The Hermit Shell

Jacque de Gheyn

Anthony Montaigne was a rhino beetle who had every right to a clean yard. He deserved one that was free of garbage, free of parasites, and free of stupidity.

He especially hated mollusks when they abandoned their shells because they tended to leave inside their entrails, vomit or premature child. This morning there was a hermit shell sitting in front of his log glimmering in the sunlight, a giant violet-tinged cone jutting from the foliage like a serrated boulder under the shadow of a lonely cloud, making the forest seem like a beach. This one was especially poisonous, and it could be use as a barricade to stifle tarantulas from crawling into his one-living-room-dining-room apartment or deter squirrels from crawling into the log and defecating the vicinity, like an arena corridor. If it weren’t poisonous, it would also make for an attractive piece of furniture, but Anthony didn’t need it right now. He figured that it came from his mollusk and landlord William Guesclin.

William always had an incredulous way of asserting assistance where it wasn’t needed. At an early age he was diagnosed with an Atlas complex, and he thought he had the strength of a thousand Peruvian mollusks. Because he thought God blessed him with a powerful back like a camel, he also thought he should carry an enormous shell large as a cave, usually three to four times his body-weight. With this kind of shell on his back, he could horde all kinds of things, including bird feathers, dead tadpoles and human teeth. No one wanted them, but he would appear out of nowhere to present these things to the tenets of the log, waking up all the tenets fifteen minutes before they ran their errands or found their prey. “Before you go, Ms. Bismark, there’s a mandatory meeting,” he once said to Ms. Bismark, the earthworm, who lived in the basement, “but this time it’s very good news. Everyone, I have great news for the apartment. You can have a human tooth for free that I found beside the river yesterday. The great part is that I’ll let you decide where you want to put it in the log.” But the other bugs of the apartment didn’t agree of keeping it in the first place. “I’m afraid these teeth harbor bacteria and other parasites, Mr. Guesclin,” said Ronald the carpenter bee. “With all the foliage that tends to be pushed into our building, do we even need another unnecessary piece of furniture,” remarked Ms. Bismark. “You, guys, have no idea how difficult it was to carry this tooth from the stream,” William said. “We’re keeping it, you decide where it goes in the log, and that’s final.”

That was why most of the other bugs didn’t like mollusks. They were slow, unfocused creatures that only came out when there was enough moisture in the air, while most of the other bugs had to salvage or scout for food all hours of the day. God forbid they get washed from the earth. But before we begin promoting genocide, let’s just pay attention to how William, one sample of a group, could ruin an entire species. And, for the sake of the story, let’s forgive him because William forgets that every animal had its own method of surviving in the wilderness. Even the All Wing Saints taught their followers that God intended to take away some talents or physical features so they could become energy for other animals. Anthony wasn’t religious, but he believed some creatures served a minimal purpose. And, if animals indeed needed assistance, it wouldn’t come from a snail. Snails were frail, slow and unfocused creatures. Their challenges were impertinent to other hemipteras who had to catch their prey. A snail’s problem was similar to the iguana when it was struck by idleness during el nino, paralyzed by the tropical paradise, but even the iguana had to leave its territory to find food which even flew in the air. If you weren’t meant to die naturally, most creatures were either designed to be energy, a sex-buddy, or a back-scratching parasite. A snail wasn’t any of those things.

Most insects remained in the log for three good reasons. They were retired, they were safe from the primary predators, and they had an abundance of peaches, for their home was underneath a peach tree. Anthony preferred his home clean as a sign of gratitude for the tree. He also preferred his front yard spacious, orange, and smelling like the meals from the night before, reminding him that his only meaning in life was to find as many partners in a lifetime, inseminate her, and watch the children eat their own peaches, not designed to collect crap for acquaintances. Rubbing his antennas, he was trying to remember what he might’ve said to William. Ms. Bismark crawled from underneath the log in a tiny autumn hat. Looking towards her general direction, unable to make eye-contact, Anthony asked if she had seen William, and she said he went towards the stream again. “He’s always going to the stream,” Anthony said. “What if a pipe burst in the apartment? What if the power went out? What if someone dropped dead? Where is he to underscore these things. He’s been gone a lot lately.” “Well, it’s the only thing that he has,” Ms. Bismark said. “No one here respects him, they think his principles are rather odd.” “Do you know the meaning of this hermit shell today?” “Child, I don’t know.” “I don’t recall anyone asking for the hermit shell.” “Do you actually go to the morning meetings, child?” “Only to make sure I still have a room. You go to them, too, don’t you.” “Have you been eating those fungus again? I have more partners to find before I die. You don’t happen to have worm ancestry in your genes, do you?” “No, I don’t.” “Shucks. Let me know if you want to crossbreed sometime.” Anthony was grossed by the invitation. Ms. Bismark embarked on her trip around the withered twigs to find fodder. Next appeared the divorced banana spider, Ms. Suzuki, who was searching for the bottom half of a fruit fly she had caught at four o’clock in the morning to feed her children. Anthony asked her the same question about the hermit shell sitting on the front yard. She went over to the shell to examine it. With her long legs, she tested the density and to see if someone was inside. From the push, she felt there was something in there. After tapping it several times, she stuck her head inside the shell and suddenly fell on her butt. The odor was so atrocious that it burned some of the hairs on her head. “God damn, what the hell was that,” she said in the voice only a mother could enunciate. “What did you find?” asked Anthony. “I think it was a dead snail inside. It was like it tried to inhabit it. Who the hell brought this here.” “That’s what I said.” “William?” “That’s my prime suspect thus far.” “That’s a safety hazard. Last week William brought this thing with bristles. I think they called it a toothbrush. He asked all of us to carry it to the top of the tree, and the damn thing fell and nearly cut the ends of my spider web. You know, you were there when they tried to mount it.” “And I was there when we threw it away also. Remember he was gone that whole week, and the other beetles and I threw it down the stream.” “That’s right. Oh, beetles are so strong. I bet they could lift a spider over its head.” No one knew how William owned the apartment. The owners prior to him were an old couple of grasshoppers. “Well, thank you for checking the hermit shell.” Anthony was still surveying the area for William. A brisk silenced came between them before Ms. Suzuki spoke up. “Hey, are we the same species?” Ms. Suzuki asked. “No, we’re not.” “How do you feel about spiders?” He thought spiders were attractive, but they just spawned to many children, about a thousand at a time, and he wasn’t prepared to become a baby’s daddy. That level of onus was too heavy for him. Sometimes they would appear and disappear near his area and say hi, pause for a second, and say, goodbye, laughing all the while, vexing him and breaking his concentration from reading the newspaper. “Sorry, Ms. Suzuki, I need to find William.” “Males,” she puffed, “they complain when there’s something great in front of them, they complain when it’s not there. Bye.” She punctuated her fury by kicking dirt and dry firs in Anthony’s face. His eyes burned, and he was on the verge of sneezing. He did and swallowed his phlegm.

Over the horizon he saw mollusk shell leaning to the side as if it were unnatural. It was William pacing along the land of foliage. Instead of waiting for him at the front of the log, Anthony hastened the process and met William at his location, which to a beetle was a minute but to a snail eight minutes. “Howdy?” “Did you go to the stream again?” “Yeah, and I brought some neat things.” “I need to talk to you about something.” William frowned, his eyes pointed downwards, his tail receded a little into his shell. “Are you going to complain just like everyone else. I left a message for everyone, and said that I would be out this morning.” “Some of us need you to stay here.” “But when I’m here, no one asks for anything.” “Some of us don’t need anything.” “So what are you complaining about now.” “Why is there a hermit shell on our front yard?” “What? Are people saying bad things about it.” “It’s not even sanitary for Ms. Suzuki’s children.” “Then I’ll move inside the log.” Anthony couldn’t believe a single word wasn’t heard. “Can you just get rid of it?” That was the question which broke William. He began to wail about all of life’s misfortune. Because so many things demanded his attention, like the toothbrush, the hermit shell, and the pain in his lower back, he recently forgot to find food for his children, leaving the burden on his wife. It was a pathetic sight, but it still caught Anthony’s sympathy. Anthony spoke to him like a male rhino beetle. “Look. Sometimes you have to ask for people’s permission even if it’s difficult. Two of our tenets just invited me to have coitus with them, and we’re not even the same species. But I still respect them because they asked me first whether they want to mate with me or not. Asking is a longer process, and it could leave you with burning eyes, but asking for coitus is not like asking for ketchup. I put my body at risk when engaging in coitus. You know what I mean?” “Are you saying that it’s easier to ask for ketchup than it is to ask for permission?” “Sure, William. Sometimes it’s easier to ask for ketchup than it is to ask for people’s permission.” Anthony said, moving away from William. “Now. Remove that damn shell from the lawn.”

The moral of the story: It’s easier to ask for ketchup than it is to ask for permission.

John Tang
John Tang writes essays and fiction, and creates RPGs. He's also the production manager for Brev Spread. You can reach him at Queries@brevspread.com
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