Albian Carrot Beetles of the World Unite!
Author: Mae Tang
Date: April 23, 1998 (date of publication on Library Albia, per a.g.c)
Summary: A group of Albian Carrot Beetles have their lives turned upside down by the appearance of a strange new Creature.
Boggle was one of three Carrot Beetles in Albia. He and his two companions, Twitch and Snaggle spent their days scurrying frantically between Submarine Port and the Patch. For as long as Boggle could remember, that was their routine. They feasted at The Great and Beautiful Patch when it was ripe with plump, mature carrots. Then they spent the energy from the sweet carrot juices by rushing to the Port.
Their routine may have been simple and even repetitive, but the beetles were content. Along the way between Port and Patch, there were many things to see. Strange, non-Carrot plants shone in bright colours. There were the yellow-and-white flowered ones, that smelled sweet and slightly medicinal. And then there was the blue-and-white petalled ones that had a mysterious, sharp order, as if to say: "Eat us if you dare…"
There were the odd, tri-coloured, cup-shaped blossoms, which shone in the sunlight like so many jewels. Boggle often loved to pause briefly as he passed these, to gaze at their brilliance as if they were made of stained glass. Twitch and Snaggle teased him by saying that he was perhaps not a true Carrot Beetle, because he loved to look at other plants, and would probably have tasted them if he were some other bug. At the end of the day, though, they knew what they were. They were Albian Carrot Beetles. They were not the beautiful, flighty, insubstantial Cloud Butterflies, or the busy, short-tempered Bees that hummed over the red-berried shrubs. They were not the strange and distant Birds that hovered so far overhead as to be nearly the stuff of myth. They were not the even more mythical Hand creature, who was said to have been seen crossing the Skies one day, and whose function no one else seemed to know.
Albian Carrot Beetles were small, squat, goggle-eyed, and they ate Carrots. They had their place in the World, just as all these other animals had a niche to fill. After all, as Snaggle sometimes observed, if they did not regularly clear out the Patch, who else would do so? There were no other creatures in the World that ate carrots. It was The Way Things Are. It was the way things had been for as long as they could remember. It was the way things would be in the future. Their routine made the Beetles feel safe and needed. Boggle may occasionally have flirted with the idea of tasting the fruit of other plants, but he never seriously questioned that view of the way things were.
Life went on as usual. Life went on as usual, that is, until one day, for no reason that they could determine, Twitch paused in the middle of a big mouthful of carrot, and said that she could hear an odd sound.
"What do you mean, an odd sound?" said Snaggle.
Snaggle was the oldest of the three. He was probably even several whole minutes older than the other two. His relative age made him authoritative and responsible. He was slightly more portly than the other two beetles, and so moved more slowly. But they trusted his judgement and liked his easy leadership of the group.
Twitch wiped carrot juice away from her mouth with a dainty flick of her leg. "It's coming from beyond the Patch," she said. "From the Great Cavern. A kind of… humming sound."
"Are you sure it's not just a gaggle of Bees looking for shrubs to pollinate?" Snaggle was skeptical. Twitch was the most sensitive of the three beetles, and she was normally seldom wrong when they played the Look and Listen game along the way to the Patch. But everyone knew that there was nothing East of the Patch. Only some great, empty cavern filled with non-plant matter. Certainly, nothing lived there that would make any unusual sounds. It was a hot and cheerless place in his opinion. Not the kind of place where anyone would want to stay for any length of time.
Twitch rotated her eyestalks and stared into the gloom of the cavern. "I'm sure it's not Bees. It's not that kind of hum."
Boggle shuffled closer to Twitch, and tried to listen. Perhaps there was a faint sound from the Cavern. And there seemed to be a slight glow from its depths. Beside him, Twitch looked perplexed.
"I see it too," he said to her. "And yes, it's not the Heat Maker."
Snaggle craned his eyestalks beside them, but said he couldn't make much out. "I'm not sure what you think you can see and hear," he said. "Perhaps it's the Hand monster coming to take you away!"
They laughed at that. But then Twitch said she still felt that something was going on. And Boggle had to agree. And then Snaggle got slightly annoyed, and said that if they wanted to be irresponsible, and break with Routine, that was their business. He was going to get on with the serious stuff: eating the Carrots that the Great Patch provided.
Twitch was upset, but held her ground. "I think we should go see what it is," she said.
Boggle wouldn't quite admit it, but he really agreed with her. If the World was filled with wonders like the bell-shaped blossoms-of-many-shades, then perhaps there were other things in it that they had yet to learn about. A new window was opening in his view of the Way Things Are, and he wasn't so sure that he wanted to write that off so quickly.
"I'll go with you," he said finally.
"Oh go on then!" Snaggle was annoyed. "And I suppose I'd better come with you. Patch Knows what the two of you would get up to without me to keep an eye on you."
He stamped after them in sometime of a huff, his back plates clanking against each other with his irritated movements.
They moved swiftly off towards the Cavern.
In the growing gloom and heat before them, the beetles failed at first to make anything out of the cavern. The whole place smelled musty and unused. The strange source of heat was constant and oppressive to them. They felt that they were a long way away from the familiar comforts of the Patch.
Then at the far end of the darkened space, a dim light became visible. As they approached, even Snaggle could hear the oddly even, inorganic hum which emanated from the strange metallic canister which had always stood against the far wall. It had been there for as long as any of the beetles could remember, and served no real purpose that they could see.
When they got to the foot of the canister, they realised that it was indeed the source of the faint light and sound.
Boggle craned his eyestalks upwards, and could just glimpse an elliptical, solid looking object inside the canister. Its doors were closed, when they had always been open. What was going on? The object within was both red and yellow, he noted, the colours of the Heat Maker. And what was that smell?
Suddenly, it was as if something inside the solid moved! It looked a bit like the caterpillars did, just before they emerged from their chrysalises as Cloud Butterflies. There was the shadow of movement there, as they struggled out of their snug covering. There was the shadow of movement here as well. It was both frightening and mesmerizing. Patch only knew what was causing that movement… Patch only knew what might emerge.
The Beetles stood and watched it for a long time. Maybe even minutes. It was the longest time that they had ever stood still. None of them spoke. It was too new an experience for them to put their feelings into words.
Suddenly, a sharp "Ping!" rang out, and the doors of the canister shot open. There was what seemed to be a crackling sound, and the solid inside it broke into two. Something HUGE fell out onto the floor of the cavern, right towards the watching beetles!
"Run!" shouted Snaggle! "It's going to crush us!"
With a piercing squeal, the beetles were flipped into the air. In their haste to get clear of the descending… Thing, they flew head-over-heels, tumbling about wildly. In a blind panic, they scrambled upright, and shot towards the mouth of the cavern, not even stopping to see if they were being followed. There was just time to see what looked to be the further horror of the mythical Hand beast, now the stuff of reality, shooting by overhead, towards the Thing. And then they were out in the Patch.
Dazed and terrified, the beetles huddled in the Patch and tried to understand what they had just seen. Too demoralized to pay their customary attentions to the newly sprouted carrots, they spoke in fits and starts, contradicting, and interrupting each other.
"It was huge! And I think it said something. Some kind of language. Sounded like---"
"Yes! I heard it too! 'Em… bloop?"
"No! I'm sure that was 'Em boop'."
"How can you be sure of anything? This is the most… terrifying thing that's happened to us. There's some kind of new life form in the World and---"
"Patch! That thing at the end… I'm sure it was the Hand. The Hand is real!"
"Why are you even worrying about the Hand? Even if it's real, no one's ever seen it do anything interesting! That hairy Thing could have squashed us!"
"Hang on. I'm not sue I'd call it 'hairy'. That was more like 'fur'. I mean, there wasn't enough for it to be 'hairy'…"
"Hey, I've had a thought. It looked like it had some kind of symbiotic relationship with the Hand. What if that earlier sighting of the Hand was… Well what if it sent the Hand into our World first, to check us out. Like, it controls the Hand from outside the World first, and wants the Hand to interact with us for it. Maybe it's all some kind of twisted experiment!"
"Get a grip! Experimenting with the Hand, indeed. Sounds like some kind of silly Birds' and Bees' tale. If you believe that lot, you'll believe anything…"
"Hey you two! What if it comes out after us?"
They stared at each other in fear.
"We don't even speak its language," said Boggle. "How can we hope to communicate with it?"
"I don't think we'd even have the chance to communicate," Snaggle spoke softly now, but gruffly. "It's that powerful. It could do anything it wanted to us."
"I wonder… I wonder what it eats."
That last thought by Twitch silenced them completely. They gazed at each other suddenly with new eyes. Snaggle was probably the plumpest and the slowest. But he had the thickest armour plating with his heavy carapace. And he was cautious and thoughtful where the other two might want to rush into something. Boggle was tough but substantial in build. He had endurance, and strong leg muscles, from uprooting and lifting all those carrots. Twitch was the slimmest and probably also the fastest. She was as sensitive and quick as she was beautiful...
Boggle realised with a lump in his throat that no matter what happened, they were in this together. Life in Albia without either of his two friends would never be the same. There would be no one to share his joy when he stared at his favorite flowers. No one to work the Patch beside him, or to laugh when he sprayed carrot juice out of a particularly plump carrot.
They were facing a threat of an unknown magnitude and nature. But they were facing it together. Tears filmed across his rounded eyes. Through them, he could see that his friends were equally moved.
"I don't care," he said finally, "if that Thing feeds on… on Albian Carrot Beetles!" (There, he had said it). "We are what we are. We're here to take care of the Patch. And of each other."
"Boggle's right," said Snaggle. "We have to keep together, and we have to be strong."
Twitch nodded and clasped legs with her two companions. Perhaps everything had changed… except this.
Just then, they heard the sounds of something approaching. Giant footfalls thumped out of the Cavern towards the Patch. The beetles were galvanized into action.
"I say we make a stand!" Boggle was pale, but determined.
"I agree!" Twitch was still riding the crest of emotion which their show of unity had sent welling through her veins.
"Hang on," Snaggle was grim. "Isn't that the Hand with it? Look you two, there's no point rushing out into an unknown situation. Retreat for now, observe what that Thing's like, and then we'll make plans."
The three beetles scurried away to the cover of the nearby plants. Past the trellis of the Yellow fruits, and into the shade of the Flower Row they ran. From there, they stared out to the Patch, where the Thing, with its Hand in attendance, was waiting. They were so intent and nervous that their eyestalks were quivering with anxiety.
"What if it harms the Patch!" Twitch rung her legs.
"Hush! I think they're talking…" Snaggle craned his eyestalks forward. "I can see them, but I can't quite hear them."
"It'd be in that strange language anyway," Boggle noted. "We wouldn't understand a thing."
Out in the Patch, the Creature (for want of a better term) was standing staring at the Hand. They seemed to be talking, but the words were indistinct. The Hand floated in the air, a wingless wonder. The Creature stood on two legs, like some kind of bird. Then the beetles saw the Creature bend forwards and grasp a newly grown adult carrot. Before their horrified gaze, it uprooted the carrot with one easy yank, and then held it up to the Hand. As if at the Creature's command, the Hand swooped down and tickled it on the head. The high-pitched sound of its giggling reached even their ears.
"Sacrilege…" gasped Snaggle. "If we don't get to that carrot and eat it, the Patch won't regenerate itself."
Then something truly shocking took place. The Creature had another discussion with its minion, and then, before their very eyes, it ATE the carrot. All that was left in its hand was the inevitable carrot seedling.
The world reeled before their eyes. The new Creature and its pet Hand had been an unknown and frightening intrusion into their habitat. To see it eat a carrot shook the foundations of their identity, or their very reason for being. The Way Things Are was no longer that. There was something else in Albia that ate Carrots. What did that make them, as Albian Carrot Beetles?
"I can't look!" Twitch turned away in tears. "This isn't right!"
Boggle could only hold her silently. Beside them, Snaggle had slumped to his knees, as if his shell were finally too heavy for him. His face was a wordless testament to the turmoil of this thoughts.
"I always thought… I always knew," he spoke finally, forcing the words out, "that it was our place to feed on the carrots and take care of the Patch. How could things be any different? Everything in Albia has its place and that… Creature out there, it's in our place. I'm sorry… I feel like everything I've ever told you has been a lie."
"It's… it's not y-your f-f-fault," stammered Twitch.
"You never lied to us," agreed Boggle. "We were wrong. But we were all wrong." And Snaggle at last looked up at them, and perhaps started to forgive himself a little when he saw the lack of blame in their faces.
This small act of solidarity drew them together again. Together, they were each other's one sure point in a World, which they no longer felt they knew. Right then Boggle realised something. He realised that perhaps being an Albian Carrot Beetle was what they made it be. And that no matter what their new places in the World was they wouldn't face it alone. He had an insight into the long, hard days ahead, where their trips to the Patch would have to be more furtive. Where other denizens of Albia might face this new Creature with the same confusion and fear. But he knew that he and the other beetles would keep going back to tend the Patch. They would make that their place in the World, and they would fight to keep it. Together. Even if the Creature or its Hand were to capture them, even if it were to torture, or kill, or even eat them, they would cry out to each other at the worst of times, and they would come running to help each other. In the long hard days of resistance ahead of them, they would prove themselves to be Albian Carrot Beetles, and they would do it together, or not at all!
Albian Carrot Beetles of the World Unite!