Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for pre-intermediate learners. The name of the story is The Beetle and the Boy. This is chapter three of three. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Beetle3. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Beetle3. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So this is chapter three of the story. It’s the final chapter. Do go back and listen to chapters one and two if you haven’t already. You will definitely enjoy this more if you listen to the first two parts.
As I record this today it is a pretty horrible, a pretty miserable, day here in England. It has been raining a lot and it’s funny, there’s actually quite a lot of rain in one part of this story. So maybe I’m recording it at just the right time! It’s a shame, though, because the beginning of this week we had beautiful sunny weather. It was really hot for February. And yeah, it’s a shame that that won’t continue.
OK I will recap chapter two.
So in chapter two Cecil and Big Mike exchanged Christmas presents. Cecil got Big Mike a photo album of Little Mike and Big Mike knitted a tiny scarf for Little Mike and a big-sized scarf for Cecil.
After Christmas, however, Big Mike is acting a bit differently and we find out he has a crush on a girl in school. Cecil is not happy about this, and he wishes all her hair would fall out. The next day, they go into school and her hair has fallen out and the other kids are bullying her because of it.
A few days later, Big Mike announces that his family is moving back to Edinburgh, in Scotland, and therefore they will be moving apart. Cecil is very sad because he was planning on buying him a big birthday present for his birthday on February the thirteenth, but he is also angry because of the girl. So when Big Mike leaves, Cecil doesn’t even say goodbye to him.
Before we move on to the final and exciting chapter of the story, I will just explain some words that are in it.
Stick insects are a type of insect. They look like small pieces of wood, or sticks. They are kind of boring. They’re not the most exciting pet to have, but they’re very easy to look after.
When I was young I actually had two stick insects. They were my first pets. I wasn’t very creative so they were called Sticky and Zippo. I got them because my friend had stick insects and they had babies, and apparently they have a lot of babies, so they gave out all of the stick insects to people at school so that everyone could look after them and they wouldn’t have to look after them all by themselves.
In the story one of the characters has gone to university. I just want to quickly explain the university system that, at least, we have in the UK.
So the first degree that you do, usually 3 or 4 years, is your undergraduate degree. Afterwards, you can go on to do a one or two-year postgraduate course called a Master’s, and if you’re really clever you’ll go on to do a PhD.
So a PhD is usually four to seven years and it’s when you go into really deep detail about a specific subject that you’re researching. After a PhD, if you choose to remain in university and become an academic, you will do a post-doctorate. So that’s basically a period of research after your PhD, and then usually after that, if you’ve gone through all of those steps, you will probably become a professor, although these days it’s quite hard to become a professor.
Another word that comes up is Wicca. Wicca is a religion. It’s actually a new religion that was made in the 20th century, so in about 1950, and it’s a pagan religion. So paganism is like a traditional type of religion in a lot of Europe and especially in the United Kingdom. Wicca is based around witchcraft, but it’s not evil. There’s just a lot of magic circles and herbs and crystals and things like that, but they’re definitely not bad witches.
So remember, you can find a full transcript of this episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Beetle3. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Beetle3. That contains the full episode including the conversation in text format.
So, listen and enjoy!
The Beetle and the Boy Chapter 3
Little Mike died this morning.
Sorry, let me give you the full story.
I’m an entomologist now. Of course, nobody knows what that means. Half the people I meet think I’m some kind of doctor. So I explain by saying, ‘I’m a bug scientist.’ After Mike left, I replaced him with bug books. I spent all my teenage years either reading about bugs or handling them. In my bedroom I had a beetle breeding house, an ant farm, and a huge box of stick insects. I tried to convince my parents to get a box of bees in the garden, but they said that was too much. I bred bugs, I handled bugs, I dreamt of bugs.
Of course, a few years after Mike left I realised I was gay. It had been completely obvious to all those around me, but I ended up being the last to know. In some ways, I was glad Mike had left. He clearly saw me as just a friend.
After school, I went to the University of Reading to study entomology (that’s Bug Studies). My parents wanted me to choose a more normal subject, and specialise in entomology. The thing is, I had no interest in other types of biology. Insects were the only thing I cared about. I finished my undergraduate degree and went straight into a PhD, and I’m currently doing a postdoctorate in Reading. It’s a nice place.
My parents are always saying, ‘Cecil, you need to get out more!’ They tell me I’m a young, attractive guy, that there are plenty of men out there who would love me, even with my bugs. The thing is, I’m sure they’re not wrong. I’m not the shy, strange kid I used to be. I have friends now (although most of them are bug nerds like me). But I’m just not interested in a relationship. It’s too much work, and if he’s not interested in bugs, what’s the point? Besides, whenever I do go to a bar, nobody notices me.
On the weekends, I usually take the train to London Zoo. I volunteer and take groups of schoolkids round the bug houses. Sometimes there are kids who hate bugs, or are afraid of them, but I have a secret trick to change their minds. I bring along Little Mike in his box and introduce them to him, and all of their fear and lack of interest goes away.
Wait, that’s not right. I used to bring along Little Mike. Not anymore.
Little Mike has lived for an extraordinarily long time. The average time a stag beetle lives is between three and seven years. Little Mike lived for fifteen years. And of all the days to die, he did it this morning: the thirteenth of February. The day Big Mike left. I’ve been crying a lot. All my emotions from that time, which I hid inside of me, are coming up now like a fountain.
For the first time in years, I wonder what Mike is up to. What did he study at university? Did he even go to university? How are his parents?
A thought strikes me: what if he’s married, to a woman? I try to tell myself I would be happy for him, but I can’t lie to myself anymore.
‘Pull yourself together,’ I say to myself. I go and make some tea, and think about my ant farm. I have an idea of how I’m going to change all the paths. But then I start thinking about what Mike would say: ‘No, that shape is all wrong… You should do it like this, see? Then the ants will be happy, and it’ll look nice.’
‘What do you know about ants?’ I say, and then I realise I’m talking to myself. It’s a bad habit of mine.
I pour my cup of tea and sit down to check my emails. Academic emails are always boring, and I need something boring to take my mind off Little Mike and Big Mike. I look through the lists of junk, announcements, and questions from students. And then I see it.
From: Michael Walker. Subject: Hi, bug boy.
I delete the email and go for my tea. I drink a big mouthful, and burn my mouth. I’m shaking.
Now, after all these years?
But I have to know.
I put the mug down, move the mouse to my rubbish bin, and open the email. My heart beating hard, I open it. I read it quickly. Then I hit “Reply”.
A few days later, and we’ve agreed to meet for coffee. He lives in London, so Reading isn’t far from him. I’m standing outside the café, hiding in the door from the late-winter rain. Part of me is saying I need to get out of there, that he’s just going to hurt me again. But the rest of me knows that if I don’t see him now, I’ll be thinking about him for the rest of my life.
I almost don’t recognise him at first. He has a short haircut, in a fashionable style, and a neat, stylish beard. He smiles, and then I know it’s him.
‘Hi, Big Mike.’
He laughs. ‘It’s been a long time since I heard that name.’
We go inside and order drinks, and I go straight to what I’ve been thinking about.
‘So why did you leave? Really.’
For a long time he says nothing, and stares into his coffee. Then he looks me in the eye and says, ‘Do you believe in magic?’
I laugh. ‘Have you become a witch or something? One of those Wiccans?’
He shakes his head. ‘No, not like that. But think about it. Haven’t you ever noticed that you were particularly… hard to notice?’
‘I’m good at hiding in the corner.’
‘It’s more than that. You make the corner disappear. You know I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for three years?’
I choke on my hot chocolate. ‘Why?’
He makes a face at me. ‘You should know why. Anyway, I’m amazed I even found you. You might not call it “magic”, but there’s something around you, something that prevents others from seeing you.’
I think on his words. They make sense, on some level. And then I remember something, something I’d forgotten for a long time.
‘There was this one thing, in school… Someone was bullying me, and then he went into hospital. And there was that girl…’
‘Beth? The one that went bald?’
I smile nervously. He remembers her name. ‘Yeah, her. You keep in touch?’
‘We do.’ He smiles. ‘She decided to stay with the bald look, and she looks really cool now. But anyway, I don’t think those things happened because of you.’
‘Of course they didn’t, because magic isn’t real.’
‘I did them.’
I stare at him. ‘Sorry?’
‘Your… thing is stopping people from noticing you. Mine is, well, when I really care about someone, whatever they want ends up happening. Without me trying.’
I shake my head. ‘How long have you been thinking about all this?’
‘Think about it. That bully got ill when I noticed he was bullying you, in your little tree. And that girl lost all her hair when I noticed you staring at her. You wanted bad things to happen to them, but I caused them to happen.’
‘Neither of us caused it. It was just chance. It’s easy for you to say all this now, because it’s in the past.’
‘I’ve had lots of experiences like these, though. I might look healthy now, but a few years ago, I was in hospital.’
‘Oh my God, what for?’
‘A stomach problem. It was one of the worst things they had ever seen, the doctors told me. The week before, my boyfriend and I had a huge fight. And he said he hoped I rotted from the inside out. Like an apple that went bad. Well, that started to happen. My stomach basically started dying. But as soon as I apologised to him, I got better. We’re not together anymore, by the way.’
I’m shaking. I hold the warm mug tighter in my hands.
‘That’s why I moved away. I was worried about what might happen. What if you wished me dead? What if you wished yourself dead? I tried to hide my emotions, to not care about anyone. It didn’t work.’
‘Then why now? Why even get in touch with me again?’
He smiles, and my heart melts all over again. ‘Because I care about you. Too much to ignore it. After that time where I almost died, I realised that there’s always going to be a chance of my “power” doing something bad. I just have to take that chance. Anyway, you clearly wanted to see me, too.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Simple. If you didn’t wish to see me, my magic wouldn’t work, and I wouldn’t have been able to find you.’
I think about it for a moment. It is strange. His email arrived just after I started thinking about him. Wishing to see him again.
‘Fine, then. I’ll accept this… magic thing, for now, though it still sounds a bit silly. Now, tell me what you’ve been up to.’
‘Well, you know how I knitted you that scarf?’
‘I run a clothes business, now. In fact…’
He pulls out a scarf from his bag. It’s green, with a little black pattern on it. I look closer, and realise that the pattern is of little stag beetles.
‘It’s our most popular product.’
‘Oh, it’s beautiful. That reminds me… Little Mike died.’
He looks sad. He reaches out and takes my hand, and looks me in the eye.
‘Then it’s a good thing you have Big Mike back again, huh?’
After we finish our coffee, he comes round to my house and I show him all my insects. That evening, he stays the night. And the night after that, and the night after that.
I may have lost the beetle, but I kept the boy.
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