The Trials and Trails of Slimi the Snail

— Javier Ulloa

It was storytelling time in the Grasslands and bugs, near and far, thronged ‘round about the Blue Stone to listen.  Reza, the praying mantis and Keeper of Order, nimbled onto the stone, and raised his snappish arms to calm the jostling.  The bugs gradually went quiet and held their anticipatory breath for the announcement.

“This evening’s storyteller,” announced Reza, “Is Slimi the Snail!”  The bugs wanted to clap and cheer, but no matter how high or low or left or right they looked, no one saw anything but the speakerless Blue Stone.  Soon enough though, with the gentlest scraping sound underfoot, Slimi the snail hiked up the Blue Stone with proud eyes raised antennae high, and the crowd roared in cheers, chirps, squeals, and drummings.  Slimi observed them from her high stony perch.  The hearers’ area around the Blue Stone crawled with every critter imaginable, and not the tiniest space was open.  All eyes gawked with edgy eagerness for the storytelling to begin.

“I will tell the story of how I came to the Grassland from afar,” began Slimi.  “One morning, after climbing a kale tree, I sat to rest and munch on a leaf.  From there, I saw a land of tall grasses and cool shade.  It was the Grasslands, and I decided then to travel there.  However, I saw that to get there I’d have to cross the No-Lands, and I’d face Avispa, Queen Wasp of the No-Lands and Protector of the Gurds, and she lets no one cross.”  The critters suddenly shuddered with fear.  It is well known that no one survives crossing the No Lands.

“My snail friend, Babosi walked with me to see me off, and accidentally crossed the No-Land’s threshold.  A sudden blow, harder than any stone, thwacked me off my foot and in the blur of roaring wasp wings Babosi was gone.”  The bugs cringed and snuggled in closer.  “Before I could right myself back up I heard the roar of Avispa’s wings as she swooped in and slammed me back into the Swamplands.  The growl of her wings was incredible!  She hovered at the border, blocking my way, carrying Babosi’s empty, broken shell.

“‘You are not allowed to enter the Land of No, Home of the Gurds!’ she screamed.”

“I said, ‘I want to pass through the Land of No!  I mean no harm to your Gurds.  I’m on my way to the Grasslands.’  Avispa seemed surprised and retreated her stinger.  She tossed Babosi’s conch aside and announced, ‘I will allow you to pass.  In fact, Slimi, I will be your guide.’”

“‘Really? Thank you, Queen Avispa,’ I said.”

“‘Since you insist on walking through these lands, I will show you the way.’  She’d look at me with those bulbous eyes and in them I’d see my reflection.  ‘There’ve been many who’ve come here and did not reach their grassland, Slimi.  Their shells line your path, and I believe that your broken shell will also litter my lands.’”

Pelu, the fat, green and yellow caterpillar, reared up and broke into Slimi’s story saying, “Avispa attacked Rallas, my brother, when we went into the Land of No for food.  She blocked our way and said that we were not allowed.  She snatched Rallas up and tore into him.  He tried to fight, but she held strong and ate him.  I ran back, and heard her scream not to come back into the Gurdlands again.  I am not allowed, she said.  Why didn’t she eat you, Slimi?”

“I don’t know why, Pelu,” responded Slimi.  “I don’t know.  We’ve all had loss because of Avispa, but I survived.

“Avispa,” Slimi began again, “led me to a large round pipe.”

“‘This pipe,’ said Avispa, ‘crosses over the trickle.  Go through the pipe; I will fly over and meet you at the other end.’  I was a ways in when the front of my foot began to burn, blister, and bubble; the pain was brilliant.  In the low light I could see grainy crystals all along the pipe floor – I recoiled, but Avispa stood behind and blocked my retreat.  My foot was frothing, melting.  That was when Avispa said, ‘Salt.’

“She wouldn’t let me go backwards and I could not continue forward so I crawled into my shell and nursed my foot instead.  Avispa flew to me and tapped on my shell with her stinger.  She said, ‘Slimi, you saw Babosi’s shell, didn’t you?  He also hid in it; first I smashed into it, then I tore it off of his back.  Walk through the pipe or I’ll tear off your shell and here you will die.  You will not reach your grassland.’

“I peeked out of my shell.  Avispa was back at the pipe exit, waiting.  The pipe was salted all along bottom, but the top was clean…with a bloody and raw foot, I re-entered the pipe and climbed up the sidewall, until I was upside down.  I walked on the ceiling, passing the salt blocks beneath me, until I reached the other end.

“Avispa waited.  I thought she’d be angry, but instead she said, ‘You must be very thirsty, Slimi.  I will take you to some drink.’  Avispa led me through the Land of No to a great bowl of beer.  Oh, that sweet smell of barley -”

“What’s barley?” Viud, the widowed spider asked.  But just then a fat pearly moth with a gimp wing fluttered about smacking into everything in sight!  He flopped about the Blue Stone, bumped into Slimi, then the tall grasses, then the ground a few times, and then flew right by Viud.

Viud pounced! She grabbed the moth and almost stung it when Reza yelled, “Viud!  We agreed that storytelling time was a time of peace!  Let Pidop loose immediately.”  Viud’s fangs drooled venom and her pincers savored the mastication; he was a perfectly plump, helpless moth!  She released him and he fell down to the ground now more injured than before.  Viud stormed up her web and vanished behind silk lined leaves.

“Be calm everyone,” said Reza.  “The truce stands.  All is safe.  Slimi, tell us about Avispa and the beer.”

“Well, barley is used to make beer.  Snails,” continued Slimi, “love beer.  The smell of beer makes us weak with temptation.  Really, it’s irresistible.  ‘Here you are,’ said Avispa, ‘something to drink and soothe your foot.  Put your injured foot in the cool brew, and it will heal.’  I hobbled to the edge of the beer pool and was overwhelmed by its tart sweet scent.  It looked so refreshing.  I leaned in over the ledge as far as I could, but couldn’t reach the beer.  ‘Lean in a little bit more, Slimi,’ said Avispa.  ‘A little more. A little more.  Oh, you’re almost there…’  I overreached and the weight of my shell fell on top of me and shoved me headlong into the pool.  It was then I noticed the dead snails and slugs that had come before still lay at the bottom.  Snails can’t swim, I would drown!  I looked up and saw Avispa and her Gurds laughing.

“My injured foot couldn’t hold on to the slick edge.  I slipped farther down and my face dunked into the foamy beer. Gasp!  Gasp!  I couldn’t breathe!   I can still hear them laughing.  I reared my head up and took more air, but kept slipping down.  Well, with the little strength I had I lifted the front, blistered part of my foot and turned to face the top edge, and I climbed.  I climbed on half a foot.  I kept climbing.  I slipped!”  The critter audience gulped for breath!  “Half of my shell fell underbeer, but I climbed, and climbed, and climbed until I tipped myself over the bowl edge and unto the dirt.  The Gurds vanished into the unmade and Avispa blocked their way in case I gave chase.  Without warning Avispa snatched me up by my shell and we soared to the edge of the Land of No, Home of the Gurds, to a narrow trail that led into the Grasslands.

“‘I want you out of my lands!  You have threatened those I protect! You are not allowed.  This trail is the entrance to the Grasslands.  Go!’

“I was worn-out and injured, but almost at the Grassland’s threshold.  I began walking when I saw the many shards on the ground.  I looked closer, and realized the shards were crushed pieces of snail shells.  The shells would tear open my already mangled foot.  Avispa kicked me forward, but I refused to walk, and retreated into my shell.  I thought she had left because everything was so still, but then I heard the rattling of her wings; she rammed into me so hard, she upended me and splintered my shell.  Avispa smashed into me again, cracking another hole in my shell.  She slammed into me again and again, but I went as far back into my shell as possible, but she grabbed onto my eyes, which are these…” She pointed to the eyes at the end of her upper antennae with her lower antennae.  “Avispa pulled on my eyes so hard that she almost tore them right off!”  The critters cringed, too terrified to move.

“Avispa was about to sting me, but I squirmed and writhed and lathered myself in so much slime and froth that I even covered her!  Then I swung my shell and smacked her with it.  She fell to the ground and let me go.  She couldn’t balance because my slime coated her wings and arms, and while she struggled, I rushed through the trail, slicing open and shredding my foot.  I made it past the Grassland’s border and collapsed just as Avispa shot towards me, but she stopped at the No-Land’s border; I knew she would not cross it.  I was safe.

“When I saw she wouldn’t get me I rested in the moist shade of a leaf – a place that reminded me of my old Swamplands, and fell asleep.  When I awoke, Avispa was still looking at me from the threshold of the Land of No.  She didn’t move, but watched me with those broody bulging eyes.  She has dead eyes.  She stared, unmoving.  I crept back into my shell and slept some more.  When I felt better I mended my shell…as you can see it’s quite beaten up, but still a good home.  Once my shell was refurbished, I came to the Grasslands.”

There were cheers and applause from all around.  And not a little awe since no one had ever survived a confrontation with Avispa, Wasp Queen of the No Lands, Home of the Gurds.

“I am happy here in the Grasslands,” said Slimi.  “But I often go to the Land of No, and want to trespass.  I wonder if she is still looking for me.”

Reza stepped in, “Slimi, you can’t go back to the Land of No.  There is no avoiding her if you go back.”

“I can if I want to, Reza,” countered Slimi.  “And perhaps one day I will.  I have rebuilt my home.” She reached back with her antennae and tapped her shell.  “These Grasslands are sweet, but they are not my home.  Home is where my shell is.  Home is where I roam.  I thank you for letting me tell my story.  The end.”

The bugs cheered as Slimi turned and ever so slowly disappeared down behind the Blue Stone like a crinkly, misshapen setting sun.  She trailed away, eyes antennae high, down the bug path, and out of everyone’s sight never to be seen again.

With story time complete, Reza dismissed everyone wishing them a good evening.  He looked about for Pidop the injured moth, and was not at all surprised to see that he had already been raptured, envenomed, and cocooned.  Reza looked up to see Viud pull wrapped-up Pidop up into her downy den where tonight she would dine finely.

 


 

Javier C. Ulloa has been published in Voices journal and was a poetry judge for two volumes of the DASH literary journal. He earned his Master’s degree in English from California State Fullerton, and currently works as an English tutor with the California Department of Rehabilitation. Keep in touch at JavierCUlloa@gmail.com.