#10

FICTION

March 2021

jana-shnipelson-oRVaGBVkAR4-unsplash.jpg

avery parker

the ants

Something was odd about the ants today. Max and George, both just 8, had seen them form lines, running rivers, along the sidewalk on plenty of parching summer days—that wasn’t anything strange. On this day, though, the ants were no regular river—they were the Euphrates, the Yangtze, the Amazon! Other than the sheer size of the mob, the ants’ behavior set them apart as well; they didn’t so much meander as march.

   “Your turn, Max,” George said, “Let’s see how many you can squish.” George’s shoes already had a smearing of smooshed ants on the soles. 

   “Ready? Watch this!” Max bent his knees, building up energy, before springing up into the air, landing dead center in the ant swarm. Hundreds of the insects lay crushed under his heels. 

   “Nice hit!” George yelled. “They didn’t even see you coming.”

Situated squarely in the middle of the ant stream—which, from where Max was standing, separated the boys by about five feet—Max called out to his friend.

   “Don’t’cha think it’s kinda weird how they don’t even care? I mean…” He lifted his leg and stomped once, then twice from side to side. “They just keep going, they don’t even care that I’m here. Usually they run at least a little if I do stuff like this.” He kicked a group of ants, sending some flying, squishing others. Those that survived the kick continued their march the moment their legs made contact with the concrete.

   Max was right; not one of the ants appeared in the slightest bit concerned by either of the boys or the massacre going on beside them. Not even bothering to go around Max’s shoe which rested atop a patch of shriveled ants, they crawled straight across it, apparently determined not to stop for anything. Where exactly they were headed, though, was unclear. From out of the nearby park, the ants flowed in every direction, down each street. By the minute their numbers increased and the stream of ants grew even wider. 

   LeAnn Dutroit, a neighbor, stuck her head out of her apartment’s window. “Now boys, how would you feel if someone came and squished you?” Though she chided the kids, her voice was a smooth June wind.

   “Ah, Ms. LeAnn, they don’t mind.” Max waved a haphazard hand around in the air, brushing her words away. 

   “But look at ‘em! Do ya see how many there are?” George called across to her, excited to share the spectacle of a growing ant mass.

   “Wow, yeah.” She shifted her eyes over to the outward-bound ants. “Look at that. Maybe they’re with one of those ‘super colonies.’ You know what? Forget what I said before, guys—you go squish ‘em! The last thing we need’s an infestation in our building…and every other one in the city too.”

   As she spoke, something in the ants’ attitude shifted. While the farther section of their line continued into the distance, the section of ants around George and Max came to a sudden stop, standing still as soldiers in rank. Each of the shiny, black bodies held perfectly still, gleaming in the sunlight. Then, as if hearing some trumpet mute to human ears, each ant surged into action, swarming both boys.

   “Hey!” Max shouted as they latched onto his shoes which were still covered in crushed ant carcasses.

   “Get ‘em off!” George wiped his legs down in an attempt to knock the ants off which only managed to offer them an opportunity to swarm onto his hands.

   “Help! Help!” 

   The ants had reached Max’s mouth and began crawling toward his eyes.

   “Someone, he—a-aegh!” 

   In George’s case, the ants had already reached his eyes; a thousand thrashing thoraxes throwing themselves over one another to block his view as their jaws vied to get a bite of his soft, fleshy irises.

   Shrieking not out of thoughtful fear but an animalistic drive to survival, pure panic, Max and George swung wildly around, swatting randomly at the ant which crawled up and down their bodies, tearing each boy apart and enclosing them in a shimmering coffin. 

In short order, both fell to the ground, still grasping, though weakly, at the attackers enwrapping them. Off in the distance, Ms. LeAnn’s screams did not land on their chewed-up ears as the ants went to work at hunting their next victim.    .    .    .    .

 

 

Haley frowned at her phone and addressed the thousands of people watching her live stream. “Ok, guys, I know this wasn’t on the schedule for today but holy shit, check this out.” She flipped the camera to show her viewers the scene on the ground beneath her L.A. penthouse. It looked almost as if an oil spill had flowed in from the Pacific. “I mean, damn, what even is that? It looks like it’s moving…Whoa, look at that!” She pointed for her audience to see; the only islands poking up within the sea of ants—cars, street signs, and benches—were quickly sinking, eroded away by the current, as carpenters and bulldog ants tore them down.

   While Haley had been looking at the action down below, the stream chat had filled with comments. She began reading through the onslaught of messages:

   “omg im getting them to!”

   “Getting what?”

   “Shit me 2. Their ants!”

   “same”

   “Where are yall? I see them too”

   “getting them here in New York”

   “yeah London, too”

   “Mumbai”            ……        ……                ...    .

   “Berlin’s got them”

   “They’re everywhere in Tokyo!”

   “Casablanca”

   “here in Rome”

   “Seoul’s getting them 2!!!”

   “ok this is getting freaky but i think i just saw them like legit carrying a dead guy”

   “WTF”

   “Jesus fucking christ”

   “what?!?!?!?!”

   “shit shit shit, some of them are in my room. what do I do”

   “Oh god there everywhere”        …………    ……    ………

   “i think this might be serious guys. holy fuck.”

   “Im *literally* shaking. WHAT IS HAPPENING????????????????”

   Distracted by the chat, Haley didn’t notice the sound of scurrying legs until the moment her bare feet started to burn. Looking down, she realized a throng of fire ants had encircled her and launched themselves pincers first at her skin, setting it ablaze. 

   She screamed, “They’re here! They’re here!” and dropped her phone to the floor. In moments, she followed it, falling over, no longer able to stand on her blistering feet. The moment she hit the ground, Siafu worker ants rushed to crawl down her throat. They would die, no doubt, but surged forward without a hint of hesitation, their mechanical eyes bulging, mandibles waving. Next to Haley’s ant-swarmed body, the phone’s screen was still; no new messages filled the livestream chat.

………………

“General Denikin, urgent status update from Moscow, sir!”

   “Da, spit it out, soldat.”

   “Sir, it seems that the ants have swarmed every major city across the world and even most smaller ones. We have no idea how many there are but probably billions, more, in Moscow alone.” 

   “How did this even happen?” the general asked, waving his hard-knuckled hand around like he was trying to shoo the ridiculousness of the conversation away so he could return to paging through paperwork. “They’re ants! Smoosh them and they’re done, what more is there to it? How is this an actual issue?”

   “Sir, I don’t know, but we have a clip captured out of London.” 

   The soldier held out a tablet with a spyware video already pulled up. Pressing play, the general watched:

   Aside from occasional pieces of loose wood or metal, there was little debris scattered across the city, and none of the larger building structures were damaged at all. The first indication that something was wrong were the blood-streaked streets. The second was that a battalion of ants was dragging a dead man dressed in what was once a sharp suit—now torn, tattered fabric—over to a heap of corpses, all in various ways disfigured: a mass grave.

   The general’s eyes grew wide.   

   Before he could speak, another soldier burst into the room. 

   “General, the ants are coming our way—we can see them out in the field.”

   “Here? In cold-ass Siberia? Shit. Go, get everyone into the panic room and bring as many rifles as you can carry!”

   A few minutes later, every soldier in the base was pressed together, shoulder to shoulder in the panic room. It was a cavernous place dug deep under the base and connected through a series of tunnels. There hadn’t been enough money during its construction to fortify the whole room, so only the floor and the several hundred-pound steel door were made of metal. There was only a single way in or out of the chamber: through the door. 

   Among the soldiers, one man was sobbing uncontrollably, shaking and crying.

“We’re dead! Good God, we’re all dead! Did you see them? Did you see the videos? They’re killing people, they’re gonna to kill us!”

   With calm, composed steps, General Denikin walked over to the man and slapped him openly across the face. “Listen to me, soldier. Those aren’t Chechens, or Germans. They. Are. Ants. Tiny, little ants. You’ve probably crushed a million in your lifetime.” 

   He raised his hand again and, this time, put it on the young man’s shoulder. “They won’t even know where we are. We are going to be fine.” 

   Despite the general’s stony certainty of voice, he couldn’t stop his own heart from racing.

   “Does anyone hear that?” someone said.

   None of the soldiers spoke as they listened with sallow breaths to the sound overhead: the rustling of moving earth and crumbling rock.

   A light fixture wobbled, then fell to the floor and shattered. Moments later, the ceiling came collapsing down, ants falling with it, crushed several soldiers beneath the rubble, and blocked the door.

   “Fire! Fire!” The general shouted the command, but no shots cracked out, not even from his own gun. With a closer look at it, he realized; the firing pin was gone. 

   “How is that even…oh. Ha. Ha! Genius.” 

   His movements unhurried, the general turned his head to the soldier he’d calmed minutes ago. The ants were just finishing off with another of the servicemen and would reach the general himself in seconds. 

   “What I told you before” he said to the young man, “I was wrong.”

 

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In every city of every country across the globe, a singular army—its legions made up of worker, carpenter, gardener, army, fire, bullet, and pavement ants alike, all united from around the world—toppled humankind, spilling blood through its old streets and establishing a new world. And all throughout this new world—the ghost of the old world still lingering like unsettled dust—the only sound was the measured march of a mass of frenzied feet.

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AVERY PARKER’s writing is inspired by the natural and social worlds around him, as well as writers including Ray Bradbury and James Monroe Whitfield. As someone who has aphantasia, Avery tries to write descriptions that go beyond images alone. Avery previously attended American University (Washington D.C.) before pursuing carpentry. He is currently based in Rochester, New York. INSTAGRAM.

(Image credit:Jana Shnipelson)