A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
It was a well known fact that ants could lift up to a thousand times their own weight (actual research puts that at around a hundred times which is still an astonishing amount!) I’ve always had a slight unsettling feeling toward ants, not quite fear, but close to it. It was their hive mentality, similar to that of bees (God I hate bees). I live in a home with a backyard, which means that they invariably broke into my home daily in search of food and shelter. And everyday I could see them marching across the floor with crumbs of food dancing deftly above their tiny heads, the larger morsels being dragged behind them like luggage wheeled by a passenger at an airport. Imagine lifting a hamburger a hundred times your body weight – for me that would be a cheeseburger weighing in at an obese 18,000 pounds! I would typically stamp them out with my finger or toe, ending their short, hard life in a hundredth of a second; as if the finger of God suddenly appeared out of the clouds and stamped you out as you exited a McDonald’s, no time to reflect on your life, your decisions, or steal one last tasty bite of that delectable Big Mac.
One hot day (I had the aircon blasting in my one room studio apartment) I was eating lunch: a scrumptious ham and cheese sandwich I had made at home with a fresh loaf of 12 grain bread, and the ants were having their own feast at my feet. A miniature feast to my eyes, but then again what is the world but how every individual and living being views it? To the ants it must’ve been early Thanksgiving! It was like watching construction men at work; they were hoisting, lugging, carrying and transporting food back to their anthill to feed their gluttonous queen ant. Did you know she is the mother of every ant in her colony?! (What a succubus!) Watching these tiny workers, slaves, perform their labor always reminded me of Aesop’s famous fable The Ant and The Grasshopper – The ants busy from spring to fall foraging for food, whilst the grasshopper enjoys his life. When winter comes he has no food, yet the ants welcome him to feast with them, the lesson being, “work hard play hard” or something like that. I always looked up to the grasshopper, and his free-spirited, laid back view on life; the ants didn’t really experience life in my opinion.
Like the proverbial child burning ants with a magnifying glass, I enjoyed squishing them as they tiptoed by me, Jack trying to sneak by the giant, a costly mistake on their part. Some I would torture by dropping crumbs next to them, waiting till they pilfered their prize, then moving the crumb an inch away so they’d have to repeat the same exhausting routine again.. Ow! I dropped my sandwich on its plate and looked down – my left big toe started bleeding. What the fuck! I said out loud. I looked for the critter that could’ve caused such big bite – there! A large ant, clearly much larger than the rest, she did it, she looks like the queen (I thought the queen never left her dirt palace, which is why they lived up to ten years): her bulbous body was much bigger than her workers – it had to be for the breeding she did; one queen could produce up to a hundred million workers! I wondered if she could tell them apart… I stopped the bleeding with my napkin and used the same napkin to squish the queen before she could get away back to the safety of her sandcastle. I lifted the napkin to see if she was still moving – one of the bulbous sections of her body had exploded, ant guts smeared on the tissue, and I snickered to myself, satisfied I had my revenge. But she was still moving, thrusting her remaining upper abdomen forward, legs skidding left and right like she’d had too much ant wine (she was a queen and I imagined her loyal guards fanning her with grass and pouring sugar water into little goblets made out of clay). I had to give it to her; she was a tough little bitch, and I decided to let her hobble back to her hole and live out the rest of her days paralyzed, a crippled ruler, never again desired by any of her winged suitors or envied by her slave daughters, ha!
I went back to my sandwich and episode 4 of Game of Thrones (Season 6) and forgot all about the bite on my foot (do black ants bite? I filed away the thought for now). After about five minutes I could feel a throbbing in my foot. My left big toe had swollen up quite a bit, so I put some Neosporin on it and cursed aloud at that queen bitch. I lay on the couch, just getting into episode 7 (the joys of binge-watching on a lazy Sunday) and at some point I must’ve passed out because I awoke to the familiar theme song – daaa daaa da-da-da daaa da-da-da but I felt strange for some reason. It felt like something was crawling on me… I went to swat my legs and pressed down on something squishy. I was still half-asleep and imagined it being Jello, a cool, jelly-like texture…I slowly came to and suddenly my heart sank– it couldn’t be Jello! I was eating a ham sandwich– I looked down at my legs and almost spewed – my whole left leg was black like I had gangrene, but the blackness was moving… in a way that looked eerie, like hundreds of nano-bugs crawling, surging together as one… I let out an unnatural scream.. Jumping off the couch, swatting at them, just wanting to get them OFF OF ME!!! It seemed like hundreds (it seemed like a nightmare) of ants were on me, crawling over my leg like a stump, covering every inch of skin like molasses….
Swatting at them was doing nothing, so I had a thought: I could pour boiling water on them–no that would take too long to boil the water–I wanted them off me NOW!!! I ran to the cupboard, opened it and reached up to the top shelf to grab the Raid. I unleashed what must’ve been half the bottle and ants started falling off me like miniature rock climbers on an ill-fated mountain climbing expedition, trapped in an avalanche of poisonous fumes… One by one they fell away, and as I ran toward the porch door they left a trail behind me like breadcrumbs in the fairytale Hansel and Gretel. I leapt outside toward the garden hose, turned the handle and blasted them with forty pounds of pressure, the equivalent of what must’ve been a tsunami and typhoon rolled into one for those teensy fuckers. Almost all of the ants were off me now, though I could feel a few crawling around in my pants.. I stuck the hose down my crotch and blasted the remaining gnats off my skin. I started to feel better, but could now feel a throbbing pain across my entire leg. It felt like I was stung a hundred times and I could see scads of red bites with red swelling encircling each bite, each its own micro anthill, tiny active volcanoes….
I needed to cover my leg in ice immediately. I ran back into the house to the freezer, took out the ice cube tray, and popped every cube out into a plastic bag, quickly rubbing it all over my leg to soothe the (by now) excruciating pain, it’s cold temperature an ecstatic relief. I limped back to the door and bent down to see how the hell they were getting in. I noticed a small slit under the door, barley noticeable, but to an ant it must’ve been like a highway underpass. I got some tape and sealed it shut. The remaining ants indoors I took my revenge on, squeezing the life out of their black bodies, popping each ant like a blackhead on your forehead. That night I rubbed aloe vera on my body, usually used for burns, soothing the burn up my leg, cursing at those fuckers loud enough so they could hear me outside in their shanty hills. I had popped a couple painkillers and felt euphoric as I lied back on my bed, covers off, enjoying the cool air on my moist skin. I must’ve passed out quickly cause I didn’t remember falling asleep…but I awoke suddenly from a nightmare. I dreamed that I stepped into a giant anthill and starting sinking, ants slowly covering my whole body… I opened my eyes, but the room remained dark like the moon had fallen out of the sky. In my half-dream state, I thought I could feel my skin tingling, almost like my body had goosebumps, goosebumps that were spreading… Suddenly I had the horrifying thought that I didn’t just dream I was covered in ants– that I actually was covered in ants! I swat at my eyes and brushed them off so I could see…. I wished I had kept them closed…I started screaming like I was in an ocean being attacked by a shark. It was the only natural response to what I saw: my blanket had turned black, except it wasn’t my blanket – it was a living thing, writhing sheet of black ink, teeming with a thousand ants crawling over each other, seemingly unaware of each other’s presence…
At first I felt frozen, unable to move or even attempt to brush them off my body. Then the real world returned and I jumped up and started dancing frantically like my body was on fire (stop, drop and roll! my brain was telling me). I dropped to the floor and started rolling wildly around but I wasn’t actually contacting the surface, the ants acting as a buffer between me and the hardwood floor – it wasn’t working. It was like trying to remove an ever-tightening straight jacket that even Houdini would’ve struggled to get out if. I got the can of Raid and blasted myself. That was working; ants started falling off me me like dead skin. I was starting to get dizzy, inhaling the noxious fumes, but it was working. When enough had fallen off that I could see my clothes, I tore off my t-shirt and jumped in the shower..I’d deal with the pile of ant corpses afterward. The remaining ants on me were scalded by the hot water, like acid rain, causing them to writhe in pain as they plummeted a thousand feet into the pool of water at my feet, swirling around till they disappeared down the black holes in the drain…
By the time I got out of the shower, the survivors had made their way back outside. The remaining carcasses I swept up into a dustbin and flushed them down the toilet. I decided I was going to have to get an exterminator to rid of these fuckers. In the mean time, I would start the the extermination myself – I went out in the yard and spotted the anthill. I picked up a branch that had fallen off the tree and stuck it in the the hole, shoving it as deep down as possible, then tore up through the dirt until I had destroyed what was once a formidable sandcastle. I knew that there were labyrinthine tunnels below, so I went and got the bottle of bleach. I poured it down into the hole, imagining every ant getting bleached white till it dissolved their tiny fragile bodies, disintegrating into nothing… I could see a few ants emerging from the top, stumbling out of the hole like drunken sailors out of a tavern. I felt like a ten year old again, feeling a sense of pleasure torturing these motherfuckers. They deserved it! They attacked me firs– I stopped what I was doing. One ant struggled out of the hole (or what remained of it) and it was missing it’s lower abdomen… Damn she’s a tough lady! I thought. It was that damn queen bitch ant, somehow she was still alive… I could see how she was walking and it was horrific; there were two worker ants beneath her propping her up being used as legs, transporting her, keeping her mobile even with her disability… Although they were staggering now, losing balance, the bleach already dissolving their black guts like sulfuric acid poured on steel, melting them from the inside out… She lost her prosthetic legs but continued crawling, struggling over the top of the mound, trying to save herself…How is she still alive?? is all I could think to myself. I had an idea – I went and got my pliers, again feeling an overwhelming sense of delight that surprised even me (maybe all men felt the same, never losing their adolescence, their inner boy, harboring the same curious, sick, surprisingly evil tendencies… ). I found her halfway down the melted hill, struggling at every step, at every last breath… I trapped her in the plier’s prongs and said, out loud: I have the ant-idote for you (I know, a little over-the-top) and squeezed easily; her head popped, leaving just the upper half of her body, still jerking, until it too finally came to a standstill, the end of her reign, her kingdom overthrown by a man-boy, a violent coup…. What I couldn’t have known is that she had already laid a hundred million eggs just below my feet, all embodied with her genes, each encoded with one mission: To attack when ready.
Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things weird and creepy cbrtnik.com