Friends Like These
Most interactions between species involve food, and are generally brief. There are many cases, however, where two or more species live in close association for long periods of time. Such associations are called symbiotic—from the Greek word symbiosis, which means, “living together”. Symbiotic relationships in which each species benefits are called mutualistic.
—The Fourteenth Korus of the Emerald Tree
When Max first entered his bedroom, the scientific illustration of the giant fly on his wall stared back at him with an intensity he’d never noticed before. Something about it, mingled with the episode of the shield bug and now the interrogation by Inspector Dragonfly, twisted a knot in his gut—the kind not easily undone. Maybe it was the bugs or maybe it was dodging another thumping from Nigel and his birds. Regardless, the collywobbles in his stomach were getting to him, and skipping school looked to be more and more a stroke of genius as the morning wore on.
Max fired up his laptop. His fingers shook as he typed. Within seconds he’d loaded the familiar page: http://blog.emeraldwatch.com. As the beach ball rotated on-screen, he thought about Tracker, the loon who kept showing up in their digital sandbox. The guy was obsessed with dragonflies. Hadn’t stopped blogging about them for months, constantly scouring the message boards for any news about “unique occurrences.” Please don’t tell me we have something in common… Please!
Max stared at the screen. Good thing no one could see the sweat dripping from his brow as he hit the keys.
SPYDER: Hey, Wave Dancer, you out there?
Remain calm. Reach out to friends. No sense panicking…Yet.
WAVE DANCER: Yeah, I’m here.
SPYDER: It seems I’ve become a magnet for UFIs.
WAVE DANCER: UFIs?
SPYDER: Unidentified Freaked-out Insects. This morning I was strafed by a dragonfly I’ve never seen before. Yesterday, it was an alien visit from an out-of-town stinkbug. I’m wondering if anything strange has been happening to anyone else?
WAVE DANCER: Normally I would’ve asked you if your cornrows were too tight, but scary thing? I have one, too. A dragonfly. Blue. In my cabin, right now. It sounds like a chainsaw and it won’t go away.
At least if they lock me up, I’ll have company.
SPYDER: No kidding?
WAVE DANCER: Nope.
Piper Jenson, aka WAVE DANCER, was a Californian who, when not online or being home-schooled, spent most of her waking hours surfing the chilly, shark-infested Pacific off the Monterey Peninsula. Not exactly his cup of a tea.
He and Piper had been blogging for the past year and, of anyone he’d met at the Emerald Watch, he felt closest to her. Maybe because they both had single parents. Her father took care of the sharks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and she never knew her mum, just as he never knew his dad. Or maybe it was the simple fact they were each naturalists at heart. Okay, so she was a marine biology freak—eeewww! Still, the connection was there.
SPYDER: You have a dragonfly buzzing your cabin right now? It must be the middle of the night. Dragonflies aren’t nocturnal.
WAVE DANCER: Tell that to the dragonfly. The crazy thing keeps dive-bombing me.
SPYDER: Did you say dive-bombing?
Max scanned the room, half expecting his “own” dragonfly to reappear.
WAVE DANCER: Wait a minute…
Piper’s cursor paused, then continued.
That’s strange. It’s gone.
Max swallowed hard. Uh-oh. His fingers flew across the keyboard.
SPYDER: Like out the window “gone”?
WAVE DANCER: I live on a sailboat, remember? We don’t have windows, we have portholes. Hello. And at the moment, they’re all battened down. Don’t you understand? The dragonfly simply disappeared. As in, poof!
Bugga. They’d both seen hyperactive dragonflies, his copper, hers blue, and each had disappeared in the blink of an eye. That sealed things. Everyone was off their nutter. Better make room for more company at Uncle Albert’s funny factory.
WHITE DRAGON: Bear in mind, depending on whom you ask, seeing a Dragonfly can mean many things. They’re not always what they seem.
Ah, WHITE DRAGON. Could this be the voice of reason?
SPYDER: You mean out of control?
WHITE DRAGON: No, I mean they’re not always insects.
That was WHITE DRAGON for you. “Bailong” in Mandarin, White Dragon’s login might as well been Yoda, Pliny the Elder, or Henry David Thoreau. He never failed to keep the group guessing. Born Wu Li Fang, WHITE DRAGON lived off Upper Bukit Timah Road in Singapore, near the island nation’s tropical nature reserve. Over months of corresponding, Max had learned that Li Fang spent many an hour there, sketching the reptilian wildlife that called the Malaysian peninsula home: the Tokay Gecko, the Malayan Water Monitor (a distant cousin of the Komodo Dragon)—even the King Cobra, the emperor of all snakes,. Li Fang felt the same way about reptiles that he, Max, felt about bugs.
In addition to being the blog’s artist, Li Fang was also its resident philosopher. And while his posted sketches were works of art, it was his bleedin’ genius that kept Max sharp. Li Fang had more facts stuffed into that head of his than there were insects to an acre (clue: over a million). More important, Li Fang was not just smart, he was wise. Way too wise for a fifteen year old. No wonder Chinese lore depicted the White Dragon as the protector of virtuous kings. If you were king, who else would you pick as your wingman if not the smartest guy—make that dragon—in the room?
WHITE DRAGON: If you ask a European, he’ll tell you the dragonfly is an omen of evil, sometimes referred to as a “troll’s spindle” or “ear cutter.” Whereas if you ask a First American, a Navajo perhaps, he’ll say they are good omens, indicators of pure water, for instance. The Japanese will tell you the dragonfly is the symbol of courage, strength, and happiness. Before the country officially became Japan, it was known as Akitsushima, the “Land of the Dragonflies.”
WAVE DANCER: And if we asked someone from China?
WHITE DRAGON: They will tell you what I believe. That they are messengers.
WAVE DANCER: Messengers…
SPYDER: Well, if they’re messengers, mine gave up before delivering his.
Wait a minute, thought Max. There had been a message. North.
WILD DOG: Well, mine didn’t. And you won’t believe what’s in the package!
WAVE DANCER, SPYDER, WHITE DRAGON: Danny!
The Wonder from Down Under! Danny Blackstone, aka WILD DOG. Born to an opal miner’s family, Danny had spent most of his outback childhood chasing wallabies, bush turkeys and sand goannas around Uluru, also known as Ayer’s Rock or, as his aboriginal friends the Anangu called it, the Dreamtime Express.
It was there, in the shadow of Australia’s iconic monolith, that Danny claimed you could access both parts of your life—the day-to-day and the Dreamtime, a reality said to be more real than life itself. Aboriginal lore professed you lived a fuller life in your dreams than you did while awake. Max thought it was just the heat getting to everyone—it could get up to forty-five degrees Celsius (one hundred and thirteen degrees Fahrenheit) in the bush—but Danny didn’t mind the jab. He could take it as easily as he could dish it out. Besides, keeping cool was routine. Like most miners in the Outback, Danny and his family lived underground, where, thirty feet down, the temperature never rose above twenty-one degrees Celsius (seventy degrees Fahrenheit).
WILD DOG: G’Day, Piper. Or is it night there? I can never remember.
WAVE DANCER: It’s two in the morning, West Coast time.
WHITE DRAGON: It’s six in the evening here in Singapore.
SPYDER: Ten in the AM, according to Big Ben.
WILD DOG: Well, here in the calm evening of Coober Pedy it’s eight thirty, but that isn’t the strange part. Around here, it seems our dragonflies come with directions, too.
SPYDER: You mean, as in NORTH?
WAVE DANCER: Or WEST?
WHITE DRAGON: Most possibly EAST?
WILD DOG: Yours too! The wings on mine said “SOUTH.” Did you find the rest of their message?
SPYDER, WAVE DANCER, WHITE DRAGON: What?
WILD DOG: The rest of their message! And it ain’t directions to the local billabong, mates!