The Beetle
Laura Jowsey

Lea can hear Caroline tossing and turning until she falls asleep. Her own mind drifts to sleep, and dreams she is a beetle scuttling along behind a crowd of people trying to keep up and avoid getting squished under somebody’s massive shoe. Some people pick her up to examine or admire her briefly before setting her back down and switching their attention back to their conversations. She tries to shout at them to take her with them because she too is human, but can’t force the words out of her mouth. She doesn’t want to be a beetle. She wants to be human again but isn’t proving to be successful enough to continue as that species. The breeder told her that she would make a better beetle. Her little legs start getting tired and she can tell she is running out of energy so she scuttles into the bushy area to find shade and rest. She sits on a small rock, feeling deficient for not being able to keep up. All of a sudden she hears her name being chanted behind her. She turns around and sees a group of snails and a spider standing behind them. When she looks into the eyes of the spider she recognizes Caroline’s sparkle. Lea walks up beside the spider and they walk side by side each other with the snails following to a large oak tree. The snails surround the bottom of the tree while the beetle and spider climb higher and higher up to the first branch of the tree. They pass the first branch and climb to the second, then the third, then the fourth, until they come to the top of the trunk where the top splits off into two branches. Caroline and Lea stop to choose which branch to traverse. Caroline flinches left so Lea follows, but when the branch thins out, Lea stops, turns around and walks back to the centre. Caroline hesitates but then follows Lea’s lead. They walk onto the branch, right to a cozy mossy part and sleep.

When they open their eyes again, they are inside a tree fort, tucked in sleeping bags. They reach down into the bags and feel long legs. They reach up over their heads and feel hair upon their heads. They look at each other’s human bodies, relieved not to be insects any longer. They climb down the ladder to the forested ground and walk back through the trees to the road that the humans were walking on before. The walk down the long dusty road, talking amongst themselves about things that Lea cannot hear in her dream. All she knows is that they continue to walk for hours until their feet feel floppy, their ankles ache and their shoulders droop. Dust fills the inside of their lungs and crusts in their noses and ears. A layer of sweat coats their itchy skin and their hair sticks to the back of their necks and cheeks. There is a wavering haze at the end of the long flat road that they are trying to reach. There are no houses, signs or intersecting roads along the remote road. The trees on either side stand browning and still on the windless day. The muscles in their legs stiffen and threaten to tear with every step. Their tongues hang in their mouths trying to Velcro their throats closed. The sun beats down on their heads making them dizzy and nauseated.

Caroline staggers over to the side of the road, bent at the hip, and vomits violently. Lea scuffles over to pull her hair back and watches her pale skin crack around the mouth as the only contents left within Caroline’s body refuse to give her hope and force itself out of her mouth. Lea grabs her by the arm, forcing her to walk down the road as her own hope slowly crawls up her esophagus. Lea stumbles over a small pebble and Caroline falls to the ground and refuses to get back up. Lea grabs her arm, not letting her lie down, and pulls her back on her feet.

The sun begins to set behind the wavering haze ahead, cooling the air slightly, when suddenly the sound of large trucks rumbling down the road comes out of the silence of the evening. Lea looks behind her and moves to the side of the road, dragging Caroline with her. They stand on the side together with their thumbs out as their last hope of reaching the haze. The first truck passes by, trailing a large load of freshly cut logs behind, ignoring them. A pickup truck rolls by carrying nine men in the back, all wearing red overalls and black long-sleeved shirts. Each man has a different coloured hat and matching wristbands on. Their clothes are filthy but their faces looked fresh and content. When the third truck rolls by, the driver pulls over and motions for the girls to jump in with him. The back of the truck is filled with chainsaws, axes, cant hooks, handsaws and various other tools Lea doesn’t recognize. The driver rolls down his window.

“This is a long road, how’d you end up here?”

“We came through the forest. Do you have any water?” Lea asks.

“I’ve got four jugs of water. Get in! Get in!” he says in a friendly way.

Lea opens the door and climbs in, helping Caroline in after her. She pulls the door closed then grabs a jug of water off the floor and pours a small amount around Caroline’s lips and dampens her tongue. Caroline flops down, resting her head on Lea’s legs. “I am not sure where we are, but can you tell us how to get back to the city?” she asks.

The driver chuckles and looks at her with fiery eyes. “The city? There’s no way back to the city. Along this road, we cut off the branches of prospering trees, not put them back on. We saw off the options so every tree looks exactly the same. With no side branches, there couldn’t possibly be any other way but up right?”

Lea stares into the man’s eyes as his skin begins to whiten. Caroline interprets the man’s words and lets her arm fall down in front of her, searching the floor for a weapon. Her fingers fumble around a small adze under the seat and try to grab on to the handle. When she has it in her hand, she sits up and passes it to Lea then rests her head against the window, still too exhausted to move. Lea wraps her fingers around the handle and raises it above her head, turning to the driver whose fiery eyes were burning deeply into his core. She slams the adze down on the driver’s head, impaling his skull. The fire billows down his cheeks uncontrollably. He is blinded by the heat and swerves the van off the road, slamming into a tree. He puts his hands over the wound, trying to smother the fire to control the spread, and douses his face in water to clear his eyes. Lea reaches in front of him to open his door and pushes him out of his seat onto the ground.

The truck ahead full of men stops and reverses to help the crashed truck. Lea throws the truck into reverse, backs away from the tree and onto the road. She throws it into gear, steps on the gas and speeds down the road, swerving around the truck of confused loggers and towards the logs. She slows down, unable to bypass the oversized truck that is hogging the road. The logger’s truck quickly approaches and tries to force her off the road. Lea swerves back and forth, not allowing them to get beside her, then cuts over to the left of the log truck onto a grassy shoulder and passes the truck. She turns back on the road just as she is past the truck and doesn’t take her foot off the gas until the lights on the two trucks disappear behind her. She doesn’t know where they are, or where they are headed, but knows that they are safe within the van, having taken away all of the tools needed to cut down the branches and all the water to put out the fires.

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