ant2a ant1a

It is a balmy late afternoon in June and planting in the vegetable garden has taken a temporary pause. ‘Matt, aren’t you even a little worried about Karma?’

He looks up at me and rolls his eyes. ‘Carrie, sweetheart, they’re ants. And you don’t like ants. Remember? Especially the big, red ones.’

‘I only don’t like them when they’re in the house. And the jam.’

‘Well, these ones had every intention of being in the house and the jam. And look …’ he shows me a small red spot on the back of his wrist. ‘… they bite!’

He turns another spade full of dusty earth, reaches for the kettle and pours more boiling water onto hundreds of frantic, copper-red bodies and I can’t help thinking that, if ants could scream, right now their screams would be deafening.

‘But, why do you have to boil them?’ I say. ‘What about that spray your mother gave us?’

‘Ah yes, mother’s spray. Far more humane. Anyway, this is more effective. Over and done with before they know what’s happening. Look, those ones are trying to save their eggs.’ He empties the rest of the water directly onto the frenetic rescue operation then hands me the kettle. ‘Boil more. I’ll keep guard.’

I offer him a look of disapproval and abandon the vegetable patch, hurry inside and boil a kettle, check the casserole, eat a spoonful of peanut butter and use the spoon to crush half a dozen ants that are circling the biscuit tin. I carry the kettle back outside, fully aware that I am contributing to genocide.

Matt is now sitting on a pile of bricks observing his handiwork. He glances up. ‘They’re carrying their winged ones out. They were obviously getting ready to swarm. So we’re just in time.’

I hand him the kettle. ‘You realize that, if you add up all the bodies of all the ants you’ve boiled in the last week, it would probably come to the weight of a whole human being.’

He smirks.

I kneel beside him. ‘There don’t seem to be many left. I think you’ve exterminated them.’

Indeed, there isn’t much activity now, just a lot of tiny corpses and a few bold nest buddies carrying them away to recycle them. Matt lifts the kettle ready to stop them in their tracks but as the first drops splash onto the ant carnage a circular patch of soil, about a foot in diameter, seems to sink down under the weight of the water. Matt pulls back the kettle and frowns. ‘Good God, there’s probably a huge network of tunnels under there.’

Tunnels? I lean closer. The soil continues to fall away, collapsing in on itself to form a perfectly round crater, perhaps two feet wide and a foot deep … two feet deep. Matt empties the kettle into its depths and hurries over to grab the hose. I jump up as he directs the jet into the heart of the crater and watch it fill with water. ‘Perhaps it’s an unexploded bomb. Or perhaps they built these houses on top of a disused coal mine.’

‘We’re on chalk, sweetheart.’ He steps over to turn off the hose. ‘Anyway, I think that’s done it. Boiled, drowned and washed away. Every last one of them.’

We stand next to one another and peer into the hole. It’s full almost to the top with muddy water covered in a sludge of dead bodies and lifeless bean-shaped eggs. Everything is still. Strangely still. I feel a wave of nausea pass over me. I pick up the kettle. ‘I’ll make tea. You’d better make sure that drains away or next door’s cat … My God, look!’

We look. Something beneath the water is disrupting the floating sludge, causing the small bodies to move in a circular direction outwards. It’s as if some subterranean force is creating a vortex, casting everything into an accumulation of tangled corpses around the edge of the crater. And as the bodies mount, the centre of the pool is becoming calmer, clearer, reflecting the low afternoon sun. And suddenly, at its heart, the water begins to churn red as a core of squirming ants pours upwards and outwards, rising above the surface of the water and floating towards their dead, mounting them and climbing beyond them. Out onto the dry earth.

I grab Matt’s arm. And we watch in frozen silence as, body upon body, a writhing ridge of ants builds around the periphery of the crater. It’s an inch wide and an inch deep … two inches wide and two inches deep. There must be millions of them. But then, suddenly, all activity has ceased. I glance up at Matt. He is frowning. I look back at the ant wall and I get the distinct impression that a myriad insect eyes are looking back at me. I feel another wave of nausea pass over me. Time passes, not much time, just enough time. And then, once more, in perfect synchrony, the tiny creatures start to disperse back towards the crater and disappear with their dead.

‘What are they doing, Matt?’

‘They’re going back.’

‘What back under the water?’

‘Looks like it.’

‘Well, what was all that about?’

He folds his arms. ‘I think they were admitting defeat.’ He starts to laugh. ‘We’ve won.’ He punches the air. ‘Hail your conquerors, small red wriggly things! The vegetable plot is ours!’

I look back at the crater. The water is slowly soaking away, pulling soil and the few remaining ant corpses with it. ‘Matt, they were watching us.’

‘What?’ He turns to pinch my waist. ‘Don’t be ridiculous. They’re insects … brainless creepy crawlies.’ He traces his hand down my thigh. ‘When’s supper? All this killing has made me hungry … and very horny.’

Oh God, no. All that killing has had the totally opposite effect on me. But I smile and try to look enthusiastic. I catch his roaming hand and pull him towards the house and as I do so I notice a small circle of inflammation on his wrist.


We clear away after supper and opt for an early night. I don’t much like going to bed when it’s not properly dark outside but at this time of the year it’s still light after ten o’clock so there’s not a lot of choice. And it doesn’t seem to bother Matt. And it certainly doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm. We make love but I have to fake it. I can’t stop thinking of all those boiled ants. I can feel their pain, hear their screams. Their screams beyond hearing. Matt falls asleep straight after, untroubled by the recent slaughter. Typical. I lie awake, suffering for the crimes of others and watch the light fade outside and the stars become brighter. I’ll never get to sleep.


When I wake the moon has risen and is casting long shadows across the bedroom walls. I glance at the clock. It’s almost two thirty.  Matt is tossing and turning. Perhaps the guilt is finally catching up with him. I lie perfectly still. I don’t want to wake him. He’s always randy at this time of the morning and I’ve had more than enough for one night.

But now the tossing and turning is getting worse. I turn towards him. I can see him quite clearly in the moonlight. He has his back to me and he’s pushed the thin sheet away so that one of his bare legs is exposed. I watch him for a moment. He seems to calm. It was probably a nightmare. But suddenly I am aware that the bed is vibrating beneath me. Is he trembling? I lift my hand to touch his arm, but I pull it back as he lets out a groan. A really horrible groan that seems to come from deep inside his chest. He must still be having the nightmare. I prop myself up on my elbow and watch him. He groans again. I ought to wake him. A bad dream can ruin the next day. Even if you can’t remember what it’s about, you can remember the fear and misery. I sit right up and it’s then that I notice it. There’s a thick black line, quivering in the shadows, stretching from under the bedroom door towards the bed and disappearing beneath it.

What the …? I reach across Matt to turn on the bedside light and I’m distracted from doing so by the trembling I can feel coming from his body. His T-shirt is wet with sweat. I reach over again and turn on the light, sit up and push Matt’s shoulder to wake him.

‘Matt, wake up! Are you OK? You’re having a bad dream.’

He rolls towards me, his eyes still closed. I gasp: his face and neck are bright red.

‘Matt, wake up!’

His eyes flash open and he turns them towards me. But they don’t focus. They can’t possibly focus because they are just shiny black spheres, reflecting the dull lamp light. I push myself away from him and notice the skin on his arms is moving. Undulating. Like it’s nothing more than a thin translucent film over thick liquid. I glance at his leg. It’s the same. It’s like I’m just looking at the outside of him. I pull further away and sit up on my knees. It’s too real to be a dream. ‘Matt!’

His eyes are still directed towards me. I hear another terrible groan rising from deep inside him and, as he opens his mouth to let it escape, a stream of small dark red creatures escape with it. They collect on his chin and beneath his nose, and as he opens his mouth wider to emit another, louder noise, a shout almost, I can see that his beautiful even teeth have become nothing more than stumps. More of the creatures are pouring through the gaps between them.

I leap backwards, lose my balance and land on the floor, banging my head on the bedside table. And this time I really can hear the screams as my weight crushes a thousand tiny bodies. I try to push myself up but as my hand touches the floor I can feel things crawling up my arms and across my back. I look up to see the thing that Matt has become, staggering towards me like an old man, propelled only by the creatures that have colonized him. I need to scream but if I open my mouth the things that are swarming up my neck will crawl inside me. I can feel them in my hair, behind my ears. In my ears. I watch Matt push himself more upright, take control of his gait, reclaim his posture. It starts to look like Matt.

And now he’s in front of me, extending his hand towards me. Slowly, awkwardly. His wedding ring tumbles down his finger and rolls away across the floor. I try to scrabble away but something strong is preventing me from doing so. Preventing me from moving. I am becoming encased in a layer of black and red that is as rigid as a cast iron shroud. I feel Matt’s hand touch my arm. It’s only the shape of his hand, its integrity maintained only by the creatures I can see moving beneath his skin. But through all of this it is still my husband’s hand, and strangely it reassures me. And, barely moving his lips, he speaks to me.

‘Do not be afraid, Carrie.’ It’s not really his voice saying it. But when he repeats it, it is his voice. ‘Don’t be afraid, sweetheart. We have been chosen.’

I feel the iron grip all around me slacken as Matt takes my hand and pulls me up, assisted by the pushing and pulling of a million obedient slaves. So now I’m standing and Matt pulling me towards him, embracing me. And as he caresses me I feel a thousand tiny needle points, burning me, paralyzing me. Taking away my independence. I feel a silent scream building in my throat, but it is calmed and diminished as Matt’s lips close over mine. And my mouth fills.

And now the dawn is coming, and we are almost complete. Almost immortal. We are a million million identical parts, joined as one and we will never again be alone. But more than that, we now have a duty and an eternal purpose. All we have to do is wait for the right moment.

And that moment is almost here.

We can feel it coming.

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