Stewart the snail appeared in Annabelle’s dreams for the second time just as he had when he was alive, or at least nearly so. His gelatinous body stretched out from his yellow shell, and his two tentacles waved wildly from his head. Although, rather than searching out and sucking algae from the bottom of a fish tank, he was nearly Annabelle’s height and crawled along the carpet toward her bed from across the room. The sight had caused her to abruptly sit up, and in complete terror, she peered into the darkness until she could manage to scream.
The light to Annabelle’s room switched on. Her dad, David, appeared beside her bed, picked her up, and brought her into the room he shared with Lola, his girlfriend. Anabelle slept beside them on a tri-fold mattress on the floor. Not until the morning did her dad ask whether she’d seen the snail again. Recalling the memory, her lip jutted out, her eyes watered, and she shook her head affirmatively.
David took blame for the snail haunting. The family had lost several fish before, and if the fish had become a family favorite, they’d ceremoniously bury them in the backyard. Otherwise, he’d feed them to the chickens. Stewart was a family favorite and thus was not destined to become chicken food. However, he wasn’t buried either. Therein lay the problem. Stewart’s shell– still yellow yet slightly duller after his death– had been set upon a counter, and after a few days, it had gone missing.
“It’ll turn up,” David figured, but when it didn’t and questions started to arise from Annabelle and Lola about what Stewart’s final fate would be, he informed them that Stewart’s shell had gone missing and he didn’t know where it was.
“But what about Stewart’s soul? If he’s not buried, how will he find peace?” Lola asked.
“Yea” Annabelle chimed in. “What about his soul?”
“Look you guys, I’m not sure snails have souls. I mean they’re not people, and it’s questionable whether people even have souls.”
“If Stewart had a name, then Stewart has a soul,” Lola retorted with a matter of factness that rested the case.
Erasmus, their black cat, and Oli, the orange tabby, stared at the family from across the living room where this conversation took place. Now that David considered they, too, might have a soul, he saw them in a more eerily human light. Could they be plotting something? Were they with him or against him? They were, first of all, Lola’s cats anyway, and perhaps they preferred her without him.
David turned away from the cats. “Okay then,” he conjectured. “Stewart might be in purgatory, or somewhere in between heaven and hell, in which case, we could pray for him.”
“Reasonable enough,” Lola said. “Say the prayer.”
“Bow your head,” David instructed and began, “Heavenly father, Stewie was a good snail who only brought us joy. Please admit him to the plant-filled waters where all snails wish to eternally dwell. Please lord, do not hold him accountable for our human errors.”
In the silence proceeding the prayer–the apparition of Stew only grew in Anabelle’s mind, reaching its fullest realization that night–the night of the first nightmare indicating the lord had, indeed, held them all accountable, but none of them more so than David who continued to bear the brunt of the guilt.
“It had to be the dang cats,” he surmised and continued to watch them suspiciously.
Annabelle stayed with her mom, Sophie, the next several days, apparently without concern, because when David inquired of Sophie whether anything strange occurred, she replied “no,” and that “such an occurrence is odd to say the least. We don’t have those issues over here.” Annabelle unbuckled herself from the back seat with her wolf-dog stuffed animal in one arm, her cowboy hat with the chicken and magpie feather, and a small bag of clothes over her shoulder.
“Before I enter the house, dad,” she informed him, “you must hand me my staff.”
Lola had carved and painted animal totems into the staff, and presented it to Anabelle on her 6th birthday. When Anabelle entered the house, and Lola watched her peek around every corner conceredly, she also offered to burn sage.
“The sage will cleanse the house of unholy spirits.”
“That sounds like a great idea,” David said. “Let’s burn sage.”
It didn’t help. The second nightmare occurred, and because Annabelle would stay with them the next night as well, he determined it was time for war.
“Annabelle,” he said “Today is the day we go to war. In order to prepare you, we must first read St. George and the Dragon?”
Annabelle curiously tilted her head, and David went to pick the children’s book off their bookshelf.
“Don’t you remember this one, Anabelle?” David said. “I read it to you when you were a younger.”
“No,” Annabelle replied.
“Well, today is the day it becomes relevant.”
And David began the tale of the knight who ventured into the woods to slay a dragon who’s insatiable appetite and destructive ways had led him to possess a princess whom he planned on devouring.
“We have prayed for the snail,” David said after he concluded. “We have burned sage for the snail, and yet, still we are held captive. Take your staff and cowboy hat for strength. It is time you ride out for battle.”
“Okay, dad,” Annabelle said. “I’m ready.”
Behind the house where the family dwelled, there was an irrigation ditch. It was a remnant of a time when folks who were spread out on many acres of land grew apple trees, vegetables, and animal feed to sustain themselves. Although the homes were packed tighter now, and few of the people in them grew anything other than exotic house plants, which is all that circumstances would allow, the irrigation ditch still filled with water every spring to prevent flooding of the river that ran through town. Anabelle walked out of the home and entered the backyard where the water flowed. This is the site, she determined, where the ghost of the snail resided.
Annabelle dove into the water with her staff and swam beneath the water's surface pushing past weeds, submerged logs, and other debris until she reached a culvert. The dusky light that permeated the waters turned into an impenetrable darkness at the culvert’s entrance. Annabelle peered into the darkness gathering courage to resume her mission, when suddenly, the glowing head of the great snail emerged to meet her.
Annabelle wanted more than anything to swim to the surface and ran as fast as she could away from the scene. But she did not. She held her ground, and when the snail approached her with menace in its eyes, she swiped with her staff and cracked it upon its head. At that point the snail receded into its shell and vanished forever.
“Oh my goodness!” Lola exclaimed when Annabelle returned to the house soaking wet. “Where have you been?”
After explaining the spiritual journey, Lola first looked displeasingly at David, then turned back to Annabelle, bent down to her level, and kissed her on the cheek.
“What you have done is very brave,” she said. “We must prepare a celebration dinner.”
That night they revelled over a french chicken dinner, and Annabelle proudly recounted her deeds for at least the fifth time. Each time, David noticed that the story grew bolder but who was he to offer any rebuke. The snail was vanquised and the family slept safetly that night, while the cats frolicked in the moonlit living area and crept into the closet to peer at David from the darkness.
What is a soul? Do people and animals have souls? If a soul exists, how do we know?
What is spirituality? Is spirituality important? In what ways do the characters express their spirituality?
Can people have different spiritual beliefs? How do people resolve differences if their spiritual beliefs are in conflict with one another?
How does Annabelle’s imagination cause her to be afraid? How does she use her imagination to overcome her fears?
What does your neighborhood look like? Describe a “monster” that could be lurking in you or your neighbor’s backyard.
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