Isaac looked back at the entrance to the mole cricket burrow. There wasn’t a door. Wouldn’t it be rude to just walk in? But, what if he yelled to let him know that he was here and woke them up? He was pretty sure that some bugs are nocturnal.
But how would they know if it’s night when they’re underground? Wouldn’t it be like the dark forest all over again? It should be fine to yell. “Hello?” he called. “Anybody home? Can I come in?”
Nobody answered. Isaac tried again. Well, there was no door, so surely they couldn’t mind visitors all that much. He started to walk down the tunnel. It quickly grew dark. He kept a hand on the wall, so that he didn’t get lost.
There was a dim light up ahead. He hurried forward. There was a tiny light above a closed black curtain blocking the tunnel ahead. A shiny green beetle leaning against the wall looked up as Isaac approached.
“Are you a mole cricket?” Isaac asked.
“Do I look like a mole cricket?”
Isaac had no idea what a mole cricket looked like. “Yes?”
The beetle laughed. Then he stood up straight. “I’m not a mole cricket, but I am a scarab.”
“From Egypt?” Isaac asked, impressed.
“Well, no. But I have cousins there,” the beetle said.
“Okay,” Isaac said. The mole crickets must be further down the tunnel. He reached for the curtain so that he could slip through and keep looking.
“Wait,” the beetle said. “You can’t go in there, they’re rehearsing.”
“For a play?”
“For the dance. They perform nightly this time of year, and everybody comes. Even the pill bugs, no matter how often they get thrown out.”
Isaac let go of the curtain and turned to face the green beetle. “Why aren’t pill bugs allowed in the dances? They seem pretty harmless.”
The beetle laughed. “You’d think so, but they roll into a ball whenever they get startled. So, if there’s a key change in the song, or someone next to them starts to sing along, or someone across the room coughs, they roll into a ball and start bumping into people and knocking them over and tripping them up. It’s chaos. So, we throw them out and they come running back in.”
“Without saying sorry?”
“They think that if they didn’t see it happen, it didn’t really happen. And they can’t see anything when they’re rolled up in a ball like that.”
“That’s terrible.” Isaac frowned. “Why don’t they have their own dances?”
“Pill bugs can’t make music,” the beetle said. “Not many can. Not like the mole crickets do.”
“I heard that mole crickets know all about the underground,” Isaac said.
“Yes, they spend most of their time underground. They dug this tunnel, you know, and the dance hall. They’re great diggers.”
Isaac looked back at the curtain. “Will they be done soon? I need to ask a question.”
“Wait here, and I’ll go check,” the beetle said. He disappeared behind the curtain. Isaac sat on the floor and waited for him to return.
The curtain whooshed back and Isaac looked up at a tall cricket with broad forearms and large claws. He stood up and smiled nervously. “Um, hello.”
“I heard from Junie that you were looking for a mole cricket.”
“Is Junie the scarab?” Isaac asked.
“I suppose he’s from the scarab family, but he’s a June bug. I assume that’s not what you are here for.” The cricket folded his massive forearms against his chest and looked down at Isaac.”
Isaac tried to swallow his nervousness. “I’m lost and the ant queen said that you know the underground best. Could you please help me find my way home?”
“Hmmm.” The cricket looked at Isaac for a moment. “You’re not from around here. Where’s your home?”
“I’m not sure really how to explain it. It may be in another dimension at this point. I went through a cave into a lobby and through a door, but then the door was gone so I could be just about anywhere. Or nowhere. Is it possible to be nowhere? I didn’t think so before today, but now I’m not so sure.” Isaac’s voice was shaking a little by the end. His eyes burned and he blinked several times.
“Now, now. Don’t cry. We’ll figure this out.” The cricket patted him on the head gently with one of his big paws.
Isaac sniffed and blinked a couple more times to keep the tears back. He took a deep breath. “Then you’ll help me?”
The cricket sighed. “I really should be sleeping, but it sounds like you really need some help.”
Isaac nodded. “I tried and tried and tried to find the way out, but nothing works and no one knew what I was talking about.”
“Why don’t you start from the beginning and tell me all about it.”
So Isaac told the mole cricket all about the baseball and the forest and the cave. He told him about the hotel lobby and the elevators and the little door and the potted plant. He told him about the meadow and the baseball game and the queen. The mole cricket listened and nodded.
“So, what do you think?” Isaac asked.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this before. It is indeed very strange.”
Isaac’s heart fell. “You can’t help me?”
“I didn’t say that.” The mole cricket held out a paw. “Let me see the baseball.”
Isaac fished it out of his pocket and handed it over. “It’s just a normal baseball,” he said. “Well, it’s special to Jimmy, because his dad caught it at a baseball game for him. But otherwise, it’s pretty normal.”
The cricket held it up to his face. “It has the scent of something from far, far away.” He handed the baseball back and looked up.
The mole cricket was quiet and still for several minutes. Isaac was afraid to disturb him. Finally the cricket looked back down and clapped his paws together. “I think I’ve got it.”
“You know which way I need to go? Please tell me,” Isaac said.
“I can do better than tell you, I’ll take you partway there by the quickest route,” the cricket said.
Isaac grinned. “Thank you. That would be wonderful.”
The mole cricket tapped his paw along the tunnel wall in several places. He paused and tapped a couple of times in one particular spot. Then he started digging. Within seconds, he’d vanished into the tunnel wall, leaving a little pile of dirt behind.
Isaac hurried over and peeked into the new tunnel. The mole cricket was already far ahead, clearing the path. Isaac climbed into the tunnel and started to follow him.
“Hey, where did everyone go?” the June bug asked from the tunnel behind him. But Isaac was already hurrying down the new tunnel, too far away to call back and explain.