Bug God flew up up up up as straight and as high as she could. Soon she was far above the trees, the jungle below her spread out to the horizon. She could see it from certain portions of her eyes even as the rest of her vision was preoccupied with the ever-expanding canopy of the sky. She marveled at the size of both things: the sky, which continued to be huge and far away and endless and kept having more and more stars twinkle and pop into existence; and also the jungle itself, which she saw now swept away in all directions, trees and vines and hills and mountains and great rivers. Below her and off in the distance flocks of night-birds swirled around, while above her, clouds whispered through the sky, wispy and tenuous.
Bug God felt at peace. This was what she was meant to do.
Every insect in the world felt the wrenching as Bug God took off, a bizarrely intimate sense of loss that grew and grew as Bug God flew higher and higher – though they did not know why this was. They simply knew they felt sadness crushing them under ever greater waves, like being pulled through an undertow.
The bugs in the tree where Bug God had lived felt it first, and worst, but they were also the first to know what had happened.
“BUGS!” the vizier said as loudly as he could in his wheezy croak of a voice. “BUGS! Your god has gone!” As his words reached others and were repeated, over and forward from ant to wasp to butterfly to beetle, outward from the tree, the bugs felt a new sense of dread creep in, too: they had never been without a god before. Yet here was the vizier telling them that Bug God was gone, had flown off to the …
“To the what?” said a walking stick on a lower level of the tree.
“The what now?” said a set of fire ants on the dirt off to the edge of the meadow the tree sat.
“The stars?” asked one bee, to nobody in particular.
“The stars?” “Stars?” “Stars?” “Stars?” This went on ad infinitum, almost literally, as the word spread around the bug world.
From sadness to fear to incredulity, the bugs felt themselves growing more and more concerned. As the explanation came out in waves from the tree where Bug God had lived, the bugs found themselves more concerned than ever. No Bug God! Something about stars!
Everything was a mess!
Bug God found her wings struggling to beat against the air. She had no idea how long she had been flying, by now: it seemed like hours. Down below, the world had fallen further away, so far away that she could see the end of the jungle, which stretched off over a vast area. There were edges to it: on one side she could see plants fading off into an expanse of sand, rolling dunes that appeared frozen solid under the white-bright night sky. On the other side was the rolling luminescence of the ocean pushing back against the greenery – a moving version of the dead desert on the other side of the world. Bug God had not known these things were there, and marveled at them without knowing, quite, what they were. So much! So much! She had spent her entire life on the tree, and now at the very end of it, the universe was unfolding around her into new world after new world.
But her attention was still focused upward. There were now 10, 20, one hundred stars for every one that had been there when she set out, and although they grew no larger she could feel herself getting closer to them. Her progress was slowed, though, by the strangeness of the air. It felt too thin, too insubstantial. It slipped past her wings and afforded her no purchase. She redoubled her efforts and kept climbing, although much more slowly now.
The bugs were making their way to the tree, those who were not there already. Some of them had never been there. Some didn’t know there was a tree. But by now all had learned of the tree and of the departure of Bug God, and just as the information had washed out in an expanding cloud of dark emotions, so now was it roiling back over the bugs, pulling them to the tree from around the jungle.
Rivers of ants and beetles poured over rocks and around vines and through gullies. Shimmering shadowy clouds of butterflies and moths blanketed the trees from above. The pelting of hopping and flitting bugs through the leaves and tendrils made it sound like a spring rain was coming, and the flashes of silvery light iridescing through the wings of the butterflies made it seem as though the whole world were liquid.
The vizier felt them coming, heard the rustles and mumbles. He stood on his branch, worrying his antennae together, and looking first at the hordes of bugs converging on the tree, then at the tree itself, then at the flower where Bug God had appeared last night just after midnight to begin her reign. Then back to the bugs below.
What would he tell them?
What comfort is there when one’s god has left?
Bug God fluttered and tumbled and fluttered and tumbled. She would pull herself up on the ever-thinner air, only to slip back down and then go up again. Over and over the arc of the world below thrust up at her as she collapsed, only to duck away again as she regained her strength and flew up once more. It was cold, so cold. But it was so bright! The stars seemed no nearer but there were so many and she was so tired from her climb, straight up up up, that it might be an illusion.
I will reach them, she said to herself, never imagining that there would be someone else to hear her.
The other gods took notice of what was going on: the convergence of bugs was too large for anyone to ignore, and before long Bird God and Tiger God and Monkey God had been dispatched by the collective. The gathered near the tree – as near as they could get, outside of the teeming hordes of bugs frantically trying to reach the tree themselves – to see what was happening, and to report back to the other gods. They overheard the mumbles and pleas and questions, and looked at each other.
“She’s going where?” asked Tiger God.
“The stars?” said Monkey God. It looked up at the stars it had seen so many times. It had never imagined trying to reach them.
“It’s impossible,” said Bird God.
The other two looked at her.
“The stars cannot be reached,” Bird God said. “They are too far."
From his perch, the vizier peered down at the entirety of the bug world, come to see what could be done, come to be near the place where this incredible, frightening thing had happened, come to seek solace or comfort or answers or simply company.
When he found no answers there, he looked up instead, into the vast sky. It had been hours, now, since Bug God left on her mission, hours since he had been able to see her. Each of his eye facets searched in vain for some sign of her.
Bug God was now pumping her wings furiously, beating them so fast they were a blur, as fast as she could think. All of her being was focused on trying to get a little higher, a little higher, a little higher. She could barely think, could barely make sense of anything. Below her, the world had turned out to be a sphere. Who could have imagined!
The stars were still far, far above her.
“Shouldn’t we do something?” Monkey God asked.
“Do what?” Bird God asked. “What can we do?”
“Are we not gods?” Tiger God asked. “What can’t we do?”
The vizier raised his antennae and held them perfectly still.
All the bugs stopped moving and looked at him.
The wind died down.
Even Monkey God, Bird God, and Tiger God – as well as the other gods off in their own places, waiting word on what was happening from their emissaries – stopped talking and waited.
Bug God felt like she could not go on. Her vision was starting to blur. Her wings were tiring. She felt dizzy and alone and began to be scared. She focused on the stars. It was all she could do. She willed her wings to keep going, closed her mind to the possibility that she might not make it. UP… she thought. UP… UP…. up…….. up….
Everyone waited for the vizier to speak. The vizier, though, was waiting for midnight. He wanted to see what would happen. It was only a few minutes away.
Bug God kept telling herself.
“It is almost midnight,” Tiger God said.
“Will Bug God die at midnight?” Monkey God asked.
“That’s the way it has always been,” Tiger God said. “Can you see her?” he asked Bird God.
Bird God scanned the heavens.
“Yes,” Bird God answered, and then, after a moment, added: “She’s slowing down.”
Up… up… up…
Bug God’s entire existence was centered on that word.
There was almost no air. The sky was darkening around her, or that was her vision, starting to fail.
The stars, though… they seemed almost to reach out to her.
Up… up… up…
“We should help,” Monkey God exclaimed again.
“We should not,” Bird God said.
They both looked at Tiger God, to see if he would break the tie.
Tiger God looked up at the stars.
Up… up… up…
The vizier felt the world turning below him, felt the onward rush of time towards midnight towards the new day.
Who is that? Bug God wondered, but she could spare no energy for asking.
Up… up… up…
“We will do nothing,” Tiger God said, without taking his eyes off the sky.
To be continued...