Negotiating With Ants

by Kenneth Rutherford

 

Amber sits at her desk at work, reviewing a stack of purchase orders. She pushes a strand of her disheveled, platinum blonde hair behind her ear while frowning at Billy, who sits at a nearby desk. He winces as he rubs white cream all over his welt-ridden right hand.

Billy whines, “Amber, do we have any more Cortizone?”

“Try looking in the first aid kit,” she replies, rolling her eyes.

Amber tries to refocus her attention on her work but is unable to do so. Her thoughts wander to an encounter she had with Billy two days earlier.

* * * * *

She was sitting at her desk looking at an invoice when Billy peered over her shoulder.

“Okay, Amber. When US Foodservice comes tomorrow, there should be fifteen extra boxes of chicken carnitas, and I ordered ten boxes of parboiled rice yesterday evening to be shipped on the truck, too. Are you listening?”

Amber glares at him. “Yeah, I’m listening. I’m just waiting for you to take your hand off my thigh.”

“You mean that bothers you? I didn’t realize I’d struck a nerve.”

“Uh, yeah. I’d think after two sexual harassment complaints you’d realize that. But for some reason, the Office of Discipline Management has a habit of losing… Billy, why is your hand on my back?! Ugh.” Grabbing a pack of Marlboro Lights, Amber storms out of the office.

Billy yells after her, “The ODM office works for me, darlin’.”

* * * * *

Amber’s thoughts are interrupted as Craig, the supervisor, enters the office. “Okay, people. What are we going to do about our ant problem? They’re already eating through boxes and gorging themselves on our food. If I can’t eliminate this problem, I’m out of a job. I won’t lose my livelihood to a bunch of ornery ants!”

Amber replies, “We’ve tried everything. Two exterminators refuse to return, and Billy’s idea sure didn’t work.” She grins at him as he nurses his hand.

Billy exclaims, “I’ve never seen ants act like that! They were all over me in seconds. And fire ants… we don’t even have fire ants in this area. Where did they come from? Craig, why don’t we let Amber take a shot at it?”

Craig replies, “Okay, Amber. You’ve been drafted.”

“But…”

“No buts! Talk to your friend at EntoTech and report back to me.”

Her voice falters as she says, “Okay, but I’ll have to re-examine the entry site.”

“Fine. Do whatever it takes.”

* * * * *

Amber squats near a hole in the concrete floor. Boxes of twenty-four ounce cups tower above her. Struggling in the darkness, she presses a button on a lamp clamped to her clipboard. The light continuously flickers as it illuminates the clipboard, her pale, tired face, and the hole in the floor. She scribbles down a few notes on a clean piece of paper that reads “Distribution Center Report,” which sits on top of a two-inch stack of papers. Writing a report would be fruitless. The ants manage to elude all exterminators, leaving no sign of their whereabouts. As Amber peers into the opening, a pair of antennae emerge.

“Hello, human.”

Amber looks behind her to see where the voice is coming from. Seeing no one, she continues to fill out the report.

“Helllooooo, human! You aren’t dreaming. I thought human females were like their counterparts in the ant world, reasonably clever, and more intelligent than the males. Was I mistaken?”

Amber stares in disbelief at the ant who is talking through a megaphone. “What do you want?”

“Food.”

“Why our food? Can’t you find something to eat outside the warehouse and someone else to aggravate?”

“Ha! And miss out on terrorizing you humans? That one guy is particularly amusing.”

Her mouth shifts from a grimace into a grin, “Billy?”

“Yeah. What a schmuck! Typical male—convinced of his superiority and deserving of punishment.

Chuckling, she agrees, “I don’t deny that Billy is an arrogant schmuck. But why punish everyone because of one man? Your little occupation has wreaked havoc on our warehouse and cost us nearly a hundred dollars a week in food.”

One man?! He flooded our home with kerosene, killing all our male drones and a few female workers. How are we supposed to mate without males? We cannot mate if we cannot eat, so…”

“Okay, okay. I get the point. Hmmm…” Amber presses her pencil’s eraser against her lips, “Would providing a fifty-pound bag of sugar to your colony adequately sustain it until you emigrate?”

“You’re not listening. The only way our queen would move the colony would be if we avenged the death of our comrades.”

“Oh. Well, what if I locked him in the warehouse for you to do with him as you please? He is allergic to insect bites, after all.”

The ant’s antennae rise in interest. “Loosen the caps on six half-gallon jugs of honey, the third container from the left, and we have a deal pending approval from my queen. I’ll leave a sugar cube in the pencil mug on your desk if we get the go ahead. Do we have a deal?”

Amber’s eyebrows rise and she smirks, “Deal.”

* * * * *

Later that evening Amber stands by the door, waiting for Billy to lock it. He presses buttons on the security panel with a perplexed look on his face.

“It’s not accepting my pass code. What’s wrong with this thing?”

“Maybe you entered it incorrectly,” Amber suggests.

“No. I’m the assistant supervisor, damn it!” He makes an about-face, takes a deep breath, and turns back towards the panel to try again.

“Have a good evening, Billy,” Amber says, skirting out the door and slamming it behind her.

Click.

“Amber! Let me out of here!!”

Amber pops the sugar cube into her mouth as she walks through the parking lot to her hatchback. Revenge never tasted so sweet.

Soon, screams are heard from inside the warehouse. Covered in honey and fire ants Billy drops to the concrete floor, writhing in agony.

With his maroon Polo lying crumpled in a sticky heap, Billy fumbles with his belt. He unfastens the shiny, eagle head buckle; manages to unbutton and unzip his pants, chucking them half-way off; and rolls onto his forgotten glasses, crushing them. However, the ants seize the opportunity to migrate to his partially exposed legs. As the ants eat away at his skin, his body spasms and welts begin to form. They crawl into every hole and crevice, entering his ravaged body, knowing that their suicide mission will avenge their comrades.

A seemingly endless parade of ants streams into the room following a trail of pheromones and honey. Sweet revenge.

 

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