The Coed, Some Ants, and a Flood
by Sean Hower
“First, my job,” Alana said to the popcorn in the microwave. “Then that bimbo. I mean, so what if I haven’t read Annie Katrinana? I’m not Prussian.” She fidgeted with the tassels on her pajamas. “Oo, look at me! I’m a brainy, big-boobed blonde and I’m taking away Alana’s guy because I ‘get’ him.” She pretended to gag. “What’s so wrong with romance novels, anyway?”
The microwave chirped. Finally, her evening of chick-lit movie adaptations, vanilla candles, syrah, and sulking could get started. Who needed people, anyway?
Thunder rattled her apartment.
Alana frowned out the window. Branches, the splinters of someone’s fence, and other litter swirled about the streets. “You can’t stop me, Mister Thunderstorm.”
Alana nestled onto her couch with the evening’s gear, even more determined to enjoy her alone time. That’s why she paid little attention to the spot of water that appeared at the patio door during the opening credits of Bridget Jones’ Diary. She forced herself to ignore the water as it trickled across her kitchen’s vinyl flooring. She could not, however, ignore how the water went up the side of her kitchen counter as though carried along on thousands of marching feet.
She paused the DVD to investigate and realized that the water was actually ants.
Ants were horrible things, with their beady little heads, fang thingies — whatever they were called — and eight legs. Or was it six? It didn’t really matter. They were bugs. Bugs were not cool. Bugs weren’t natural. These bugs were threatening her serenity. Therefore, they must die.
She had just the thing for them too. On the shelf of her laundry closet, behind the boxes of roach motels, rolls of flypaper, bottles of mosquito repellent, stacks of Citronella buckets, and a pile of bug bombs was her reliable extra-strength insecticide spray. She bought it in bulk because the canisters never had quite enough poison in them to be of any real efficiency.
She shook the canister as she approached her prey. “You picked the wrong apartment, guys.” She coated the line of ants from their leading point on the counter top all the way back to the patio door. She coughed a little when she got too near the spray but it was worth it to wipe out the horde.
Satisfied with herself, she capped the canister and went back to her movie.
“What the heck?” she muttered a few minutes later. Two new lines of ants were streaming towards her couch from the living room window.
Alana admired their persistence but she was bigger and had more than enough bug spray for everyone. Once again she set out to extinguish the invaders. The canister sputtered as she annihilated the first line. Halfway through the second line, it went empty. By the time she returned with a fresh canister in each hand, there were three new lines.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Alana was peeved at the audacity of these things. She charged at them, bent on spraying not just the ants but anywhere that could become either an entry point or destination.
A choking haze quickly filled the little room. Alana ignored it — the ants were more important than clean air — until she could no longer take in a breath without falling into a fit of burning coughs. Irritated at the manufacturers for producing an inferior product, she flung open the window and pushed her face against the screen to take in long draughts of cool air.
Outside, rain was crashing down in angry waves spurred by sporadic gusts of wind. Pools of water amassed around clogged storm drains and filled low-lying areas. She wondered whether this was going to be one of those hundred-year floods that she always heard about. It would be cool if that little boyfriend-thieving tart bit it in a flood. Alana would be there to comfort her man and things would get back to normal in no time. Everyone could get what they deserved.
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a buzzing that spiraled in closer and closer to her head. She flinched when an insect landed on her nose. Its bugged-out eyes fixed on hers as its mouth opened and closed in a sickening parody of speech.
Alana dropped one of the canisters to swat at this winged menace. She slapped herself in the face instead; the insect simply leaped out of the way only to return to its nasal perch a moment later. It bit her before she could make another attempt. The pain wasn’t bad, nor did it last long, but it was sharp, as though someone had jabbed a hair-thin splinter into her left nostril.
“Please stop,” Alana heard someone say. “We don’t mean any harm.”
Shocked, Alana looked around for the source of the voice. It seemed to be inside her head, like someone else’s thoughts had gotten into hers. But that was ridiculous. Besides, the insect was really starting to annoy her so she didn’t have time to puzzle out what voices in her head might mean.
“Please. Please stop. We just need a place to stay until the rain stops.”
“Who’s there?” Alana wasn’t quite sure if she was imagining things, if someone was playing a rude prank on her, or if the pressure of school, breaking up, and losing her job had finally triggered one of those psychotic breaks she had learned about in her Intro to Psychology class last semester.
“I am Princess Clementine Georgette Lavender Sagewort the Twelfth,” the voice said importantly. The flying thing assumed a regal posture. “Twelfth in line of the great Colony of Sagewort and destined to one day found a sister colony to the great Homeland. Though I’m not too keen on the idea.”
“Where are you?”
“Right in front of you.”
Alana looked around, once again swatting the insect out of her way.
“Please stop trying to hit me.”
Alana stared at the bug. “You can’t be talking.” Only humans could speak; there were a whole bunch of famous dead, white guys who said so.
“I am talking and I’m asking for refuge from this storm.”
As the voice filled Alana’s head, the insect’s mouth moved so convincingly that Alana felt the very foundations of her world quiver. Insects didn’t talk. Only humans talked. The indignity of things being otherwise was too uncomfortable to consider. “What are you?”
“I’m an ant,” Princess Clementine Georgette Lavender Sagewort the Twelfth said.
“You’re an ant?”
“And you can fly.”
“Of course I can. I’m a princess.”
Alana’s world gave another frighteningly unstable quiver. Her reality couldn’t take many more shocks like this. “So, you’re a flying, talking ant?” It sounded stupid just saying it.
The voice sighed and the biter thingies on the flying ant looked aggravated. “My colony is drowning. We ask permission to take refuge in your apartment until the floodwaters recede. But we can’t do that if you continue to spray us.”
“You’re a pest,” Alana said, not sure if she was more annoyed or confused by the ant’s admonition of the natural order of things. “What do you expect me to do?”
“I was simply hoping that you would understand that sometimes things get rough and you need the help of a kind stranger to get you through.”
Alana sighed. She could certainly understand needing someone to help through the rough spots. She couldn’t imagine, however, an ant ever having a week like hers. “My boyfriend dumped me. I lost my job. I have finals. Now, I have talking, flying ants wanting to sublease? Who would pay your half of the rent? No. You couldn’t possibly understand what I’m going through right now.”
“I’m sorry your boyfriend dumped you,” the ant said with unexpected sympathy.
A sudden solidarity welled up for this exoskeletal sister. Could this actually be something that could understand Alana’s feelings? “Thank you.” She felt stupid for thanking an ant.
“You want to talk about it?”
Did she? Could she? “You know what it’s like. You love them, some slut takes them away, and you’re left in a dark, lonely hole with nothing but a broken heart and high-fat confections for company.”
“Well, actually,” the princess was hesitant, “ants are mostly female. The few males that are around die once we’ve, um, had our way with them. It’s pretty efficient that way.”
“That’s barbaric! What about love? What about ‘till death do us part?’ What about the kids, the suburban home, the dog, the career? How can you live without those things?”
Princess Clementine Georgette Lavender Sagewort the Twelfth regarded Alana. “To tell you the truth, I’ve always found human mating rituals rather silly. It just invites all sorts of heartache and trouble. Not that I totally agree with the way things are with us ants.”
The ant’s superior tone stung Alana. Who was this back-sassing sister to criticize human mating rituals? Besides, human mating rituals must be the right way to do things since humans were the dominant species on the planet, top of the food chain, and so forth. Alana glared at the ant, feeling superior and feeling a need to assert that superiority.
The impact tore apart Princess Clementine Georgette Lavender Sagewort the Twelfth. Her remains showered the mass of ants that had gathered during their conversation.
A horrible silence drowned out even the storm outside. The gathered Formicidae transformed from a haggard band of refugees to an army poised for attack. An impassioned “Charge!” shot up from deep inside the mob and the entire colony pushed towards Alana on a sororal vendetta.
Armed with both canisters of insecticide once again, Alana coated her attackers in a sickening cloud. As the ants on the front lines perished, more came from the rear, driving up over the bodies of their fallen. Alana refused to give up even as the mound of ant bodies rose almost even with her face.
Through her determination, she became only vaguely aware that water was piling up outside against the patio door and rising rather quickly. She only partly acknowledged the trickles of water that were now racing in from the patio door’s frame. She pushed aside the thunder that rocked the whole apartment. These things were not as important as the ants that were just too uppity for their own good.
Through the fog of poison, Alana spotted among the host something that was not an ant — long, brownish, with big pincers on its backside. An earwig. Then she spotted a silverfish. More of these insects started to fill the ranks of ants, along with beetles, pill bugs, and other beastly inventions that she didn’t recognize but whose presence dropped a bucket of fright into her system so cold that she shrieked.
But she stood her ground until the canisters sputtered and fell silent.
“You haven’t won yet!” Alana dropped the empty canisters and darted for the laundry closet for more spray. She stopped short at the doorway, stunned to see a line of ants marching up to her arsenal. At its leading edge was a pair of lit matches that bobbed like ghostly eyes on a fragmented snake. The fly paper was the first to catch with a soft thump. The flames rushed to the roach motels and bait pellet containers. Puffs of green and blue and orange smoke rolled up from the flames, lolled about the ceiling then pushed their way into the hallway.
While she tried to understand this new scene, a loud thud shoved her to the ground and filled her ears with a horrible ringing. Little dots of heat bit into her face, chest, and arms. She tried to get up, but a wave of dizziness toppled her and she didn’t understand why her body wasn’t moving the way she wanted it to. When she finally managed a crawl, she became aware of an inch of the water that now filled her apartment.
Through an effort that made her proud, Alana pulled herself up to the kitchen counter and got the fire extinguisher. She managed a shaky jog back to the laundry closet. The fire had spread to the shelves but she hoped that it could still be managed.
Pull the pin. Point at base. Squeeze trigger.
She was desperate to follow these instructions. A jet of white shot from the extinguisher much more forcefully than she had expected. It was a struggle to steady her aim. In another moment, the flames died away, leaving only a smoking mass and a gaping hole in her ceiling.
Exhausted, with a heart trying to leap up into her brain, she collapsed to the floor and into three inches of water on the floor. Ants and other creepy-crawlies were floating towards her and, she hoped, drowning in what had to be a Biblical inundation for such miniscule pests. She might have felt sorry for them — the prospect of drowning frightened Alana so much that she never learned how to swim — but for the damage to her apartment and her individuality that they had inflicted.
As she gathered herself, rather pleased with her quick thinking, she became aware of things landing on her head and shoulders. She brushed her hair, annoyed, and gasped when she saw insects falling away. Remembering the ant assault, she looked back into the living room.
A silverfish flew towards her and smacked onto her forehead. This was followed by half a dozen earwigs. Then, a ball of ants exploded like shrapnel into her mouth and left crunchy bits stuck in between her teeth. A moment later, a nasty itch flared up on her head.
Confused by this new tactic, she charged back into the living room determined to discover its source. Then she saw them. Spider webs. Dozens of spider webs. Hundreds of spider webs. Spider webs filling every nook, crack, and corner of the room. Insects piled onto these silvery structures in small clumps. Arachnid gunmen drew back intricate strands and let loose their cargo. Another barrage of insects hurtled towards Alana.
Enraged, she blasted the nearest webs with the extinguisher. The barrage halted and Alana was sure that she had disrupted the entire campaign. A breath later, something sailed into her ear.
The broom was her next weapon. She dashed about the living room and kitchen knocking down the webs even as she continued to come under fire by the spidery artillery. She gave only passing notice to the water now pouring in through the open window.
“You can’t win,” Alana hissed, taking so much glee in knocking down the webs that she scared herself. “My apartment! My life! I won’t let you ruin it.”
But the assault continued. Every web was rebuilt as quickly as she could knock it down, and now there were insects floating in from the waters outside, perfectly adapted to an aquatic life, to join the fray.
Alana itched from hundreds of bites that sent up little red bumps all over her body. She wasn’t going to lose though. She didn’t stop when the power went out, leaving only a diffuse yellow glow from the sky and the occasional lightning flash to guide her battle. She didn’t stop when the water was up to her hips. When the water pressed around her chest she realized that the insects would surely perish with or without her effort.
She had won. And if she could win against the insects, she would certainly be able to get through school. She would get another job. She would win back her boyfriend even if the brainy bimbo didn’t drown. Everything was going to work out just fine. She just needed to get herself to safety and wait for the waters to recede for her to reclaim her life.
She thought about the front door, but the waters were rising quickly and she’d have to swim to safety. That wasn’t possible. Then, she thought of the hole in the laundry closet ceiling. She could wait out the storm up in the space between the ceiling and the roof. No swimming needed.
She made little hops from the couch, to a chair, then to a coffee table that was in an odd state halfway between sinking and floating. She planted her feet on the washer in the laundry closet. Then, she poked her head through the opening and into darkness so absolute that it stole away her breath.
“This is the best place to wait,” she heard herself saying, but part of her was now wondering if this was a good idea. Less determined than before, she felt around for something solid to grab.
She found webs.
Rage filled Alana. “This is my home!” She heaved herself up into the roof and stamped the web until her foot went through the ceiling. Satisfaction replaced the rage.
“I win again.”
She sat down, content, to steady her breath.
Hundreds of points of beautiful green and yellow light blinked around her and cast dancing shadows across the roof supports. Memories of a childhood spent chasing fireflies, watching butterflies, and petting ladybugs filled Alana with euphoria. That pleasant world was not yet darkened by poisonous spiders, stinging wasps, biting ants, and other dangers that lurked in the darker corners in the basement and garage of the house in which she grew up.
In the dim illumination, dozens of crawling lines moved along the rafters and crossbeams out onto the roof.
“That’s it,” Alana said. “Get out of my life.”
The water was pooling around her hands, her feet, and her buttocks.
“My Friday night.”
The water spilled across her hips.
The water circled her waist.
“You can’t ruin it.”
The water pushed up to her chest.
“I’m in control.”
The water closed around her throat.
She drew in a deep breath before she became completely submerged. She held her breath until her chest burned and every part of her screamed for air. She gasped against her will and water filled her lungs.
Copyright © 2010 by Sean Hower