The chill autumn breeze rushed by, carrying the quick music of a cheerful jig. The ant paused to listen before resuming her journey, lugging her crumb of caramel. The grasshopper was, disappointingly, nowhere in sight.
Ever since he first appeared, the grasshopper had stayed somewhere about, making his music. In the quickening days of late spring, his high, delicate arias had woven through the swelling buds and drifting blossoms and busily buzzing bees of the bushes and trees. In the lush green days of early summer, as spiders spun their webs and butterflies bobbed through the air and flowers lifted their heads, the grasshopper’s reedy chirping fell to a slightly lower pitch, mirroring the mellowing of the world. In late summer, between the torrential downpours full of thunder and lightning, in humid tangles of grass, the song became jauntier, a challenge to the complacent droning of cicadas.
And always, the grasshopper danced. Unlike the ant and her sisters, who only ever marched.
Following the trail of pheromone on the ground, the toiling ant joined her sisters as their supply lines converged on their nest. All was business and order. Unlike the grasshopper's behavior.
The grasshopper often visited the ant as she searched for resources, though he was utterly oblivious as to what she wanted to find. No matter; he filled her work with music, dancing round her all the while. Her work never irked her, but the grasshopper’s were refreshingly amusing.
When the grasshopper had first appeared, the ant had been content merely to listen and watch until he danced out of sight. But the more times she saw him, the more he made her wonder. The look he gave her always seemed full of mischief, as if he were just waiting for her to snap at him. He would plant himself in her path, and as she tried to go around him, he would scuttle so as to block her way again. He looked disappointed when she gave him no reaction, and, apparently growing bored, would spring away, perhaps to tease one of her sisters instead.
One day when he leaped out of the grass, plopped down in front of her, and began his music, the little ant spoke. “Why do you do what you do?”
The grasshopper became still as a stone with surprise. Then he looked all around, before finally looking at the ant in front of him again. “You’re asking me a question?”
“You’re not going to scold me about how lazy I am?” He jumped, landing behind her, and she turned to face him.
“Or tell me to be quiet and go away?” He hopped again, but not over her this time, only to one side. Again she turned to face him.
“Or, saddest of all, just ignore me.” This time he didn’t jump at all, though his legs twitched.
The ant tried again. “Why do you make music?”
“Now, that’s a good question.” The grasshopper flexed his legs thoughtfully.
The ant waved her antennae in confusion; how could a question be good?
“I make music—” the grasshopper rubbed his legs against his wings, releasing a few notes—”because it’s what I’m made to do.”
“ I like your music. Will you make some now?”
That was the first of many more pleasant encounters. After that, the grasshopper didn’t block her path and head her off the way he used to, and he stayed with her longer. They rarely spoke to each other, but simply enjoyed each other’s company. At least, the ant enjoyed the company of the grasshopper; the grasshopper never could focus on anything but his music for long, and he was so fidgety, always capering off in search of a more inspiring place to play.
But as the weather cooled and the ants worked ever harder, the musically-inclined ant saw the grasshopper less and less. When she did hear it, his music was getting quieter, fainter, and more distant.
And then came a day when she did not hear him at all.
It started like any other day. All the same things happened: the creaking of joints as the ants stirred and stretched legs and antennae; the dry, shuffling queue as they exited the nest; the chant, so familiar that, like breathing, the musically-inclined ant hardly noticed it.
“March together, sisters march.” (3X)
“Gather, sisters, gather.” (3X)
“Hurry, sisters, hurry.” (3X)
(Repeat all, at least until all other ants are out of earshot, but feel free to continue on your own. If you stop, begin again when you meet another ant.)
She chanted just as enthusiastically as her sisters; she liked the ant chant, she really did, but as the queue spread out and dispersed, the musically-inclined ant hurried just a little more than all the rest. Most of the others liked to at least stay in pairs and continue the chant, but ever since she’d met the grasshopper, this one liked to strike out on her own, so she could hear the grasshopper’s music.
It wasn’t until dusk came down that she realized she hadn’t heard a single note from her friend in all her foraging.
As she approached the nest, the musically-inclined ant was so perturbed that she didn’t join in the chanting. Instead, she interrupted one of her sisters. “Excuse me, have you seen the grasshopper today?”
“Eh? What’s that?” The sister’s antennae probed the air for an alarm pheromone, sure that was the reason for the intermission.
The worried ant repeated her question.
“Oh, him,” the sister said dismissively. I haven’t seen or heard him at all for some time now. Perhaps he froze. He doesn’t build a warm nest like we do.” With that, the sister resumed the ant chant with gusto. “March together, sisters, march…”
The musically-inclined ant stopped still as a stone for a moment. Then, she decisively put down the piece of food she’d found, turned around, and marched in the opposite direction.
Darkness was gathering. No matter how hard she listened, all the ant could hear was the autumn wind chasing the whirling leaves. No merry hornpipe darted from the spaces between grass blades or wafted from behind twigs.
Ahead, something twitched, and an off-key note scratched the cold air. The ant hurried forward.
“Wrong way, sister,” a voice said from behind, and she was lifted into the air.
“No!” The musically-inclined ant struggled feebly in her sister’s mandibles. “Put me down!”
Her sister didn’t answer as she began to carry her home.
“I need to help the grasshopper!”
Her sister set her down. “You can’t help him. There’s nothing you can do.”
“You said he might have frozen!” She wasn’t actually sure that this was the sister she’d asked about the grasshopper earlier, but she didn’t care. The ant scrambled away, and found the grasshopper in a little dimple in the ground. “If we take him to the nest, he might warm up. Help me!” She grabbed him and started pulling.
The grasshopper barely moved as the two ants dragged him out of the hole and all the way to their nest. Underground, it was warmer, and he began to quiver. Then his legs trembled, and kicked, but not hard. He looked at the ant who had listened to his music all through the seasons.
Her antennae were tapping over him, searching for anything she could do. She felt that there was something wrong, something deeper than the cold. “What’s happening?” she asked. "Can't you make any music?"
"A very good question." He scraped a discordant melody. "No, I don't think so."
"But making music is what you do! You said it's what you're made for!"
"It is what I was made for, but I was not made to live through the winter. You are." The grasshopper's speech was growing slower. Even so, his legs still quivered. He always was so fidgety.