In Miss Myopic’s class there were five fine young snails, and four of them never caused any trouble. When Miss Myopic taught gliding lessons, they glided along silently in her wake. The fifth one, Sammy, would always find some more adventurous way to glide; usually up and over his classmates. When Miss Myopic taught antennae stretches, she’d find Sammy’s antennae twisted in a knot. That little Sammy was always up to no good, and she told him so, often.
“You get down from that leaf before you fall and break your shell” Miss Myopic would say. “Your sort always do.”
Sammy didn’t want to be that sort, and he tried very hard to be good for Miss Myopic, but there were so many grand adventures to have, and Sammy couldn’t help but try them here and there.
In the afternoons, when no one was looking, Sammy would climb up to the highest edge of the cabbage leaf and gaze at the towering majesty of the fence post.
“I bet I’d be able to see the whole world from up there,” he’d dream. “If I wasn’t the sort to fall and break my shell,” he’d remind himself. And slowly, carefully, he’d make his way back down to the safety of the rich dark shadows of the cabbage leaf where his family and friends, who were not the sort to fall and break their shells, lived contentedly.
One such afternoon, while Sammy sighed his wish wistfully at the tall towering fence post, a lady bug sunning herself nearby overheard.
“If you’re so clumsy,” she said, “what are you doing up here?”
Sammy was startled. He hadn’t known he wasn’t alone. “I – I’m the sort,” he explained.
“What sort?” asked the lady bug.
“The sort who falls and breaks his shell. Everybody says so.”
This wasn’t strictly true. It was only Miss Myopic who said so, but she said it frequently, and with great authority. After all, she was a grown-up and a teacher. Everyone knows grown-ups know everything, and teachers know even more than grown-ups. If Miss Myopic said he was the sort, it was pretty much the same as everybody else saying so, too.
The lady bug looked him over. “Your shell isn’t broken,” she observed.
“I haven’t fallen yet,” explained Sammy, taking one last look at the towering fence post before turning back down the cabbage leaf.
“Then how can everybody say you’re the sort who falls?” asked the lady bug. “It doesn’t make sense if you’ve never fallen.”
“It’s just what they say,” shrugged Sammy.
“And you believe them over the fact that you don’t actually fall?” asked the lady bug.
Sammy stopped to work on her question. It felt like one of those tricky questions Miss Myopic gave them in class, where she knew the answer, and she also knew that no one would guess it.
“It’s not my business,” said the lady bug, “but I’ve been to the top of that fence post, and it’s everything you dreamed.”
“Can you see the whole world?” asked Sammy.
“Is the height dizzying?” asked Sammy.
“Not at all,” said the lady bug, “though I’m the sort who likes to climb high,” she added. “Maybe you’re that sort, too. Not that it’s any of my business, but it sounds like you’re surrounded by people who don’t understand you very well. If it was me, I’d make up my own mind as to what sort I am. Good luck!” And the lady bug flew away, riding the breeze all the way up to the top of the towering fence post. Sammy saw her wave from the top.
“What if I’m the sort that makes up my own mind as to what sort I am?” Sammy wondered on his way back down the cabbage leaf. After all, no one else dared go as high on the cabbage leaf as he did, and he still hadn’t fallen.
“You’re crazy!” pleaded Sammy’s friends the next day as he pointed himself upward at the base of the towering fence post.
“The air is dry up there. You’ll shrivel up!” added his parents.
“You’ll fall and break your shell, mark my words,” said Miss Myopic, with the tone that it had already happened and she was tired of being right about such tragedies.
“I’m the sort who makes up his own mind,” replied Sammy, and he began to climb.
His friends followed after him up to the first nail, but one by one they turned back, trembling a little at the height. Sammy wasn’t afraid. He was climbing. He climbed through the morning, and as the sun wore away at his resolve at midday Sammy found the cooler, shadowed side of the fence post and kept going. Still, the air was dry up here and that sunshine was relentless. Even on the shadowed side he could feel the warmth through the wood. Maybe he would get shriveled up. Grown-ups knew things like that.
Sammy stopped, and considered going back down. The ground was a dizzying distance below. He couldn’t see any of his family or friends anymore, tucked safely under the cover of the cabbage leaf in their cool, moist home. He felt his grip slip. It was such a far way down. If he lost his hold now, cracking his shell open would happen for sure, just as Miss Myopic had said. Teachers knew these things. Oh, why had he done it? He began to cry.
“You’re almost there,” said a voice. “Why are you crying?” It was the lady bug.
“They were right,” Sammy wept.
The lady bug looked him over. “I still don’t see a cracked shell,” she said.
“I can’t do this,” said Sammy.
“You’ve already done it,” said the lady bug. “Don’t you see how close you are to the top?”
Sammy had been so busy looking down he hadn’t thought to look up. He did now, and he saw that the lady bug was right. The top nail of the towering fence post could probably be reached by mid-afternoon, and the top of the post was just a short stretch from there.
“But the air is dry and this wind keeps trying to blow me off and I’m slipping.”
“The air is dry,” agreed the lady bug, “but that’s just how it is this time of day. You still look slimy enough to me. And the breeze isn’t bad at all. I don’t see signs of you slipping. If you want to turn around and go back that’s up to you. But it’ll be much harder to go back right now than to finish your adventure.”
“I don’t have energy to go either way,” admitted Sammy, and he started crying again.
“You have the energy to cry,” said the lady bug. “That takes more energy than being happy.”
“If I fall…” started Sammy, but the lady bug interrupted him.
“Then you’ll prove everybody right about what sort they thought you were. If you were really that sort you wouldn’t be up here.”
Sammy thought over her words. She was right. He wouldn’t be up here so far above the world if he were the sort they all thought. He’d be down there, in the safety of the cabbage leaf, dreaming about being up here.
“It takes less energy to be happy?” he checked, gazing at the short distance that remained above him. Climbing had always made him happy.
“Much less energy,” said the lady bug. “In fact, being happy gives you energy. Try it.”
He did. He stopped looking back at the ground. He stopped thinking about all of the fears of his friends and family, and Miss Myopic. He just climbed, which made him happy. And the happier he was, the easier it was to climb. It was evening by the time he reached the top of the towering fence post, and the sun’s warmth wasn’t nearly so strong. Still, there was enough light for him to look out and see the whole world. It was beautiful.
“Was it worth it?” asked the lady bug, gliding down to land on his shell, which was whole and unbroken.”
“Yes!” said Sammy. “Though it took me all day to get up here, and now I have to go all the way back down.”
“True,” said the lady bug. “But with the moon comes dew, which will refresh you. And you’ll be able to see the world turn shimmering silver, and the fence post will be cool and easy to travel.
“And I’ll be happy,” added Sammy. “That’s the sort I am. I know it now. I’m the adventurous and happy sort.”
The lady bug smiled. “I believe you are,” she said. “I believe you are.”
Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends about this short story blog – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!