the dung beetle
the dung beetle loved eating poop. he loved it so much, he wasn’t very old before he realized that he couldn’t eat as much poop as he wanted. there was never enough for his appetite.
he’d eat his first serving and ask for more. getting that, he’d ask for a second. then a third. then a fourth. but his family kept growing. he was no longer the only one who needed to be fed.
his mother would say, ‘son, only eat as much poop as you need. there must be enough for everyone.’ and he would say, ‘but i need more, mother.’ and she would tell him, ‘but there isn’t any more.’
his father had died. he had been the one to collect the food. she was now collecting all the food herself and trying to take care of all her babies. still, she refused assistance from everyone.
the day she changed her mind was the day when her son had been playing with the younger beetles in a drying cow pie. he saw his mother was working to ball up and preserve what she could. she stumbled while trying to push her ball up and out of the poop. he caught the ball and pushed it over for her. then when he helped her up, he saw that he was now bigger and stronger than her.
he said, ‘let me handle this, mother. i can work.’
she said, ‘well, i guess you’re old enough to help.’ and so they worked together and helped each other roll their shit up the hill to their home.
for a season, the two worked together so well that everyone in the family was able to eat until they were full. the oldest was happy. for a while.
quietly he grew aggravated. he worked so hard for the family, but he was always only allowed to be as full as everyone else.
he told his mother, ‘mother, i’m sick of this. i’m the one who gathers all the food with you, but i only get to eat as much as everyone else. it’s unfair.’
his mother laughed and said, ‘but son, when you eat at dinner, are you allowed to eat until you are full?’
‘yes, i am. AS I SHOULD BE!’
his mother said, ‘relax, my son. you are correct. you have worked hard. you should be allowed to eat as much as would make you full. i would not want you to go hungry. not ever again, if i can help it. but how can you complain that you are not being fed properly because you are being allowed to eat as much as you’d like until you are full?
she continued, ‘the same goes for everyone. everyone gets all they would like to eat. if you are full, then you are full. how much more food do you need to be full? and how can one be fuller than full? if you can tell me that, then i will understand how much more you need and i will make sure that you will have as much as you need. as your mother, i promise that. just tell me, son. how much?’
the oldest dung beetle thought a moment. his mother was wise, but he was angry. he thought of all the hours he’d worked to feed his younger brothers and sisters. he saw months and months of collected poop being shoveled into the mouths of his family.
‘i’ll tell you what i’m full of,’ he said. ‘i’m full up to here with you making me work and giving me only as much as everyone else!’
‘but you are such a tremendous help. you do, you feed everyone. doesn’t that make you proud, son? to know that i couldn’t do it without you? that none of us could?’
he looked behind his mother and saw his brothers and sisters. he looked all around him. they had heard everything. they were all staring at him. the next oldest beetle said, ‘we will help you.’
the oldest felt foolish and said, ‘please, everyone. forgive me. i have grown bitter, but mother is right– i am full. i have what i want with you all. i am full of love. and as for the food, don’t worry about it. i can do it. you all must go to school and study. i am proud to feed you all. you are my family.’
he said all these words. he only believed half. he looked at his mother and saw her staring at him with a raised eyebrow and a narrowed eye. his brothers and sisters cheered him. he acted normal and let the days go by and he stopped talking to his mother.
pretty soon the days became weeks. then months. he spent the time growing the family food supplies.
she didn’t let anyone know, but she was growing very ill. one day she was felt so ill that she collapsed while handing out the breakfast poop. all the younger beetles screamed.
the oldest abandoned the ball of poop he was pushing up the hill when he heard all the younger beetles yelling. he ran as fast as he could. he didn’t see what happened, but as he scuttled up the path he knew what he was to find.
he hadn’t seen her for six months but there she was laying dead in the kitchen. the younger beetles were screaming. immediately he sent for every member of the family to tell them all what had happened to their mother. of course everyone was sad, and so he openly grieved with them.
when the funeral feast of goat poo was over the oldest called for a reading of the will. a firefly who was the attorney read the will. it said, ‘all my property and assets i entrust to my family, in care of my oldest son. he may call my possessions his property so long as the family is fed.’
the oldest stood. ‘so it is settled. you all may now leave my property.’
one of his brothers said, ‘but brother. the will! you have heard what mother said.’
‘i have,’ said the oldest. ‘and her wish will be granted. you all will eat. you will eat the food you buy from me with the money you earn from your jobs that you got with the education that i gave you.’
‘but brother we are not earning money.’
‘you have all gone to school, have you not?’
‘we have. but we have no jobs.’
‘so you may work for me then,’ said the oldest. ‘i will pay you a wage to work for me. you can use what you earn to buy food. how does that sound?’
‘it sounds shitty,’ someone said.
‘but mother’s will!’ someone else cried.
the sibling beetles started rah-ing around the table. the oldest quieted them by flashing his powerful wings. he stood at the head of the table and took up his chalice of goat urine. he raised it over the table of his dead mother, and said calmly, ‘you heard it all as well as i,’
looking to the firefly at the table, the oldest says, ‘mr. firefly if you would, please shed some light on this matter for us and read that last part again.’
the firefly cleared his throat, ‘he may call my possessions his property so long as the family is fed.’
‘there,’ said the oldest. ‘you see? her property is mine. i will pay you to work and you will pay me to eat. you don’t like it, get another job!’
‘but how will we continue our research?’ said another. ‘all the time you spare us by feeding us we use to research our family’s next great achievement.’
‘bologna,’ said the oldest. ‘i know you all aren’t doing squat worth mentioning. probably you spend all your time drinking piss and getting drunk. a bunch of no good moochers is all you are!’
‘when do you see us except for when we are eating?’ someone asked.
the oldest had to think, ‘i see you when… you’re in your rooms at night sleeping.’
‘what about during the day?’
‘i don’t. but it is of no matter to me.’
‘perhaps it isn’t,’ said the youngest beetle. ‘if you want to hog all the dung, you are welcome to it. as you say, we will work for our food. it will not be easy, but i know that we can do what is needed for us all to survive.’
‘but sister, we cannot let ourselves give up on our dreams of–‘
‘our dreams still live, brother. we will make them a reality. have no doubt about that.’
‘but you said–‘
‘i said we will work.’
‘good!’ said the oldest. ‘and yes. you will work. i will watch you work. i’ll kick anyone out who doesn’t work. and you all will collect more poop for me than has ever been collected. i want to see everyone roll three balls up the hill. starting now.’
‘but our mother’s just been buried!’
‘she has. and if you want to eat on the day after your mother was buried, i suggest you get moving.’
‘you evil–‘ said an angry brother.
‘hush,’ said the youngest to the angered beetle.
‘i like your attitude,’ said the oldest. ‘you keep everyone in line. maybe you can be my vice-president, if you do your job well.’
‘no thank you,’ said the youngest.
‘ha. i couldn’t trust a beetle who doesn’t want more than he has, anyhow. you really are stupid, aren’t you?’
‘no, i am not. you should know that since you were the one who paid for my education. don’t you remember?’
the oldest paused, ‘i don’t. come to think of it, i don’t even know who you are.’
‘that’s funny. you have always been my hero. at least you were until today.’
‘you listen,’ said the youngest. ‘today we will work for you. we will bring all you’ve demanded up the hill. but after that, we will go our separate ways. you keep what you want. we’ll keep what we want.’
‘perfect. though i see no sense in lobbying to keep all that you own, which is nothing.’
‘you will see, brother. we are so much richer than that.’
the youngest said these words and then turned to the rest of the family. ‘alright, let’s work!’
the oldest watched as the family formed a chain up the path. then, the beetle at the bottom passed a turd to his brother behind him who passed it to the beetle behind him and so on. every beetle passed poop up the path to the spot the oldest had specified. they did this until three turds for every beetle had been delivered. within an hour the task was complete. a mountain had formed.
the oldest was jealous. he’d always spent an entire week doing what his family had just taken an hour to do.
‘here is what you wanted,’ said the youngest to his stunned older brother. ‘and you can keep our wages.’
the oldest tried to hide his astonishment as he said, ‘good. well, you did alright i suppose. for a bunch of worthless bugs. and you hardly earned anything anyway, so it’s probably best you didn’t worry about it.’
‘just remember our deal tomorrow,’ said the youngest.
‘oh i will. but first i will eat!’
the youngest said, ‘dig in, brother. you’ve earned it, haven’t you!’
the other beetles left their shameful older brother to his supper. he ate and he ate and he ate. he ate as much as he could. he sat atop the mountain and imagined himself eating his way all the way down to the ground.
but he’d eaten only half of a ball of poop by the time he was full. he was so full he was almost ill. he looked down at the mountain and it almost made him sick. he almost puked up his poop. he fell asleep on top of his turd mountain.
that night he dreamt of all the boats he would own. all the sexy dung beetles he’d fuck. all the cocaine he’d rail. he saw himself on forbeetle’s magazine. time’s beetle of the year. sharing a turd with dignitaries from across the globe.
he slept like a king.
the next morning, he woke and felt the ground shaking. his mountain was crumbling beneath him. he dropped to his knees and screamed, ‘help! help me brothers! help me sisters!’
no one came. he looked back towards his home to see if anyone was coming.
still no one came, but from the hole he saw a bright light and heard a loud roar. the ground’s rumbling grew stronger. the mountain collapsed and the beetle fell with it. he screamed, but no one was listening and if they were he couldn’t have been heard over the incredible sound.
on the ground he lay on his squashed back staring up at the clear blue sky. his thorax and four of his legs were pinned or crushed by dung balls. his antennae had snapped. he laughed at the irony and then he felt his life slipping away.
the last thing he knew was the staring at the cloud and feeling the ground cease its rumbling. the roaring noise faded. all of a sudden, a spaceship blasted across the sky like a flaming arrow. then its light shone deep into his dead black eyes.
the ship shot into space at over 20,000 miles per hour. the youngest dung beetle looked down at the earth from the fringes of space. he thought he could make out his home and the spot where his oldest brother had made the family pile up the crap, but he couldn’t be sure.
then he was weightless. he spun and saw his family all weightless and smiling. it was quite something for them to get used to.