This one's for Gary.
Another one was ripe. The tree's branch uncurled, taking days to release the great bud ensconced inside. When the branch finally unfurled itself, the bud released and fell to the ground, rolling down the small hill. The bud rocked to a stop, settled in a mossy dip. For a long time it sat there, unmoving. Then, the outer shell cracked and split, falling open to reveal the snail. His bright blue shell glimmered, standing out like a gem against the green moss. He extracted his head and turned it from one side to another. He saw moss, which he knew to be moss, and he saw the massive tree behind him. His eyes swiveled back and forth, taking in the entire landscape. He saw no other blue gem snails, which he knew himself to be, and knew he ought to look for. The snail nodded to himself, accepting this information, and decided to inch his way forward, to explore.
After a long time, ages it seemed, the snail arrived at the edge of the world. He crept up to the edge, recognizing it from afar but wanting to see it, to experience the bliss of crouching upon the cusp of oblivion. He did so, and was amazed. Brown earth reached down below him, but beyond that he could not see anything except darkness. The sound of rushing, whispering air reached up to him. It called to him, begged him to merge himself with it. He shivered, and turned away. He made his way back.
The path he had taken previously was obscured, unrecognizable from the passage of time. The snail did not worry. He made his way as he could, sliding over moss and rotting leaves and bark. He met a moth, and passed a slug. He nodded at the slug and trudged on.
An ant, a massive ant, asked the snail for a ride. "I am traveling and could use some assistance," he explained. The snail pulled his eyestalks down into his shell as he thought. The ant was solitary, strange for an ant.
"Where are you going?" the snail asked.
"Ah, where," the ant replied. "To find something that makes me happy."
"That is a good thing to look for," the snail said. "I should like to look for the same thing. I have seen the edge of the world, and that did not make me happy. Should we search for the heart of the world?"
"You are an accommodating snail," the ant praised him. "I think we should search for the heart of the world."
The ant took his place on the snail's iridescent blue shell, and they commenced their slow journey together. They knew not to ask anyone where the heart of the world was, for they knew they would be the first to find it.
The snail crept along, and one day, as rain drizzled down upon them, he spotted a great cavern up ahead.
"I am certain that is the entrance to the heart of the world," he told the ant. The ant nodded, and the snail observed his agreement. Silently, they proceeded forward.
After a few cycles of light and darkness, they reached the cavern. It was dark inside, but they had no fear. They traveled and traveled, following the path into the heart of the world. The cave began to reverberate with a deep, contented sound. Even more confident, they continued. The air became warm, and all light was gone. The snail did not slow his pace, and the ant silently approved.
The first tickle was slight, almost imperceptible. Soon, more tickles followed, and eventually they became a warm, soft embrace, as the air around them thickened and welcomed them. A rumbling hum flowed around them. The snail and the ant had found the heart of the world, and they were happy. They smiled.