Ant Girl

Lala loved to watch ants. “Pelusa,” she would say to her cat, “see those two ants trying to carry a crumb of bread to their hill. One ant is going one way and the other is going a different way. They’ll never get anywhere if they keep that up!”

Pelusa sat in the shade licking himself. Though he never said anything, Lala knew that he always listened.

Lala and her family lived in a small adobe hut in the dry highlands of northern Mexico. It was perfect country for ants. Among the cacti and thorny bushes around Lala’s house there were hundreds of anthills. However, no one ever visited them except Lala and Pelusa.

In her pockets Lala always carried pieces of bread. Finding an anthill, she would crumble the bread several feet away, then sit and wait for the ants to discover their meal. Before long the ants would join into a long, straight line between the crumbled-up bread and their nest. Each ant would carry home a crumb.

Watching the ants work, Lala daydreamed about the ants’ world beneath the ground … Someplace in a big chamber the ant queen must be laying eggs. Somewhere else nurse ants must be taking care of baby ants. And worker ants must be digging new tunnels, while soldier ants guard the colony’s entrance.

“How I would love to go inside the ant’s tunnels,” Lala often said to her cat. But Pelusa would only stretch and yawn.

Late one hot afternoon, something small and white fluttered past the adobe hut’s open door. Pelusa streaked from the door, chasing it, and Lala called, “It’s just a turkey feather, Pelusa, being blown by a whirlwind. Come back!”

However, Pelusa was already far away, so Lala ran after him. Eventually, her pet’s tracks led Lala into Mulehead Valley. Never had Lala been so far from home alone. She was about to turn back when she heard a familiar meow. It was coming from an abandoned mine shaft beneath a big rock balanced at the base of Mulehead Hill.

“Pelusa, come out!” Lala called into the deep hole. But the cat did not come out. Then, even though Lala knew better, she entered the mine. Pelusa was only a little way inside. He was intently staring at a pile of rubble into which he had chased a mouse. “Silly cat.” Lala laughed, and gave him a hug.

And then it happened! Turning around, Lala’s shoulder knocked something loose, and the big rock over the mine’s entrance fell with a thud. Suddenly everything inside the mine shaft was dark and quiet. “Pelusa,” Lala whispered huskily, “I think we’re in trouble!”

When the dust settled and Lala’s eyes became used to the dark, she saw a tiny crack between the rock and the mine’s entrance. She put her eye next to the crack and looked across Mulehead Valley. “They’ll never find us here,” she said to Pelusa. “And if this is what it’s like being in an ant’s tunnel, I don’t like it!”

The next morning, Lala and Pelusa were very hungry. “Pelusa!” Lala cried. “I just remembered! I have some bread in my pocket.”

Lala ate enough to make her stomach feel better. However, Pelusa didn’t like bread.

“Well, I’ll just push a little bread through the crack,” Lala declared. “Maybe the ants will eat breakfast with me then.”

The long morning hours passed. Lala was about to give up hope when she heard an anxious voice calling, “Lala, are you in there?”

“Papa, is that you?” Lala cried. Pelusa meowed for the first time since the rock fell.

Before long the big rock was moved out of the way, and Lala was in her father’s arms outside in the fresh air and sunlight. “Oh, Papa!” Lala whooped. “How did you ever find us?”

“Well, I was walking across Mulehead Valley, looking for you,” he explained, “when I came across a long line of ants. Every ant carried a piece of bread. Now who but you feeds bread to ants? I followed the line right up to the mine entrance. I’m so grateful that you remembered to feed the ants this morning!”

“Papa!” Lala exclaimed. “Tonight we must make a sweet, sweet cake with plenty of icing on it, and it must be so big that we can leave a piece on every anthill for miles around!”

And that is exactly what they did.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch