An infestation, his wife had called it, but to him it was nothing of the sort. He spent hours watching them crawling around out there, a meditation of sorts that nothing could breach. He liked that they seemed directionless, aimless, and that he knew they weren't. They had arrived the previous summer - at least he hadn't noticed them before then, and he had become immediately obsessed.
He had recently ceased to merely observe the ants, and had decided he was now overseeing them instead. When he was out there, overseeing them, nothing else could penetrate his mind. Thoughts of mortgages, orthodontic bills, alimony, car repossessions - these were from another world, and one he existed outside of.
It helped now that, without a job - and since his wife had left him, citing 'ant issues' - he could devote more time to his colony. His wife hadn't understood but, then again, she hadn't been as excited by the hordes of ants in her back garden, or by having a husband who seemed to think he was some kind of ant king.
The kids, on the other hand, were relishing this more interesting daddy of theirs, controller of the ants, font of wisdom on all things ant-related. Despite being confined to the step of the back door when he had them every other weekend - lest they interfere with the ants' work - they were as delighted by their father's new occupation as he was.
'Kids,' he told them, 'you know ants are the only species on earth that gets other species to do their work for them? Just ants and humans!'
'What's a species, daddy?' they would ask, giggling at his enthusiasm.
'They enslave them - it's remarkable! They have a caste system!' he replied, oblivious to their questions.
He had been charting their progress, covering a full wall of the den with graphs and diagrams, their estimated population, their habits, trails. To anyone else it would have looked like a mad-man's canvas, but to him it made perfect sense.
'You need to look for a job,' his wife told him. 'I'm working on it,' he grunted as the children kissed him goodbye. He didn't tell her that what he was working on was a book about ants. Not about ants in general, but about his ants. He would call it 'Ant Man,' and he would never have to work again. He would be the Diane Fossey of ants, he dreamt, minus the machetes at the end.
But the writing would come later, once the research was completed. He watched the ants streaming across the porch. He lay down, resting his head on the ground so that they were just centimetres from his face. He could feel the heat of the paved stones on his cheek. He hadn't monitored them from this angle before and, as he was transported back into their world, seeing them now in what seemed a different dimension, magnified in a new light, he wondered why he hadn't noticed them sooner.
Chris Connolly writes from Dublin, Ireland. Allegedly he is not as dangerous as he reads. His first collection of short stories, 'Every Day I Atrophy' (the SideCartel) is available now. If you need to know more about Chris Connolly, he has an excellent and excellently informative website here chrisconnollywriter.com
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