“You’re awake,” says the serpent. “That’s good. I was starting to worry – it’s almost moonrise.”
Lily opens her eyes. The pale glow from the streetlights barely reaches the room. What little light there is traces the mountainous terrain of the bed; the tangled sheets, the hunched shadow of Anton’s back rising and falling slowly. Clad only in shadow, she slips from the bed and pads from the room. Her steps are careful and quiet.
It began as a scientific oddity, bordering on urban legend. Our species – always so eager to grub around in the dirt with our plump pink digits – noted with amusement that ants were beginning to behave oddly.
For one thing, they started to take things home with them. The taking itself was quite mundane; we’ve all seen neatly ordered lines of ants carrying crumbs or fleshy shreds of fruit home to the colony. It was what they started to take. Strange things. Plastic and broken glass, scraps of cloth and twists of wire. We figured that the ants detected minute scraps of edible matter on the debris, or that this behavior was some novel but harmless quirk, the arthropological equivalent of magpies hoarding their dubious treasure.
She tried to connect to the others, everyday, little acts of kindness and camaraderie that by and large went unnoticed. She had always been… Lets say different. Awkward for sure, but that isn’t a cardinal crime. But being different was.
We sat in a circle, each of us with a half dead thing in our hands. We had tried to bring them to life on our own. Injecting our own souls, tears and blood into them. But there they were limp, ragged and useless. We hoped that through our shared experience, chanting psalms of encouragement and judgement, one or two of them might see life. There was a time, each of us thought ourselves invincible, that our creations would unfurl to take this world into a new age of darkness with us as its dark lord. We forsaken writers wept.
At first I thought it was an earthquake. The entire world shuddered and groaned as if some massive thing was under the surface trying to shake off the cities we built on its back. I had never been in an earthquake before, my curiosity got the best of me, I was curious how the buildings looked, I heard they sway.
Do you see that house? Shrouded overgrown plants like some sort of forgotten temple in the wilds of South America. You can imagine strange rites to stranger gods, swinging sex parties that devolve into cannibalistic orgies of violence. But none of that is real, all in your head. You see, that house is just that, a simple overgrown house, it doesn’t matter.
You don’t see them hop, you see them before the bounce, and if you are fast enough, you can see them once they land. But when they jump it’s completely different. Each parasitic intruder is moving so fast they can’t be seen. It means for that fraction of a second between jump and land, they are everywhere at once. There is no space that is not filled completely with fleas. When you can’t see them it means they are in motion, looming closer to us with each unfurling of bristled legs to pop into the every-space and then back.
Empty grocery store aisles beckon, he knows it’s a trap. It’s always a trap. Somewhere in the confines of that darkened storefront, things wait to make an easy meal out of fools looking for an easy meal. All he has is a machete, and his hunger to drive him inside.
They didn’t come all at once. But rather, I found them one at a time or in pairs, scuttling under the oven when I flipped on the light. And at first, I didn’t think anything of it. What were a few little bugs, escaping the rain or cold? By the time I realized they were a problem it was too late. We were infested.
The things covered walls, strutting in the open sunlight in defiance. There was nothing I could do, no matter how many I killed, how many traps or poisons. This was no longer my home, but theirs.