2: The Welcoming Jungle
As Itsy squinted through all of her eyes she saw someone sitting in a clearing next to a faded tent and a roaring fire. She decided it was a good place to start what could be, in her mind, an endless investigation. Itsy dropped into the clearing between the trees and lowered herself from above in front of the unknown individual who huddled beneath a patchwork blanket.
“Hi,” said Itsy again, for the first time. “I’m wondering if you could help me, stranger.”
The stranger looked up and saw Itsy, and Itsy saw that the stranger was a platypus, which was stranger than Itsy’s expectations.
“That depends on what kind of help you’re asking,” offered the platypus. “I’d imagine spiders don’t need more eyes, but I’m happy to lend an ear or two.”
Suddenly from the tent there arose such a sound, like an unending number of babies crying.
“Excuse me for a few millennia,” the platypus said, and quickly ducked into the tent. The crying stopped just as suddenly as it had started, and she returned covered head to toe in eggs and babies carried in slings of all sorts, colors and patterns. “Sorry,” she apologized. “They are being so fussy today. I’ve heard you spiders carry babies on your backs. As you can see, my babies have my back, my front, and every other side of me. I have forward, rear and side mounted children. They go off in all directions,” she said with a tired smile, then narrowed her eyes and frowned. “Hold on,” she said, and shook herself, twisting slowly from side to side. “I think I’m missing one or two.”
The multiple mother whirled around, and behind her Itsy could see a baby platypus making its way on all four flat feet as fast as it could, which wasn’t very fast at all, towards the welcoming jungle. “Oh no, you don’t!” she said, sliding her own flat foot under the infant, flipping the soon-to-be ex-escapee up into the air and catching it in one of her colorful slings alongside the others, “and no, you didn’t!” She shook herself slowly again. “I’m pretty sure that’s all of them. My babies are all very smart, so I have to keep a good lookout. You have to watch the smart babies. They crawl with extra efficiency towards their intended target.” She looked up at Itsy, as if she had been talking to herself. “By the way, I didn’t catch your name.”
“I’m Itsy,” said the spider.
“Hey, Itsy. How is it?” asked the platypus. “I’m the Sha Mom.”
Itsy looked around the vast jungle surrounding them. “So, what do you do out here all together?”
“I tell them stories,” said the Sha Mom. “Then I tell them stories about the stories. That takes up most of our time when I’m not foraging and they’re not feeding. I just finished telling the story about the lizard that hatched from an egg and was all alone in the wide, dangerous world. I was about to start the story of the mouse that led the mice against the cat. Sometimes I tell them stories that sound true, and sometimes taller tales that don’t sound true but are good to tell anyways. Sometimes fakelore makes the best folklore.”
“I don’t really have time for stories, fake or otherwise,” said Itsy. “I’ve heard that there’s an itch in the area, and I might need to deal with apes.”
“An itch and apes somewhere? That could be a good story!” said the Sha Mom. “It seems like you have to deal with apes everywhere you go, right? I’ll have to add your story to the oral tradition if you meet a decent ending.
I haven’t had to deal with a serious itch for a bit now myself. I wouldn’t know where to find one, but I’ve heard someone is doing something and going somewhere over there,” she said and pointed past Itsy into the jungle. “A hearing isn’t as good as a seeing though, you know? I prefer to see things… all kinds of things. I have visions, prophecies, ideas, and theories. Most of the time, I see the ways that things work or don’t between things.”
“I’m typically between things myself, on my web,” said Itsy. “That’s where I’m most comfortable.”
“Sometimes, between things is fine. Other times, it is not,” said the Sha Mom, shaking her head slowly and sadly. “You really have to wait and see. It reminds me of a funny story about what seems like nothing turning out to be something, but that story reminds me of a sadder story about what seems like something turning out to be nothing.” She squinted up at the sun, then shielded her eyes and checked the perimeter.
“So, you believe half of what you see,” asked Itsy, “but some, or even none, of what you hear?”
The Sha Mom looked Itsy in all her eyes, and said, “As long as my eggs hatch and my babies survive, I’ll believe in anything. I’ll believe in anything or anybody I see, until I see otherwise. Understand, spider?”
“Completely understandable,” said Itsy. “I think I’ll be on my way. Thanks for everything.”
“Everything?” said the Sha Mom with a duck-billed grin. “You haven’t seen anything yet. Not any of the things around here, anyways.”
Itsy waved goodbye to the Sha Mom and slid off into the jungle on her web in the direction she was given, having little else to go on. Sometimes, Itsy figured, when we or others have little else to go on, it makes sense to divide things into different parts and sift between the pieces.