The ants were watching the housewife. Zoe, their Queen was dead. Boric acid and sugar. They had delivered it to their Queen in all innocence. Princess Zia was leading them, because without a leader they were helpless, but she was so young. She was trying to take her mother’s place but she hadn’t even begun training for her own nest when her mother died from the tainted sugar.
The ants waited, silent, deadly, hungry, watching the housewife, hoping she would release the grains of white sugar from the container that they couldn’t breach, the big white plastic gallon with the ant proof, tight blue cover. Then they could eat and regain their strength before the battle.
Oh yes, there would be a battle today.
They watched as she drank her coffee and started to pull down items from the food closet. They hated her. She had killed so many of them over the past few months and they were out for more than sugar now, they also wanted a taste of revenge
No luck yet on the sugar. The crazed ant killing housewife didn’t even use sugar in her coffee. They watched her, never taking their teeny eyes off her as she bustled about the sparkling clean kitchen. Bleach. The physco even knew about bleach.
She wiped down the white counters and washed the kitchen floor with it every morning, hoping to wash away their scout’s scented trails. Thanks to her, most of their scouts were dead. Cruelly crushed by her deadly pale fingers and then washed down the stainless steel sink.
It wasn’t fair. They had lived here in the empty house for years because the crumbs and sugar spilt by the previous owner, a ninety-year old woman, had been more than enough to support the nest. She had never even noticed them when she was alive. When she died, the empty house had become their own private food locker. The kitchen drawers alone had held enough crumbs to carry them for ten years or more. Under the stove and the refrigerator there had been mounds of crumbs, more than they could carry back to the nest, even if they had worked night and day. But they hadn’t worked night and day.
They had become lazy and smug, taking nights off to run around and play. They had thought the house would be empty forever. Thanks to the endless food supply, the nest had flourished, spread out to encompass over a thousand square feet beneath the house. Their house.
Then the housewife moved in and started cleaning out the drawers, washing the counters and the floors, vacuuming the rugs.
At first they had still been able to feed, favoring the new supplies she bought in abundance instead of the moldy, old crumbs. They were still happy little ants and then BOOM. One day she found them in the food pantry and she had declared war. Bombing, spraying, squashing, poisoning in devious ways. Pulling out the electric stove and the refrigerator, she’d scrubbed under them with bleach, and then she had sprayed more poison. She poured flaming Cayenne powder around the cracks, behind the appliances and under the cabinets. Then she sprayed more poison.
Just when they thought she was calming down and they could sneak back into the kitchen, she found them scouting in her bathroom and she absolutely freaked when she found the stupid baby ants playing on her bed pillows.
The war had escalated. She began to tempt them with dishes of sugar-water and boric acid, laying out traps and lairs to capture the stragglers who hadn’t died from the insecticide. That was the death of their beloved Queen Zoe.
Now, it was going to end, one way or the other. She couldn’t kill them all unless she burned the house down and they weren’t going to move out. Zia stood and gave the signal. Thousands of soldier ants silently crawled into formation behind Zia and began moving toward the housewife’s feet. The line was about an inch wide, hundreds of tiny red sugar ants on the march, silent, slow, and short-tempered. Streaming steadily toward the woman. She was oblivious to them as she continued to arrange the ingredients for her baking project
The ants were on the offensive now, crawling like an upward stream of brownish red sludge, they moved closer to her. Closer. They were almost to her feet.
Zia reached the housewife’s big ugly right toe first and she stood defiantly on the craggy toenail to instruct the troops. “I may not live long enough to become your Queen,” she signaled with her antennas. “But today we will drive this housewife out of our home and we will avenge my mother, Zoe, your Queen.”
More ants poured out from behind the fridge and flowed down the cabinet. They joined the thousands already on the floor, marching as one, they streamed toward the housewife.
When she woke up that morning, she was determined to make her mom’s Christmas cookies. She had been too depressed to make them for a few years, since Mom had died three years ago, but this year she was determined to restart her Christmas spirit engine and what better way than rekindling her best Christmas memories? Kneading Italian cookie dough for hours with her mom and hand rolling hundreds of the little wreaths for friends and relatives. She’d made the cookies for years with her own three kids and then with her grandchildren. Mom’s Italian cookies, anisette, orange, lemon and strawberry, they represented everything she now needed to touch, to smell. They would light her heart back up, she would become focused in the simple task of rolling cookie dough in the palm of her hands, little strands of finger shaped dough, folded over to make wreaths and then dipped in different types of sprinkles, chocolate, red sugar, green sugar, multi-colored dots, she had bought them all.
She knew from past cookie baking projects that she would become focused and happy, smelling the memories of her mom’s wood stove, remembering the big tins of warm cookies they would get ready to mail to all their relatives.
She didn’t realize until she was a grown woman that the cookies were all her that mom had been able to afford, that the long hours of back breaking labor needed to bake the three to four batches she’d helped mama roll each year were love offerings sent in place of store bought presents. No boxes wrapped in red and gold, no packages tied in ribbons and bows.
The kitchen and the wood stove had been the center of their minute corner of the world during Christmas seasons gone by and every Christmas, without fail, the Christmas cookie mixing bowl came out of the cupboard. People might forget Christmas presents they unwrapped under the tree and checks that came in the mail, but no one ever forgot her mom’s gift of delicious bright-colored cookies.
She reached up into the spice cabinet and took down the little brown bottles of flavoring and the four plastic bottles of food coloring. Red, green, blue and yellow.
The batch of dough required twelve eggs, twelve cups of flour, twelve cups of sugar and the mound of dough would be enormous. It would be cut into four sections and then each section would be kneaded with a different food color and flavor.
Sometimes she cheated and made a half-batch, but not this year. This year she was going to mix up a whole batch and spend several days rolling and baking the scintillating wreaths. She began to break the twelve eggs into a glass bowl, watching for pieces of egg-shell.
The phone rang and she washed her hands, catching it on the last ring. “Hi honey, nope I checked, no ants this morning. I even decided to make cookies since it’s been a few days since we’ve seen any of the little buggers. Ya, I know, I’m sorry they got in your spagetti and meatballs. It was the darn sugar I put in the sauce. I know, I know…okay, love you too, see you later.”
She set aside the cell phone and went back to cracking the eggs. Mom used to sing when she worked. Searching her mind for a suitable song, she set the eggs aside and began to measure twelve cups of flour into the huge silver bowl Mom had bought her. It sounds easy to count to twelve but knowing better than to believe she could maintain the necessasary concentration, she scratched a pen mark on a little piece of paper each time a cup went into the sifter.
Zoe paused on the woman’s big toe. Giving a silent signal to her troops, behind her the marching ants stopped. Zoe had seen a big can of Raid Ant Killer on the counter next to the woman and although she couldn’t read, she knew what was in that can and what it could do to her army. If they attacked now they would be covered in the deadly ant spray, easy targets as they grouped on the floor prepared to attack.
Zoe signaled again and the troops began to reverse their march, silently creeping back up the wall and into the small hole in the ceiling that led back to their nest. Zoe knew they would need a better plan.