A walk in the woods

Pellumsuvius 23 and Skritharrz 16 were walking and discussing philosophy in the forest. The tall, slightly curving trunks of the trees met far above their heads and tangled away the sunlight.

“But,” Pellumsuvius was saying, gesticulating as he walked, “the very fact that the light moves through these trees and changes angle indicates that we stay still and the sun moves. It is an empirical fact.”

Skritharrz clasped two hands behind his back as he walked and hummed a little doubtful noise. Pellumsuvius turned a little to check his expression. Unreadable as always. He continued his argument. “What other evidence can we assume than that of our senses? What we touch, taste, feel and hear cannot be ignored.”

“That is true,” Skritharrz conceded, “however…”

“You aren’t beginning that again, are you?” Pellumsuvius demanded impatiently. “This tired argument of interpretation. Interpretation!” He lifted his forelimbs and flailed them with exasperation. “Yes, any fool can interpret the facts differently. He could interpret that I am not puce, but green with yellow polka dots, but that doesn’t make it true!”

“Truth,” Skritharrz mused with a kind of grunt. “Indeed, truth and fact can be rather elusive given their apparent incontrovertibility.”

“Semantics,” Pellumsuvius snorted. “Are we to sneer down at generation upon generation of thought just because our egos contest we are superior?”

“Are we not?” Skritharrz asked with a gently quizzical turn of his mouthparts.

“Next you’ll be contesting that the world was not created for us!”

“Why, however did you know?”

Pellumsuvius stopped his strolling and looked sternly at his companion at the foot of a large, scale barked tree, its black trunk and solidity acting as a kind of anchor to his words. “We’ve been over this again and again. You have yet to convince me in any way. How to begin…” He turned, and began to enumerate in an offhand, triumphant way. “Firstly, the landscape suits our bodies in every way. We climb the trees, take sustenance from the very ground wherever we might, we are kept warm by the forest and are protected from too much sunlight burning us.

“Secondly, what are the chances of us being born with exactly the correct shape of hand,” he stretched out a forelimb to demonstrate, “to hold tightly to our environment but with little expense of energy? And what of our number of limbs? We could be born with two and that would be too few to stand firm or we could be born with thirteen and been overburdened and ungainly. Instead, we are just right. And finally,” here he drew himself up as if summarising a judgement, “our ability to leap back on if we fall off is surely enough evidence for most sane people?”

Skritharrz 16, if he had noticed the implied insult, was nevertheless unperturbed. “What about the rakings?” he asked in a quiet, almost sighing voice.

“What about ’em?”

“If this land is so aptly made for us, why should there be rakings? Why not allow abundance in peace? And I also apply that query to the quakings as well as the rakings although one may possibly be considered issue of the other, given their apparent coincidence.”

Pellumsuvius 23 poured scorn upon this argument. “Our elders answered that with their teachings an age or two ago! Have you not listened? Without trial, we would become indolent, lazy. We would become too unfit to breed! We would cease to strive and therefore cease to thrive. It is only through tribulation that we become great!”

“You argue, therefore, that the rakings and quakings are not chance events, but instead somehow designed for our long-term benefit, however disturbing the short-term effects may be?”

“Precisely, my friend. Precisely.”

“And these designs, therefore, must have come from a designer?”

“That would be only logic, Skrit, old pal.”

“And what name do you give this designer, Pell old pal?” Skritharrz asked. Pellumsuvius felt a little put out by the implied sarcasm in his tone. He deigned to ignore it, be the bigger person and all that.

“Why, the same name everybody else does. I am not pretentious enough to call him the Essence or Numen or any of these other fashionable terms the youngsters are using these days.”

“I see,” Skritharrz said shortly. “You would call him Dog.”

“Why not?” Pellumsuvius 23 asked reasonably. “Dog gives us all. Dog gives us food, shelter, warmth, dimensions and being. What is your problem with acknowledging Dog? Don’t tell me you’re one of these ruddy acaninists!”

Skritharrz made a face, Pellumsuvius just saw from the corner of his eyes. “It’s just – I don’t know how exactly to say this, but – just too flea-centric a view of the universe for me. When we fall off, as some of us do, we see there are other spaces, complexities, motions.”

“Yes, created by Dog.”

“Why? If this world is all we need, why must there be parts of the universe that aren’t made for us? If Dog created this perfect world for us (given certain tribulations to keep us on our hooks) why bother creating all that other stuff that we can’t use? I don’t understand the logic of it.”

“Ah, but who could presume to know the mind of Dog, eh? Ours is not to reason, etcetera.”

“And another thing, this argument that the world must be made for us, because it is so perfect for it: could that not be reversed?”

“What, the world is so perfect for us because we were made for it?”

“Something like that, yes. Broadly what I’m driving at.”

“Well, there again, Dog is your most logical candidate for that kind of thing. Simplest explanation is invariably the best.”

Skritharrz sighed again, as if worn down by Pellumsuvius’ logic. He tried to conceal an expression of pleasure at this thought.

“My cousin, Grrtart…”

“Your twenty-something removed brood-mate?”

“Yes, twenty-something. She told me that she fell off and leaped back on something other than Dog one day,” Skritharrz said darkly.

Pellumsuvius decided to tread carefully here. “Yes, I have heard rumours about that sort of thing. Nonsense, of course. No offence to Grrtart.” He waited for Skritharrz to reply none taken, but when that was not forthcoming, he continued. “The elders have been quashing these kinds of rumours for years now. It’s a kind of fashionable hysteria, you know. These things are catching. Some sort of mass social effect. Very popular with the youngsters. Who should be concentrating on getting us the next generation, eh what?” He prodded Skritharrz with a joshing elbow. Again there was no reaction from his companion, who was looking at the ground between his hooks instead as they walked.

“She was terrified,” Skritharrz said after a while, as if Pellumsuvius had said nothing in the interim. “Absolutely terrified. She found what she thought was Dog and began to feed, but the forest was too sparse, it tasted bad and she was nearly flattened by something falling from the sky. She only just leapt away in time.” Skritharrz shook his head, marvelling. “She found her way back to Dog eventually but more by chance than judgement. It just so happened that Dog hadn’t moved very far and she could just make out the way home by the heat.” Pellumsuvius rumbled uncomfortably at such patent fantasy. “She was a gibbering wreck by the time she got home. Mother and aunts still comforting her, as it happens.”

Pellumsuvius cleared his throat and said comfortingly, “I’m sure she will recover.” He kindly did not add her wits, tempting though it was. “Let us review our positions,” he said, attempting to steer away from such heretical notions. “My point was that Dog must be made for us due to our inherent suitability to the situation. You on the other hook, declare that we must be made for the Dog for broadly the same reasons, if from a slightly different angle of looking at it.” He slapped his claw over Skritharrz back, causing him to flinch a little. “So you see, we’re actually agreeing when you look at it.”

Skritharrz looked askance, into the forest. “What was that?” The ground beneath their feet began to tremble. “Oh no…” he began as the forest shook and the canopy began to part. “Raking!” he screamed like a coward and fell to the ground, hooking on as securely as he could. Pellumsuvius 23 eschewed such behaviour but nevertheless made his way smartly to the nearest trunk and grasped it with all his might. He began to calculate the odds. The forest was vast and the raking was reportedly a somewhat blunt instrument. They would probably survive unless they were extraordinarily unlucky… Claws descended from the sky.

Skritharrz watched his debating partner be gouged from the side of the trunk and smeared in a bloody streak across the trunk and the forest floor. The quaking slowly diminished and eventually Skritharrz rose from his prostrate position, looking around nervously. It seemed safe for now. The raking was over.

He looked back at the puce stain of Pellumsuvius 23. “Tribulations,” he said sadly. And though he was unsure of his feelings, it seemed appropriate to add, “Go with Dog.”

Mr. Flea

“Tribulations, old chap. Pip pip!”

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