“Listen, children,” the grasshopper said. “I will tell you the story of the musician and the evil critics.”
“Oooooooh,” the caterpillars said together, as though they’d just seen a particularly amazing firework. There weren’t any fireworks, though. Isaac looked up, just to check.
“Once, there was a remarkably brilliant musician. He spent all his time practicing and performing, so you know he had to be quite good. He was also handsome and intelligent, but that goes without saying.” The grasshopper paused. “You’re supposed to ask if the story is about me,” he said.
“Is the story about you?” a caterpillar asked.
“Maybe,” the grasshopper said. He paused again.
“Is the story about you?” another caterpillar asked.
“Well, all right, it is. I shouldn’t have included the handsome and intelligent part. I knew that would give it away,” the grasshopper said. He smoothed back an antenna and winked.
“Tell us more!” a caterpillar said. “I want to hear the story,” another said.
“Very well, very well,” the grasshopper said. “It is a tragic story, but don’t worry, the hero will be just fine. The good guys always win, you know.”
The caterpillars cheered.
“Thank you, thank you. So, where was I? Oh yes. The musician had finally selected a venue for a series of concerts. It was large and flat and filled with free vegetables, sure to draw a crowd. The musician settled in for a sound check. Acoustics are important, and he needed to be certain that everything was just right.”
“And was it?” a caterpillar asked.
“It was. Unfortunately, this is when our hero first met the evil critics. They came crawling out of a hole in the ground, and started at once with the complaining. They blabbered away about unimportant things like playing loudly in the middle of the night and trespassing in their gardens, and it was all so tiresome.” The grasshopper sighed sadly.
“Awwwww,” the caterpillars said.
The grasshopper shook his head. “I know. So, the musician reminded them that he was bigger and they were smaller and really they were lucky to have such good seats for the concerts. Unfortunately, they couldn’t see their good fortune. They insisted on chasing the musician away and telling him he’d do better spending his time growing and storing food for winter. As though he had time for that!”
“What did you do?” a small caterpillar asked.
“I, er, he found somewhere else to play,” the grasshopper said. “My summer concerts were quite a success, of course. Even the birds swooped down close to listen in.”
“Birds?” a caterpillar asked nervously. Everyone looked up.
“Yes, well, it was just the once, and I’m sure the audience member died happy. The musician dedicated the next concert to him,” the grasshopper said. “Things were great until the weather turned a little nippy. It was time to find a new venue. Somewhere warmer, with more food. He remembered those critics and their hole in the ground and vegetable garden.”
“That sounds perfect,” a caterpillar squealed.
“I thought so, too. I mean, the musician thought so. So, he offered to play for them for room and board, and those critics said they had their own musicians and didn’t really want to hear the musician play at all hours.”
The caterpillars gasped.
The grasshopper nodded. “They only let the musician stay with them when he promised to help with their garden in the spring to pay them back for his room and board.”
“Was working in the garden terrible?” a caterpillar asked.
“I didn’t do it, of course. The barbarians! I need the time to practice and perform. Besides, I put up with them all winter telling me to not play at night and stop trying to drown out the other musicians at their parties. They just went on and on. The first chance I got, I was out of there. I mean, the musician was. And he lived happily ever after. The end.”
The caterpillars cheered. Just then, the bushes rustled and a mob of ants rushed into the clearing. Isaac stayed curled up and hoped they wouldn’t recognize him. They didn’t even look in his direction.
They surrounded the grasshopper and dragged him away. “Unhand me, you ruffians, you ants, you music critics,” he yelled. His voice grew fainter as he got further away, until Isaac couldn’t understand the words any more.
“Let’s go home,” one of the caterpillars said. And they all wandered away, until Isaac was the only one left in the clearing.
“Now where do I go?” he asked. “He didn’t give me any directions at all.”
Ella grew up at the sneaker factory. Her family had a house, but the company was her father’s pride and joy. Every day after school, Ella went straight to the factory. That’s where her Dad was, so there was no point in going home, not after her mother died anyways.
Together they looked over shoe designs and profit margins and performance reviews. Their company was going to be big someday. Really big. And then Dad would retire and Ella would be in charge. But Dad would never really retire, of course. He just wanted to sleep in late every once in a while. He’d still be there to talk things over with Ella in the afternoons.
One day, Dad went away to a shoe convention in Las Vegas. He came home married to someone new. Ella’s stepmother had two girls around Ella’s age. Dad introduced them to Ella with his isn’t-this-great smile. It wasn’t great.
Her new stepmother wanted Ella to call her Mom, but she kept forgetting Ella’s name and called her Emily. Her new stepsisters were into fashion, shopping, getting their nails done and texting their friends. Ella tried talking to them about sneakers, but they just rolled their eyes.
In the afternoons, Ella hurried over to Dad’s office, but her stepmother was already there and sent her away to play. Dad never asked Ella’s advice anymore or showed her the new shoe designs. Ella hardly ever saw him at all. And then one day, just after Ella graduated from high school, he died.
“Emily,” her stepmother said. “With just a high school diploma and no other skills, I could hire you to do custodial work, but not really anything else.”
“But I know what Dad had planned for the factory,” Ella said. “I could help you.”
“I know enough to run a shoe factory,” her stepmother said. “Of course, I’m hoping that it’ll eventually be bought out by a bigger company. That would leave us all free to move on to bigger and better things.”
“Like what?” Ella asked. What could be better than the sneaker factory?
“Well, my girls want to be fashion designers. They’re starting here with shoes, but a bigger company would be able to launch their careers. I’ve already begun talks with Crown Sneakers.”
Ella frowned. “They don’t have design experience.”
The stepmother frowned. “They know what’s popular with teenagers today. That’s what’s most important. Are you going to take the custodial job?”
“No thank you,” Ella said. And she started applying for scholarships.
She worked nights doing custodial work at the local college. But, with a few scholarships and a lot of hard work, she got through school with minimal student loans. And then, she used crowdfunding to start her own sneaker company.
She knew what she was doing. Her education had begun at her father’s knee, and her design degree filled in the gaps. Her line of sneakers was the talk of social media.
Sadly, her father’s company hadn’t done as well. Over the years, all the new lines of sneakers had bombed. Her stepmother had been caught embezzling funds, and was forced to resign. The company eventually declared bankruptcy.
The day that Ella got the news, she put down the phone with a sigh and started to go through her mail. She had a letter from Crown Sneakers asking if she’d consider a merger. Instead, she took out a loan and bought her father’s shoe factory.
Ella started to follow her Dad’s plans for the factory. It took a few years, but after some of their designs were seen on runways and red carpets, the company finally started to grow again.
And then came the glass slipper. It was the nickname for their newest sneaker, because of its ice-blue color and shimmery fabric. They couldn’t keep up with the demand. Once again, Crown Sneakers came calling.
This time, the company president sent his son, Royce. He was just a little older than Ella, and very charming. “Ella,” he said. “We’d still want you in charge of your factory. You’re doing a great job. We just want to help.”
“For a share of the profits,” Ella said.
“Of course,” he said. “But don’t you need to expand? We have factories that could start manufacturing glass slippers for you as early as next week.”
“I’d still be in charge?” Ella asked.
“Of course,” he said.
“I want to see it in writing, and then I’ll take it to my lawyer,” Ella said.
“Of course,” he said.
When the merger between her company and Crown Sneakers was announced, Ella got some angry letters from her stepmother and stepsisters. But there was nothing they could do about it. When she married Royce, they tried to crash the wedding. “I hate you, Emily,” her stepmother said as security dragged her away. Ella lived happily ever after, and designed amazing sneakers for the rest of her life.