short snail story

shelters sketch

Lonesome, With Snails   (by Annie Dillard)

My best friends are two land snails. I feel very close to them sometimes; we each share all that we have, all that we know and are. They slide around slowly, up the mantelpiece and down. I sit or pace in my rooms, agitated, picking up and putting down a saxophone, changing my shirt, hefting by turns a china lamp, a leather pouch, trying to joke with the snails. One is tannish; one is yellowish.

They differ — the yellowish one is more. . . . Oh, if they were very different, if one were, say, a musician, wry, and one a muscular philosopher, say, what society I would enjoy! For the plain fact is, if you insist upon it, that they are much alike. So much alike that for most purposes, an outside observer, and even, to be perfectly frank, myself, would have to call them identical, more or less. Quiet.

After I have spent some long time absorbed with the snails and their ways, occasionally, or, in fact, almost always, I am struck by the incongruity of the picture we present. I am, after all, a human being, and, as such, almost six feet tall, give or take a few inches. I line up the snails on my palm and inspect their ranks. I carry them to my eye, while one snail or the other retracts and protrudes first one feeler, then another. I wait until all four of the knobby bulbs on their feeler tips are fully extruded and plump, until they are well forward, supplied with a dark drop of blood, and calm . . . and then I see myself suddenly and think, I treat my friends too curiously, too curiously for words! I put the snails under the philodendron, disgusted, and leave, walk to the newsstand, hail and greet the newsstand owner behind the counter with his wondering, joyous expression; and buy the foulest cigars at any price and carry a dozen to my rooms, triumphant.

Or I say to the snails, ‘‘Friends, children, illiterates, you imbecilic nubs’’ (and I stroke or pinch the furls of their feet, which recoil, curling, like tickled lips), ‘‘The trouble with you, the ridiculous, ludicrous thing about both of you, is: You are too short.’’

Short! Look at them! It is unheard-of to be so short! Friends are friends, and I love these two on their merits and idiosyncrasies quite apart from their positions as my sole and best friends, and quite apart from the figures they cut — just as you love your friends, I am sure. But their size, once I notice it, strains my credulity.

Once this notion takes possession of me, as it has, I confess, now, the inappropriateness of the snails’ height, which at first seems so marvelously comical, takes on a lunatic air, the smack of a cosmic incongruity. It is an anomaly so endlessly comical that the very length of its humor pierces the bounds of the mind and touches the rim of mystery itself. It is too much to think about, and far too much to explain, that these snails are so impossibly short.

Sometimes in consequence I have taken a kettle from the fire and thrown it through a window. Sometimes, I jump on my own foot, I bite my finger, I run out and break a framed painting over the skull of a pedestrian (once); I throw things; I do, actually, love to throw many things. There is much I love. Because the world is so astonishing, the snails — to take just one of the many possible examples — are so short, and it is all too great for me to think about alone. Or at all.

On many fine mornings I do not concern myself overmuch with the mystery. And by controlling the depth of my thinking carefully, I permit myself a little joke.

‘‘Good morning,’’ I say to each snail in turn: to the tannish one looking dead on the hearth, slowly turning her gelatinous head; to the half-dead yellowish one who rides a trail of slime up a window like Botticelli’s Venus afloat on a frilly foot — ‘‘Good morning . . . ’’ I say, narrowing my eyes, ‘‘Shortie.’’

And a good morning it may be. Many are.

(from Annie Dillard’s Impossible Pages)


“slugscan”, quick ink sketch from live slug, jessica gabriel, 2004.


THE SLUG LIBERATION ACT : : : by Gerry Gilbert

1. Slugs are People.

2. The twinge of disgust which a Human can feel at finding
a living Slug in the Salad will from now on be known as a
sign of Good Luck (for you & the Slug & the Salad) and the
cook is to be immediately congratulated.

3. When a dead Slug, or any part thereof, is discovered in
the Food, the Human involved in the discovery shall, at the
earliest convenient time and in a suitably damp place, do
something slow and pleasant in memory of the deceased.

4. Whenever any Slug, in the course of his duty, is acci-
dentally wiped out, the nearest Person capable of speech
shall say, “Goo-by.”

5. Whenever a Slug is intentionally or carelessly or in sport
wounded, tormented, or killed by Anyone (unless it be
done in order to eat it or to eat what it was eating) that
Person is to be considered as having inherited the contempt
normally reserved by big Animals for slimy squishy little

6. Whenever an edible Slug is used as food by a Human,
that Person shall endeavour to imagine that his own eyes are
projected on slender stalks far away into the future.

7. Whenever a Gardener kills Slugs in order to protect the
plants in his charge, that Gardener shall do so personally
with his or her hand, foot or other sensitive instrument —
and not with salt or poisons or beer or piss — and that
Gardener shall be permitted to kill Slugs only after patient
persuasion, prayer, the posting of notices, the taking of
hostages, offers of re-settlement, and the topic of conver-
sation have failed. Such gardeners are also required to boast
about how many Slugs they had to re-cycle.

8. Slugs shall be given right-of-way on all thoroughfares;
properly marked Slug Crossings shall be established and
maintained in perpetual wetness at regular intervals on all

9. Any Slug shall be a reminder for all Persons of the
elegant process of Life on this Earth; the absence of Slugs
from any Place shall be considered a sign of Danger for all
forms of Life there.

10. All kinds of Slugs — including blows, fake coins, spaces
between words, indications that time is up, migrating Spore
blossoms, sluggishness, Nancy’s buddy, cocks, Escargots,
turds, bullets, drinkings at a gulp, baseball bats, sleepers, as
well as Pulmonate Gastropods — shall have the following
sign in common, and that sign shall be added to all alphabets :

slug signature