Thanks again for helping me with my report, Jiminy, Pinocchio was saying to his conscience and best friend, on their way home from school one Monday afternoon.
No problem, Pinoke, the cricket replied with a smile, from his seat on Pinocchios shoulder. What are pals for?
You know, at first I was kinda nervous about asking to bring you. I didnt think youd say yes, Pinocchio admitted.
Jiminy grinned good-naturedly. Well, why should I be offended? It isnt every day this cricket gets to be the center of attention, he joked. Besides, you did a great job! Youre sure to get a great mark!
Thanks, Jiminy, but I think I may have had an advantage over the rest of the class, Pinocchio said, with a chuckle.
Jiminy laughed. I guess it does help when ya happen to be best friends with the subject of your assignment.
By the way, Jiminy, I saw the way you were looking at that butterfly of Marys during her presentation, Pinocchio teased.
Jiminy blushed. Oh, yeah? Well, who couldnt keep his eyes off Mary herself?
Hey, I was just politely listening! Besides, I, uh, found her report very interesting!
Thats not all you found interesting!
Yuh-huh! Jiminy said, hopping on top Pinocchios hat, and giving him a playful noogie.
Come on, Jiminy. I keep telling you, I like her as a friend- thats all.
You do realize that if you were still a puppet, your nose would be at least six feet right now
Jiminy said smugly.
Pinocchio rolled his eyes, but didnt argue further.
Suddenly, there came the sound of light footfalls from behind them, followed by a cheerful voice. Hey, guys, wait up!
Pinocchio stopped and turned around, as the girl caught up to him. She wore a yellow dress with blue shoes, and had long blonde hair like spung gold, with bright sapphire eyes that sparkled with warmth and innocence. Oh, hi, Mary! he greeted.
Pinoke was just talking about y- Jiminy piped up with a grin, but the next thing he knew, he found himself under Pinocchios hat. Hey, who turned out the lights? he cried.
Pinocchio turned his attention back to Mary. Great report today, Mary!
You, too! I never knew crickets could be so interesting!
Pinocchio glanced at the jar in her hands. Inside was a bright-orange monarch butterfly. Butterflies are nice, too, he observed. What did you say you called her? Lily?
Uh-huh. You know, when Im butterfly-watching, I like to come up with pretty names for each one I see.
But not all butterflies are girls, Pinocchio pointed out.
I know, but all butterflies are beautiful, just like all girls, Mary smiled. Much nicer than most icky, gross bugs, thats for sure!
Jiminy peeked out from under his friends cap. I certainly hope that excludes present company!
Mary laughed. Dont worry, Jiminy. You know I think I think youre a cutie!
So, what are you going to do with Lily now? Pinocchio asked Mary.
Well, I was going to keep her for a little longer, but I think shed be happier free again. She unscrewed the lid, and Lily fluttered out.
Jiminy sighed, as he watched her until she was out of sight. Ah, well
at least I got her name.
Say, isnt it your turn to come to my house to do our homework together? Pinocchio suddenly remembered.
Yeah, thats right! Hey, is that new toy your papas been working on finished yet?
Yup, he finished it last night. Its so cool; I cant wait for you to see it!
The town bell toiled, just then. Wed better get going, or well be late, Jiminy pointed out. The other two agreed, and they continued on.
They passed by a field. They were used to going past this field every day, as it was on their route to and from school. The sound of crickets chirping could always be heard by the hundreds from there, especially during the later hours. At least once a week, Jiminys instincts and heart would urge him out there to join his own kind for a harmonious night of singing under the stars- a trait that Jiminy did not receive the chance to enjoy quite as much as he would have liked. Still, it was always a nice break for him. It made him feel free and alive, without a care in the world, like a wild cricket all over again. And lately, he had been feeling that urge more stronger than ever, but he knew that was because it was now late summer.
Jiminy had just decided he would return there again tonight, when the distinct sound of a particular crickets chirp caught his attention. Huh? he gasped. Beneath his hat, his feelers immediately pricked up. He would recognize that voice anywhere, but it still came as a complete shock, since it had been ages
He glanced down from Pinokes cap, and tried to scan the stalks of grass below for any sign of him, but it was too late; they had already passed by.
It was a long time since Jiminy had spoke in cricket tongue himself, but the words had been clear:
I trust Ill be seeing you tonight, old friend. The tone was not friendly, but rather cold and intimidating, like a challenge.
A challenge. *The* challenge.
Jiminy breathed to himself. Tonights the night! Of course! How could I be so blind? No wonder his instincts had been calling him out to the field more often than usual! It was that time of year
how could he have overlooked such an important event?
And yet, there was no particular set date for this spring ritual, but all crickets naturally knew, deep inside, when it was time
and they always knew, by nature, where to go. Jiminy had always been aware of it before, but ever since he left his family nest three years ago as a teenage cricket, he had ignored his instincts; he had never considered it a priority since that tragic winter, much like everything else in his then-worthless life. And though Jiminy had recently learned to forgive himself for his parents death, he still knew it would be impossible
his personal demons may have gone, but he now had a far greater purpose in his life.
Then, why was his heart constantly telling him otherwise? He supposed thats why he had forgotten that the ceremony was close at hand this year, at least on the surface. Subconsciously, it was right there, and he knew his own time was way overdue.
For the first time since he had become Pinocchios Official Conscience, he felt uncertain about his life.
Well, there was no harm in at least meeting his friend, for old times sake. They had much to catch up on, in any case. He knew it was not wise on tonight of all nights, even dangerous
but it would be a short visit. He could not afford to get caught up in the ceremony. If he stayed too long, he knew he might as well be casting his badge aside.
Huh? Whats up, Jiminy?
I- listen, son, I just remembered. Theres something important I need to care of right now.
What is it, Jiminy? Pinocchio frowned in concern at the seriousness in his friends tone.
Yeah, is anything wrong? Mary asked.
but its- its complicated. I cant really explain, but just trust me. I need to be somewhere right now, alone.
Where are you going? Pinocchio asked.
Jiminy sighed. He hated being so secretive, but this was something which Pinocchio would not understand
not now, anyway. He would explain later.
If he did go home again
Yes. He would. He had to. His best friend needed him, and he needed Pinocchio.
Im sorry, but I cant tell you. Its kind of personal.
He leapt down. You guys go on ahead; Ill be back later tonight. Pinoke, dont wait up, okay? Without another word, he hopped back in the direction of the field, leaving his friends to stare after him in utter confusion.
Yes, Cliff, it has been a long time, hasnt it?
Ill never forget him, and all he did for me. If I hadnt have met Cliff that day, I wouldve surely died
and things wouldve been entirely different for those in my life today. I owe him a great debt, and not just for my sake.
And I never would have met *her*, either
she, too, was a great influence on my life- and, ultimately, theirs as well.
After my parents death, I set out on my own. I had no idea where I would go, or what I would do, but I didnt care. I just needed to get away, far away. I would keep on traveling, until I died of exhaustion. Back then, it didnt matter if I lived or died; nothing mattered to me anymore. Though, I would have preferred to die. I certainly thought I deserved it, in any case.
So, I began life on my own, a lone cricket in the big, wide world. No family, no friends, no home
and no dreams.
The winters were long and bitterly-cold; I usually had to take refuge in some old house or shop. Its a good thing we crickets are wary and stealthy by nature; I was very careful to conceal myself from humans, pets and vermin, and other potential dangers. I would often nest behind walls, in cellars, or in attics, where I would be safest. But even so, finding a permanent home for the winter proved difficult. Often, I would find these areas already inhabited by spiders, in which case I would immediately move right out; I knew they would be much more difficult to hide from. Once or twice, I even had a couple of close calls with them. If it wasnt spiders keeping me on the move, then it was a lack of food. In short, I stayed nowhere very long, constantly taking advantage of whatever I could get for the time being, before moving on again. As a result of my constant exposure to the freezing outdoors, I often suffered terrible colds which would drain what energy I barely had.
I cried myself to sleep, many a night.
Although the winter months took the most out of me, it was all year round that my stomach remained more-or-less empty, to say nothing of my heart. I traveled from town to town, just barely making it. My own loneliness and guilt made it all the worse. My will to live was decreasing all the time.
It wasnt until I got caught by an angry shop-keeper, one day, that my life took an amazing turn. I had tried to steal some rice from one of the outdoor racks, a single grain being all I could handle. Because I was so weak from hunger and depression, I didnt have the energy to make a fast get-away. He noticed me making off with the grain of rice, and rushed towards me with a fly-swatter. One good swat, and I flew into the air and landed hard on the pavement. Too bruised and dazed to move, I was grabbed by him and dropped onto a nearby spider web. Before I knew it, the spider was coming- a huge, hairy monster with eight glistening eyes. But what little amount I cared about my pathetic life was finally gone
why bother prolonging the inevitable further? I closed my eyes, knowing it would all be over soon.
And I would be with my parents again, though I knew I was far from deserving that honor.
I waited for the piercing sting of venom, but it never came. I felt nothing. Maybe I was just too weak, or maybe it was due to my sheer lack of resistance. But when I opened my eyes, I was no longer on the web. I was lying in what seemed to be an alley- it was behind the shop, I think- and found myself surrounded by a gang of six other crickets! They looked very intimidating, and I knew I wouldnt stand a chance if they intended to fight.
Who are you? What do you want with me? I asked fearfully, backing away.
The biggest and toughest-looking cricket chirped instructions to one of the others, and I was presented with a large pile of rice wrapped in a leaf. I glanced nervously towards the leader, and he just grinned and nodded.
Fear turned to confusion, then confusion to sheer amazement. My eyes watered with emotion, and I realized they must have saved me back there. And what was more, they knew of my situation. Th-th-thank you! I gasped, and began chowing down ravenously until nothing was left. I even ate the leaf, which is not even part of a crickets diet. My stomach comfortably full for the first time since I left home, I fell to my knees and wept with gratitude.
Hey, we crickets stick together. And you, my poor, young friend, are sticking with us, the leader said, placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder. He then reached out his other hand towards me, and I accepted it.
And from that moment on, I was adopted into their group.
Well, Cliff became not only my best friend, but I came to love him like an older brother too. We were extremely fond of each-other; all of us were tight in the gang, but Cliff and I had developed a special bond. He understood me, respected me, and listened to me. I was no longer alone and friendless. (I even worked up the courage to tell him of my past up until I met him, for which he had nothing but the greatest compassion.)
From the first day, he began teaching me to become as clever and street-smart as them. I stayed close by him, and learned quickly. We pillaged food from various shops and homes in the neighborhood, never getting caught. We always out-ran and out-smarted our pursuers, be they animal or human. We were a loyal bunch, never hesitating to risk our lives to save one of our own if trouble arose.
I was happy, oh yes
but the guilt over my parents never left me. And I still missed them terribly. And, overall, my heart just ached for love. I mean, I had Cliff and the gang, but I had reached a point in my life where I needed romance. If things had turned out different before, I wouldve already had a mate and offspring, and my natural urges were at last starting to catch up to me.
And then, one day
I met her.
The most beautiful cricket I could ever have imagined.
I remember like it was only yesterday. It was early one lovely morning, and I was taking a stroll down the street, whistling a tune to myself- the others were still asleep back at our hideout- and I suddenly heard it, right above me; the sweetest melody. It was like an angels siren, and it filled my heart and soul. I stopped dead in my tracks, and glanced up- and there she was, sitting atop a lily in a pot of flowers on a windowsill. She wore a red dress, and had long black hair that shone in the sunlight and curved splendidly around her lovely face, enhancing the perfection of her features. On each feeler was a red bow.
I had to meet her. It suddenly seemed like my destiny was calling. In a flash, I hopped over, and introduced myself. I then found myself babbling like the giddy, love-struck fool I was, as I poured out my heart to her.
Hmph, she muttered, turning her nose up at me. So, I began to sing. Since childhood, I had developed an amazing singing voice, even for our species.
She turned to me, then
and instead of the reaction I anticipated, she laughed loudly in my face, and it certainly wasnt a kind laugh! Needless to say, I was hurt and confused.
In cricket language, she coldly told me, My name is Melody, for your information. And thats all youre going to get from me, if you know what I mean. Whats so special about you, a mere street-cricket? So, you can sing. So, what? All men can sing. I happen to be a lady that actually prefers some variety. Unless you have anything else to offer me, anything truly unique, just forget about me.
With that, she hopped away.
A girl that didnt care for song? I couldnt believe it. But I had already made up my mind that I wanted her. She was the one, she had to be. When a male cricket chooses a mate, thats that.
She had made it clear that, to have even the slightest chance with her, I had to do something to stand out from everybody else. I had to be a diamond amongst a collection of ordinary gold coins. But, how? What could possibly impress a girl that picky? What else did I have, that no other cricket did? My voice was all I had.
I sat down on the curb with my chin in my hands, and sighed. Why did everything have to be so difficult?
that was it! I would use my voice to impress her, all right, but in a different form
a way that would prove my intelligence, in particular. I would become more skilled and talented than any other- I would learn a new language! And not just any language, but that which I had long since become accustomed to listening to everyday. I, Jiminy Cricket, would master human speech! I would learn to understand it, speak it, read it, write it, sing it, and even recite poetry in it
all for her.
I wasted no time. I had heard of a place where human children went to learn all kinds of things and become smart. If memory served me right, it was called school. That very morning, I followed a group of children, in the hopes that they would lead me right there. It was there I would achieve my dream.
Up in the attic of the towns schoolhouse, I would closely listen and observe through a tiny crack in the floor. Not a week went by that I didnt go. Although this was my own private ambition, there was no secret big enough to be kept from my best friend. I was honest and open about my dream; and while they were quite surprised, they were nonetheless supportive, even though it meant I could only hang out in the evenings.
When I wasnt at school, or with the gang, I would listen to the humans on the street and try to figure out a pattern to their speech so I could easily learn what they were saying. As homework I tried imitating their words, but as always, nothing but a series of chirps and whistles came forth.
Talking was hard! But I wouldnt give up, largely thanks to Cliff. He was always there to encourage me when it got me down. He was, however, concerned that I was pushing myself too hard at times, and would often firmly insist that I take a rest. When I became too tired to join them at nights, they would leave me to catch up on my sleep, always bringing me back something to eat for the next day. My dreams were filled of nothing but Melody, and us being together forever. Next to Cliff, she was my inspiration.
I learned a little more everyday. Sleepless weeks turned into sleepless months. Soon, a whole year passed. I had learned many, many words by then. I had even figured out the alphabet. I could spell and read nearly as well as the students! In addition, I had even learned some arithmetic and history! But I could still speak the language no better
One day in mid-spring, from my usual place in the attic, I was trying to copy a sentence that the kids had read aloud from some storybook: She sells seashells by the seashore. Once again, I tried desperately to force my vocal chords to produce the correct sound, trying to form the words in my throat. Again, nothing but chirping came out of me.
I tried again, turning my frustration into solid determination. A kind of fire had lit inside me, and was burning more intensely by the second. I thought of Melody. I thought of Cliff. I thought of my parents.
And again, I tried.
And yet again.
Something was happening. Eventually, the words seemed to come a little clearer each time. At first it wasnt that apparent, but by the hundredth time, I was nearly there.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and opened my mouth one more time:
She sells seashells by the seashore!
I think I fainted from pure shock, then. When I came to, I tried repeating it again, just to be certain it wasnt a dream. Well, much to my delight, it wasnt.
At the time, I didnt really understand what I was saying, but I didnt care; it was the first full sentence I spoke in fluent English. I was so pleased with myself I made up a little song on the spot, a song about the encyclopedia.
Later that afternoon, I overheard the teacher scolding one of the boys about something-or-other; I heard her lecturing him about his conscience.
Con-sci-ence, I repeated out loud to myself.
And if that had not been the first single word I ever spoke, I might not have become Pinocchios conscience...
H is for Happy! J for Jiminy! And M is for Marriage and Melody! I excitedly recited on. I pictured me and Melody happily together.
Oh, my dream came true! I can talk!
The next morning, I sought out Melody. I found her sitting upon one of the plant stalks in the flowerpot, on that same windowsill.
Melody! Melody! I eagerly hopped up to her. Just look at me now! Ive mastered the impossible- the human language! Ive accomplished what no other creature has ever dreamed of in history! Hows that for one-of-a-kind?
She was staring at me with utter shock in her eyes. I had impressed her!
I knelt down, and removed my worn hat. Melody, I smiled, my voice tender and full of more love for her than ever, will you do me the honor of becoming my mate?
and, once again, laughed at me! It was filled with even more contempt than the last time.
I was crushed beyond words. But even that was nothing compared to what she said to me next:
Once again, whats so great about you? Look at yourself! You may speak like a human, but youre still just a dirty, old street-cricket with no money! Whats more, youre worse than ever- now, youre a freak! Nothing but a pathetic embarrassment to all of us! How dare you even begin to think you can win my love with your filthy treason! You make me sick!
Jim, where are you going? Hey- whats wrong? Cliff asked as I hurried past him on the street, nearly knocking him over. Hot tears were streaming down my face.
I cant stay here any longer! I furiously choked out in cricket-tongue, my voice wracked with sobs.
What are you talking about? Would you just slow down, and wait a minute? What happened? Look, would you just talk me to me already? he exclaimed, his voice full of frustrated concern as he hopped after me. I didnt stop, I didnt turn back. I didnt have the energy or patience to answer.
Just leave me alone! I finally managed to shout. At last, I stopped and turned to face him. He stood there, about a foot away, staring at me. His expression was unreadable.
Goodbye, brother, I said quietly. I hopped away, not daring to look back again. He didnt call after me this time, nor made any attempt to pursue.
That was the last time I ever saw Cliff and the gang, Melody, and that neighborhood. Do I regret the past? More than anything. Do I regret the present? Absolutely not; as Ive said before, Fate is a mysterious power. It was all meant to be- the path Ive tread up until I met Pinocchio that very summer, everything thats ever happened to me. All my hardships have finally paid off, my past behind me. I now know my destiny, and I would not change it for the world.
Jiminy paused in his tracks, and glanced around. He had been so immersed in his thoughts until that moment, he failed to realize that he was already deep in the field.
The sound of chirping suddenly surrounded him. With a start, he looked up and saw a group of familiar crickets standing on all sides. They parted way for one more to enter the circle.
Jiminy," Cliff acknowledged, a definite coolness to his voice that made his old friend feel uncomfortable.
Cmon, youve had the binoculars long enough! Give them to me!
Shhh! Pinocchio hissed, from their position behind a large boulder, some yards away. He peered through them, scanning the tall grass for his little buddy.
Can you see him yet?
there he is!
How can you tell? This field is full of crickets.
Duh; Id know that outfit anywhere!
Mary blushed. Oh, yeah. So, whats he doing?
Hes surrounded by
five other crickets. Hes in the center of the group, along with a sixth one. It looks like those two are talking.
Let me see! Mary grabbed the binoculars. Weird
I hope hes not in danger! I wonder whats going on.
If I didnt know better, Id say Jiminy knows those guys. He must have planned on meeting them out here. But why? And who are they? Pinocchio wondered aloud.
He suddenly gasped. Mary, I think I get it! he exclaimed. Remember my report in class? Well, Jiminy had taught me all about his kind, including how they fall in love. You know how a boy cricket will try to impress a girl by singing to her? And if she really likes it, shell marry him?
But, sometimes, two boy crickets will even fight over who gets to marry the girl, right? There was a seconds pause, before it hit her. Oh, no! she cried, horrified. You think
It could be, Pinocchio said quietly. He stared out into the distance, in Jiminys direction, and swallowed tensely. But Jiminy is smarter and braver than anybody I know
I- Im sure he can handle himself. Hes just got to.
What do you mean you want me to join the old gang again? Jiminy asked in surprise. He decided, for old times sake, he would communicate in his natural language.
Exactly what I said. Cliff stared him square in the eye. It just hasnt been the same without you; weve really missed you
*I* miss you. You dont belong with humans, Jim, you gotta realize that. Besides, were a team. Weve always stuck together, no matter what- as more than friends to the end, but brothers. Thats the way of the gang, man. You took the oath when we took you in, remember?
I know, Cliff, Jiminy said quietly. Ive missed you, too. And believe me, my gratitude has not decreased an ounce since the day we first met. It never will. I owe you my life, old friend; I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Surely, *you* must realize that.
Look, dont patronize me here, Jim! I know where youre going with this; and, as your pal, Im telling you right now- I aint taking no for an answer.
Jiminy smiled sadly. Ah, Cliff, you always did look out for my best interests. He sighed deeply, and forced himself to meet his stern gaze. But, the thing is
a lot has happened with me since I left. My life has changed so much, as have I.
Whats that supposed to mean? I dont buy it! Youre the same guy youve always been! Cliff snapped, his voice rising. Or, are you trying to tell me that youre too good for us now? Look at you- standing there all proud in your fancy threads, thinking youre so damn superior just because youve mastered the so-called art of humanity! Whats the matter? Been living such a cushy existence, you dont want to mix with us riff-raff? Is that really why you skipped out on us, to be with your own kind?
Jiminy glared at him. Thats not what I meant, ok? he found himself yelling, switching to human-speech without realizing it. I havent forsaken my natural roots! I know full well who and what I still am, and Im proud of that! And above all, things between us havent changed, and they never will! I swear, on my honor as a cricket! I know we didnt part on the best of terms, and Ive regretted that ever since! But theres a lot you dont understand!
Oh, sure! You talk about gratitude and debts; well, whats that? Cheap, empty words!
Would you quit feeling sorry for yourself, and let me explain? Jiminy shouted.
Cliff interrupted him, with a knowing smirk. Hold that thought, Jim. Ignoring the confused look on his face, he turned to the rest of the gang. Boys, I think its time to switch to Plan B. Lets make him an offer he cant refuse. The others grinned.
What are you talking about? Jiminy asked impatiently.
Cliff gave a whistle. The grass around them parted, and a female cricket slowly took her place in the circle, looking very uncomfortable. Her red dress was dirty and ragged. Her black hair was in a slight state of disarray. Her skin was an unhealthy pale tone.
Jiminy gasped. No
it cant be! He cried out, Melody, what are you doing here?
He turned to Cliff, who looked smug. What is this, Cliff? he furiously demanded.
Cliff chuckled. Well, lets let the lady speak, shall we? He turned to the clearly-shaken Melody. Floors all yours, hon.
whats happened to you? Jiminy whispered, removing his hat as he faced her. He knew something was very wrong.
There was silence for a few seconds, save her heavy breathing. Trembling, she opened her mouth to speak, but all that came forth was a trembling sigh that turned into a sob.
Oh, Melody, Jiminy murmured, struggling to keep his own voice from breaking. He hugged her tight. Its all right, my dear, its all right. Take your time.
Finally, she inhaled deeply and proceeded with her story.
Once she had finished, Jiminy sadly asked, Let me get this straight. You didnt really want to join in the first place, did you?
Melody chirped a reply in the negative, and shook her head with a sigh.
But after your wealthy father lost all his money after finally getting too careless, he left you behind while he journeyed to seek his fortune elsewhere in the world? He claimed that since he could no longer provide for you anyway, it was high-time for you to develop some independence like all crickets that come of age?
And so, on your own for the first time in your life, you were scared and overwhelmed. You felt you had no choice but to join the gang, even though they were complete strangers.
Melody nodded, with a shrug. They offered to take me in, and I accepted. I had nothing more to lose.
But, Melody! Dont you see that youre just throwing your life away? This is no life for a young lady like you! You deserve so much better than this, and Im sure even your father would say the same! Theres a whole world out there, with virtually endless opportunity! He gestured around him. You can do anything you want to; youre your own cricket! Find a great husband, settle down in a nice place like this, raise a family! Live life to its fullest, whatever you do! All our days are limited as it is, and who wants to look back filled with regret?
He earnestly looked her in her sapphire-blue eyes, taking hold of both her hands. Look inside yourself, Melody. No matter what, its never too late to make a change, he concluded softly.
Melody turned away, removing herself from his grip. It is too late, though. Ive already made a commitment, she said coolly.
I dont follow you
But then, it hit Jiminy like a bolt of lightning. You mean-
He slowly turned to face his old friend. I knew our meeting was partly to do with the ritual, he said, his face and voice stony, but I never imagined that she would be involved.
Cliff folded his arms. Dont act so betrayed, Jiminy-boy. You heard her- I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and things went from there. Call it fate, if you will. I was there for her at a time when *you* werent; its that simple.
oh, dont you DARE even go there. Jiminys eyes narrowed dangerously, as he felt as though hed been delivered a slap to the face. Once again, dont talk about what you dont understand, Cliff. *I* wasnt good enough for HER; she made that clear to me!
You still want her, dont you?
Jiminy was taken aback. He found himself unable to respond, but the sudden spark in his eyes was a sure sign.
Are you willing to prove yourself, then? Show us what your heart truly is- cricket or human?
Again, Jiminy remained silent, but the windows to his soul were now a blazing inferno. He took a single backwards and removed his jacket, tossing it and his hat aside. His nostrils flared vehemently.
Instinct had proved the victor, after all.
Cliff nodded in approval. Ah, yes. Now, that is precisely what I would have expected of my friend!
He nodded. Shall we begin?
The crowd parted to allow the challengers space, lining up a fair distance away to observe. Jiminy and Cliff each took fifteen paces in the opposite direction, then turned and faced each-other. Cliff was armed with a twig, Jiminy with his umbrella.
Melody watched intently, with baited breath.
The two launched forward. And for the next half-hour straight, a heated battle took place.
It seemed very close. Although, Cliff had the physical advantage, being bigger and stronger, both remained equally matched in speed and determination. Both were in perfect shape and sync. Neither of them took a single hit so far, and neither of them gave in for an instant. Not a word was exchanged between them as their weapons connected again and again, save an occasional grunt. They balanced off each-others moves like skilled warriors of old, sensing their opponents every action.
Look at Jiminy go! Pinocchio exclaimed. He said proudly, "Thats my conscience!
At last, it was time for the final blow that would break the tie. They both lunged once more, with cries of fury. Hits were at last exchanged as they flew past the other.
They now stood five paces opposite of each-other. Cliff collapsed upon one knee, but refused to let himself go completely down. Jiminy did the same
but he seemed to be even more exhausted. Seconds passed that seemed like an eternity to all, even the distant human observers.
At last, Jiminy fell to the ground.
The gang celebrated their leaders victory, their cheers and shouts (although the kids heard nothing but a series of loud chirps and whistles) echoing all across the field. Cliff got up, brushed himself off, and motioned to his official mate. Melody hopped over to him, and they deeply embraced with a long kiss.
Jiminy approached Cliff, whose feelers instantly pricked up in slight suspicion. They looked at each-other in cool silence, for about a minute. A gleam of mutual understanding shone in both their eyes.
At last Jiminy reached out his hand to Cliff, who accepted. Well, congratulations, old friend
to the both of you. I wish you all the best with your new lives together, he said earnestly.
He added quietly, his voice almost pleading, And, Cliff
take care of her, will you?
Cliff nodded. Jiminy smiled weakly and turned to leave, but suddenly paused in his steps. Hey, Cliff? Theres something I dont get, though.
Why I chose to spare you, despite the custom? Even despite your claim that you owe me your very life? He chuckled, with a shrug. I think we both know the answer to that, Jim. I guess, in one way, we arent so different after all.
The rest of the gang began to follow Cliff and Melody, as they proceeded on their way. But then, much to Jiminys surprise, she suddenly turned and ran back over to him.
Melody? What are you doing?
Melody quietly replied, Theres something you should know, Jiminy, before we go our separate ways. She looked into his eyes, and smiled. Just between the two of us
Y-yes? Jiminys heart was pounding furiously. A trickle of sweat poured down his face.
Despite damned custom
Yes? Jiminy whispered.
I would never have become your mate, even if you had won. Youre still nothing but a freak to me. She returned to Cliffs side, and they all left together.
Pinocchio and Mary looked at each-other sadly. Poor Jiminy, Mary whispered.
Yeah. I dont know what that female cricket said to him, but I could tell it wasnt anything nice! Pinocchio added angrily.
Once the clearing was deserted, and Jiminy was alone, the kids rushed over to him. Are you ok, Jiminy? Pinocchio asked, reaching down and gently scooping him up.
hey, Pinoke. Jiminy didnt seem to care that they had evidently been spying. He exhaled deeply, with a shrug. Yeah, I will be. I mean, I cant carry this torch forever, can I?
Jiminy shook his head. Nothing; figure of speech. Come on, lets get home. Your father must be worried sick.
They walked down the street together. Jiminy sat on Pinocchios shoulder. Jiminy, Im sorry we followed you, the former puppet spoke up. I do respect your privacy, honest; but I was just worried about you. Youre more than just my concscience, after all- you're my best friend."
Jiminy's face broke out into a warm smile. Aw, its all right, son. Im sorry you had to witness me acting like such a fool, even more so that I scared you so much
particularly when it seemed it was curtains for me! But let me tell you, its such a sheer relief that I finally got that out of my system. Now, I'm my old self again. And dont you worry, Pinocchio- I wont ever allow anything to come between us again; thats a promise. I'll never forget where I truly belong.
That night, long after Pinocchio had fallen asleep, Jiminy continued to stare out the window. He knew that countless lucky cricket couples out there were in for still many hours of mating and celebrating, before the break of dawn.
I wonder if Cliff and Melody are watching the stars, too, he murmered.