“I must find it, Dad, I must.”
“Ok then, we will look some more.”
“It must be here somewhere, Dad, it must.”
“Ok then, we will keep looking.”
They had been looking for hours, and Michael’s father seemed to have an indomitable patience about him. He had nothing else he could think to do, except leave for home at 6pm, when dinner would soon be ready.
It was so quiet other than the birds that were occasionally singing to the pair as they wandered and sometimes ran through the woodland by the side of their house. At this time of year the forest had a pinkness about it, an alive, almost glistening pinkness that had blossoms of orange dotted all around it, and a smell so sweet and crisp it was like the air had never been breathed before.
Michael was running off ahead, seemingly unaffected by the hours of searching that had passed. It was as if he’d only just begun, and the past afternoon had taken nothing away from his inexhaustible reserves of energy. He was inspired, almost obsessed with finding this insect, and for days had been thinking of nothing else. He would dream about finding it and taking it back home where his mother would gladly take it, and it would make everything better again. He just had to find it. Just one, just one of them would do.
“Not too far, don’t run off to where I can’t see you,” his father called from behind him, for the tenth time that afternoon. Michael was gradually becoming more distant, and although his father was not feeling tired from the searching, his legs were certainly beginning to.
“Ok,” Michael called back, his blonde curly hair had a deep brownness to it, and he could feel the wind and air in it as he moved his head this way and that, looking, searching, knowing that it must be here.
“Hold on a second,” his father called again, “I need to just sit down for a moment, Michael.” His father was not an old man, but he had not stopped walking for hours. He was stunned at how his son seemed to still have bundles of energy after all this time, and as he sat down on an ancient and almost wise-looking tree stump, he turned to make sure his son had heard him. He could see the small figure of the boy in the distance, who almost looked like he was one with the forest, as if the dark and rich forest path had just decided to turn into a young boy for a while, to see how the rest of the forest was looking at this time of day.
Michael had stopped moving, for the first time all afternoon. He seemed completely motionless. He was looking at something ahead of him, but his father could not tell what it was.
“What is it?” his father yelled after him, and Michael quickly raised his hand behind him, with his little palm facing his father, as if to say “Quiet!”
Just ahead of him, to the right, he could see a movement around a flower he had never seen before. It was a yellow flower, surrounded by orange blossoms of neighboring plants, and the yellow flower stood taller than all of the rest. There was a space surrounding this yellow flower, as if all the other plants knew they must give it some space, or else they may be consumed, or harmed in some way. And then dancing around the flower itself, was a bright red insect, which was making a chattering noise with its wings as it bounced around the petals, occasionally landing on each one for a few seconds, before dancing again.
This was it. This was the bug. He knew he would find it, and now he had. He was very aware of his heart all of a sudden, as if it had stopped, and wasn’t sure if it should beat again, in case it scared the bug away. He held his breath, but felt he would have to breathe again soon or else he might pass out.
He slowly exhaled, but shuddered as well, and he quickly glanced back to his father, who was now up and trotting towards Michael, slightly concerned at what may be happening.
Michael very slowly tipped-toed closer to the insect, and began to reach inside his leg pocket, where he had a small net tied to the end of a stick, which he had made out of materials from his father’s garden. It wasn’t very big, but it might just be big enough to catch this little dancing bug who could be the answer to all of his problems.
He pulled out the little net, and realised it would be no good. He would have to use his hands. He put the net on the ground slowly, and heard the leaves gently rustle as he did so. He could hear his father getting closer, who now could see that his son may have found what he was looking for.
Michael turned and held his finger to his lips to make sure his dad kept quiet, then he turned back to the bug, who now also seemed to have stopped all activity. It was sitting on a petal of the flower, like it had heard something it did not like. It now looked very unsure in Michael’s eyes, and suddenly it bolted away, flying straight and low in the opposite direction of Michael.
Michael bolted off as well, like a hare or a mouse after it has been frightened, and he disappeared off into the forest before his father could even realise. He was tremendously fast, and his father had never seen a human being move so quickly.
“Michael, not where I can’t see you!” his father called, running to follow him, but it was too late. Michael was gone. Completely gone, and all that could be heard was his father’s footsteps running and his voice calling, for his son to reappear where he could see him.
Michael could still see it ahead, buzzing and chattering and weaving in between flowers and bushes and trees, trying to get away, trying to not be seen, but Michael was very determined. He would not lose it, he could not lose the bug. He couldn’t feel his legs, all he could feel was this bug ahead of him, which was going to do a lot of good for him and his mother.
He was running through a thick part of the forest, big trees, and fallen branches were trying to stop him from getting any further, but he kept gliding between them and using them like friends to keep him hidden from the bug but still in sight of it. Then in the distance he saw a clearing, an opening into a wildflower meadow, and the bug seemed to evaporate into the brightness of the sky. Michael kept running and his footsteps made a different noise as they fell onto the grass, and he stood for a moment, panting and watching and waiting to see the bug again.
It was gone. He looked closer, and could see there were bees everywhere. Honey bees, bumblebees, hoverflies, dragonflies all feeding off of the flowers in the meadow. But he could see nothing red. It was all pink and yellow and white, and he felt like crying. He felt a heaviness in his chest where the tears seemed to be held, and it moved up his throat into his face and out of his eyes, and he was standing there crying while the insects fed from the flowers.
He covered his face and started to scream, and no one nearby would have made out what he was saying, but from far away people could hear him, this frustrated, painful screaming that was shouting at someone or something but they did not know what. His father could hear it and knew it was Michael, and he took off even faster in the direction of the noise, not noticing his shoe being taken from him by the forest floor, and he soon reached the meadow looking completely withered and disheveled, with his nice smart shirt looking like an old rag, and his neatly combed hair all over his face, and his calm steady breath now desperately gasping for oxygen.
He grabbed hold of his son and pulled his head into his chest, and his son told him amongst tears that he had lost the bug he was looking for, and he replied with nothing but words that his son must never run off like that again, not ever, not ever, and his son apologised and said he would not. Then soon after, they turned back into the forest, and made their way home, together, for tea.
They got home, both feeling very tired now, one feeling relieved to have his son back, and the other feeling very upset that he had lost what he was so close to finding.
Their house was small but pleasant, with a wonderful bright garden sitting just behind it. There were not many rooms in the house, but the rooms were large enough that there felt like space all around. They walked in through the back door in to the living room, with the kitchen just to the right, and they could smell a hot roast dinner coming from the oven, and they could see the carer, Madeline, clearing away her chopping board and knives, and beginning to get the plates and cutlery out for dinner.
“Hello you two,” she said, without really looking up. She could see, or rather sense that the two were not as content as normal, and she stopped what she was doing and looked up for longer.
“What’s wrong?” she said. “Jeremy why do you look so…what happened?” She looked concerned, like a mother, and her round body and kind face were fixed on the pair who had just walked in.
“I lost it,” Michael said, slumping down onto the sofa in front of the kitchen, facing away from Madeline and towards the television.
“I lost it,” he said again.
“Lost what?” Madeline asked.
“The bug, the Healybug,” Michael said, sounding quite calm now. He felt the disappointment fading and his determination rising in him again.
Madeline looked to the now haggard-looking father for help.
“One of the bugs in his book,” Jeremy said, sitting on to a stool by the kitchen counter, feeling his legs so gladly cry out in gratitude as he sat down.
“Oh, yes,” said Madeline, filling two glasses of water at the tap, “you mean that little magic book with all the creatures in it, all the magical creatures in the forest?”
“Mythical creatures,” Michael corrected her, as he said thanks for the water now being handed to him. He drank it quickly and got up to get himself some more.
“I’d never seen one before, only that little drawing in the book,” he said, “and I was really close but it flew away and I couldn’t catch it. It was definitely it. It made the same noise and everything.”
“Oh well, maybe next time then eh?” Madeline said, getting some roast potatoes out of the oven.
“Yeh, next time,” Michael said, as he wondered out of the room to go and see if his mother was awake.
He disappeared up the stairs, and Jeremy began to help lay the table.
“Oh, you can leave that,” Madeline said, “you must be exhausted, his imagination knows no bounds!”
“Yes,” Jeremy said, continuing to lay the table. The tablecloth was so clean and white, he felt he must wash his hands before continuing.
“Did you see the Healybug?” Madeline said with a smile, playfully wondering what the response might be.
Jeremy, although being a warm, kind and respectable man, felt a tinge of resentment as he detected a slight mocking in the tone of Madeline’s voice.
“No,” he replied. “But maybe next time.”
It went on for weeks. Every weekend, and sometimes in the evenings after Jeremy got home from work, the pair would go out into the forest, looking for this Healybug. And every time they would return, reporting that they had found nothing.
Jeremy loved walking in the forest, and always found it rather refreshing, as long as Michael did not disappear out of sight, which he had not repeated to do as of yet.
“You’re so good with him,” Madeline said to Jeremy one evening as she was again preparing dinner. “It’s so lovely that he has a father to indulge his imagination, especially when his mother is like she is. There’s just one thing though, which I hate to see – it’s almost as if he really believes that this Healybug is out there, and he really thinks he will find it, and it will heal his mum. I hate to see his little face when you come back again and he says you haven’t found anything. Do you know what I mean, Jeremy? When will it ever end?”
“Yes,” Jeremy replied. “Well,” and he wasn’t sure whether he should be saying this, “are you sure that it definitely doesn’t exist? Is it a fact that this is not a real thing, this Healybug?”
Madeline stopped what she was doing. She had just been clearing the table, and put the plates back down on the table and she sat down next to the man. She had been with the family for over a year now, and felt as if it was her own.
“What?” she asked, looking intently at the man sitting at the head of the table.
“I’m just saying,” he said, “I mean I know what you are saying, you hate to see him disappointed, chasing something that isn’t even there, but what I’m saying, is are you sure it does not exist?” He had one eyebrow raised, and seemingly only half of his gaze on Madeline next to him.
“But…well of course!” she said, throwing her hands up in the air. “Are you joking, Jeremy, are you trying to make me look silly?” He shook his head whilst making a kind of wide pout with his mouth. “You mean to say you believe that the book is real? It is a children’s entertainment book, it is pure fiction!”
“Is it?” he replied, leaning forward, feeling slightly enthused. “You know I love nature, Madeline, I love my garden, I love how there are so many things we don’t know about nature, how there are medicinal herbs and plants, and an unending intelligence that flows through things. In that book, and I have checked, nowhere does it say it is fiction. I know it looks old and ragged, but what if it is not made-up, that if it’s really what it says it is, a real man’s account of what he has witnessed in the forest just there?”
“Oh, and so I suppose once you find this Healybug you will go out searching for all the other things in the book? I’ve read it with the boy, too Jeremy – the Earthman, the Grenadier Bug, the Singer Plant, and all the rest, will that be next, will you write your own book as well about all the new dragons and mummies and dinosaurs you find out there?” She looked all flustered and her big curly hair was wobbling all over the place, and as she stood up and stormed into the kitchen to finish the dishes, Jeremy thought that this might not be a bad idea at all.
From the book: