Hungry and unable to find a good block of wood to chew on at home, a termite walked down to his local hardware store where he could usually find a wide selection of fine woods on which to dine. However, upon arriving at the store he discovered the lumber section had been eliminated to make room for a new line of aluminum siding and pink flamingo lawn ornaments. Disappointed, but undeterred he continued down the street to a large bookstore. Although unfinished wood was his preference, in times of desperation like this in the past he had been known to nibble on a bookshelf or even take a bite or two out of any blank pages he could find in a book. (He was always careful to avoid the inked pages because they left a simply intolerable aftertaste.)
Much to his dismay, the wooden bookshelves he remembered were gone and long rows of unpalatable metal shelving now stood in their place. Maybe his plan-B snacking hadn’t been quite so infrequent after all. By this time the termite was downright starving and desperate enough to eat that fake pressed wood stuff sold at discount stores if he had to. Fortunately, the shelves still held good old-fashioned books. Relieved that at least these had not been replaced with books on tape or CD or some such other indigestible nonsense, he picked a promising looking antique book (paper products always tasted better aged) and began to wriggle his way inside.
It was dark and cozy inside, and although the air was heavy with the scent of ink, he soon found an acceptably clean page and settled himself down for a much needed snack. But just as he was about to take his first bite, he heard a voice say, “Hello there lad. Now just what might you be doing here?” Mouth still half open, the termite slowly looked around to see who was talking to him. Near the bind of the book, he noticed a large set of eyes blinking at him questioningly.
“Um, hello,” replied the termite nervously. “Who are you?”
“I, dear boy, am a bookworm. And more to the point, I like my reading material kept intact.”
The termite didn’t know what to do. Obviously this bookworm fellow already knew he was up to no good. Well, the termite hesitated, perhaps he could just leave this book and find a different one that was unoccupied. Or he could just stay and chat, acting like he had never intended to do anything else. But no, he decided; he was far too hungry to go searching for anything else to eat and was resolved to stay and munch regardless of what this second-class caterpillar wanted. He said as much to the bookworm, who it turned out was not the scrawny scholarly type he had imagined, but the very large, fit type. In the end, the battle of wits turned into a shoving contest in which the termite was unceremoniously ejected from the book by his much larger competitor.
Stomach grumbling with hunger and cheeks red with anger, the termite was just about to launch himself back into the book for round two when a rather obese gentleman picked up said book and walked away with in the direction of the checkout counter. Upon reaching the clerk the man inquired as to how much the book cost (of course this came across to the bookworm as unintelligible babble as he was quite snugly closed between the third and fourth pages, and the termite hadn’t the slightest idea what was being said because he had never bothered to learn any of the peculiar human languages).
The clerk responded with what must have been some obscene amount of money, as it caused the man holding the book to gasp and clutch his chest in pain. Apparently, the oft-named “sticker shock” was just too much for the man’s overworked heart which finally gave up, sending him into a decidedly lethal case of cardiac arrest. In the course of struggling for his last seconds of life, the man forgot quite entirely about the pricey commodity in his hand and carelessly allowed it to fall to the slightly dirty floor beneath his feet.
Now it was neither the fall, nor the unsanitary condition of his landing that particularly worried the bookworm. Rather, it was the very recently deceased human whose body was moving toward him with increasing speed that caused him a spot of indigestion. Fortunately, his concern didn’t have time to take hold (which might have caused him the discomfort of an ulcer or at the very least bad gas for the rest of the evening); since in another instant there was a solid whump and pages three and four (as well as a few on either side) became quite thoroughly ruined by what would later be described by one insect reporter as, “the most horrific and disturbing end he had seen in all his thirty-two days.”
Needless to say, the termite was unsettled by the turn of events, but at the same time relieved that he had narrowly escaped sharing the same fate. In fact, he realized he had learned a valuable life lesson that day. Indeed, he now knew without a doubt that it is better to have shoved and lost than never to have shoved at all.