Ant Killer

He’d fallen asleep on the toilet again, gasping awake suddenly from a horrible dream in which his girlfriend was bludgeoning him to death with a hammer. There was a drool-streak on his bare chest, his ass was numb, and near the toilet paper roll, there was a tiny black ant strolling the window ledge. The ant surprised him, he’d forgotten about the ants, they’d disappeared all winter and now that the city was warming again, here they were, or at least here was the first one. He knew that shepherding the ant onto a sheet of toilet paper to deposit it on the other side of the window was hopeless, he’d surely kill it in the process, and more ants would invade later despite his kindness. His girlfriend kept a bottle of ant-killer under the sink, well within reach, but he disliked the smell so he slid off one of his slippers and brought it down on the ant. The smack of rubber against tile and the sight of the ant squirming for its life affected him deeply. It struck him as inexplicably tragic. He couldn’t bear to look at the ant, at what he’d done, it was too much, and he saw himself clearly as an animal, a human animal, amoral, wanton, yet self-aware, equally capable of taking or not taking a life. The ant hadn’t deserved to die. The guilt of murder suffocated him so completely that he awoke breathing hard and sitting bolt upright in bed, and the bedroom.

The bedroom was dark, and it was very still and quiet outside the windows, he couldn’t make out the oceanic murmur of the expressway. The nearest noise was leaves swishing in a breeze. His pregnant wife did not stir from her sleep to ask if he was OK, nonetheless out of some ingrained reflex he muttered, Just a bad dream, and creaked across the floorboards of their house towards the bathroom. From where he sat on the toilet, the mirror over the sink gave back his reflection. But something was wrong, one of his eyebrows was drifting across his face. A moment of confusion passed before he saw it, the squirming line of ants marching across the mirror. As he traced the line, he saw a long black-beaded strand spilling from the ceiling vent. He wasn’t as surprised by them as he had been by the single ant in his dream. All he felt was fatigue at the chore of having to kill them. They used to tell friends visiting from the city that the ants had followed them out here, but none of their friends visited anymore, so they’d stopped saying it. In truth these weren’t the same city ants. They were different ants, domesticated, slower, sadder. There were more of them. They didn’t seem to care if you killed them in droves. They had an understanding.

He unleashed a jet of ant-killer at the trail, his own reflection blurring and smearing in the mirror. The poison seemed to speed them up, their legs moving at a frenetic pace while their bodies were pinned motionless, like they were living out the rest of their lives in a few seconds, their tiny brains racing ahead, dark limbs churning wildly in a nightmare, but soon their legs slowed and seemed to retract back into their bodies, and they became as shrunken and still as punctuation marks, an ungrammatical cluster of commas and periods which he erased from the mirror with a balled up piece of toilet paper. He only made it a few steps from the bathroom before he saw a darkened figure emerging from the empty spare room where they were building the nursery. The floorboards hardly made a sound under it. It was tall as a man, but didn’t have a human form. His heart was pounding. Hello, he tried to say. It wasn’t until the creature raised one of its several claws above its head that he seemed to comprehend what was happening. The giant ant brought the hammer down into his skull. The dull crunch woke his wife from her sleep, and soon she was standing in the doorway watching her husband’s death throes, his arms and legs flailing rapidly as he lay on his back in the hallway. She felt woozy and clutched her bloated stomach where the unborn child slept. The giant ant lurched towards her, raised the hammer over its antennae, and she.

She awoke screaming, the bedroom suffused with the first bluish tint of morning. It did not immediately feel like their bedroom or even their house, and her husband’s wide-eyed face did not immediately look like her husband’s face, contorted as it was by terror and perhaps age as he shook her awake. It’s OK, he reassured her, rubbing her back. It’s OK. Her breathing slowed. She described the dream. A big black bug thing, she said, it was killing you right in front of me. We’re okay now, he said, is what’s important. It was happening in the past, she said, I was still pregnant. We’re all doing fine, he said, I’m fine, you’re fine, Anthony’s fine. It was coming for me, she said, but I didn’t move, because I felt like I deserved it, like we all had it coming. I’m fine Mom, said a voice from the hall, giving them both a start. When they recognized Anthony’s hesitant silhouette in the doorway, they smiled and beckoned their son towards the bed, noticing only too late that there was something long-handled and metal-tipped gleaming in his claw.  

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