He slowed down as the tunnel grew dark and put his hand on the wall as a guide. And then, up ahead he saw a light, and he started to hurry forward once again. He hopped out of the tunnel and into the middle of a crowded courtroom.
The mole cricket had disappeared. Instead, ants filled the little room. The queen sat on a throne at one end of the room. At the other end of the room, the grasshopper sat on a chair, guarded by two ants. The chair was too small for him, and he sat at the very edge, with his legs tucked back.
Along one wall, between the queen and the grasshopper, there was a low wall with seats behind it for the jury. There, in the jury, sat the ladybug and her grandmother, the mouse, and a baby bird. The bat was snoring loudly, and everyone around him was scooting their chairs away. Miss Muffet was there, with a wooly aphid in her lap. The rest of the jury were ants, and ants crowded along the opposite wall as well, standing too close to have any room for chairs.
Isaac had jumped into the courtroom between the jury and the grasshopper. The crowd murmured and looked at Isaac until the queen smacked a little wooden hammer on a table next to her throne. “There will be order in my courtroom.” The talking stopped immediately. Not knowing what else to do, Isaac stayed where he was standing.
“What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Grasshopper?” the queen asked.
“I’m available for parties, weddings, picnics, festivals, anything as long as there’s food. Just let me know at least a week in advance.” He winked.
“So you say, but when you agreed to help us with our garden in the spring, you disappeared as soon as the weather was warm.”
The grasshopper smoothed back his antennae and smiled. “Madam, I’m a musician, not a gardener. If you’d like for me to play for you while you work, I suppose I could make an exception. Just for you.”
The queen narrowed her eyes and hit the table with her hammer once again. “That was not the agreement.”
The grasshopper shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Call the first witness,” the queen said.
“Call the first witness,” shouted a guard.
An ant standing by the entrance to a tunnel across the room from Isaac held up a list. “Calling the owl!”
“Wait!” one of the guards said. “An owl? Is that wise?”
The ant looked at her list again. “Well, he’s listed here, isn’t he?”
“But owls can eat ants, and he might be grumpy if we wake him. It is the middle of the day,” the guard said in a quiet voice.
“Oh! Yes, I see. No owls.” She crossed out the owl.
“Call the next witness,” the guard shouted.
“Calling the spider!”
“No!” Miss Muffet shouted from the jury. “If the spider comes, I’m leaving.”
“But he’s on the list.”
The guard leaned over. “Just call the next witness,” she said.
The ant sighed and crossed out the spider. “Fine, fine. Calling the caterpillar!”
The courtroom was silent, waiting. No one objected. Two guards left the room. After a few moments, they came back carrying a large brown cocoon.
The queen hit her hammer on the little table. “What is this?” she asked. “This isn’t a caterpillar.”
“He’s inside,” one of the guards said. “Should we cut it open?”
“Don’t!” Isaac said. “My teacher said that would kill the caterpillar.”
The queen leaned forward. “My guards said that the grasshopper confessed his crime to a group of caterpillars. Someone needs to come testify.”
“But what about the ants that heard him say that he was going to help with the garden?” Isaac asked.
“The queen doesn’t testify in court,” the guard next to Isaac said quietly. “She’s the judge.”
“Oh. Well, I heard him tell the story, too,” Isaac said.
“What’s your name?” the guard asked.
The ant across the room wrote another name on her list. “Calling Isaac!” she yelled.
“I’m here!” Isaac said.
“Come sit down over here.” A guard standing on the other side of the jury waved him over to a chair. Isaac hurried across the room and sat down.
“Are you Isaac?” the queen asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“I object,” the grasshopper said. “He is obviously lying. All the Isaacs I know have big black wings and twelve legs and purple spots.”
“Do you have any proof that your name is Isaac?” the queen asked.
Isaac shrugged. “My mom picked out my name. I think it’s on my birth certificate.”
The queen turned to the grasshopper. “Do you have any proof his name isn’t Isaac? Please tell us where you met these other Isaacs.”
The grasshopper tapped his foot. “I can’t quite recall. But I know I never met this young man before.”
“I met him,” the ladybug called from the jury box. “He ate my grandmother.”
“I’m fine, dear,” her grandmother said.
“He shared his food,” the mouse said.
“He told me about families,” the baby bird said.
The bat stopped snoring and opened an eye. “That’s the one that interrupted our song. Send him away.” He closed his eye and started to snore again.
The queen hit the little table with her hammer. “That’s enough. We don’t need any more character witnesses. We will proceed with the testimony.”
“Well, the grasshopper said…” Isaac began.
“I object,” the grasshopper said.
“Stop objecting,” one of the guards said. “This is taking forever.”
“That’s not fair,” the grasshopper said. “In fact, I think this whole trial is unfair. I’m leaving.” With that, he spread his wings and leapt into the air.
The guards rushed forward just as the grasshopper landed on the head of the sleeping bat. The guards jumped at the bat and the grasshopper flew away. The bat startled awake, spread his wings, and launched into the crowd of ants along the opposite wall.
The room was soon a mess of ants and jury members. The queen shouted and hit her little table until her wooden hammer cracked. No one listened.
Isaac hid behind his chair, but he didn’t really feel safe. Maybe he’d be safer if he grew just a little bigger. He took his feathers out of his pocket and flapped his arms. That was good, but maybe if he were a little taller it would be even better.
He kept flapping his arms while looking up. He’d decided to stop once he was just shorter than the ceiling, but it stayed just as far away as it had always been. He paused and looked down. The ants looked so small. Had the ceiling always been this high?
He was almost back to his normal size. Isaac flapped his arms a few more times. Everything around him was suddenly very, very bright. He blinked and his eyes watered. What happened? Where was he?
He put the feathers in his back pocket and looked around. He was standing at the edge of the forest. Jimmy was standing nearby, waving. Isaac looked around again and jogged over.
“Did you find it?” Jimmy asked.
Isaac patted his pocket. It was still there. He took out the baseball and handed it to Jimmy. “Here it is.”
“Thanks. Let’s go call and see what’s taking everyone so long.” Jimmy turned and started to run towards his house.
Had any of that really happened? Where were the cave and the hotel lobby with all the elevator doors? What happened to the ants and the courtroom?
Isaac took out the feathers again and held one in each hand. He tried pushing up on the air. Nothing happened. He tried pushing down on the air. Nothing happened. He flapped his arms wildly, and finally gave up. He put the feathers back in his pocket and followed Jimmy into the house.