Michael Cunningham

(If you would like to read Part I first of all, then click here)

The sun slowly retreated back into the earth – as it did at the conclusion of every day – and allowed the moon’s glow to light the sky in it’s place; spiky shadows cast off all the tree branches and zigzagged across the forest floor. A light drizzle of rain emptied out of the night sky, while the wind whispered quietly into the forest’s ear. Under a small mango tree, somewhere in the dense forest, the Buddhapillar meditated patiently. His companions, two little brown caterpillars, lay next to him, hungry for more wisdom to part his lips.

The Buddhapillar, who was in the deepest state of meditation, calmly touched the earth with his hand – a thunderclap broke the nights silence and the entire forest floor trembled. Day or night, sun or rain, the Buddhapillar thought to himself, it is all the same. All is one. A smile swept across his face and he gently opened his eyes, seeing the world for the very first time. Both the sky and the earth knew that at that very moment, the Buddhapillar had finally woken up; the moon peered at him through a silky veil of mist and smiled.

The sun pried open Navin’s eyes with its bright rays of light and forced the new day upon him; he rolled over in his bed and groaned in annoyance. The birds chirped and whistled outside, as they did every morning, but Navin ignored them, he grew impatient with life’s routine. “Why should I get out of bed and face this day, when it is exactly like every other day?” Navin thought angrily. Many days like this had passed since the great disappearing act of his caterpillar friends. Now their empty cocoons remained in the treetops as painful reminders that they have moved on with their new life, leaving Navin behind.

Navin climbed out of bed and peered out his window, desperate to catch a glimmer of hope in this new day. Navin dreamed of finding something so exciting that it would relight the flame that once burned so passionately inside him. No matter how many leaves Navin nibbled on he would still be hungry; his soul starved for something more substantial. A golden leaf fell from a tree above and dropped past Navin’s window. He watched carefully as the leaf danced in the sky, floating effortlessly with the wind and offering no resistance, yet moving unpredictably as though it were following it’s own path. Navin slumped away from the window, sighed deeply, and feeling hungry, made his way to the leaves outside.

The sky was a curious shade of orange this morning, and the leaves were beginning to fall. Navin decided against climbing to the safety of a tree leaf today, and instead thought he would wander the forest floor in search of something new. He remembered that the forest was a large place, and knew he would find excitement somewhere in its depths. As Navin walked towards the door a voice boomed from behind him “Where are you going, little one?” It was Navin’s worried mother.

“It’s dangerous outside”
“It’s boring inside” Navin answered quickly.
“Yes… but I need to be able to see you while you are eating, and I can’t see you if you’re roaming around the forest by yourself.” She paused for a moment. “Eat the leaves on the nearby branches if you are hungry”

Navin wiggled towards the door, opened it, and called out loudly to his mother “I’ll be safe. Don’t worry about me!” The white butterfly swooped through the door and landed in front of the apple green caterpillar. “You could get eaten Navin” she said sharply.

“Eaten?” Navin repeated, “By a leaf?”
“No. By a bird… Bird’s eat caterpillars” A cold shiver rushed up Navin’s spine “Birds would never do that!” he shouted.
“Yes they would, there’s a lot I haven’t told you about the forest, Navin”.

Navin looked out into the forest and it appeared to change shape. In an instant his perception of it had transformed from a place of mystery and adventure, to a place of threat. Birds hovered in the orange sky, scanning for food. Feeling defeated Navin wiggled back towards the door. This was Navin’s first taste of danger, his realisation that the forest wasn’t always a safe place, and that he was not indestructible. Navin shrugged and turned around. “Good boy” his mother said cheerily as she hovered back inside. Navin stood at the edge of the door and stole another glance at the forest; suddenly he remembered the blue bird. Navin closed his eyes and thought about the bird’s beautiful song. Navin wondered how something so beautiful could exist in such an evil place. A cluster of birds circled the tangerine sky, two of them descended on a spiny tree branch and cooed gently.

Navin turned his head and looked at his mother, who was floating gracefully above the kitchen sink. Her eyes twinkled from the sunlight crashing through the windows, and for a moment Navin missed her hugely, even though she was right there in front of him. He did not know that this would be the last time he saw his mother’s face. Navin took a deep breath and shut the door quietly behind him. Behind the closed door he heard his mother let out a gigantic sneeze. The sound echoed and rustled the forest trees, which caused a family of tiny squirrels to scatter into the darkness, it also made Navin laugh.

The snickering caterpillar was soon interrupted by the sound of his gurgling stomach, which reminded him of how hungry he was, and so he unknowingly set tail on his adventure into the forest that he would never return from. Navin told himself he was just looking for a new leaf to nibble on and would be back before sundown, but deep down he knew he was looking for something else – his private dreams in the night had been pricking his curiosity. Somewhere in the forest, under a wet mango tree, the Buddhapillar made a silly face – his two caterpillar disciples laughed and laughed until tears of joy streamed down their brown cheeks.

Navin travelled great distances in the mysterious sea of trees – he passed giant boulders, fallen cocoons, mighty ant warriors and towering blades of grass – he must have passed at least five trees, Navin thought. He had never seen trees from the ground up before; they stood like gods reaching their arms into the sky. When the wind blew, their long branches waved and it looked like they were saying hello. The sun was beginning it’s slow descent when Navin finally decided to stop and rest, and so he leaned his back against a large and strangely soft rock to catch his breath. Just as he was beginning to relax Navin was nudged by something slimy. The caterpillar jumped backwards and widened his eyes at what he saw – hundreds of white, ghost like caterpillars devouring what appeared to be a broken insect.

Navin was stunned, and didn’t know whether to squirm away in fear or surrender to these ghoulish creatures. Somehow the question “Who… are you?” escaped his trembling lips. The ghost caterpillars turned their heads and looked at the green caterpillar smilingly. “We’re maggots” they all sang in unison. Navin had never seen maggots before in his life, and so he didn’t know a thing about them, except that they looked like scary ghosts. “What happened here?” Navin stuttered, “Why are you eating that poor bug?” The maggot’s eyes, which were still looking at Navin, glowed in anticipation of the approaching night; they stared at him blankly and then returned to eating. One of the maggots kept his eyes on Navin and whispered to him, so as to not disturb his feasting friends, “This insect died, and now we are eating it, would you like some?” The smell made Navin sick, he felt like throwing up but instead he bravely held it in. Before Navin could answer the maggots dropped off the dead insect to reveal its ruined body; every scrap of it’s shell and flesh had been eaten.

The maggots crawled away in single file, looking to scavenge another meal. Navin watched in horror as ants rushed over to finish off the poor insect corpse. The ants swarmed the carcass and tore it apart into tiny little pieces, which they each carried on their shoulders before scuttling off into the darkness. Ants, he would one day find out, lived in the trillions and dedicated every second of their day towards protecting and honouring their beloved Queen. The ants scurried around the forest day and night to bring scraps of food to her, and would even fight living insects much bigger than they were – frightening creatures like giant spiders and centipedes – in order to get the food back safely. The smaller ants would stand on top of each others heads and turn themselves into big walls to protect her, and they would tell her that she didn’t look fat, even though she did. Needless to say, the ants loved their Queen, and devoted all of their energy to loving her. The ant Queen smiled from the love that she felt for her children, and the ant hive danced with joy. It would be a long time before Navin realised this love that existed between the ants and their Queen, and between all insects and animals for that matter. However, at this point in the story Navin was terrified of these ant-monsters who attacked living insects in the day, and stole their bodies in the night.

The moon replaced the sun and night had fallen – the forest was once again blanketed in total darkness. Navin, who was at least five trees away from home started to feel scared. He forgot which way he came from and it was so dark that he could barely see the tree in front of him. The sound of distant howling and occasional barking terrified Navin. The spooked caterpillar curled up into a tiny ball and wished with all his might that he was at home, safely sheltered under his mother’s wings. In response to his wish the sky flashed a frightening yellow, while a big grey cloud roared and shot a powerful bolt of electricity at a nearby tree. Pain shot up the old tree’s spine, which then split in two and collapsed onto the ground. The sky was visibly upset by the cloud’s bad behaviour, and so it cried fat droplets of rain onto the curled up ball that was Navin. The sky would mourn that particular trees death until it had no more tears left to cry.

Two little brown caterpillars hurried under a giant leaf to protect themselves from the falling rain, which was becoming more and more aggressive. The leaf struggled to stay still and almost blew away in the wind. The Buddhapillar, however, remained unmoved by the sky’s display of strength. He was rooted in the earth below him like a large tree. The Buddhapillar was seated firmly on the ground with his hands cupped in his lap, which were slowly filling with water. Despite the blistering cold, a blazing fire warmed the inside of his belly, and behind his closed eyelids were glowing embers of serenity. The Buddhapillar focused his mind’s eye on the image of a still lake – he was so absorbed in this meditation that he felt as though he was physically there at the lake, making circles in the water with his fingers. As time went by the clouds in the blue sky above the lake made all sorts of exciting shapes and then faded away into nothing, then back into more shapes, then back into nothing. Meanwhile the Buddhapillar felt his body expanding, and eventually found himself inside the lake, only to realise that he was the lake. The water was very muddy, and grains of dirt floated and bobbed at its surface. The dirt, however, slowly sank to the ground with each deep inhalation of the lake’s breath. Eventually, all the dirt remained at the bottom, and the lake became as clear as the now cloudless sky above it.

Rays of sunlight focused on Navin’s curled up body like a laser, and eventually he uncurled and shook the water off him. Two dogs covered in dirt and mud watched him curiously. One of the dogs inched closer and sniffed the caterpillar to gauge whether he was friend or foe. Navin jumped up in surprise and screamed out ‘Please don’t eat me!’ The dogs laughed so hard that they fell over and rolled around in the wet mud. ‘Why would we waste our time eating something as small as you!?’ they exclaimed. Navin looked at his little body, and then at the big dogs, and he realised how small he really was.

‘What are you doing in the forest all by yourself?’ the larger of the two dogs asked, ‘Don’t you know it’s dangerous to travel alone?’ the smaller one added helpfully. Navin thought about this for a second and replied honestly ‘I don’t know…’

Both dogs looked at each other and as they did their eyes lit up. ‘Are you… ARE YOU, the awakened ONE?’ both dogs yelped in joy at their grand discovery. Navin was utterly confused, seeing as he did just wake up, but couldn’t understand why that was so special to these dogs. One of the dogs pushed a large oval shaped fruit towards him with its wet nose. ‘Eat this’ he pleaded. ‘Behind it’s skin is the juiciest flesh that this forest can provide, it is our gift to you, please take it and may it give you energy’ Navin’s head was still cloudy and it took him a moment to realise who the dogs were mistaking him for, that caterpillar the wind had told him about: the Buddhapillar. ‘I’m not who you think I am… I’m just a caterpillar’ Navin replied hesitantly. The dogs laughed happily, ‘We know you are just a caterpillar, we have heard many times from others, that is what makes you so special. You have brought hope in this world. If someone as small as you can become enlightened, then so can everyone else!’ Both dogs hurried off into the forest, full of content that they had finally met the Buddhapillar, and above all, ecstatic that the unbelievable was true and the impossible, possible.

Navin climbed on top of the giant fruit and pondered on it, he was very hungry but couldn’t figure out how he was going to penetrate the fruit’s skin. He tried as hard as he could but couldn’t even make a dent. Navin finally gave up. He did not get to taste of that mango’s sweet nectar. He laid his back against the fruit and stared up at the formless clouds above him, and as he did, he thought about the Buddhapillar.

You can get in touch with the author of this piece (Michael Cunningham) at his site ‘end of the game’

And of course, Part 1 to this story is available here

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