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Emily and the Cutie Crawlies

Emily arrived on the island and went directly to Forest Noodles Café. She had heard much about this odd little place, yet, strangely, no other food critic had ever published a proper review of the cafe. At once she was greeted by Verity Fox, who confessed that she was unfamiliar with the publication, and indeed the process of establishing a review at all. Emily explained that the review would be very straight forward, as she operated with a simple pass/fail method of assessment.

This took Verity aback.

“How can you summarise a meal as just good or bad?” Verity asked, dumbfounded.

“Well,” said Emily, smirking to herself. “Either something is good, or it isn’t.”

“I don’t think you’ll find that’s the case here.” Verity warned, but she invited Emily to come back for dinner for her review.  In the mean time she suggested that Emily go down and visit the Farmyard where much of their basic ingredients were grown. Farm to table. Dolly Sheep and Cynthia Cow ran the show down there and they could give her a proper tour.

Emily set out by herself and found the cluster of farm buildings as they appeared over a rise in the road; a bright red barn, a greenhouse and a bullet shaped Silo. There was a cart attached to a silver tractor being loaded with burlap sacks of grain. This was Cynthia’s world. Emily introduced herself and Cynthia took some time to show her around her meticulous operation.

“I’ll have a jump on fall this year. Last year we had a bit of a blight on the potatoes. That could have been avoided. I’ve increased capacity of the silo and grain mill this year. That should help keep everyone on the island fed proper if we have another cold winter like we did last.’

Emily marvelled, openly praising her dedication. She could tell it was a lot of work keeping the island prepared for winter.

Dolly’s realm was the greenhouse/lab at the farm. It was different there. Crammed to the rafters were piles of readouts, precariously stacked books, forgotten lab equipment and something that may have been lunch some weeks ago; antithesis to the tight rows in the fields beside them. Dolly shook hands hurriedly with Emily while making observations on a pad.

“Dang!” Dolly exclaimed seemingly from nowhere. Emily had just been explaining what had brought her to the island. “Dang,” she said again, quieter this time. “I’m sorry… I’m a bit distracted, that’s a whole morning of work, lost.’

“I hate to say I told you so, but you know…moo.” Cynthia quipped. Dolly sheep looked at Cynthia seriously.

“Puns? This is hardly time for jokes. I’m very pressured right now, I’m feeling pressure.’”

“I don’t understand what the big deal is,” Cynthia returned, “you’ve got plenty of time to prepare. The fall is months away still, even for you.”

“This has nothing to do with harvest. If you must know, I’ve yet to complete creating Verity’s birthday gift.” Dolly confessed.              

“It’s tomorrow, and you didn’t start it until this morning?” Cynthia returned, “You’re never going to get it together.”

They needled back and forth with each other playfully. Emily marvelled at the two friends, obviously so different. There was something it reminded her of…

“The Ant and the Grasshopper!” She declared, quite on top of Dolly and Cynthia’s conversation. Dolly and Cynthia stared at her. “You two. You’re like the ant and the grasshopper. How do you manage to manage this place together with such different styles? You’re like black and white.” She chuckled.

“Actually, we are both black AND white.” sniffed Cynthia, displaying her coat.

“It’s because life is in the middle.” said Dolly, flatly.

“What?” Emily bristled.

“Life is the in between. The conversation, ahem, between extremes. Do you know anything about quantum theory? Because I have a fascinating book...” she began to search through the piles.

“That’s ok,” said Emily, with a smirk. “Thank you for the tours. I think I’ll just go for a stroll to take in some visuals for my article.” She left Cynthia and Dolly dumbfounded and swept herself outside into the springtime sun, chuckling to herself about these farm people.

Turns out there was not much more to see so she sat down and began to jot a couple notes about her experience thus far.

A leaf from the apple tree above floated down onto her notebook. She picked it up and stared at the sun through it like a green filter.  There was an old blossom left over from the winter hung on its rotten stock. Desiccated, brownish purple, ugly. Emily touched it, “Yech!” she roared and flicked it away. But underneath it, to her surprise was a beautiful green Caterpillar.

“Hey!” he said to Emily, “I was eating that tasty meowthful”

“Eww!” Emily jumped up. “I, I mean ‘hello’. Sorry, it’s not you, I guess I’m surprised to see you on such a gross thing.”

“I like gross things they make meow coat shiny.”

“Who knew such a pretty creature came from such a disgusting diet.” Emily shook her head.

“I think in time meow will find there are many things in this world that are not what mew would expect.”

“So, the meowing thing…”

“Would you like me to show you ameowned?”

 “You’re just gonna do that the whole time?”

“First mew must imagine that mew are very small. Close your eyes and picture yourself getting smaller and smaller.”

Emily rolled her eyes but relented. She shut her eyelids tight and pictured herself high over the grass like a grey monolith or statue. Slowly she imagined herself getting smaller.

“Imeowgine the blades of grass growing up around meow, the trees become mountains.”

Emily imagined herself shrinking. The green growing up around her until it became a jungle. Where the canopy of grass left shadows across her face.

“Ahem” Caterpillar cleared his throat, “Mew can open meow eyes” Emily opened them.

She was exactly the same size.

“Did meow actually think I was going to shrink mew somemeow?”

“A little bit.” Emily was annoyed with herself for the flight of fancy.

“Meow realize you are like a 5 ton elephant?

“Well you were all like ‘imagine this’.” mimicked Emily. “and you are like a magical wormcat or something.”

“I’m a caterpillar.”

“Yes of course you are, go on.”

“Well as meow can see, not everything is as it appears. Here a water droplet can be worn and saved as a sip for later, sort of like a tasty hat. Or meow can walk on water. Or lift 500 times your own weight. One day meow might just sprout wings and fly away. Here a whole lifetime can happen in a single day.”

Emily watched a ladybug hunting after some aphids on the stalk of a plant. She lowered the stalk so that it walked off its course on a leaf and ended up on the tip of her trunk.

“What a pretty little lady bug.” Emily lifted the beetle high into the air, until it was forced to take flight under its own power. “Hey there, pretty girl.” It flew up in front of Emily’s nose.

“Okay woah there, friendo watch it with the trunk, I’m tryin’ to work here,” Emily is baffled for a moment, “and for your information, regarding all a’ this. I’m actually not a lady and technically I’m not even a bug, so… maybe read a book someday. Thank you, yes.”

“Oh! I’m sorry you are very…um…handsome though,” Emily said.

 “I take after my mother, she was a saint. Look…you seem nice.” The beetle said, warily. “But I’m no lady and if you don’t mind, I don’t usually flap my wings this long.”

"By all means, of course.” Emily gestured.  The small red beetle landed on the top of the Caterpillar’s leaf.

“Look, I don’t mean to get all ruffled” He said from his new perch.

“It’s fine I understand.” Emily replied. A black shadow flew across her vision.

“I am actually a male-lady-bird-beetle,” he instructed.

“Bird!” Emily yelled.

“Listen I know I look nothing like a bird it’s ….”

“No! BIRD!” Emily yelled. The shadow dove, trying to grab the leaf, holding both the Ladybird and the Caterpillar. Everyone went different directions. Ladybird flew off, wings spread. Caterpillar cringed into a ball. Even Emily jumped back for a second before she realized she is still a five-ton elephant that can handle herself when backed into a corner.

“Shoo! Shoo pesky bird, you aren’t part of this.”

“Bawk!” it protested.

“Yea Yea Bawk Bawk” Emily hurled back.

Emily looked on the underside of the leaf. Caterpillar bright green looked up at her with star filled eyes.

“You saved meow!” exclaimed Caterpillar.

“How is Mr. LadyBird?” asked Emily.

“He flew away” said Caterpillar, “When the bird came, that was meowy scary.”

“Yea but it was also kind of exciting.”

The bushes rustled behind them. Both Emily and Caterpillar jumped a bit and turned to look. Just then, *Bloing* something sprang up from behind them again. They turned confused, but whatever it was…was gone. “Did you see that?” Emily whispered. *BOING* something jumped high over their shoulders. Seeming to be everywhere at once. The shape made a small *crunch* when it landed.

“I think it landed somewhere over here,” Emily provided as she crossed a garden bed. Slowly she reached out her trunk, holding on to a small branch with a bit of leaf dangling from the end of it.  Caterpillar looked terrified. Emily used to the stick and slowly raised a curtain of branches.

“BOO!” yelled a spider.

“OH!” said Emily smiling. It was a tiny jumping spider crouched under a grouping of daisies. “Well boo to you too. You cute little thing.” The spider just glared back at her with its multiple eyes narrowing.

“Why is he mad?” Emily asked Caterpillar out of the side of her mouth.

“He wanted mew to be scared,” Caterpillar offered.  

“Oh, I was, well actually more surprised, but just look at him, he’s a little ninja in striped trousers, so cute. Normally, I’m not a spider fan.”

“It’s meow-kay to feel two ways about something”

As the spider hopped away, Emily got up and brushed herself off. Some thing buzzed behind her. “What is that noise, it sounds like a tiny motorcycle.”

 “I think I see the problem, if you turn a meownd.”

A small bee, it’s stinger bent, was stuck into the tough hide of Emily’s large elephant rump.

“Ah! Get it off!” Emily yelled.

“Unnnnnghh” the bee was pulling at her abdomen with all her strength, but she could not let go. “Don’t swat me! I won’t sting you! Please, I be almost off!”

Emily calmed and took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry, I just thought you might be a wasp.”

“No” she said softly, “I be a bee.” She was stuck to the end of her protruding bent stinger. “Honey bee, actually. People get confused, I be stripey like a wasp. It’s not their fault they haven’t learned to tell us all apart yet. Truly if you get to know me, you’ll know that if I sting you, I be dead.”

 Emily let that sink in, and then frowned.

“I’m sure I’ve squished bees before.” she confessed. “I’m sorry I didn’t know there was a difference.”

The bee looked up her and smiled weakly. One of her antennas were damaged.

“It’s okay. I be actually trying to sting you.”

“Really how come?”

“Well I didn’t know you were an elephant when I tried. In fact, I couldn’t tell what it was, it was just something big sitting on me and the flower I was on. I just lashed out. Thankfully, your hide was too tough, so I be ok, and you be ok.”

“Well maybe I can get you unstuck so you don’t get damaged more,” said Emily, she expertly used her trunk to remove the bee keeping her abdomen still attached. The honey bee composed herself using her legs to comb her wings and antennae down, then she bent her stinger straight. She invited Emily back to the hive and promised to introduce her to the Queen. She would tell her how the elephant had showed her mercy, but before Emily could reply the bee flew up into the breeze and was gone.

“Well then,” Emily said, to no one in particular and bent over for Caterpillar to crawl onto her trunk. “Maybe you can show me to the hives. I know there are some around here. Verity told me that someone just moved to the farm and was rebuilding the apiary.”  Emily picked up Caterpillar and put her on her shoulder. “Take meow to their leader.” Caterpillar smiled up at her.

“That’s meow line.” She asserted.

The hives were in a cluster on a hill near one of the fields. A freshly painted sign said: “Warning: Bees Working” There was a small path where Emily met Jaclyn Lemur on the way up.

“You must be the Elephant,” Jaclyn said. “I mean obviously, but the hive’s a buzz – the Queen would like to bestow you with a special gift.”

 After a short ceremony amongst the bees, Emily was awarded a small mason jar. It was the first of the hive’s royal nectar. A special honey that was almost luminous and Emily was beyond touched to receive such a gift from creatures she would normally be terrified of, and had harmed on many occasions before.

It was nearly dinner time, so Emily said her goodbyes to Jaclyn and Caterpillar, Honey Bee, to the Queen and all her workers, and she walked back to the Café to get to work on her assignment.

Verity was waiting, shooing turtles out of the courtyard dining area. Emily was excited to learn there was no menu, but less excited when she was served a single course of spaghetti. It did not seem like Verity was really even trying.

And, ever since she was a little elephant, Emily had hated spaghetti.

Uninterested in even sampling a food she detested, she took out her notebook and began to write:

‘The simple establishment, and indeed the island that supports it, is very quaint and aesthetically pleasing with much culinary potential, but due to the lack of selection in their available courses I am quite unable to say the food is ‘good’ in any…’

She trailed off midsentence.

She thought about the Caterpillar eating the gross flower, about Mr. Ladybug, about the cute and creepy Jumping Spider and finally about the Honey bee she had been so terrified of who ended up giving her such an amazing gift. And, timidly, she tasted the spaghetti.

It wasn’t bad. There were a lot of flavors she recognized and enjoyed. The pasta was cooked to perfection. The saucy was tangy, with deep roasted undernotes. But it was still spaghetti, so it wasn’t, couldn’t be good. It wasn’t either.

She thanked Verity for the meal and left quickly, too many mingling thoughts to process for prolonged conversation. But before she left, she presented Verity with the jar of honey.

“It’s a birthday gift,” she said. “From Dolly.”

 And she walked back to the dock with enough time to catch the last ferry. Fireflies were chasing each other around the sleeping fields and woods. There were thousands of them. She looked up into the night and saw the stars, their ancient light gazing back, and she couldn’t tell anymore where they began and where they ended and where they began.  

As she boarded the ferry, she overlooked the Jeweled Cove and contemplated all the little friends she’d met that day. None of them could really be described as one way or another. Except Caterpillar, his speech pattern could be described as ‘annoying’.

But also ‘cute’. Drats.

And as she settled in for her sail home, writing and rewriting a new, nuanced review in her head she noticed a small octopus dipping his toes into the rainbowed waters of the cove. He shuddered and quickly scrambled away.

“There really isn’t anything that’s all one way,” she thought to herself. “I mean, an Octopus with aquaphobia…”

But that’s another story.