This has not been a good week. Most days, I lurk innocently near the bottom of my lake waiting for the next meal to come by. Really, I’m not a fussy eater. Warm or cold-blooded is fine, just as long as it’s blood. Though even a leech has its standards. You hear humanoids say “You are what you eat.” Well guess what – I am what YOU eat! Have you ever put a sucker on a pink, luscious humanoid, expecting a warm flood of organically-nourished red stuff, and gotten a snoutful of the big McD? Chemicals, artifically-digested chicken leftovers, and just plain sludge dressed up as food in a paper box – I’d rather eat fertilizer! Most people don’t think leeches can barf, but we can – right back into your bloodstream where it belongs.
Here I was, clinging to my usual stem of grass just above the mud, enjoying the warm sun filtering down through the duckweed and waiting for an unsuspecting set of toes and a nice, juicy ankle. Without warning, the water exploded around me, mud and slime churning up as my favorite stem was jerked rudely upward into hot, dry air and biting, unfiltered sunlight. Next instant, I was buried under mud in a smelly container with a bunch of other creatures who were just minding their own business. And the company! Now, I’m not a snob, but we are members of the ancient family of Hirudinea, and we are NOT bottom dwellers. We may be may be annelids, but we are NOT worms and, despite what they say about us, you will only find us sliming around in the mud when we ABSOLUTELY have to! They are down there, and we are up here – we’re blood-suckers, not mud-suckers.
Anyway, I endured this ignomius treatment and absolutely LOW company with as much grace as possible, then was rudely squashed between two enormous, absolutely FILTHY fingers and roughly dropped into a glass box. As I plummeted through a thick layer of duckweed (really, some people just do NOT care about housekeeping), I could see an incredibly ugly humanoid staring at me through the glass. I wish I could have sucked him dry when he pulled me out of that smelly plastic container and dropped me into his tank, but he was hiding like the coward and bully that he was, safe behind that glass wall. So I took myself off to a quiet corner to think (no, I was NOT sulking! Leeches do not sulk. We are just quiet, contemplative creatures that find our own company quite sufficient at times, thank you.)
After some thought and exploration, I may not have landed so badly. Been talking with the locals – not a bad lot for having been raised in ditches and puddles, though no literary or cultural giants. Bunch of Brachiura worms spend all day in the mud, waving their their gills. Pretty, sinuous and graceful creatures. I know they’re exotic, but I get tired of hearing how their great-great-grandfathers rode over from Australia in a shipment of guppies. Really, invasive species should know their PLACE and not be giving themselves airs as if they belonged here and had any class.
The hydras tell me about a lovely cloud of hay water that descends and how the whole world blooms with schools of bacteria and juicy fat copepods, but it sounds like a bunch of religious claptrap to me. I work for my living – do you think it’s easy hanging by your suckers all day in the hot, sunny water, waiting for the moment when dinner splashes by? Besides, they’re a bit weird and not too bright. What do you expect from a creature with a neural net about as complicated as the spark plug on a Sopwith Camel??? And there’s one of them that spends his time getting high on every oxygen bubble that floats by. Says he’s “In Recovery”, whatever THAT means. When I saw him, he was sprawled all over his latest bubble and couldn’t even keep his stalk straight.
And that other one! Just because she got “discovered” and spent an hour being photographed and got her image on the internet is no reason to put in airs! Spending your day squashed under a microscope slide and having every tentacle laid out for everyone to gawk at is nothing to be proud of, and it’s not as if she did anything to earn it. Just happening to be lolling about of the right duckweed root when the tweezers come down doesn’t mean you did anything to DESERVE all that attention!Speaking of food, a nasty realization just percolated through my ganglia: there’s nothing with BLOOD in this tank! Hemolymph doesn’t cut it – thin, nasty stuff, and even though you’re a simple critter, you can’t do everything properly with ONE bodily fluid! And you think I’m going to running after some scrap of protoplasm or eat half-dead organic junk like some rotifer? It’s undignified! Even though they make those weirdohippie hydras fat and happy, I can’t eat copepods! I have a problem!
Things are looking up a bit. When that big, ugly biped (dubbed him The Proprietor, though I could run things better with one sucker tied behind my back) wasn’t looking, I went out exploring. Those snails aren’t doing their job, and spend half their time falling off plants instead of keeping the windows clean, and… Anyway, I digress.
Over the edge of the tank, and out into enemy territory. Across a desk, and found just what I thought I saw through all that algae on the glass. It’s a computer, with those lovely, sensitive keys that work if you just touch them! Alright, you might wonder what a leech would do with a computer? Well, let me tell you, there is a long history of literate and intelligent invertebrates. Unfortunately, they could never get the word out until the biped vertebrates invented the writing machine. But true creativity was (just barely) possible, in the early days before digital came along.
The first true voice of the invertebrate world called himself Archy, and though the world would call him a cockroach, he was a noble and philosophical soul (http://donmarquis.com/archy-and-mehitabel/), and sacrificed so much to be heard! As if spending all night bruising your carapace on typewriter keys wasn’t bad enough, think about being isolated in a dusty office with a bunch of Socialist newsies, your only companion a spaced-out kitty who thought she was Cleopatra and nothing to eat for years and years but old library paste! The biped named Don DID help Archy in his bumbling way – at least he kept the paste pots filled.
Such sacrifice to let the world know of your genius!
Now there’s none of this clambering up a typewriter, trying to keep from getting your antennae or suckers stuck in all those rods and levers, then jumping off the top and hoping that you come crashing down on just the right key!!! The old way might be OK for insects, but we leeches just aren’t built for jumping and crashing – we just tend to plop messily in a nasty little puddle of guts and, well, brains if we had them (but that’s another story). But I do run on…
None of that today, though. Particularly for us slender and silkily dampish, sinuously flexible lovely beings, just a flick on the key or a touch on the screen and we’re off to the races and on to the big time. Today, even a leech of modest literary capability can find himself with a national audience. After all, if Fox News can do it, why not a leech with just a LITTLE more brain and much more class?
Time to go over the top! So I strap on my imaginary tin helmet, gather courage and all of my dignity, and charge up the glass into that dry, biting air (SO much nicer when it’s dissolved in lovely warm water), over the edge of my new home, across the desk (Dust and WHO KNOWS WHAT all over my mucus! I’d fire that housekeeper!), up a cable, and onto the keys! A little lunge, click, click, and words appear! I’m into his system! The great hacker leech has arrived! And there’s even music! I do a lovely, slippery, sinuous Charleston with “%5” as my own little dance floor!So you think you’re pretty tolerant because you don’t openly snigger at fat people? Let me tell you, you don’t know what it’s like to be green till you’ve BEEN green! You have prejudices! The same folk who vote for integrated classrooms and put tofu on the menu and recycle their newspapers would step on a slug or squash a snail without thinking and believe they were doing a GOOD thing by mushing another hapless invertebrate! World, look out!
The little folk of the Valley are going to have a voice! It will ring out from beneath the waters of every swamp, pond and puddle! Humanoids wonder about what’s beneath Jupiter’s clouds, but they drain a green puddle and don’t even THINK about it. The only people among those bony behemoths are children (if they don’t squish our soft parts
too hard) and they forget when they grow up. They lose the joy of befriending a nice snail or starfish when they start to get big and worry about a new bicycle. I’ll be off to work every night to tell the planet about our world beneath the green layer, and next time YOU see a blob of green Spirogyra, you’ll pause and say, “Oh, how beautiful!” instead of scraping it off your rubbers! And we’re hard working professional creatures – we’ve been helping heal your disgusting big bodies for CENTURIES! And this is the treatment we get in RETURN!
(Still haven’t solved the food problem. I’m starting to get a bit too slender. I’m even starting to dream about McBloodburgers! How could a leech sink so low?)
The blood (I mean dinner) situation has been resolved! I am so full – and what a great meal!
It’s really all hard work and careful watchfullness, and though I don’t like to boast, I am one of the best! I could have been snoozing on a leaf, or wasting an evening waving back and forth with those empty-headed worms, but I was on alert like the good, hard-working parasite that I am. And when The Proprietor fell asleep at his microscope, I was waiting and ready! Over the edge, a little slither, slither across the desk, then so, so quietly up on his finger and oh, what a tasty meal! Mrs. Proprietor has been filling him up with something called the Mediterranean Diet – lovely olive oil, good Italian whole-wheat pasta, and lots of organic fruits, and not a whiff of the Big M! I will be so slim and healthy, and my slime will positively glow! What a lovely leech I will be, feeding like this! And just a few tiny, tiny drops that he’ll never miss! Then back home (yes, it has become home) for a a little swim off the diving board…then a nap in the sun…
So that’s life these days. Oops! Aquarium light just went out and all is dark. Time to get to work. Keep connected and I’ll share the world of the pond with you….
Little stinker! So he thinks I don’t know what he’s up to? Wet tracks all over my screen, sucker prints on my keys, and that little tail disappearing over the edge first thing in the morning? No wonder he’s never around in the daytime!
Oh, well, he reminds me to dust my screen, and he’s kind of amusing. He better watch his step, or it’s back to the pond, and it’s COLD outside!
Funny how this finger keeps itching….
The author offers sincere apologies to the ghost of Don Marquis.
See “Invertebrates In Ink” and: