Stanley couldn’t stop staring. He knew it was rather rude but he was transfixed. The hamster stared and stared at a leaf on one of the plants in the MacDougals’ tiny garden.
What was he looking at?
On the leaf a striped and spotted caterpillar munched steadily and surely. He munched without stopping. He munched all day from dawn till dusk.
Stanley had never seen anyone or anything eat so much in such a short time.
He looked more closely, putting his nose up against the green leaf. The caterpillar lifted its head and swivelled its body to face Stanley.
‘Got a problem? What you looking at?’
‘Err, well, I was just wondering what you’ll do when you’ve eaten every leaf on this plant.’
‘Start on the next one, of course, Mr Nosey. What else would I do?’
‘Ah, yes. Don’t you get bored? I mean, it’s not much of a life is it, just eating leaves all day and every day. Not exciting. No adventure.’
‘Look mate, this is what I do. And I do it very well cos I’m a caterpillar, right. And I don’t need no advice from the likes of you.’
‘No, of course not. I’m Stanley, by the way.’
‘I’m Arnold -please do not call me Arnie. Now, if you don’t mind, I have some important work to do.’
At that moment, Stanley peeped through a gap in the fence. He could see Clem chasing between the wild flowers in the field on the cliff-top, trying to catch the butterflies. They were so nimble and quick but she wouldn’t give up. He watched the butterflies tease the orange kitten, fluttering close to her nose, then whisking away to sip nectar from another flower.
‘Seems a bit unfair to me, Arnie – oh sorry – Arnold. I mean, your days are rather dull. Just look at butterflies, for example. They have a great time.’
‘Look here, Stan. There’s no comparison between a useful creature like me and one of those flibbertigibbets. All they do is flutter about for a few days then that’s it – no more. I am focused and purposeful. I know what to do and I get on with it. Butterflies indeed! Do me a favour!’
Stanley frowned. He knew he was missing something but what was it? It seemed pointless to chat with Arnold any longer. He watched him continuing to eat his way through several more leaves and wondered how fat he would be by tomorrow. Then he scampered off in search of Clem.
The next day, Stanley decided to try to chat with Arnold again. He searched the plant but couldn’t spot the caterpillar. Puzzled, Stanley looked at the nearby plants. Still no sign of Arnold.
He crouched under a large bush near the fence. As he wondered what to do next he heard a muffled moan from somewhere in the centre of the bush. Stanley looked up carefully. There, hanging from the underside of a leaf, was some sort of green parcel.
‘Help. Heeeelp’ – called a tiny voice.
‘Hello,’ said Stanley, ‘What’s the matter?’
The green parcel twisted and shook and then the voice called out again: ‘Help’.
‘Who is it?’ said Stanley.
‘Help me, Stanley, it’s Arnold. I’m stuck in this tight thingy, I’m all squashed up, I can’t get out and something very strange is happening to me in here!’
‘Oh dear. How awful. Hang on, Arnold, I’ll try and get some help. Don’t panic. I’ll be as quick as I can.’
Stanley wasn’t sure what to do next. The MacDougals were very good at rescuing creatures but he didn’t know how to tell them about poor Arnold. He decided to consult with Clem and scurried away to find her.
As usual, she was curled up snugly in the room at the top of the lighthouse and it took Stanley a lot of effort to scramble up the steps to the top. He was puffed out when he got there and collapsed exhausted by her front paws. Clem opened one eye.
‘You alright, Stanley?’
‘It’s Arnold, he’s got himself into a tight spot. Can you come and help?’
The two friends made their way back down to the garden and Stanley showed Clem the green parcel hanging under the leaf.
Arnold was still wriggling inside but now he sounded very sleepy.
‘Hang on, Arnold. We’ll have you out in no time,’ said Stanley. ‘Don’t panic. Help is at hand.’
Clem sat back, thoughtfully.
‘I think he’s meant to be in there, Stanley. It’s what happens to all caterpillars.’
‘Are you sure? No, that can’t be right.’
‘It’s time for Arnold to change.’
‘But he doesn’t want to!’
‘It’s all part of a clever plan you see. If he changes he can start a whole new life.’
‘Oh. Will it be a better life? Will he have adventures? Will he be happier?’
‘Yes, I think so because he will be doing what he is created to do. We mustn’t mess that up.’
‘I’d like him to be happy. He was a bit grumpy before!’
The green parcel was still now and Stanley thought he could hear Arnold snoring quietly inside. They decided to leave him alone and returned to the MacDougals’ kitchen for tea.
‘I wish I could fly,’ Stanley told Clem later that evening.
‘Stanley, you eat too much shortbread – you’d never lift off the ground!’
‘Anything is possible,’ said Stanley. ‘You just have to believe and try.’
Stanley scrambled up the back of a chair and onto the kitchen table. Mrs MacDougal was in the middle of making a trifle. She had just popped out with Dougal MacDougal to check something in the lighthouse.
The intrepid hamster climbed up on top of a box of trifle sponges. He balanced precariously, teetering near the edge.
‘Watch me fly, Clem. Wahoo, here I go.’
He plummeted off the box, landing with a plop in a bowl of custard.
‘Stanley, you OK?’ Clem called anxiously.
Then she heard Stanley’s voice singing rather gloopily: ‘I’m singing in the custard, just singing in the custard’.
His yellow, sticky face appeared over the rim of the bowl. ‘Mmmm. I like custard as much as shortbread,’ he said.
Clem, laughed so much she laughed her kitten socks off.
Stanley went each day after that to check on Arnold. The little parcel remained the same, hanging stiff and still underneath the bush. It stayed there through the wind and rain. It stayed there through the cool nights and sunny days.
Then, one morning, Stanley found the parcel dangling from the leaf like an empty split shell. And Arnold was nowhere to be seen.
That evening, Stanley returned anxiously to look for Arnold. He sat under the bush in the twilight and waited and waited.
After a long time, a beautiful moth flew close by and settled near Stanley. The breeze ruffled its delicate wings and antennae.
‘Hello, Stanley. I’m so glad you didn’t stop me changing. This is wonderful. Just brilliant. Why ever did I think it was great to munch on leaves all day long!’
‘Arnie! Is it really you? You’re so different ….. and so happy!’
‘Yep this is me – this is the real me. I’m off on an adventure. Whoopee!’
With that, Arnold flew effortlessly up and up. Stanley could hear his laughter on the night air.
Then the Great Light shone out to sea and the little hamster watched as Arnold flew away joyfully on its bright beams and disappeared into the night.