It's 2088. I was born June 11, 2002 and was what they called a '9/11' baby. I grew up right here on the family farm, somewhat insulated from all the fuss and paranoia and patriotic hooraw that followed the first big terrorist attack on American soil. Now I'm an old man and could use a little peace and quiet, but I'm surrounded by highways, high rises, monster houses bigger than our old barn, old folk's homes, indoor malls, outdoor malls, noise -- and ants. I keep the noise at bay by turning on the air conditioner and turning up the Mozart.
Developers keep calling me -- asking me to sell my four acres and small home. Some have offered me as much as two hundred million. They all want my little piece of heaven because it's the last undeveloped piece of land in the county. They can call me all they want. They ring the buzzer at my gate and come to see me with their toothy developers' smiles and grasping handshakes and then leave contracts and fruit baskets.
One even promised me he would relocate me to sunnier climes. "No dice," I told him. "I'm not selling."
Just as in the past, there's good and bad now. First, however, let me tell you about the ants.
Seems we got us a super race of ants happening around the country: red ones, big as your thumb, and meaner, smarter and more prolific than any ants in the past. As far as scientists can tell, they started in the middle of the country and fanned out. They arrived here maybe ten years ago and quickly took over. They're voracious omnivores just as ants of the past were, but with a thousand times the appetite. Nothing that moves, grows, dies or gets discarded is safe. These super ants move in -- and if you walk, run, crawl, fly, or hop across their path, you can kiss your ass goodbye. They march in, suck out your bodily fluids, and then carry you away in bite-sized bits to their colony.
No birds except a few strays are seen here anymore because the ants climbed the trees and took their eggs. No birds, no turtles, no honey bees. Not even fleas, ticks, roaches, and rats are safe.
But here's what really makes these ants different: they're like the outlaw motorcycle gangs of yore -- you mess with one of 'em; you mess with all of 'em. I'm not talking about stepping on an anthill and having them swarm all over you. That's a defensive survival tactic bred into them since the dawn of time, and they'll just as soon kill you as look at you. But say you step on one -- just one -- anywhere. You do that, best get as far away as you can. You don't, the whole tribe's onto you -- and they'll swarm and bite the shit out of you. You can scream if you like, but think about it: you gotta open your mouth to scream.
Now, you take what happened to poor old widow Watson just last week. She smacked one in her kitchen. Her son, just visiting, looked on in horror and begged her to leave with him immediately. But, no, she was stubborn. "This is my home," she said, "and no damned ant is going to scare me out of it."
They found what was left of her the next day. Of her and her nightgown. The ants had even taken her wig! Who know? Maybe as a souvenir, a relic.
These ants come in my home, I'll say "Welcome. Take what you want. Can I help you carry that out?" No sir, I won't mess with these ants.
This still being the land of free enterprise, all kinds of businesses have sprung up to deal with these ants -- almost as numerous as the ants themselves. Take this chemical company, for instance. They've concocted a poison -- trade name, Ant-Acid -- you pour on the anthill. It works all right. 'Kills the ants, but goes right down into the aquifer and messes things up real good. 'Course it's banned now.
The phone number of the exterminator is right there with those of the ambulance and firehouse on the speed dial -- but above 'em. You can have steel plating installed six feet deep around your foundation and extending all the way around your home. Some other outfit got the bright idea to import and let African anteaters loose upon the ants. But no, the ants got to the anteaters first.
The most dangerous job in the country is no longer convenience store clerk -- but ant guard. Ant guards are in big demand, especially in farming. They patrol the perimeter of crops and livestock, and check for breaches. If they spot a scout, they turn the flame thrower on it. Fire wipes out the scent trail, so the ants don't go after the guards. If they spot a whole colony, they drop napalm from a cropdusting plane -- and collect a bounty for every queen they waste.
There's even an ant hotline to call: *1-8000-8888-ANTSARECOMING*. The tabloids love it, of course. Their ant horror stories scream more and more lately in the headlines -- like this one" "I Ate My Baby Because The Ants Told Me To!" My current favorite Eleven O'clock News teaser? "Have the ants developed a taste for human flesh? Details at eleven!"
Not to be outdone, the ad industry is in on spoofing the ants. My favorite commercial is for Pepsi. It stars the actor/comedian Sinbad Jr. -- before he became the Governor of California, that is. In Pepsi's version of the future, the ants are as large as the ants in the 1950's move "Them" -- and the currency of choice is cans of Pepsi. Sinbad rises early one morning, pops a can of Pepsi, takes a big satisfying sip, throws open the curtains and there is one BIG ant in his back yard. He rushes to the phone, hits the speed dial and calls the exterminator, who then shows up towing a Vietnam Era 105 howitzer. You hear a *BOOM*-- and then see Sinbad Jr. piling a few cases of soda onto the man's truck.
Like I said, it's not all bad news lately, either. There's finally peace in the Middle East. Of course, we first had to kill everyone there.
Seems our military strategists had been sitting on a new type of nuclear bomb for a while. Once we were no longer dependent on foreign oil and were using hydrogen to power our cars and generate electricity, we dropped a few. What makes these bombs different? Well for one thing, the mushroom cloud. Instead of going way up into the atmosphere and then raining radiation around the globe, the blast and the cloud spread out at a ground level to a height of about ten feet. It's a particularly nasty type of radiation that kills you straight up. Nothing that either crawls or walks is still left over there.
Some folks think that is when our ant trouble started. On a moonless night here you can see the sunlight reflected from the sand that fused from the heat of the bombs into a hard shiny crust.
Many folks' nerves are on the edge here about the ants. A preacher was recently shouted down by his congregation when he, referring to the ants, began his sermon "And the meek shall inherit the earth." He became unnerved, wandered around town in a daze, and mumbled incoherently until he tripped and fell on an anthill.
His last words? Different mouths tell different accounts. "Come and get me, you devils!" says one witness. "Oh shit!" says another.
Still, you can't really blame the ants for everything. The disappearance of certain species? Development did that. As we humans spread, other creatures had no where to live -- so just gave up and died. Every once in a while, someone sees a white-tailed deer or a raccoon. 'Kinda reminds me of the Japanese soldiers who hid in the jungle well after World War II had ended -- but who eventually came out of hiding and gave themselves up. Nor can you blame the ants for being antlike. If they weren't such bad motherfuckers, they too, would be extinct.
People haven't changed overly much in all these years. What I mean is, they still blithely go about their business. Some families stay together; some don't. Most parents work hard -- and remain decent, law-abiding, baby making mega-consumers. Maybe I'm the only one asking "Why now? Into this world?
All children's sports are played in indoor stadiums, and shopping malls are busy day and night. Children are cautioned to walk a wide circle around the ants, and to avoid them as they would child molesters. The mantra is: Never go out at night. Never go out alone.
And never, ever play with ants. If you see more than one, tell Mom or Dad immediately.
I happen right now to be watching a new colony take hold out between two apple trees near my north wall -- the first ever on my four-acre compound. I've been watching it through my spotting scope for some time. Lately, I see some of their sentries cavorting on the concertina wire I rolled out on top of the wall. I can clearly see their oversized jaws snapping, their raggedy-Ann button-eyes looking back at me. This scope is so powerful, I can even see their antennae waving.
The sight of a new colony under construction is a little disconcerting, but I want to start off on the right foot with my new neighbors. I wave back.
I see the sentries turn and look at a car driving slowly up to my gate. It's the man from the East Coast Development Corporation. He's been persistent in courting me for my piece of earth, and I finally gave in. 'Said he could come over and talk.
He grins ear to ear and clasps my hand with both of his.
"Come on in," I say.
"Now, this sir," -- he pauses and whistles -- "this is some nice home and property you've got here."
"Thank you," I say. "It's been in my family since before the Civil War." This was a farm at one point, and down that hill over there was a stream that dried up a long time ago."
I take his jacket and hang it on a hook in the kitchen. I point towards the strip mall next door and then turn back and tell him, "This used to be paradise, but now it's hell." He just keeps grinning like I told him I liked his tie.
I go into the kitchen to pour coffee for the two of us, and on the counter are two ants. I can tell they're from that new colony between the apple trees and are checking out their new neighborhood. I pick them up with a napkin, crush them, and put the napkin in my guest's coat pocket.
We sit in silence -- drinking and staring out the window.
"Do you mind if I take a look around your property before I leave?" he asks.
"Not at all," I answer. "But I'm a little tired. Would you mind showing your own self around?"
He keeps grinning. "Not a problem," he says. "It'll help me get a feel for the place."
I figure the place'll feel different paved over and subdivided, but I nod and tell him, "I think you'll like the view from between those two apple trees in particular."
I open the door, and we shake hands. I watch a pill bug track its last minutes in the dirt. A column of ants is already homing in on its scent or vibrations or whatnot. The East Coast Development man spots them, too, and shudders a little, high-stepping quickly toward the apple trees where he figures he'll be safe.
I close the door and turn up the air conditioner and the Mozart. I really think I'm getting too old for this.
© 2006 by Steve Zocchi
Steve says simply that "I recently started writing in my middle age. I don't like to read or write 'moon in June' stuff." Presumably sentimental stuff like that ... bugs him.
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