinch convinced me that it was serious. It never occurred to me that self-aware creatures—other than humans of course—could have identity problems.

“Can you sing?” I finally asked.

“Not a note,” the skink replied. “All the more reason to be a bird.”

“Well, you cut a very fine figure as a skink,” I said. “Your shiny black scales, yellow racing stripes, fiery red throat, iridescent blue tail, they’re beautiful. I suspect any young female skink would love to find you and have your children.”

“I have racing stripes and a red throat?” The skink lifted a foreleg and twisted to look at me. “I’ve only seen my blue tail. You really think I’m an attractive skink?”

“You are like molded polished glass. A work of art.”

The lizard seemed to ponder that thought. “I suppose if I was a goldfinch, I’d have to change my diet. I don’t like seeds. I’d have to sit on branches day and night and never have a cool dark den.” I nodded.

“Hmm, okay,” the skink did a couple pushup nods then wag-walked toward my grilling station. “What’s for dinner tonight?”

 

For another story on communication with animals see: Aliens Among Us

Pint & Prompt

My writing group’s favorite social activity has become Pint & Prompt. We science fiction and fantasy types meet at a local watering hole after work for a light meal and a beverage … not necessarily a pint but that ‘s my preference. After a bit of socializing, catching up on one another’s news, we select a prompt from a hat … all submissions are accepted.

The clock is set for five, seven or ten minutes. I’m always amazed at how many self-described unimaginative people generate interesting pieces. To those who have never tried or might be afraid to try this, I’d ask, “How did you learn to walk, swim, or ride a bike?”

Last week’s prompt was: “She appraised me, canted her head and shrugged apparently disappointed.” Ten minutes, GO!

I wrote:

“Take him down,” she said raising her eyebrows at the strapping blond fellow behind me.

“But I’m a, a, a sage,” I cried, dragging back on my chains.

“What’s a sage?” she laughed without looking back.

“A sage can tell you what’s going to happen. Help you with your plans.”

“Like a fortune teller? I have one of those already,” she said and asked the blond fellow to turn around.

“No, hmm, like your son’s running away.” She paused, raised a hand, and my chain slackened. I’d seen a youth’s breastplate and short sword discarded on the floor behind the dais. So I guessed.

“You know my son?”

army-of-darkness-5
Army of Darkness

“I do. A fine lad with great potential—but he needs the guiding hand of a sage.”

“Describe him to me.”

I looked at her and took a deep breath. “Handsome, raven hair, long-limbed, strong and impetuous. He’s rash and arrogant. He often angers you and his friends. He told me he embarrassed you in court and—”

“Stop. Bring him back.” She motioned to the gaoler then eyed me more closely. “Sage, your appearance is most unappealing, but your words ring true.”

“Thank you, your Highness.”

“You will instruct my son in the ways of manhood and good character. Is this within your ability?”

“Yes, oh yes, your Highness. It is what I do best.” I took my first even breath.

I will be the judge of that. You have one week.”