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The Empire of the Ants

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In antediluvian Evanston, that is, before three weeks ago, a few confused ants would wander about the kitchen counter, lost on their way to ant conventions or curious about life beyond the baseboards. They would stop to feast on the odd brownie crumb or sniff at a particularly fragrant drip of marinade from last night's grilling, but were usually gone by morning.

If persistent, I would give them a stern vocal warning to vacate the premises immediately, which usually did the trick. Rebellious teenage ants, their ant pants sagging low on their thoraxes, showing way too much abdomen, might need a bit more encouragement to disperse. Then there were hard-core ants, usually Antster Disciples or Ant-in Kings who required escalating dispersal techniques from huffing, puffing, and blowing them off the counter into the sink, to using a folded newspaper to sweep them floor-ward with extreme prejudice.

Rarely did things escalate to def-con squish.

Then, a few weeks ago, with no warning, no exchange of diplomatic notes, no discussion before the Formicidae/Human Friendship Council, no trial balloons launched on Meet the Ant, or spokes-ants on cable talkers bashing Evanston's anti-ant immigration bill, they began colonizing my kitchen: mobs of ants, hordes of ants, armies of ants. The kitchen counter became Ant-lanta. Ant farm worker cooperatives began appearing carrying protest signs demanding improved ant living conditions, phalanxes of army ants led by ant officers marched to and fro pincers snapping, ant special forces launched preemptive strikes on stove and fridge. Bolder ants ranged as far as my highly secure HDTV bunker/Wii-room.

Action had to be taken. War declared. Reinforcements summoned. Anti-ant weapons obtained.

A trip to the local hardware store became a visit to the Q branch weapons room in The Spy Who Loved Me. I had no idea that the military industrial complex had been dealing with ant aggression since Vietnam.

"It's the rain," the storeowner said, a dead ringer for Robert Shaw in Jaws, "the rain breeds them like rabbits."

Ants breed like rabbits?

I left the store armed with that old standby, 'Terro' ant killer, and newly redecorated, for modern ant tastes, poisoned ant motels. Both products offer insidious extermination propositions: bringing the penalty for such unconscionable aggression back to Antdom. Neither killed ants on the actual battlefield, but took the war to their homes. One innocent nibble of Terro or chilled Pilsner Urquell at the ant motel bar, and the resulting infection killed as remorselessly as the bubonic plague.

Just as I was about to get in the Pathfinder, Quint ran out..."if it gets too bad," he whispered, looking around nervously, "use this..." and handed me an aerosol can of something...the sides of the can covered in depictions of ant tombstones and funiculae as crosses.

The battle was joined, and, at first, won. Terro placed strategically, an ant motel or two, and, within days, no ants. Then more rains came. Biblical rains. Storms, lightning, it was a monsoon.

As it poured, hour after hour, my imagination ran wild with the store owner's warning:

"It's the rain...they breed like rabbits."

At night I would dream I could hear tiny drums being beaten on the other side of the wall as ants organized themselves for a new assault. The sounds of millions of tiny feet scrapping the plaster wrenched me out of deep REM as I imagined them preparing for another campaign, knowing now the power of our science and the brutality of our methods. Amid the raindrops hitting the bedroom windows I thought I heard strange ant chants coming from the first floor.

I visualized millions of pods filled with billions of ants, like the cave in Alien, wanting nothing but moisture to open and disgorge ants, fully formed and ready to march. Perhaps, now that they 'knew' with primitive Hazmat suits and weaponized feelers.

Then it happened. Again.

They came in waves. At first Terro and the ant motels worked. It seemed that the contract for the ant Hazmat suits had gone to the lowest bidder with predictable results. On the second morning the numbers were down, I refreshed my Terro cards, put some new paint on the ant motels and signs that read 'New Ownership...Great Rates!'

But, as downpour was followed by downpour, such passive infection technology became appeasement. The third morning was a horrifying taste of things to come: ants in the dishwasher.

It was time to unleash the Kraken. Frustrated and frightened by the nightmare scenario of being physically seized and taken to ant headquarters for war crimes trials, I did what I had to do. I took the two keys (along with a fiendishly clever code) needed to unlock the hermetically sealed vault containing the aerosol can Quint thrust into my hand. With reluctance, but a sense of duty to humanity, I entered the code and turned the keys, a deep click, the door stuck for a moment as air pressure equalized, and there the can stood, stark and ominous in its velvet cradle.

I took it out, closed the door, relocked it and shook the can. With a prayer for light winds and low humidity I turned toward the pulsating, ravenous invaders...

I'm glad the Nazis never discovered a human application for this stuff...I mean one whiff and those ants were dead.

It was not pretty. As General Sherman opined: "war means fightin' and fightin' means killin...' In this case, on an industrial scale.

I swept up the mass of dead ants, their search for lebensraum shattered, and buried them in a mass grave out back. No marker, no monument, no ceremony.

A week passed. A series of clear days and nights. No ants. Then a forecast of rain for the weekend.

What now?

Were there survivors? Were there councils of ant elders, safe in a baseboard redoubt, wondering at the sickness that killed thousands for no reason? Were they terrified by rumors that the 4th Ant Infantry Division had been massacred to an ant by some new wonder weapon? Were the ant priests sacrificing ant virgins to ant gods to deliver them from the fury of the humans? Were plans being drawn for a Diaspora to another, more hospitable, house across the fence for deliverance? I don't know.

I'm low on Terro; the aerosol can is almost empty. And, it's begun to rain again.