by Coriel Stay, age 14
I first heard about the whole Noah’s Ark thing from a caterpillar. A caterpillar, for pity’s sake! Incessant busybodies, the lot of them. Never keep their noses out of anyone else’s business. And don’t even get me started on butterflies. Mom taught me never to trust those fancy-dancy show-offs.
But that’s not important. What is important is what the caterpillar said to me as she crawled along a leaf, chattering on about something or other. I wasn’t watching—I read lips, what do you expect from a guy without ears? —until I realized she was thrilled about something. Her smell was going crazy. Excitement smells like basil. As I started focusing on her, she mentioned the name Noah.
Now, everyone has heard of Noah, the human who talks to animals and prophesies about earth-ending rain. Sounds crazy, right? Well, he’s doing it. When I focused on the caterpillar’s comments, it all sounded so far-fetched I thought I’d missed a word or something.
“…so my cousin once removed on my mother’s side, name’s Christy, good friend of mine, she said to me, ‘Hey, Gabs’—that’s my nickname, you know—‘Hey, Gabs, me and my dude Carl got invited to this big gathering—and Noah’s hosting! He’s SOOO cool. All the Big Important Animals are getting invited, and it’s the biggest hurrah of, like, the year!’ And I was like, ‘Oh my kaleidoscope, seriously? Is that why everybody’s been gossiping about that huge flood?’ And then I said—”
“Okay, good for you,” I cut in. “But what does this have to do with me?”
“Umm, I just thought you’d like to know, since it’s, like, totally going to flood, and you live in this valley, which would be the first place to go when it does flood, so, yeah. But getting your house flooded would serve you right. Humph.” And the crazy caterpillar crawled away.
So, I started thinking. Maybe the valley would flood. Maybe she was right. Who knew? Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. That’s a saying I got from Mom. She definitely would have approved of finding a safer place to stay.
I started heading east. Every animal knows where Noah lives. Some love him, like Gabbers or whoever, but I used to stay clear. I’m not big on company, and I definitely didn’t need the company of some cuckoo human prophesying about a cataclysmic flood. Humans are so annoying.
I continued onwards, inching along on my slime trail, feeling and smelling for any danger.
I slid for hours, contracting and releasing, each muscle straining. I wasn’t the most long-distance snail, more of a homebody. But my curiosity had been roused, and I had to know what was happening.
Mom would’ve thought that was crazy. She’d been extremely cautious, always teaching me how to avoid humans and other dangerous animals. I missed her wise advice.
As I pushed away the sad memories, I noticed the scent of rain increasing. I’d been noticing it for the past few hours, but now it was intense. Luckily, I was nearly at Noah’s place. A little rain is great—keeps me moist—but it’s far too easy to drown when you’re so small.
What was that other smell?
All at once, the grass parted, and I was staring at a behemoth of a structure. It was so big the top was shrouded in fog—or perhaps it was my own bad vision. This hadn’t been here before. Then again, I hadn’t been this direction for a few weeks, and humans are known for doing things without warning.
Now that grass aromas weren’t distracting my tentacles, I could smell waves of scent practically rolling off the structure. I’d never even encountered some of the odors. This must be where the gathering was. I had made it.
Just in time, too. As I sucked onto the sheer, vertical, wooden wall of the construction, the rain began.
It started as a light drizzle, perfect for keeping me nice and moist. I hoped it would stay light, but within a few minutes of my fastest sliding, it started really pounding.
I had to battle to stay on the wall. My shell was filling with water. Could I make it? Would I really drown this close to safety? That would be annoying.
A sliver of light opened above me. I pushed myself harder. Almost there. I finally slid my way inside…
…only to wish I hadn’t. I can’t hear, so the screams, hoots, and roars I could see didn’t bother me. But the smell?
It was like getting punched in the tentacles. An array of musk, urine, and chemical displays assaulted my delicate sensors. I quickly cut off the blood flow to them, and they whipped back into my head. I turned around to flee and take my chances with the rain, but the door was closed, and no way was I getting that thing open.
And my day just got worse from there.
Stalking straight towards me was a veritable mountain of tangerine-colored fur, practically radiating smugness (smells like wood fires). But I didn’t care about the scent. I cared about getting away from the huge feline as it slunk along. Something that big could crush me, despite my shell, and not even notice a thing. Probably too self-absorbed to notice someone as small as me. Mom would’ve disapproved.
I slid away as fast as I could, faster than I’d ever slid in my life. At the last second, retracting into my shell was all that saved me from the enormous paw, which made not a sound to show it had almost crushed me. And then the tiger just kept walking.
The scent of lilies filled my sensors: fear. My heart was pounding as fast as the rain outside. I stayed retracted into my shell, wishing I could rest forever in the warm, cozy darkness. But not even my shell would save me from another encounter with some animal’s foot.
I cautiously stuck my head out of my spiral home, eye stalks first, reluctant to leave my shelter. There were still animals running, crawling, climbing, and otherwise locomoting everywhere, but I had my own bubble of space. For now.
If I could get to the edge of the room, I’d be safe. Or, well, safer. Ripples flowing down my body, mucus trailing behind me, I began the long journey. My body was tired. Crawling takes a lot out of an animal. All those creatures with four legs that can just walk around have it so easy.
I didn’t have time to dwell, though, as a gargantuan figure came stomping my way. Each step shook the ground. This figure gave off a heavy scent of sage: pride and arrogance. Even if she stepped on me, I doubt she would mind. A second one came along just behind her.
But I had no time for noticing much more about them. I had to get out of their way. With the way they were shaking the ground, they’d have no problem squishing an inattentive snail.
Suddenly, I heard a strange rumbling. Without warning, the entire structure heaved and bucked. The whole thing lifted, tipping to one side, then the other. I was lucky for once, as nothing crushed me in the mayhem of animals falling over each other. To my astonishment, I actually escaped unscathed, my slime anchoring me in place until the rocking had settled into a gentle side-to-side motion that no one seemed to mind.
What had happened? Had the rain finally made a sea, like Noah said it would? Everyone was speculating wildly. Everyone, that is, except me. I had only one thought in my mind: escape. I couldn’t stand one more minute in this place.
I continued moving, furious with my terrible luck. Already today I’d been annoyed by a caterpillar, gone on an hours-long journey, nearly drowned, been overpowered by smell, and escaped death by a whisker (no pun intended). Now, to top it all off, I was getting seasick. And no one cared! No one had noticed me. Not a single animal had the kindness to help a poor little snail.
I finally arrived in a dark corner and anchored myself to the wall. I wasn’t moving for anything. I retracted my head into the warmth of my shell and thought about sealing myself off with a thin mucus layer, just like I would if I were sleeping.
But before I could, warm hands gently removed me from the wall. Even through my shell I could sense a calm cedarwood fragrance that I hadn’t smelled for a long time: love. Sticking my sensors out the tiniest fraction, I felt a solid, warm surface with a smooth texture. As I poked my head out, full of caution and a touch of fear, I saw human hands. Humans usually just shoo me out of their fields and crops, but the cedarwood smell was soothing, and the hands were gentle.
Slowly, I reached my whole head out of my shell. I looked up into a kind face. Several woody fragrances mingled together, bringing me back to my early months with my mom. I was such a curious little snail then, so excitable and carefree.
The human—it must be Noah—brought me closer to his face. He was talking… to me.
“What are you doing over here, my friend?” he asked. He didn’t try to over-enunciate, despite my lack of ears, and I mentally thanked him for it. Then I realized he’d asked me a question.
“I—uh—urk—gak,” I said eloquently.
He smiled a broad, gentle smile, the happy smell of lemon mixing with the other scents.
“It’s okay, my friend. What is your name?”
I composed myself and got out the word: “Chike.”
“A beautiful name, Chike. You seem frightened. Why is that?” He was so kind, just like my mother had been.
I tripped out the whole story, full of stumbles and falters. I hadn’t spoken this much in a long time. He listened patiently while I told him what I’d gone through that day: the fear of being harmed, the overwhelming exhaustion, the feelings of insignificance.
“Oh, my friend. I am so sorry for all that you’ve gone through. You have been very brave, Chike. You have done things you should be very proud of.”
I held my head higher under his praise.
“I will gather the animals. We will have a meeting and offer a prayer unto our God for his blessings upon us this day. And we will tell them your story. Come, Chike. Sit upon my shoulder.”
Sitting on Noah’s shoulder was exhilarating. We moved among the animals without fear. Noah spoke to animals from rats to camels to hippos, and they all listened. How amazing!
When Noah had called all the animals and humans to attention, a huge crowd of huge creatures stood before us, all listening in a hushed silence. Listening to me. As Noah held me out on his hand, I spoke as loudly and clearly as I could, telling them my story. The elephants and tigers looked particularly ashamed.
At the conclusion of my tale, Noah spoke.
“My friends, as you have heard, Chike has had a trying time. I know you’ll try harder now to notice those you used to overlook. There are always people—or snails—out there who just need a friend.”
The animals nodded vigorously, including one beautiful black-and-white-shelled snail I hadn’t noticed before.
“Well, we’ve finally gotten underway, and even though there’s been a huge flood, we are all safe here together.”
And the celebration began.
I’m glad Noah said what he said. I really needed that. I know not everything will be sunshine and rainbows from here on out, but at least I’ve been noticed. At least there’s hope. And one cute snail.
Maybe caterpillars aren’t so bad after all.
Artwork: “Out of Small Things” by Coriel Stay, age 14.