The Tragedy of Mister Snail

(Written as an introductory piece for a fiction workshop; I figured I’d give everyone emotional whiplash.)

Mister Snail woke still clinging to the bottom of an ivy leaf. He ate a hole through the leaf and through the hole he saw the morning sun. The sunrise glinted off spring dew misting acres of grass. Mister Snail sometimes wondered what lay beyond the grass, but he had lived in the wall of ivy for all his life and its leaves had provided well for him.

Mister Butterfly flapped up to the leaf and addressed Mister Snail through the hole. “Good Morning, Mister Snail!”

“Quite right, Mister Butterfly!” Mister Snail ate his way through the leaf to greet his friend face-to-face. “The dew has made my ivy delicious and moist!”

“You sure love ivy, Mister Snail. Have you ever eaten anything else?”

“Well, Mister Butterfly,” replied Mister Snail, “I sometimes wonder what lies beyond the grass, but I’ve lived in this wall of ivy for all my life and its leaves have provided well for me. So, no.”

“The dew has made my ivy delicious and moist!”

“You sure love ivy, Mister Snail. Have you ever eaten anything else?”

“Well, Mister Butterfly,” replied Mister Snail, “I sometimes wonder what lies beyond the grass, but I’ve lived in this wall of ivy for all my life and its leaves have provided well for me. So, no.”

“That’s a shame.” Mister Butterfly landed on the ivy. “The leaves look much more appetizing in the garden. I wouldn’t know, of course, drinking only nectar myself!”

Mister Snail blinked his four eye-stalks. “The garden?”

“Yes, the garden beyond the grass. There are vegetables which would make your mouth water, Mister Snail! Maybe you can’t see that far, but I fly over it every day.”

“Phooey.” Mister Snail looked left and right and down and all he saw was a grassy lawn. Above him he saw only the colors of the sunrise. Behind him was a sturdy brick wall covered in delicious ivy. “If there’s anything I can’t see, it’s not worth it. This is all I need. Away from my wall I‘d dry out, and I’d meet nasty creatures, and I wouldn’t have any friends.”

“Well, then today’s your day, Mister Snail!” Mister Butterfly flapped off the leaf. “There’s meant to be light drizzles, so you won’t dry out and the nasty creatures will be hiding in their houses. And I’ll keep you company, so you’ll always have a friend!”

Mister Snail sighed and crawled his way to the wall. “Okay, Mister Butterfly, if you say so, I’ll follow you to the garden. But just for today, and if I don’t like it, I’m coming right back to my wall!”

“Oh goodie!” Mister Butterfly flew loop-the-loops with excitement as he waited for Mister Snail to climb down the brick wall. As minutes passed, the clouds gathered overhead and drizzled gently upon the garden. Finally Mister Snail reached the grass and crawled along the ground. “Have you ever been down here before, Mister Snail?”

“Not as such, Mister Butterfly.” Mister Snail pushed grass-blades aside as he braved the lawn-jungle. Mister Butterfly followed overhead, flying in seconds what took Mister Snail ten times as long to trudge. When Mister Snail eventually crawled a few feet from the wall, the world as he knew it had utterly changed. He had never smelled dirt like he now smelled dirt. He had never heard wind blowing across the landscape. “That light drizzle is lovely, isn’t it, Mister Butterfly?”

“I’m not such a fan of rain, to be honest.” Mister Butterfly impatiently flew ahead, dodging the largest raindrops. “I didn’t expect you to take this long, Mister Snail.”

“Hold on, I’m coming.” Mister Snail charged ahead at a blistering trod. “Don’t leave without me, I don’t know where I’m going! You’re my eye in the sky!”

“You’ve got quite a ways to go, Mister Snail!” Mister Butterfly evaded raindrops to keep dry wings. “Mister Snail, the rain is really picking up! I’d better leave and meet you in the garden when the air is drier!”

Mister Snail grumbled. “I’m only coming to the garden because you asked me too! If you leave now, I’ll go back to my wall!” So Mister Butterfly stayed with Mister Snail out in the open as the rain poured. Eventually Mister Snail crawled to the edge of a concrete path. “Mister Butterfly, what is this? Its gritty surface is painful! How wide is it?”

“I do not know, Mister Snail, I do not pay much attention to ground-matters. I can clearly  see its width from above, but I cannot communicate that width to you. As common animals, it is a miracle we can communicate at all.”

“I know what to do,” said Mister Snail. “You fly across the width and back again. I know it will take me five times as long to cross it as for you to go across and back.”

“Very well, Mister Snail. Please excuse my temporary absence.” With that, Mister Butterfly flapped across the concrete path. Mister Snail waited for his return—and he waited—and he waited—until the rain poured hard on his four eye-stalks. He squinted across the path and knew that Mister Butterfly should have returned by now.

“That jerk left me here to keep his wings dry! The nerve,” grumbled Mister Snail. “I’ll go all the way to the garden just to give him a piece of my mind!”

So he endured the gritty surface of the concrete path. It took minutes to cross, and every instant redoubled his anger at his former friend. Finally he crawled into the grass on the other side of the path.

By now the spring shower was ending and Mister Snail could extend his eye-stalks to see properly. A glint of color caught his attention and he crawled toward it. He gasped—it was Mister Butterfly, his wings beaten-through like ivy-leaves chewed by unrelenting rain. “Mister Butterfly!”

“I’m sorry, Mister Snail.” Mister Butterfly coughed and flipped over and over in the dirt. “I don’t think I can join you in the garden today.”

“I’ll carry you,” said Mister Snail, but Mister Butterfly pushed him away and folded all his limbs across his chest. “Mister Butterfly!”

“Even if you carried me to the garden, I could not drink its nectar,” said Mister Butterfly. “Enjoy the garden for me, Mister Snail. Enjoy it for your old friend, Mister Butterfly.”

Mister Snail cried over Mister Butterfly until the clouds broke and sunlight shined on the distant garden. Then Mister Snail crawled to the garden with all his might. He was mere feet from it now, and he could see the incredible bounty Mister Butterfly had promised. Cabbage leaves crisp and green. Plump, red tomatoes. Herbs of every variety. He smelled the vegetables as he approached inch by inch.

Then the nasty creatures walked across the concrete path. They walked on two legs faster than even Mister Butterfly could flap. They walked to the garden with a few easy strides.

And they harvested their crops right in front of Mister Snail before he could take a single bite. Mister Snail hardly garnered their attention for a moment before they pulled up every plant by the roots and left.

Mister Snail cried, and he cursed his foolishness for following a butterfly, and he eventually turned back to crawl to his wall of ivy. But by the time he crawled to the concrete path, the sun had baked the concrete dry, and hot enough to fry the mucus right off his foot. Mister Snail balked at the hellish challenge of the return journey.

So he settled for eating grass—a tough, tasteless meal, but the only thing left to him in the friendless garden.

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