As she sat for time unworthy of counting, wondering at the marvels and fearing the possibility of her own end, a golden, Preying Mantis approached. She hardly noticed it at first, but when she did, she was struck dumb by the sight. It wore a jester costume like the ones people do when celebrating Mardi Gras and stood over nine feet in height. Coming straight at her, the insect, with its bright yellow, purple, and green outfit, made her think of Dennis Rodman meets the Fly. She just stared and stared, never once thinking of running or fearing this strange, yet compelling creature now approaching.
Reaching to within ten feet of Becca, the Mantis spoke. “Howdy Rebecca!” it blurted out in a loud, Texas accent.
She was taken aback by this and simply stared, dumbfounded and stupefied.
Noting the expression, the creature spoke again, as it reached her in only one more step. “Is the costume too much? I can change it if you’d like,” and instantly, the Mardi Gras jester was transformed into Howdy Doody meets the Lone Ranger, complete with white cowboy hat.
Becca felt her jaw drop as she attempted to form something sensible to say. With all she’d seen so far, she thought she would not have been surprised at this insect reject from TV reruns. Yet, the appearance, in combination with hearing her name, though she had not introduced herself, set her aback. Finally, she muttered, “I’m Becca.”
“Not Reee-becca?” the Lone Mantis said drawing out the e while feigning surprise. “I thought for sure you’re name was RE-becca,” he stated, overemphasizing the “Re,” as if to remind her of her real name.
“Well, that IS my real name, but all my friends call me Becca.”
“Hooo Doggy. We just met and already you count me as your friend. Well, Becca it is little lady” and he yanked off his cowboy hat which he slapped to his knee. He replaced the hat and said in a snappy, though polite voice, “I bet you have a lot of questions.” Every word he spoke was clear, quick, and snappy.
“Uh, huh,” was all Becca managed to utter.
“Well, go on, ask away. That’s what I’m here for.”
“You’re here…for me?” she asked.
“That’s correctamundo. I’m sort of a…” the Mantis thought for a moment, turning his head this way and that, then added sharply, “tour guide.”
Becca looked at the Lone Mantis, squinting as if trying to see what he was up to and asked cautiously, “tour guide?”
“That’s the best way to describe my job. I wouldn’t want to bore you with the official title. So, I just like to call myself a tour guide for folks from your time.”
“My time?” Becca asked, curious and a bit nervous.
“Yes. Well, you see, here we have no concept of time and we get visitors from every time, place, and culture. So I try to put everything in terms that you will understand. You do have tour guides in America, circa 2013, right?” He pulled a small device resembling a palm computer from a pocket on his white Lone Ranger trousers and punched in a few keys. Before Becca could respond, he quickly stated, “Yup, that’s what it says here, Tour guide.”
Becca sat, looking around her at the city come alive. Where earlier there had only been colors merging and blending, moving like clear water full of food coloring, there were now people milling around, some painting, some writing on tablets, some chipping away at stone and wood, and others just strolling, looking at whatever feature of this strange world fancied them. Some, she noticed, were plucking flowers and grass, smiling delightfully. She looked back at the Lone Mantis.
The insect spoke in a chipper voice, “and just so you know, Lone Mantis is just fine by me. I’ve been called much worse.”
“You can read my mind?” Becca asked, indignant.
“Of course,” stated Lone Mantis, in a matter of fact manner, “All citizens of Here can do so.”
Suddenly she understood how Tux-dog was able to help her along the way.
“Oh, and Pedro really liked your term for him as well,” Lone-Mantis stated, continuing, “You are a mighty creative one, you are. You’re going to love it here.”
“Here. Where is Here?” Becca asked.
“Here is where we are.”
“But what is this place called?” she pressed.
“It is called Here. We’ve never really had reason to name it, for there is nowhere else, but There.”
“And just where is There?” she queried, almost afraid of the answer.
“There is where you are from,” came the reply.
It was not the reply she was expecting, for she thought this was some form of odd riddle that she was to unravel, but clearly Lone Mantis did not know of any other places. Perhaps, she thought, there were other places here, other cities. Perhaps she could find a creature who would not talk in circles.
“I do not talk in circles,” Lone Mantis stated emphatically. “You just don’t ask the right questions, nor do you like the answers you receive.” He stood, glaring down at her, arms crossed like her Aunt Jo had many times in the past.
Becca looked up at the creature with a blend of contempt and shame. He stood at least nine feet in height yet she felt no fear of him. In this moment, she only felt contempt. She did not like being in the mercy of someone else and this place looked too grand to spend all of her time chatting with this Village People reject.
“They’re all here,” the Lone Mantis stated.
“The Village People.”
“How…I wish you’d stop doing that. What good is it to talk if all you’re going to do is read my mind?”
“Fine, fine. I’ll pretend I’m not reading your mind.”
“Gee, thanks,” she said flatly, not relieved in the slightest that he would just be pretending.