I Know Why the Caged Cricket Sings
a Bug's Life fanfic
C. "Sparky" Read

Chapter One

P.T. counted the money, beaming.

"What a haul," he said smugly. "This 'berg's so full of yahoos it hurts. But I don't mind the pain." He kissed the wad of cash. "Twenty!" he crowed, waving the money at his performers, who were leaning tiredly on props all around the tent. "Twenty insects in one night! The biggest audience we've had in months! We're staying right here for...two weeks! Maybe three!" Cackling and singing to himself, P.T. hopped out of the tent to count the money again in private.

"Three weeks," mused Slim, stretching. "That would be nice. I do hate packing and repacking everything every few days."

"Tell me about it." Francis rolled his eyes. "Well that's it, I'm beat."

General mumbling all around confirmed that Francis wasn't the only one turning in for the night.

Blip hmphed as everyone started filing out of the tent to find places to sleep. "These guys just ain't got no stamina," he remarked to Flash over his shoulder.

He was answered by a snore.

"Flash you feeb!" growled Blip, kicking the other firefly.

Flash awoke with a sputter. "Wha? What? I'm awake!"

"No you're not," sneered Blip. "Come on! We're gonna play Stinger Brigade tonight, remember?"

Flash rubbed his eyes. "C'mon, Blip," he complained. "I'm outta it. Play with Ymri."

Blip caught a glimpse of the spider in question leaving the tent with the others. "Just left," he said.

"Then play with Molt."

Blip made a face. "Molt's no good at Stinger Brigade," he answered. "He keeps having mercy on the prisoners and letting them go home. You can't rack up points that way."

Flash staggered towards the tentflap. "Well it's Molt or no one 'cause I'm turnin' in." And he left.

Blip all but pouted. What was with everyone? It wasn't that late. The firefly stepped outside and peered around, trying to find the grasshopper. Maybe they could play something else, like Snake Den or Leech Empire.

But twenty minutes of searching and calling for Molt proved fruitless, as the big grasshopper was nowhere to be found. Blip gave up in disgust and had to content himself with a rousing game of Solitaire, which he didn't enjoy at all.

"I hope that dope's out enjoyin' himself," Blip muttered to no one in particular.

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

Molt wasn't enjoying himself at all. Right after the show he had skipped the tent to find something to eat - P.T. had been so excited about the new location that he hadn't allotted his crew any meal breaks - and now he was lost. Worse than that, he was lost in Human territory.

The grasshopper flew from shrub to shrub, hoping to find something that looked familiar. The real problem was, everything looked familiar. Cursing tract housing, Molt landed on a mailbox and sat down to rest.

The neighborhood was fairly posh, with well-manicured lawns and home security systems on every property. Beemers and Land Rovers sat gleaming in the driveways like showpieces. P.T. had chosen an empty lot nearby to set up the tent - like the rest of the neighborhood it was spotlessly clean. The circus bugs had laughed at the flea, insisting that anyplace that was kept so garbage-free would be devoid of insects. But P.T. had been adamant. Soon they found out why: the locals, who came out only at night, were so desperate for entertainment that they leapt at the chance to go to a circus. Only problem was keeping the circus hidden from the humans. The tent had been set up discreetly behind a dumpster (which was also considerably clean).

Molt didn't like humans. His father used to tell Molt and Hopper stories about humans: how they stomped about, deliberately squishing you if you didn't get out of their way, and how they concocted poisons and swatters and various other weapons against bugdom. Humans, in other words, were monsters. Not quite as scary as cats, which terrified Molt beyond explanation, but scary enough. Molt didn't care to run into any.

The streetlamps illuminated the streets almost as brilliantly as day, so when Molt finally abandoned the mailbox, he tried to hug the shadows along the edges of the houses. Flowerbeds were convenient. And naturally, every yard had a flowerbed in order to keep the neighborhood looking static. The grasshopper attempted to ask the local spiders and earthworms for directions but no one seemed willing to talk to him. Miffed by their rudeness, Molt hopped onto a low, white fence separating two yards.

Then he froze. The night was as still as could be but the grasshopper was certain he had heard an insect - a woman - singing. He listened as hard as he could to pinpoint its source. It seemed to be coming from one of the human houses.

Now, normally, Molt wouldn't have had to think twice when it came to approaching a human dwelling. He would have turned tail and flown away before you could blink. But for some reason, this time, he just had to have a closer look.

So he flew towards the house in question and followed the corners of its foundation until the singing was as loud as it was going to get. Molt landed on the windowsill at that point and tried to peer inside.

The inside of the house was darker than the outside. Molt pressed against the black windowscreen and strained to see, but it was no use.

The voice sang on.

Frustrated, Molt tugged a bit at the corner of the screen. Naturally, it didn't budge. The grasshopper leaned on the screen and tried to think.

"She's not bad, eh?" squeaked a voice nearby. Surprised, Molt looked around.

A tiny brown spider lowered himself on a line from the top of the windowframe. "Better than a concert," grinned the old spider, hanging from his thread at a level with Molt's eyes.

Molt was mystified. "Who is she?"

The spider grinned wider. "Don't know," he admitted. "But she sure can belt out a tune, eh?"

"Yeah," agreed Molt, turning back to the screen. "She sings real pretty..."

At that the spider erupted into squeaky laughter. "Oh my," he said at last, tittering. "I sure hope you aren't planning on going Prince Valiant and busting in there to catch a sight of the fair damsel."

Molt turned back to the spider and glared a bit. "No," he said defensively. But he stopped to think about it.

The spider bobbed his withered old head. "Good," he said. "Because if the humans didn't get you with their flyswatters and cans of poison then the cat would catch you, sure."

At the mention of cats, Molt's eyes got as big as dimes. "Cat? Cat? There's a cat in there?" He stumbled back so hastily he nearly fell off of the sill and had to grab at the frame to stay on.

"You bet your feelers there's a cat," returned the spider, nonplussed. "A great white ghostcat. Eat you up as soon as look at you."

Molt didn't like where this was going. He clung to the windowframe and imagined a slavering spectral cat prowling around inside the house.

The spider sighed and swung a bit on his thread. "She sure do sing nice, though," he mused, mostly to himself. "If I weren't such an old codger I might even try getting in there myself. Too bad." He slowly climbed back up his line and crouched again in his web, stretched in top corner of the windowframe.

Molt lingered there a bit longer, listening to the singing. He had to admit it; it certainly was just about the most beautiful thing he had ever heard. But the thought of that monster cat finally proved too much, and he flew off in search of the circus once again. He was more successful this time.