fiction by Meagan Jennett
By the time the rain came, we’d forgotten about it. Nick and I were out in front of our house playing a game we liked to call Grand Canyon; which meant that he was crouched in the dirt, poking dead twigs into the cracks in the red clay of our yard, while I stood above him keeping watch.
Recents news reports warned of hordes of fire ants marching north across the sandy deltas of Texas and Louisiana, winding through the dessicated swamps of south Georgia, spilling over into the Carolinas and, now, our Virginia. Lines of them crept across our television screens to a shrill soundtrack of dire warnings. “Killer ants!” we were told, “Freaks of nature!” Just that morning, they had swallowed a man in Danville whole. My mother watched, horrified, as the shaky cell-phone camera panned in to focus on the surging wave of red-black insects that swarmed up his legs. In minutes he was nothing more than the echo of a scream.
“Even the ants have gone mad,” she sighed as she watched the carnage.
We didn’t know what was happening when the first fat drops plashed down onto the dirt that afternoon. We’d only ever seen rain in the movies before. Hard and heavy, the drops landed with a resounding thwack, sending puffs of red dust into the air around them. Nick poked a tentative finger at the gelatinous bowl of one of them, which was balanced on the cliff’s edge of his Grand Canyon. It wobbled, and popped, and slid down into the parched earth. Around us, more and more drops slammed the ground.
For forty days and nights, it rained. At first, the water slid off our yard and down into the street. The ground was so dry, the newscasters screeched, that it couldn’t suck up the liquid. Something about how water sticks to itself, cohesion they called it.
“It’s how you’re able to suck it up a straw,” Nick informed me one morning over breakfast, three days into the storm. “The water molecules hold hands and pull each other along. That’s how Jesus walked on it. Cohesion kept his feet from breaking through.”
I watched the rain pound the dirt outside, tried to imagine a time before the present moment, when there had been enough water in one place for someone to walk across it.
Six days into the storm, the dirt turned to mud, and the ants came. They must have been hiding in the cracks and tunnels of Nick’s canyon, safe and dry so long as the rain continued to skate along the ground. Now, flooded out of their homes, they crept into ours. Long lines of glistening black and red bodies.
First, they set up homes in our cabinets. A few dug a farm in the sugar bag. Others chose cereal boxes, cracker tins, the bowl of oranges - my mother’s guilty pleasure. They ate everything while we watched, thinking of that man in Danville.
On the twentieth day, they ate the cat.
On the twenty-seventh day, the water began to seep into our basement. By nightfall, Nick and I could swim in it. We splashed and played, sucked on the popsicles Mother kept hidden in a freezer down there.
On the thirty-third day, Mother climbed out the window and never came back. Nick says she must have drowned. I think she sailed to Pittsburgh.
On the thirty-eighth day, we ran out of popsicles. We’d been confined to the top floor of our house for the better part of a week by then, and the popsicles, removed from the freezer, had melted into a sugary soup that we drank when our stomachs rumbled. The ants had crawled up into the attic by then. Sometimes at night, if we were very quiet, we could hear them creeping about above our heads. Very tiny steps, on very tiny feet.
On the fortieth day, Nick declared himself the man of the house and leapt into the flood to find food or help or maybe some peace from the ever-present threat of killer ants over our heads. After a few hours, I followed him.
The water isn’t as cold as I’d thought.
It’s not raining anymore.
When I peer up to the surface, I see baskets of ants, gently bobbing on the ocean of rain.
Meagan Jennett is an escaped bartender who’s traded in crafting cocktails for crafting her own tales. Calling on the unique perspective only garnered from a decade of standing on the edge of a customer’s notice, Meagan’s writing and art are an exploration of self and human behavior. She is currently pursing her MLitt degree from the University of Glasgow, in Scotland.