Thursday, April 05, 2007


It is a little-know fact that ants are not, contrary to popular opinion, color blind. The truth is, ants enjoy color. The world, from their perspective, shifts through a series of intensely saturated hues: warm browns and greens broken up by expanses of grey particulate and blacktop; flashes of red often mean food; and the sky, blue, can change to the threatening pink of barefoot flesh at any moment.

Unfortunately for the ants, it was one of those moments. Quick thick shadows blocked the sun as the giant human toddler squatted next to the mounded entrance to their nest. The brown dirt, carefully arranged by the home guard so as to provide an elevated perspective of the surrounding terrain, was unceremoniously swirled by a thunderous digit at least ten ants in diameter. The pinkish hue of human flesh instantly brought a sense of heightened panic to the nest. Ants scattered as their mandatory military and emergency survival training kicked in.

The toddler, intrigued by the flurry of activity brought about by a simple touch, squealed in delight. The sharp sound cut through the ants’ network of communication, disorienting those unfortunate enough to be outside the nest at the moment. Their morning chant dissolved into a cacophony of high-pitched squiks and squeaks as the ants desperately strove to regain their equilibrium. At the nest, the singer ants cautiously ventured closer to the entrance. They redoubled their efforts: “hiss squik pik squeak” echoed out across the grass, a call to their lost brothers.

But at that moment, the toddler laughed, and the ants knew that their message had been lost. Underneath the earth the laugh shook the larvae who quivered with instinctual fear. The laugh descended onto the throne where the swollen queen lay, uncaring. It found its way into the storeroom where those working paused, grateful in a sense that they rarely saw the fabled sun. Under normal circumstances it might be difficult for one ant to assert its consciousness and reflect upon its own individuality, but the laugh of a toddler had the power to remind them of their own mortality. In facing death, ants, like the rest of us, live a bit more fully, a bit more aware of their own specificity in the universe.

Outside the nest the pace of chaos quickened. Toddler palms patted at the entrance, scattering sand and dust to the wind with their colossal blows. Toddler shoes threatened to flatten the ants with their pink gummy soles. Debilitating bombs of toddler snot fell amidst the wreckage of the nest, immobilizing any ant unfortunate enough to be caught beneath their salty slime. The ants still tried to find the entrance of the nest, climbing on each other in a determined frenzy as they sought the now-collapsed doorway. They, each individually, knew their death was imminent and unavoidable.

The shadow lifted; the air cleared. The home guard began to organize itself once again, routing ants through the nest as they cleared a pathway to the surface. The singers found each other and clicked in unison, resuming their morning chant. Those outside the nest slowed their frantic search and, calmed, picked up their bits of seed and soil, working. The dead were soon carried by a passing wind.

From a distance, the toddler looked back at the nest, clutching tightly to the freshly-picked flower of a spring dandilion.


Julie C said...

Gee - I wonder what inspired this story? Nice language, especially bringing in the disgusting reality of dripping toddler snot. I think that the introduction - starting with "ants don't see color" and discussing that really brought me into the story well. That and the classes of ants, and I like the word "squiks".