Wes Henricksen: The Scorpion

 

Raphael's portrait of Elizabetta Gonzaga (1504-5)

Raphael’s portrait of Elizabetta Gonzaga (1504-5)

 

The scorpion lived with his wife and children in a shallow, dry burrow on a hillside near Tubac, Arizona.  One morning, the scorpion was on his way out the door to hunt when his wife stopped him and pointed at the beetle they had eaten the night before, or rather, at the empty shell of the beetle, which was propped up against the wall of the burrow.  The scorpion nodded.  He marched over to the beetle and grabbed it with his right-side pincer and dragged it outside.  He hauled it to a nearby pile of carcasses, just a few feet from the entrance of the burrow, and tossed it on top.  Then he turned and scuttled off to search for insects and spiders.

After two hours of walking, and having found not a single thing to eat, the scorpion arrived at a river.  It was the same river he arrived at every day.  He was tired of that river; he was sick to death of it.  Always stopping him.  Always holding him back.  Every day he arrived there and every day he turned around and headed home, oftentimes empty handed.

Today, he decided, the river is not going to stop me.  Today, I will find a way across.

He looked around for something he could use to cross the swift-moving water—a fallen log or an overhanging branch; a large dry leaf, perhaps, or a thick chunk of bark, something he could use to float over on.  That’s when he saw the frog.  Of course! he thought.  It was so simple and yet it had never before occurred to him—how had he never thought of this!  He approached the frog and asked him, as politely and persuasively as he could, if the frog would please give him a ride across the river.  The frog looked at the scorpion’s stinger and back at the scorpion.  “Is this a joke?” the frog said.  “No, absolutely not.”  “Why not?” the scorpion asked.  “Because you’ll sting me,” the frog said.  The scorpion explained, as politely and persuasively as he could, that that would make no sense.  Why would he sting the frog while crossing the river—if the frog died the scorpion himself would drown.  “I’m not an idiot,” the frog said.  “I know your kind.  I’m not gonna do it.”  “Fine,” the scorpion said, and he stormed off.  “My kind,” he mumbled to himself angrily.  He walked up and down riverbank, looking for another way across.  There was none.  He went back to the frog.  “Please,” he said.  “Not a chance,” the frog answered.  For several hours this same exchange happened over and over.  “Listen,” the scorpion finally said.  “Just hear me out.  If anything I should be afraid of you.  Think about it.  If you’re taking me across and you decide to swim underwater, which we both know you’re perfectly capable of doing, it would knock me off your back and I’d drown.  Hell, you could just decide to swim down to the bottom and hold your breath.  That would kill me too.  The more I think about it the more I question why I should trust you with my life.  I don’t even know you.  But I do trust you.  And I’m willing to put my life in your hands.  All I ask is that you do the same.”

The frog felt sorry for the scorpion.  He couldn’t help it.  It wasn’t that he trusted the scorpion—he didn’t—but it made him feel terrible to think that he, as a frog, could swim back and forth all day long, visiting both sides of the river, while the scorpion couldn’t.  The scorpion spent his whole life stuck on that one side.  It wasn’t fair.  “If I take you across do you promise not to sting me?” the frog asked.  “Of course!” the scorpion said.  “I told you I won’t sting you.”  “You swear?” the frog asked.  “I swear,” the scorpion said.  The frog stared at the scorpion and shook his head.  “Then let’s get this over with,” the frog said.  The scorpion hopped on and the frog began swimming.

Halfway across the frog felt a sharp explosion of pain in his back and his limbs began to spasm uncontrollably.  He tried to kick his legs but they were already stiffening.  “You fucking asshole!” the frog screamed.  “How could you!”  His heart beat fast and he struggled to keep afloat.  He was going to die and he knew it.  “Why!” he screamed.  “Why!”

The scorpion dug his feet deeper into the soft tissue of the frog’s back.  His heart was racing too; he was frozen with fear.  He had no idea why he’d done it.  He closed his eyes and wrapped his legs tighter around the frog.

From the riverbank a rabbit, who had stopped to take a drink, heard the commotion and looked up just in time to see the scorpion stiffly wobbling and bobbing on top of the water.  How did that scorpion get all the way out there? the rabbit wondered.  He couldn’t be sure, but he could think of no other explanation: the scorpion had walked to the middle of the river.  I’ll be damned, the rabbit thought.  I never thought I’d see the day.  He watched in awe for a few seconds and lowered his head to take a sip of water.  When he lifted his head again the scorpion was gone.  The rabbit paused a moment to ponder the meaning of what he’d just witnessed.  Then he turned and bolted up the riverbank and hurried back to his den.  He dutifully rearranged the straw inside, pushing it with his nose this way and that to make it as soft and comfortable as possible, and then he circled around three times before curling up next to his wife and children, who were already sleeping.  As he lay there motionless, his body rising and falling with each breath, he couldn’t sleep.  He was thinking about what he’d seen down at the river.  A scorpion that can walk on water.  It made him smile.  He still couldn’t believe it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wes Henricksen is a former ice hockey player who now practices law.  When he can, he writes.  His writing has appeared in various media, including The Bohemyth, the New York Times, and the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, and he is the author of the popular law student guidebook Making Law Review.  He is currently working on his first novel.

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