Quest for the Leaf

Once there lived a beetle named Walter who was frustrated that he was ordinary. Every other beetle had different markings, like spots or stars, but all he had was plain, boring, white stripes. He wanted to make himself unique.

One afternoon, Walter was resting on a leaf in the thick shrubbery, watching the other beetles that were all better than him — more beautiful than him — go by, when he saw a glimmer in the distance, shimmering red. Curious, he peeked out beyond the leaves.

The glimmer was gone. He sighed.

“I guess no ordinary beetle like me will ever see anything exciting.”

He headed back to his leaf.

The next day, Walter saw a group of beetles, that he’d known for a long time, flying around and buzzing to each other. He flew over, expecting to be welcomed into the conversation.

When he came near the other beetles, he noticed that they flew away, ignoring him.

“Hey, it’s me, Walter. Remember?”

No reply came. Confused, he flew over to them, and before they could fly away again, he stopped them.

“We don’t want to hang out with boring, ugly beetles like you anymore,” one of them said.

The words hit him with the force of a brick wall. All he could do was hover in silence as his “friends” snickered and flew off.

With a heavy heart, Walter flew back to his leaf and decided he would never get off it again. He didn’t belong — all the other beetles were beautiful, and he was ugly!

His promise to himself was broken after a few days when he saw the glimmer again. Like a mystical force, it lured him off his leaf and into the sunshine. This time, the glimmer didn’t disappear. It seemed as if the shimmer was persisting, pulling him forward.

Dazed, Walter followed. Suddenly, he flew into a leaf and nearly fell off. He gripped the smooth, flat object with his legs and scrambled on.

Then he realized where he was.

He was in the human’s garden.

Every beetle, since they hatched from their egg, was taught to fear humans. Their folktales told of horrific things. Humans, ever since the beginning of time, had been tormenting beetles. They squashed them, stuck them with pins to be on display, and even roasted and ate them in some parts of the world.

Beetles in this area had been taught to never go near the garden, which was part of the nearest human’s territory. When Walter realized that he’d gone in, he gulped. How could he have let himself fly out of the shrubbery?

How could I let that stupid glimmer lead me to the human’s garden? He thought.

Then he saw it. A cool breeze blew the tree that Walter was resting on. There was a red flash, and a beautiful maple leaf fluttered down from above. It was perfectly shaped, and the edges of it were tinted orange. He stood there, dazed, and he forgot all about going into the human’s garden.

Determination filled his mind. He had to get the leaf to make himself better. He had to show the other beetles that he was just as beautiful as them.

Slowly and carefully, he crawled down the tree and reached his leg out to touch the leaf.

Suddenly, he heard a slam. He turned around quickly, just in time to see a human open the garden gate.

He stood there, unable to move, until he realized the danger that would befall him if he did not move away. Quickly, with a thudding heart, he flew back to a branch on the maple tree.

Phew, I’m safe. And then, as the human skipped over, he thought, Oh no — the maple leaf!

He nearly cried as the human bent down and picked up the leaf. It seemed to have as much admiration for the leaf as Walter did. But instead of using it to decorate itself, the human slipped the leaf into its pocket.

A sense of dread came over him. I’ll never be able to get the leaf back now… Unless…

Was he willing to take the risk of being killed for one leaf?

Without thinking, Walter flew into the human’s pocket, and again, felt the smoothness of the leaf. Walter grabbed the leaf in his pincers and pulled with all his might. Seeing the light coming in from the opening in the pocket, he beat his wings as hard as he could and flew to the light, but fell back when he heard a voice that belonged to a human.

“Isabella, it’s time for dinner!”

“I’ll be there in the second!” the human, Isabella, called back.

Oh, great! Walter knew that he was heading into the human’s territory. There was no escaping now, and if anyone found him, he would be killed.

Something big and warm reached into the pocket. It felt around for a second, nearly touching Walter. Then it grabbed the stem of the leaf and with almost no effort at all, took the leaf out. At the last second Walter grabbed on.

In that moment, Walter talked to himself. What are you doing? Do you want to get yourself killed?

Isabella moved, and for a second, he thought that she saw him. But Isabella was too rushed to notice a small beetle. She gently set the leaf down on the table and walked out of the room.

Walter was more relieved than he’d ever been when Isabella left the room. Now’s my chance to escape with the leaf, he thought.

He flew and crawled around the room for some time. Finally, he found a perfect escape path. The window above her bed was open a crack, just enough for Walter to crawl under with the leaf. Now the only problem was getting there.

Just crawling a few inches with the leaf tired Walter out, and flying was nearly impossible. Soon he felt just as helpless as he’d been in the tree, watching Isabella take the leaf.

The only thing that kept him moving was the thought of how the the other day his “friends” had said that they were done being friends with a boring, ugly beetle like him.

I have to do this, he thought, and dragged the leaf a couple more inches across the desk.  After using every bit of his might to drag the leaf to the edge of the desk, he heard the door knob turn.

Walter was sorry that he had to leave the leaf behind, but he had enough sense to fly to a corner of the room where the human would never find him.

Walter could see Isabella take what looked like big, colorful, human-shaped leaves and slipped into them. Then she spotted the leaf and asked herself, “How did that leaf get to the edge of my desk?” Then she saw that the window was open a crack and said, “Oh, it was just the wind.”

She let out a yawn and turned a white stick near the door down. The lights went off, and Walter couldn’t see anything. He would have to wait until tomorrow to get the leaf.

The next morning, Walter was awakened by the loud sound of a human’s voice. He looked up and saw that he was on the palm of a human hand. It took him a minute to realize what was going on — Isabella had found him. But he was shocked that the she hadn’t killed him already.

A cold feeling arose in his stomach. He closed his eyes and prepared to die, or worse.

Moments passed, and nothing happened. He saw that Isabella was moving him over to a clear box with dirt in it. Panicking, Walter flew away.

“Hey!” Isabella exclaimed.

But Walter couldn’t escape from the human. Quicker than a cheetah, she placed a cup on top of him and slid a paper board underneath the cup. With ease, she picked up the cup and again started to move toward the large glass box. Now all he could do was sit and wait.

The human came to the glass box and opened the lid. She dropped Walter, the cup, and the paper into it. The lid slammed shut.

This can’t be happening. Desperately, he flew around the box, looking for a hole or even a crack that he might be able to escape through. But no, there was no way to escape.

He didn’t even know what was going on, or what he should think. Why had Isabella put him in here? Should he feel grateful that she didn’t squash him, or angry that she had trapped him in this weird contraption?

The lid of the box screeched open, and for a second, Walter thought he could escape. But then the lid slammed shut again. Something drifted down from above. The leaf! It looked exactly the same, just as perfect as it had been before.

A loud, deep, slow voice vibrated the box.

“Eat the leaf,” the human seemed to bellow.

So this is what the human is doing to me? Making me eat that perfect, beautiful leaf? Walter backed away. No way was he going to eat it! He knew that it was the only thing that would make himself more beautiful.

Isabella’s face pressed against the side of the box. Her mouth turned down when she saw that Walter wasn’t eating the leaf. She looked unhappy, even worried.

“Maybe the leaf is too big,” The voice echoed again.

The lid screeched open again and Isabella reached in and took the leaf by its stem. She put it down by her desk on the side of the tank, and in front of Walter’s wide eyes, began to tear it into pieces. His heart shattered. How could that evil human destroy the only thing he wanted? How could it bear to destroy that beautiful leaf?

His life without the leaf flashed before his eyes. The other beetles snickered around him and called him ugly. He saw himself growing up all alone, nobody liking him. And then he saw himself slowly fade away as he died as an old beetle.

Walter trembled. He couldn’t live a life like that– he didn’t deserve to live a life like that. But nothing would ever change his life. He would just have to grit his teeth and live with it. His only thought now was to get back to the shrubbery. The leaf, his beautiful leaf, was gone, but at least he wouldn’t have to spend his life in a tiny box.

Somehow, he had to convince Isabella that he didn’t belong in the box. What did she think he was, a pet? He had to think of something. Obviously, he couldn’t just break through the wire mesh lid. He wasn’t that strong. Could he just try to annoy Isabella? No, there was no way she would be affected by him.

This wouldn’t do. Walter had to think of what he had, not what was out of his reach. So what was in the box? Dirt, leaves, twigs- Wait, maybe I could use something to break the wire mesh!

He grabbed the twig with his pincers and tried to punch a hole through the mesh. He couldn’t even make a dent. There had to be another way.

I have to trick Isabella. But how?  He racked his brain for ideas, but he couldn’t think of anything. I guess I’ll be stuck here forever, as an ugly, stupid beetle that nobody likes. But I’ll die if I’m stuck here forever!

In that moment of despair he thought of something. A common trick for beetles when they were facing predators was to pretend that they were dead. Most predators were birds, so he hadn’t thought of that earlier. Birds didn’t like eating beetles that looked as if they had been dead for a long time, so usually they left the beetles alone.

Maybe Isabella would feel the same, he thought. A burst of determination filled him. Despite the risk of being killed, he decided that he was going to do it.

As the minutes of anxiousness passed, Walter began to think about the terrible possibilities if the plan failed. Isabella could squash him, throw him in the huge, towering bin that unwanted things disappeared into, or even worse, pin him to a board for a display! But Isabella walked into the room, and there was no time to come up with another plan — he had to act!

As Isabella walked over to the box, Walter immediately flipped over on his back, closed his eyes, and made himself go limp. Fear of the plan going wrong nearly overcame him, but he forced himself to stay still.

He heard a loud gasp and the words that were music to his ears: “Eww, the beetle’s dead!” Isabella scooped him up in the cup and started to move. His heart dropped as they walked past the room with the bin. He could tell by the sizzling sounds of a human heating meat up or, as they called it, “cooking”. But Isabella walked right past it.

He felt victorious as the human opened the huge wooden block, he had learned the humans called “the door”, and walked into the cool air of the outside. He felt the cup drop to the ground, and the vibrations of Isabella’s footsteps getting weaker and weaker, until they were all gone.

He couldn’t believe how clever he was. Maybe he wasn’t so stupid and ugly after all. He actually had managed to escape from a human! Maybe it doesn’t matter how beautiful a beetle is on the outside — that doesn’t help with anything. Maybe I’m lucky. My beauty is on the inside, where I’m clever and compassionate. He couldn’t believe that he had risked his life just for a leaf to make himself more beautiful, when he was already beautiful in the way that mattered most. For a second, he thought of the other beetles taunting him, but he pushed that thought from his mind. As long as I like myself, I’ll be happy.

Filled with newfound confidence, he ventured home to the shrubbery, a place he knew he was never going to leave for anything again.

Soon, Walter’s life was almost back to normal again. He was back at the shrubbery, crawling and flying around leaves. Lots of leaves had already been half-eaten by other insects, and he was looking for fresh uneaten ones. Walter looked weary and tired. He hadn’t gotten any sleep when Isabella trapped him. And when he had gotten back to the shrubbery, the beetles had taunted him just as he expected. But he ignored them, and they left him alone. He’d finally gotten some peace and quiet. Then, as he gazed at the shimmering maple tree in the distance, it looked just as beautiful as it had been before. But Walter no longer wanted any of its leaves. He had realized that he already belonged.


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