Texas Fire Ants
by Doug Hiser
part 1 of 2
Fire ants out number people in Texas probably about one thousand to one. The little red critters are everywhere. Their mounds of dirt pop up in manicured lawns and in the trashiest vacant lots. You can find their colonies in the pastures, in the dark woods, in sandy deserts and the rockiest hills. I would bet money that every person in Texas has been bitten by a fire ant at least one time in their life. Their sting is an intense burning sensation that begins to itch and throb instantly. You can look down at the bite and the little red bastard fire ant will still be curled up, biting as hard as it can until it is slapped into oblivion.
When I was in high school a bunch of my friends bet this goofy kid, Robby Mitchell, ten dollars, that he couldn’t stick his hand in a fire ant mound for five minutes. That boy grunted and yelled and endured hundreds of fire ants stinging his hand for five minutes. His skin was covered in the tiny red devils. They were crawling higher on his arm and he would brush them off screaming cuss words at them as he endured the pain. He must have really needed that ten dollars bad.
When time was up he jumped up and began slapping his hand free of the red mass of biting fire ants, screaming and crying. We paid him the ten dollars and he shoved it in his left jeans pocket and ran to the school nurse. He told her some lie that he fell and landed in a giant mound of fire ants and before he could get them all off he was bitten badly. The nurse thought that he must have been allergic to fire ants and sent him to the hospital. We found out later that the hospital bills were considerably more than ten dollars. I learned a lesson that day.
Ten years later I was walking up to Larry Burns’ trailer house, kicking over the dozen or so fire ant mounds that dotted his yard, when I felt that burning stinging sensation inside my boot. A red bastard had climbed inside and stung me. I sat down on Larry’s front porch and pulled my boot off. The little fire ant was curled up biting and stinging through my sock. I ground him into pieces of red dust with my fingers. Larry came out of the front door and hit me in the back with the edge of the door. I yelped and fell off the porch. Larry exclaimed, “Holy crapola, I didn’t know you were out here.”
I landed on my face with my hands in a mud-hole at the bottom of his steps. My face was only inches from landing in a pool of muddy water. My bootless foot stepped in the mud and my sock was soaked with dirty water and mud. I looked up at Larry on the porch and my lonely boot sitting next to his door. I muttered, “Thanks butt-hole.”
I crawled back on the porch and took my wet sock off. I put my boot back on without a sock and it felt damn stupid and uncomfortable. I never could figure out how people can wear shoes without socks. I could go without underwear before I could go without socks. My privates are okay without a protective fabric, but my toes need some soft cloth surrounding them.
Larry replied, “Okay, Gordon, I’m sorry. I said I didn’t know you were out here. How in hell am I supposed to predict when you are going to be sitting on my front porch?”
I just stared up at him as I sat there still trying to itch that red bastards bite on my foot and said, “Well, for one thing, maybe you might think about looking before you just come barreling outside. You do that all the time. You crash through every door without even thinking about other people. Remember last week you knocked that lady in the arm with the glass door at the grocery store... the old lady in the wheel chair?”
Larry whistled and laughed, “Uh, yeah... she let out a yelp, didn’t she? Pretty damn funny if you ask me, not that I think cracking you with my door is funny. Sorry, Gordon.”
I changed the subject. “Larry, did you get what I asked you to?”
He smiled, showing his missing two front teeth, and ruffled his shaggy red hair, and said, “I sure did, Gordon, I sure did. I even got Masio to throw in an extra box of shells. Come on, I’ll show you. I got everything back here in the barn.”
I followed him around back of the trailer house stepping around fire ant mounds and dodging puddles of muddy water. He opened the rusty metal gate and we entered the pasture. Three sad black cows barely glanced up at us and then they slowly started following us to the barn. I guess the cows thought that by following us they might get an extra trough of feed. By the look of Larry’s cows I don’t think they ever got any extra feed.
The barn was about seventy yards from the gate and I no longer tried to dodge the mud puddles because it was hopeless. My boots were muddy and half wet. I told Larry, “Next time you bring me out here you provide some rubber boots. I’m gonna’ have to clean these up before I get back in my truck. Damn, Larry, sometimes I don’t think you have a brain in your head.”
Larry kept his head down and splashed mud with each step, replying, “Sorry, Gordon, I been thinking about building some plywood bridges across these low spots, but I never seem to get around to getting it done.”
I looked down near my boot at a large mud puddle filled with chocolate water and noticed a large colony of ants floating across the water. The fire ants were all grouped together like a single creature, like they were a living miniature ship traversing this tiny chocolate sea. I wondered why ants never sink. The little red bastards always float. When I was a kid I would try to drown their fire ant mounds with the garden hose. I would wipe out their homes but it didn’t kill any of the ants. They would just float along the water like river rafters on the Guadalupe River each Texas summer. I stepped over the floating ant colony and trudged behind Larry.
Larry’s barn was a collection of red and gray rusty tin all slapped together as if a mad architect on cocaine and acid designed it. The place wasn’t level or even a normal shape. It looked sort of like an octogonish igloo with a slanted roof. Larry opened the big door, also made of pieces of discarded tin, and we stepped into the dark musty interior. He grabbed a string hanging from the roof and a bare light bulb switched on.
Larry had a collection of every tool and device you could imagine. I knew he liked all of this stuff but I also knew he never used it because he was too lazy to actually do any work. He had stolen most of it and he sold things from time to time. I saw numerous chain saws, band saws, and a wall filled with shovels, axes, sledgehammers, wrenches, pliers, rakes, and hoes, even a Samurai sword. On the two tables he had the weapons.
I heard the cows outside begin to moo. They were hungry. I asked Larry, “Hey, do you ever feed your cows?”
He just shrugged his shoulders, saying, “Money’s been tight around here lately. I think I might butcher them up soon anyway. I was gonna’ invite you to a barbecue so you could bring a date. I was gonna’ cook up some of my famous fajitas.”
I ignored his answer and said, “Well, Larry, let’s have a look at the equipment.”
I walked over to the unbalanced plywood table and picked up an automatic rifle. I looked down the sight and then set it down picking up a grenade launcher, the old kind used in Central America. They were three rocket launchers, newer versions used last in the Gulf War, and one ancient antique Gatling gun, a rotating, hand-cranked machine gun made famous in that old John Wayne movie, The War Wagon. I ran my hands over the smooth silver metal of the round barrel of the Gatling gun and said, “Wow, Larry, this is a real find. Where in hell did you get this beauty?”
He smiled like he just ate his ex-wife’s goldfish and said, “I knew you would like it, Gordon. I just knew it. I got the weapons at such a discount I had money left over, so I spent it on something I knew you would appreciate.”
I replied, “You did good, Larry.”
Larry said, “I got you one more thing. Follow me.”
He stepped outside of the barn and I followed as the cow’s heads perked up, their tails swishing flies off their butts and their ears pointed at us. I glanced once more at the rifles, pistols, and machine guns on the tables as I went outside. We went behind the barn and Larry opened a large feed box. Inside the bow was a flight of stairs leading down into darkness. I asked, “What is this?”
He just kept smiling and said, “My secret place. It used to be a bomb shelter. The old people I bought the place from had it built way back when they thought the Russians were going to nuke us. I built the feed box over it to hide it. Good idea, huh?”
He flicked on a light switch on the wall and we went down the steps and he opened a door, flicking on another light. We stepped into a room about fifteen by ten feet and I saw a small iron bed with a black woman tied up, duct tape on her mouth. She was very light skinned with a few freckles on her nose. Her dark eyes were wide as she tried to sit up as we entered. Her feet were tied with knotted rope to the bedposts and her wrists secured to the iron at the top of the bed. Her eyes were tear streaked and she looked at us with horror. She was skinny in her torn pants and ripped white lace blouse. Her pants were wet.
I asked Larry, “You forgot to house train her. You know you should take her outside to pee. Damn, Larry, you outdid yourself this time. First you buy me a Gatling gun and now you get me a girlfriend, and not just any girlfriend, a nice pretty scrumptious girlfriend.”
Larry was still smiling in the dim light of the single light bulb on the ceiling and replied, “So I did real good for you, Gordon? Real good?”
I laughed and exclaimed, “Yeah, Larry, great! How about going up in the barn and bringing me back those pliers. I’m gonna’ need them.”
Like a favorite dog, Larry yelped, “Sure thing, Gordon, be back in a jiffy.”
He was gone only a minute, time for me to tear the duct tape from the black girl’s lips, when I heard him shout, “Hey, Gordon, get up here, hurry!”
Copyright © 2005 by Doug Hiser