This piece was written for a contest. The prompt was “Someone is a hero, and has saved the city! But … nobody noticed. What happened?” Enjoy!
Tutti, Fruiti, and Baby Jane all ran down the dirt road to see who could make it home fastest. Baby Jane struggled to keep up, her little legs were still too little to beat her older sisters, but one day she knew she would and boy would that be a glorious day! As they ran, each sister noticed that many of the roads they passed had men gathering in little clusters. Passing the umpteenth cluster of men Tutti, the oldest, slowed her run and finally came to a stop in the middle of the major intersection nearest their home. Fruiti skidded to a stop beside her, “Why’d you stop Tutti,” she asked?
“Shhhh.” Tutti hissed as she held up an arm. “Don’t you hear it?”
Fruiti looked at her blankly, “Hear what?” she asked.
Baby Jane finally met up with her older sisters, “What’s up?” she asked, wondering why her sisters had stopped running.
“What’s happening, Tutti?” Fruiti whispered. She didn’t like the serious look on her older sister’s face one bit.
“I don’t know,” Tutti whispered, “but something is wrong. Haven’t you guys noticed the odd silence all day?” Both of Tutti’s sisters looked vacantly back at her. “And,” she continued as she turned and looked up the street, “the menfolk are supposed to be at work now, not standing around talking to each other.”
Baby Jane peered under the legs of her older sister and at the conclave of men that had gathered right up the road from where the girls had stopped. That was when she saw her father. “Hey there’s Daddy!” she cried out with glee. Fruiti clamped her hand over her sister’s mouth. “Hush now, Baby Jane.” But each of the girls had noticed that their father didn’t even glance up at them with the outburst from his youngest child, even though he was within earshot.
“We’ve got to find out what is happening,” Tutti exclaimed.
“Let’s wait for tonight.” Fruiti whispered tugging at her sister. “Maybe Daddy will tell us after dinner.”
“Good plan, Fru-tah,” Tutti laughed, over-enunciating her sister’s real name, and set off down the road intent on reaching home first.
“Oh great!” Fruiti shouted as she scampered after her older sister desperate to win the race.
Jane watched as both of her sisters made a beeline for the safety of their home and then turned back and looked again at her Dad. If anything, he was now huddled even closer to the other men he was talking with. She didn’t understand what might be wrong, but didn’t like that whatever it was seemed to upset Tutti.
“Hey wait for me!” Baby Jane squealed as she turned and ran off after her sisters.
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Papa Joe had heard his youngest daughter call out but he had no time to stop and acknowledge her. These were desperate times.
“What are we going to do?” Sammy asked his wizened group of friends.
Papa Joe had been with her earlier. He contemplated whether to tell his friends the whole truth knowing they wouldn’t want to hear what he had to say.
Dan knew Joe had seen her earlier and couldn’t wait, “Out with it Joe. How’d she look to you this morning?”
All eyes turned to Papa Joe in expectation. His breath rushed out in a gush, “I’ve never seen her so ill.” Joe hadn’t realized that he’d been holding his breath.
The group gasped as John whispered, “Oh No,” under his breath.
Papa Joe looked sadly at his oldest friends. “Let’s get on home now.” He said matter-of-factly, “it’ll be dark soon.”
Dan nodded in agreement and turned to leave.
“And besides,” Timothy interjected, “Maybe she’ll be alright in the morning.”
The men stopped and stared at their friend who always had a Pollyanna view on the world. Then shaking their heads in doubt, each turned and headed in the direction of their home.
Joe could smell dinner before he even got to the doorway and braced himself as he entered his home. As was usual his children came squealing, throwing themselves at him; and he easily gathered his daughters to himself in a crushing bear hug before shaking them off and asking what was for dinner. As they ate he could see the questions in their little eyes. He assumed that they knew something was amiss but he had already decided that he would spare them any worry just yet. There was no use in letting them know their world might be coming to an end. Some things just didn’t need to be said.
After dinner the girls cleaned up and when it grew dark outside Joe shooed them into bed and settled back to contemplate the day. It wasn’t long before he heard little feet creeping up behind him and he turned to see his eldest daughter Tutalinda watching him expectantly.
“Papa,” she whispered. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, my child,” Joe purred to her as he motioned her into his lap.
“But it was so quiet today on the farm,” Tutti started, “and all the men … talking in groups and not working?” Her voice trailed off as her father began to rub her back.
“Sometimes the workers need a chance to talk amongst themselves,” her father said. He hoped that would be enough to quiet her for a good night’s sleep. He kissed her on the cheek and gently removed her from his lap. “To bed, now, young lady.” He said with mock gruffness. Tutti gave him a pout but turned and headed off to bed now certain that something was terribly wrong.
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“Jim-my!” Jimmy heard his mother call as he laid the black cloth over the farm. “Din-ner!”
“Coming!” he yelled back. He didn’t like the way the queen looked, nope, didn’t like it one bit. He’d ordered a new queen ages ago when he saw this one start to falter and hoped he’d get the new one before this one died. He had cultivated this ant farm for so long he didn’t want anything to happen to it now and without a new queen every ant would surely die. Already the ants were slowing down in their little tunnels. Jimmy’s stomach flopped inside his belly as the scent of dinner reached his nose. He jumped up and lurched out of his room running quickly downstairs.
“Did you wash your hands?” his mother asked as he slid into his seat at the table.
“Yes,” he lied, as he shoved his hands under the table and wiped them on his pants. He knew his mom had made meat loaf and mashed potatoes and he was starved.
“Guess what came today,” Jimmy’s mom asked as he speared another forkful of potatoes into his mouth. He looked up at her expectantly. “Something for your farm,” she teased, knowing he’d he thrilled.
“The queen!” he shouted spewing little bits of buttery potato all over the table.
“Jimmy!” his mother scolded.
His chair barked on the wooden floor as he backed away from the table and stood up to get his queen.
”Jimmy, sit down and finish eating,” his father calmly stated in his dad tone.
“But I …”
“But nothing, young man,” his father continued. “Now sit down. You deal with the queen after dinner.”
After dinner Jimmy’s mom helped him open the package and they all went up to his room to rescue the farm. Jimmy turned the lights on low in his room and made a little hole where he could get to the colony’s queen without much disruption. With the gentleness and precision of a surgeon, Jimmy extracted the failing matriarch and replaced her with the new, healthy queen.
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The next morning Tutti, Fruiti, and Baby Jane all awoke to a bright sunshiny morning. Tutti yawned and stretched. Their Dad had already left for work and the farm was abuzz with its usual, happy sounds. Tutti looked joyfully at her sisters as they ate breakfast. ‘It was going to be a great day,’ Tutti thought.