A day at the pond

Ancient Caterpillar (AC) woke up for the fifth time that day, and decided that this time, he would have to get up and do something, at least until he had tired himself out enough to go back to sleep.

As he got up and methodically destroyed last night’s unfinished cocoon (a once-rebellious act that he now did so automatically that he was barely conscious of it), he tried to remember what it was he was supposed to do today. He was pretty sure there was something. Something involving Crooked Giant (CG) and an act of kindness of some sort. Was it the big guy’s birthday, maybe? Or did he owe CG a favour? It was hard to imagine what sort of favour CG could do for him that would require repayment. Still, it was definitely something.

After a few moments heavily labored strategic thinking(generally, he didn’t like to think that hard, and only did so when it seemed like it might save him work), he decided that he would call CG and ask him if he wanted AC to come over. That seemed like a pretty safe bet. Odds are that CG would say no out of shyness, and then AC wouldn’t have to go, while still having technically done the right thing.

AC loved that kind of technicality, and collected them with the loving care of a lover gathering flowers for their beloved.

Turned out, though, that CG was feeling brave and bold and said yes, he’d love AC to come over. So now he had to do it. In retrospect, it had been a strategic error to say “Do you remember if there is anything we are supposed to do today?”. That had given CG too much confidence. Next time, he would know to keep it bland and neutral, like usual.

AC was glad that CG hadn’t bothered to ask AC if AC would be bringing their “friend”, Oldest Tadpole (OT), along, because CG new that no matter what AC said, and no matter how fervently he swore to it, he would bring OT along anyway, knowing CG was too softhearted to turn them away at the door.

AC felt bad about that, but not bad enough to stop doing it. He told himself that he couldn’t help himself, that he had to bring OT everywhere he went when he bothered to leave the house, and that was true in a sense, because stopping himself would have taken effort, and AC had never been keen on effort. It had always seemed like too much work.

As he made his way along the streets and paths of Pond Lake Island, his childhood (and adulthood, such as it was) home, he tried to ignore how little he had to think about or even pay attention to the route to OT’s house. Thinking about it only made him more depressed, and he had enough to deal with already, what with mentally preparing himself for OT’s company and all.

As usual, Mrs. Delta Frog, OT’s silent and long-suffering mother, was hovering around her kitchen with no apparent purpose when AC knocked on the door. Once he’d made eye contact with her, he let himself in.

“Hi there Mrs. Frog! ” said AC, trying, for her sake, to seem at least a little cheerful.

Mrs. Frog looked deeply into AC’s eyes with so much silent pleading that AC actually gasped softly. Mrs Frog might not have a lot to say, but those big wet bulbous eyes of hers could speak enough volumes to complete an encyclopedia. Finally, a single word bubbled up from the depths of her squat, fat body. “Leaving?” The word hung in their air, trembling with desperation and hope.

Maybe this was why he couldn’t stop himself from taking OT with him everywhere. He was this woman’s only escape. He knew that Mrs. Frog was far too devoted and dutiful a mother to hire a stranger to care for her misfit son, but if her son chose to go somewhere with a friend…. well, who was she to stand in the way of his happiness?

“We sure are, Mrs. Frog! I’m just here to pick up your son and take him to our friend’s place for, oh, I don’t know, maybe the whole afternoon!” And there it was, the light of hope in the old frog’s eyes that kept AC coming back despite the consequences.

AC could tell that OT was only pretending to sleep when he went to the tadpole’s room and disconnected OT’s tiny bowl from the very expensive machinery that kept the tadpole alive most of the time, but played along when OT pretended to be woken out of a sound sleep so he could yell “What? Who’s that? I’ll rip your fucking tonsils out with my tail if you fuck with me, pal!” then pretend to calm down, and say “Oh, it’s only you, Fatty. For a minute, I thought it might be someone I should care about. ”

AC smiled weakly as he picked up OT’s bowl and balanced it on the hump between leg-pairs eleven and twelve, as usual. “Nope. It’s just me, Tad. ”

“How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that, you fat fucking scum-eater? I swear, you have to be the stupidest, ugliest, most useless piece of shit to ever get squirted out of… ”

OT continued on in this vein for several minutes, but AC ignored him. In fact, the only reason he had called OT “Tad” was to get him too mad to do anything to screw up AC’s balancing act until AC was up to full speed, all legs in motion, when the ride would smooth out naturally.

All the way to CG’s house, OT’s tirade continued unabated. “It’s people like you that abandoned me when I told everyone that I wasn’t going to sell out and become a frog like the rest of my brothers and sisters. Oh, the rest of them had talked up not undergoing metamorphosis, but I was the only one who had the self-respect and integrity to actually go through with it! And now they are all off carrying a hundred tadpoles on their backs and talking about mortgages and tax breaks, and I’m still the same angry rebel as always! I’ll never sell out! I’ll never surrender! I will keep fighting for my freedom and independence until the day I.. *gack* *cough* *gurgle* ”

As usual, at the crescendo of his speech, OT had violently crapped himself, and AC knew he only had a couple of minutes to save OT from choking on his own shit. Luckily, there was a stream nearby, so it didn’t take long for AC to scrape the crap out of the little guy’s gills, change the water in the bowl, then rinse him off and put him back in his tiny bowl, which was barely bigger than he was.

The moment he was back in his bowl, OT cleared his throat, and said “Like I was saying… I don’t need anyone’s help…. ”

CG met them a block from his place. Wow, he must really want my company, AC thought, with the usual mixture of happiness (that SOMEONE needed him) , pity (that someone needed HIM), and dread (that someone NEEDED him). He must really be desperate.

As they passed the bus stop near CG’s house, AC noted, with a long and weary sigh, some very familiar looking splotches of chitin and what smelled like formic acid in a neat line emanating from the bus pole. He turned to CG, who cringed.

“You tried to wait for the bus like a normal person again, didn’t you. ” said AC flatly.

“No!” said CD. “I mean, maybe…. look, I was just doing the same thing everyone else was doing!”

“But you can’t do what everyone else is doing….. you’re a giant!”

“No I’m not!”

“Yes, you are. You’re over twenty feet tall!”

“No I’m not!” CG insisted. “I mean…. okay, maybe I’m a giant in strictly height sense…. but really, I am just like the rest of you animals!”

“No, you’re not!” shouted AC. His head felt like someone was shining a bright light directly between his temples. Arguing with CG always got him all worked up. “You’re a giant! You will always be a giant! And if you don’t start acting like a giant – a proper giant – soon, things like this are going to keep happening, and if you keep killing the Ant kids, eventually their parents are going to notice! ”

“Look, I didn’t ask you over to get all mad at me!” whined CG.

“I…. I know. I’m sorry, CG. ” said AC, hating himself for feeling guilty. “So what are we supposed to be doing anyway?”

It turned out that it wasn’t CG’s birthday, it was his cousin’s birthday, and CG had wanted AC to come over for emotional support while CG’s cousin and all his rowdy giant friends took over CG’s place. But CG had been wrong about when it was, and by the time AC arrived, the party was already over, and now CG’s parents needed him to clean everything up.

Sensing there was no more point in hanging around, they went home instead.

(Writer’s note : this is just a raw first draft.)

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