Day 29 of The Literal Challenge aka Like The Prose

Back on Day 10, I wrote an anecdotal piece called ‘Snail Trail’ that recalled an incident from my student days. This piece tells the same story, but from the snail’s perspective. Welcome to

The Other Side of the Trail

It’s a simple life being a snail.

Not having much of a brain, I tend to live in a state of blissful ignorance. If I were a scientist and not a snail, I’d bamboozle you with facts and tell you that my brain is what is called “primitive” but nevertheless capable of associative learning. In layman’s terms – snail terms, that is – it means if I know that I followed another snail yesterday and he/she (we’re all hermaphrodites) led me to something tasty, then there’ll probably be something tasty again if I follow him/her today. Since I have an expected life span of anything between five and twenty-five years, that gives me plenty of time to perfect my knowledge of the best trails to follow to find food.

Anyway, a strange thing happened to me yesterday: there’s a big grey object close to the grass where we hang out and sleep, and there seems to be a lot of activity going on around this grey thing during the course of a day. Once it gets light in the morning, a large creature arrives in a noisy shell and then approaches the grey thing and leaves some sort of large white droppings on it. Simon (my snail pal) and I investigated the droppings some weeks ago – they’re very cold.

We noticed that a large mouth would open near the grey thing and more huge creatures would come out and carry the large white droppings away. The creatures would spend most of the day going in and out of the cavernous mouth – possibly, they were making expeditions to find food, the way we do, although they mostly returned without anything. Simon suggested at one point that they might eat snails, but I think he was trying to frighten me.

Where was I? Oh, yes, back to the story. Well, as you know, we snails don’t move particularly quickly – I think we have an average speed of about a centimetre a minute – so when I realised that Simon had started moving off to explore something, I was too far behind when the disaster happened to be able to do anything else but stare in shock. The worst of it was, he/she wasn’t even heading for food. Maybe he/she’d had a bad night, or perhaps he/she wasn’t fully awake, but he/she’d somehow retraced his/her slime trail back to the white droppings we’d investigated a few days earlier and was busy scaling the giant structure – I say ‘scaling’ but at the rate he/she was moving, he/she’d just about managed to hoist him/herself off the ground and onto the bottom of … whatever it was when the giant creature appeared at the mouth of the cave and picked up Simon on the side of the large, white dropping.  

Naturally, I was beside myself with grief. I was pretty sure that we’d never see him/her again. I spent a very unhappy couple of hours wondering who I would follow now to get to the best food supplies.

You can imagine my surprise when, some time later, there was an almighty woosh and Simon shot out of nowhere in a cascade of water, almost as if he/she was being spat out of something’s mouth. He/she looked slightly stunned, but soon recovered enough to tell the rest of us about his/her adventures.

“Well,” he/she began in a self-important voice – he/she always loved the limelight – “I’ve had such a time! First there was my unprecedented trip through the air – those droppings are very cold and hard, by the way, and then I suddenly found whatever it was I was clinging onto being tilted suddenly so that I quite lost my grip and found myself plunging headfirst into a peculiar orange pool. It was very cold and tasted terribly sweet.” He/she closed his/her eyes reflectively. I felt mildly jealous.

“What happened then?” Brian broke in eagerly. (He/she was another member of our group.)

Simon shuddered. “A huge creature picked me up in my pool,” he/she declaimed dramatically, “and lowered its enormous mouth until it was close enough to swallow me whole!”

We all gasped with horror. Every snail’s taught from an early age that the big, feathery creatures Out Here will eat us, given the chance, but now it seemed there were other predators to watch out for too.

“How did you escape?” I breathed, secretly thinking this was one of the most exciting stories I had ever heard.

Simon wrinkled his/her antennae, looking thoughtful. “I don’t really know,” he/she confessed at last. “The mouth was about to swallow me and then it started making loud, scary sounds. I think the monster carried my pool somewhere else, but I’m a bit hazy on that score – the loud noise stunned me for a while. When I finally opened my eye stalks, I was still in my pool, and then I felt myself being lifted up again and carried along – until, all of a sudden, I was flying through the air in a pond of water.”

I edged forward and sniffed him/her cautiously. “Why is your face sticky?” I wanted to know. We snails shoot mucus covered love-darts at each other as part of our mating rituals, but we don’t normally shoot them at each other’s faces!

“I think it’s the funny orange water I was swimming in,” Simon said slowly.

We made a bit of a fuss of him/her for the rest of the day, but I was already formulating a plan in my tiny mind.

This morning, I was up early. I knew I’d need to set off early if I was going to copy Simon’s antics and hitch a ride on the white droppings into the magical world he/she’d described.

At first, all went according to plan. I reached the big grey thing before the droppings appeared. When they did, I hurried to attach myself to the side of one. It wasn’t long before the cave opened as before and a large creature came out and picked up my dropping and another one.

Quivering with excitement, I could hardly wait for the descent into the orange pool – the sticky stuff on Simon’s face had smelt addictively sweet and I was longing to taste it properly. Imagine my horror, then, when I saw that I was plummeting into a large white lake with strange yellow-orange rocks in it.

The rocks were surprisingly soft and squishy. Cautiously, I nibbled away at a corner of one. It was quite pleasant.

I didn’t have long to enjoy my feast, though – my lake was being carried through the air by one of the monstrous creatures. Would I be eaten after all?

Large, fleshy things plucked me from the bowl. The next thing I knew, I was being held under some kind of waterfall. It was freezing.

Startled by the sudden drop in temperature, I wriggled and twisted, and found myself falling onto a hard, wet and shiny surface. Numerous holes opened up before me. The force of the water pushed me into one of the holes and … I fell.

I fell for what seemed like days, water carrying me along a dark, narrow structure. Was I in the belly of some beast?

Eventually, with a whoosh! I found myself tumbling down, down until I landed with a plop in a puddle of water, in a place that looked suspiciously like Out Here. I lay on my side for a while, dazed from my shenanigans and still feeling cheated that I hadn’t seen or experienced the orange pool. Then, as the sun began to warm my body, I recovered enough to look around me. Wasn’t that the green stuff I’d seen the other day when I followed Simon?

I slowly rolled over and began my creeping journey towards the tufty goodness. I’d missed out on the orange lake, but I had a whole array of greens to compensate for that.

Like I said before, it’s a simple life being a snail.

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