by Barry Wallace
McCorsky stabbed his index finger down hard on the kitchen counter, much harder than necessary to dispatch a single ant. He looked around, scrutinizing the countertop with the same intensity as a surgeon examines an exposed tumor. Where there was one of the evil little creatures, there were invariably more.
McCorsky knew he was obsessed as he peered into the corners, lifted the toaster and searched beneath the bread box. He hated the nasty crawling things because he knew they were out to get him. His bushy brows tensed in concentration while he raised the microwave to put another ant trap underneath. He held up the pot of fresh hot coffee to examine the underside of the percolator. Stanton McCorsky had decided long ago that ants had one singular purpose in their short, vicious lives, and that was to make his miserable.
McCorsky’s peripheral vision spied movement. His eyes snapped around. There, behind the paper towels, a single tiny, terrified creature froze in place. McCorsky leaned over until he and the miniscule black form were eye to eye. The thumb of doom hovered briefly above the quivering antenna before crashing down.
McCorsky afforded himself a grim little smile. He poured a cup of coffee, sipped it slowly as he walked around the kitchen, scrutinizing every square inch of the place. There wasn’t a single one of the offensive little beasts in sight, save the single pummeled carcass on his thumb. McCorsky’s eyes glinted as he washed his hands carefully, rinsed the coffee cup, checked to insure that the new ant traps — six of them now — were in place. He grunted with approval and wiped the counter down. Satisfied that his defenses were adequate, he locked the front door and went to work.
Yes, Stanton McCorsky hated ants, hated them with an intensity far out of proportion to their size. He was also horrified of them. Since childhood he had hated them. The mere sight of one of the miniscule monsters was enough to start him sweating and seething. The teeny antennae were an affront to his eyes, which were known to bulge, threatening to leap from their sockets at the sight of their waving and twisting. The diminutive heads turning this way and that were intolerable as an invading line of the repulsive critters marched across the floor, attempting to capture his house, his sacred home, his fortress against the world. But McCorsky knew they would not be satisfied. They wanted him.
His therapist told him his paranoia about ants was misplaced, his hatred of them illogical, his obsession with them unhealthy. But the psychoanalyst hadn’t suffered what McCorsky had suffered. He hadn’t bitten into a sandwich in first grade and found his mouth full of the fiends. He hadn’t awakened screaming in the middle of the night as a mere child, covered with them. He hadn’t fallen face down onto an anthill at the fifth-grade picnic and been laughed at, or felt the stinging bite of those ravenous mandibles, much less a hundred pairs of them.
The well-meaning doctor obviously hadn’t stayed up late watching television and seen that movie, with columns of ants, billions of them, sweeping over the countryside, eating everything in sight, animals and people alike. If he had, he would agree that McCorsky had good reason for his fear and hatred of the little demons.
And because Stanton McCorsky did know, he took precautions. His neatly tended garden reeked of insecticide. His tidy lawn was fussed over weekly by a service, with a steady cocktail of chemicals to preserve it from the effects of the ant pesticides he used. The fence around his house wasn’t for his security; it was a concession to his neighbors’ fears for their pets.
When awake, McCorsky was on constant alert for the appearance of even a single ant. When asleep, he had nightmares about them, cataclysmic visions of the small black creatures attacking in hordes, finding their way inside through every vulnerable crack and crevice. Endless ranks of them branched out in every direction, capturing the entire house, room by infested room. Sometimes the dreams were so vivid that McCorsky awoke covered with sweat, bolting upright in bed to throw on the bedside lamp and peer around, his eyes darting about the room in panic, his lungs sucking air in great heaving breaths. Only after he was assured it was another nightmare, only then did McCorsky begin to calm, to stop trembling and breathe normally.
McCorsky’s day at his accounting office was tedious. His elation of the morning over the three ants he had sent to perdition had faded. His TV dinner was dull, the shows on the small television uninteresting and dreary. He dreaded the nightmares he was sure he would have. Finally McCorsky went to bed. First he made sure all 32 ant traps were in place. Then he lay awake as long as possible, like the lone survivor of a zombie apocalypse, keeping his eyes open by sheer force of will until they refused to obey for another second. Finally, inevitably, he sank into a troubled slumber.
McCorsky tossed and turned, sweating in his sleep. The nightmares began almost immediately. Ants invaded his home in endless columns , scurrying into every room, covering his floors, climbing his walls, until McCorsky awoke in his dream and screamed, then jumped from his infested bed to run aimlessly through the house, gathering more of the ant army as he went. He brushed frantically at the stream of them advancing up his legs, covering his body inch by inch from the floor up.
Millions of little mandibles drove themselves into his body’s quivering flesh. A layer of avenging ants covered his face. One tiny marauder paused to stare into his eye and seemed to smile. McCorsky screamed one last time, his last horrifying thought the realization that this time it wasn’t a dream. It was real. The mandibles reached for his eyeball.
Copyright © 2018 by Barry Wallace