A Woodlousey Journey

I wrote another short story, learned it over the weekend, and terrified myself by telling it from memory at the Flying Monkeys story telling night in Bridport last week, singing a song after. Next month I hope to tell the other story I wrote. And sing some of my songs of course. The Flying Monkeys have been great, giving me a safe and welcoming place to put myself forward. Hooray the Monkeys!

[I’ve made a couple of tweaks to the text since then]

This story concerns a woodlouse. Just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill woodlouse, such as you might find under the bark of a log, or clinging to the walls in the downstairs loo of my parents old house.

They’re pretty resilient creatures, woodlice. They might fall off that wall unexpectedly, and hit the ground with a little audible “tick!”. But curling up and wrapping themselves in their prehistoric, armadillo-like shells, they are well protected against the landing, or anything they feel threatened by.

Perhaps their greatest weakness is that if they land on their back, the poor sods are scuppered. They have virtually no way to get back on their feet, stuck lying there, legs flailing around as if running along an upside down invisible treadmill. Occasionally, rarely, they might manage to right themselves, by curling up tight into a ball then throwing themselves out of it again. It’s tricky though, because a woodlouse’s body is not designed to do the twist.

So anyway, one woodlouse had lived a fairly ordinary life, going about its business, bumbling and bimbling around, eating stuff, sometimes hanging out with other woodlice, sometimes preferring time on its own, sometimes curling into a ball and hiding when it all became too much.

It was continuing in such a manner, seeking a good life, when it found itself stuck in a rather overshadowed and oppressive fracture in a log. It could move around freely within the fracture and could sometimes see the world beyond, but was unable to leave.

Woodlice of course are not generally averse to dark places, and find much nourishment in some dank smelly holes where others might not care to spend time. But they value time and space to think for themselves. This particular woodlouse valued being able to charge around in the great outdoors like a loon.

Occasionally it got glimpses of the colour and life out there beyond the log, little flashes of excitement passing by, moments of warmth and light.

Theses flashes and glimpses were fortifying, but also made the woodlouse gradually more aware that it was stuck in this oppressive place. It was isolated in there. The dark rotting wood overhung a long way, the glimpses of outside life were brief, and this daylight-deprived world became an increasingly unhealthy place to be.

The woodlouse spent increasing amounts of time curled up into a ball, feeling threatened. It felt as if it was stuck on its back, legs flailing on that upside down invisible treadmill, unable to right itself.

It was on the brink of despair, almost giving up hope, seeing no way to get from where it was to the world of colour and life it caught glimpses of.

But gradually some kind of strength grew within it. With it came excitement at the possibilities, and also fear. Did it have the strength to risk finding a way out of the log, and to cope with whatever unknown dangers or threats might lie beyond? Would it break free only to be squished unceremoniously under someone’s big foot?

It steeled itself for the moment, wondering if it would even be possible to cross the imperceptible boundary to the other world. But it believed it must be possible. It knew that somehow the first pivotal step across must be brought about by words alone. It must find the words to open the way, and then after that would be actions and journeys and effort – but that speaking of the words (whatever they would be) was key.

It was awed at the prospect that words alone could wreak such change, and have such power. It terrified it. After all, who knew woodlice could even speak?

But finally, it could contain the pent up power of the unspoken words no longer. It spoke them, feeling the words with a physical force – viscous things to be forced up out of it into the world, to take their shape and begin their work.

 And it’s world began to change.

It was immediate, the effect. Physically, the world still looked more or less the same. The inside of the log was still dark, the world beyond could only be seen in little glimpses.

But a way had opened up. With great fear and trepidation, the woodlouse began to follow it. And though it was a long way for a tiny woodlouse, it made its way down the path and the obstacles along the way, finding at the end that it had crossed into the other world, of light and colour and life.

It knew everything would not be easy there, but it felt alive, and was a free woodlouse! ‘Wahoooo!’ it cried. It began to sing songs, and meet people, laughing, sharing stories, talking with other woodlice who had made their own difficult journeys into this brighter world.

These friendships gave it strength, comfort, and joy. It valued them all greatly, thinking friendship the most wonderful and important thing. It loved the sharing of life and experiences. There was mutual support and understanding, much laughter, and many things to be gloriously, stupidly daft about.

The woodlouse was also was wary of its judgement – after all, it was by choice that it had first entered the log, not realising it would be so dark or contain it for so long. ‘Time’ thought the woodlouse, ‘time is key’. It worried about time too, which – as we all know – is a slippery bastard. It felt time slipping away, and having entered this world of colour and light and life it wanted to embrace every last moment of it, like an excited child, or a crazed dog leaping about in the waves on the beach.

But also, it knew rushing headlong into things was not a sensible course for a little woodlouse. It must allow life to progress and go where it will, and time to pass without a hurry. ‘Listen to Louis’, it thought. ‘We have all the time in the world’.

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