This is the beginning chapter of a little book I began working on for my boys 10 years ago. I thought I'd share it with you.
Lawrence found himself in the middle of the most beautiful autumn day he could ever imagine. The blue sky above him was without a cloud and the sun, after a chilly start, had finally warmed everything up handsomely. That unique smell of autumn, a musty mixture of slowly dying foliage and hints of smoke from a few fireplaces, permeated everything.
You may think that Lawrence is a strange name for a praying mantis but he would think that your name is just as strange for a human. Anyway, Lawrence was just that, a praying mantis. Now, if you’ve never seen a praying mantis I suppose I should describe one for you. They are peculiar creatures, insects rather, with bodies that are about six inches long and an inch wide. Like most insects they have six legs but they only use four to walk upon. The other two legs are folded at the joint, like your knee or elbow, and this gives the appearance of praying. When they catch their food they hold them in those arms or hands or whatever you would like to call them and well, they eat. Another strange thing you may notice when looking at Lawrence or any praying mantis is his head. It is shaped like a V. It looks like a V with two eyes and two antennae on top. The neat thing about the eyes is that they can see almost in every direction without moving the head. If you want to see behind you, you must either turn around or stretch your neck like a giraffe to see. But not Lawrence, he can simply move his eyes to look behind, below, or beside him.
If Lawrence had been looking around on this particular day he may not have gotten into the trouble that he found himself in but then again everything happens for a reason.
Lawrence was definitely admiring the beautiful autumn day as he made his way up the stone colored vinyl siding on the side of the house. He was focused on two things. First, he was focused on staying on the siding. It was tricky for him to climb and keep his footing. It looked sort of like those pictures of men and women who climb steep cliffs and rocks and must concentrate on every move. His second focus was on the crab spider he was trying to sneak up on and invite to lunch if, you know what I mean.
It must have been the spider’s lucky day because just before Lawrence made his final move everything went white. He felt himself falling but not too far. He looked around him and could still see the siding and the spider but he could also see the wooden deck below him and two humans. One of the humans was holding a long stick that was joined to some netting. Lawrence soon realized that he was in that netting. He had been captured in the human’s butterfly net.
A lot happened after that but eventually Lawrence found himself in a large glass tank with some grass scattered about and a few sticks were positioned against the glass wall. In one corner was a large rock and in another corner a lid to a jar had been turned upside down and filled with water. The top of the tank was covered with a screen.
When he looked toward the back of the tank he saw nothing but blue. It wasn’t as blue as the sky outside but it made him feel a little bit more comfortable. When he looked toward the front of the tank his heart skipped a beat. He saw the two round faces of two little boys looking back at him. He knew in an instant, for he was a pretty good judge of character, that the boys were kind and meant him no harm. In fact he could see what could be described as a glow around them that made him feel extremely comfortable and happy. He had seen this glow before somewhere but couldn’t remember where.
“Were you spying on us mister,” asked one boy who appeared to be slightly older than the other.
“Or were you praying,” asked the younger brother.
Lawrence did not answer the boys although he wanted to. The glows about them made him want to sing out or say something but he waited.
“What are we going to do with him Thomas,” asked Edward?
“I don’t know. Maybe we could keep him in here and see if he lays eggs and we’ll have hundreds of them.”
Lawrence knew those voices all too well. He had watched Thomas and Edward play in the grass and the fields beside their house all summer. The two brothers loved to play outside. If they weren’t playing baseball, riding bikes, going for hikes, or digging in the dirt they were playing soldier. Thomas was the oldest and he was slightly taller than Edward. He was full of energy and ideas and often leaped before he looked. His bright blue eyes and smile seemed to radiate from his very soul. Thomas had short hair, like his dads’, and he was very strong for a boy his age. Edward was more reserved but very thoughtful. He and Thomas were best friends and he wanted to be like his big brother but he wasn’t afraid to be his own person and do his own thing. Edward had green eyes and the moment you looked at him you knew he was mischievous, in a friendly way. He too was very strong and quite a good jumper. Both boys had wonderful imaginations and had traveled to distant places and conquered pirates and wild beasts while never leaving the five acre piece of land on which they lived.
“Perhaps, perhaps, you could let me go,” said Lawrence nervously as he positioned himself to look directly at the boys.
Thomas and Edward looked at each other and then looked back to the tank at the praying mantis.
“What did you say,” asked Edward.
“I said,” said Lawrence “perhaps you could let me go. I mean, after all I was neither spying nor praying and I don’t lay eggs. So really, you see, I am of no use to you.”
“You can talk,” said Thomas.
“And so can you Thomas,” said Lawrence. “Now could you please just simply put me back outside and there will be no hard feelings.”
At that moment a shadow appeared behind Thomas and Edward. It was their mother.
“What do you have in the tank and who are you talking to,” asked their mom.
“A praying mantis,” replied Thomas.
“And it can talk,” added Edward. “He wasn’t spying on us, he wasn’t praying, and he can’t lay eggs.”
“Well,” said mom “if he can’t do any of those things maybe you should let him go. Praying mantises are good bugs and they help us by eating bad bugs.”
With that their mother turned and left the room. The three said nothing for a minute. They simply looked at each other for a while and then all three began to talk at once. Edward wanted to know what it was like to eat bad bugs. Thomas wanted to know how he could talk and Lawrence wanted to know if they were going set him free.
“Look, boys,” started Lawrence “like your mom said I’m a good “bug” and maybe I can help you someday. I really don’t belong here. Edward, bad bugs, even though they are bad, are delicious. Thomas, I don’t know how I can talk I just know that I can and since I can I do. I guess it is sort of like a gift but maybe the real gift is that you can hear me.”
The boys looked at each other and then again at Lawrence. They just couldn’t believe their ears. They had never heard a talking insect before and they really didn’t know what to think. After a few seconds of silence the boys rushed out of the room.
Lawrence began to worry. He wondered what they were up to. He didn’t think that they were the type of human boys that would pull him apart or find a nice cigar box with cotton in it and run a pin through his middle section so they could look at his dead body as long as they were interested. Many scary ideas ran through his head as he waited for the boys to return. He was afraid but he continued to remind himself that they had that glow that made him feel very comfortable. He waited patiently and did what praying mantis’ often do when they are alone, or afraid, or both, he prayed.
Thomas and Edward made their eminent return obvious with shouts and heavy footsteps in a march through the hall and back to their room. The boys returned dressed like soldiers. Both boys were wearing large plastic shields, batting helmets, and carried wooden swords painted blue and red, their favorite colors.
“We’ve come to rescue you King,” Edward cried out.
“Yes, and return you to your kingdom,” said Thomas. “And protect you from the bad soldiers.”
With that Thomas removed the screen from the top of the tank and placed his hand, palm up, in the bottom of the tank. Lawrence climbed aboard and was hoisted to Edward’s shoulder. The soldiers turned quickly and marched out of the room and out the back door of the house.
About fifty feet behind the house was a strip of saw-grass that was twenty feet wide, four feet tall, and stretched for hundreds of feet behind the house. The boys pretended that it was either a wall to protect the house from predators or a magical land that they like to get lost in every once in a while. They were right on both accounts. When they reached the grass Thomas lifted Lawrence off of Edward’s shoulder and placed him in the grass. Both of the boys took off their helmets and put their swords in their sheaths.
“You are safe now King,” said Edward giving a solemn bow.
“Yes,” said Thomas as he too bowed. “What is your name O King of the saw-grass?”
“My name is Lawrence,” smiled Lawrence. “And this King thanks you so very much. Thank you Thomas. Thank you Edward. Thank you soldiers for bringing me back to my Kingdom.”
With that Lawrence put forth his front legs as if he were blessing them or knighting them and the boys bowed again. King Lawrence then turned and disappeared into the grass.
“How did he know our names,” asked Edward.
“Maybe he heard us talking or calling each other,” replied Thomas as he put his helmet back on.
“Oh yeah,” smiled Edward. “Let’s go get the bad bugs that hate the King!”
Thomas and Edward ran off down over the hill toward the front of their house at top speed with swords drawn looking for the enemies of King Lawrence. The two disappeared into the tall weeds in front of the house only to reappear every once in a while on the path that leads to the highway and the mailbox.
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