The Ants

I'm raiding my back catalogue once again - and this time, it's a deep, deep raid. This is the earliest story I still have on record.

The Ants

Lachlan Marnoch, 2006

Deep in the ground, in a delicate labyrinth of millimetre tunnels, live ants. The ants go about their business, obeying the instructions of instinct to cooperate in a vast, intricate dance of cooperation. The soldiers venture out of the nest to kill and collect other insects, the workers expand the tunnels so as to accommodate the ever-growing colony, and the queen, most important of all, lays egg after tiny egg, to be collected and looked after by the nurses.

Through all this activity, a group of pioneers crawl out of the anthill entrance to explore and conquer the world outside. They follow the scent trails left by the other ants, until they reach the point where the familiar chemicals of home peter out to nothing, apart from the slightest remnants of long-decayed forerunners. They have reached the no-ants-land. They crawl purposefully forward like black machines. They scuttle over leaves that seem like mountains, grains of dirt that seem like boulders.

Suddenly, out of the leaves, charges a huge, hairy, eight-legged monster. Its six eyes glisten as it picks up a squirming ant with its jaws, and promptly crushes it. The remaining ants waste no time in attacking the creature, to avenge their comrade. Even as more of their numbers join the dead, they never falter, until the beast lies motionless.

The remaining ants march on, to reach a huge wall. They don’t see the wall until they are upon it, as their eyesight is poor. They follow the wall until they reach an opening which is so wide that they cannot see the other side. They march on purposefully, following the sweet aroma that comes to them through the antennae on their heads. They clamber up a wooden post then across a long, wide space, to a slanted bowl-shaped object. This object is connected to a ramp that the ants cannot see the end of. And in the bowl, is sweet, sugary liquid.

The ants dig their pincer-shaped mouths into the stuff, and they gorge themselves. To them, it is like a heavenly feast. However, it is but a taste of what is to come. One ant is sent back to the colony, to communicate with the other ants and bring more to consume the lovely liquid. And then, the rest march. Up the ramp they go, all the while following the delightful smell.

The ramp is slippery, and one of the ants falls, but they continue on. And finally, at the top, they are rewarded. The smell is overwhelming. They could sit there for days, just to bask in the amazing, bewildering smell! But beneath them, in a huge container, is a lake full of sugary, sweet, thick liquid. Without a thought for their own lives, they leap in. The price of death is nothing compared to the taste.

Amy walks into the kitchen and sees the line of ants, crawling up the spoon she left leaning on the honey jar. She looks in and sees the dead and dying ants struggling in the thick honey. “Damn it. There goes another jar.”