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“Buggy!”

“It’s just an ant.” I remarked calmly as I felt it crunch beneath my shoe.

“Buggy! Buggy!”

I picked my foot up and watched as maimed and dying ant twitched and tried to run away. My son screamed at the sight of it and fled to his bedroom. I couldn’t understand why he was so afraid of insects. Especially ants. He was eight years old for Christ’s sake.

He watched from the doorway to his bedroom, hugging a blanket, as I plucked the dead ant off the floor and took it over to the trash can.

“You do realize that when you go outside, there are literally millions of insects out there with you, right? When you’re playing in the front yard, there’s probably hundreds of ants around you, you just don’t notice.”

“I’m never going outside again!” he declared, slamming the door.

“You’re being ridiculous.” I said through the door.

“I hate buggies!”

“You love caterpillars.”

“They don’t count.”

“Look, just use a shoe or a book or something–”

“I’m not going near them!”

My wife Lisa came up behind me. “What’s going on?”

“Brandon saw an ant.”

“Oh. Brandon, honey, it’s lunch time.”

“I’m not coming out! There are buggies out there!”

“I killed the ant, Brandon.” I said.

“Are there more?” He opened the door and peeked out.

“Not any that I can see.” Lisa said, pushing his door open the rest of the way and holding his hand. “Now, come on and have lunch.”

I didn’t say anything as she lead him away, but I watched him looking all around desperately, sure that he was going to see another ant coming at him. Every spring, our house develops a bit of an ant problem. I don’t know where they get in, but we kill them left and right until Lisa gets fed up and calls an exterminator. They pop up for a couple more days afterward, then eventually disappear for the rest of the year.

It was just the start of ant season.

It was a Saturday, and I was coming upstairs from the basement where I had been handling a load of laundry when I heard Brandon screaming. I dropped what I was carrying and sprinted up the remaining steps, through the kitchen and into the hallway where I heard him in the bathroom.

“Buggy!”

Oh for fuck’s sake.

“Just kill it, Brandon.” I said.

“No!” his voice indicated full-on panic mode. “Buggy! Buggy!”

I was determined this time to resolve this fear of insects and make him handle the situation on his own. “I’m not coming in. You’re just going to have to kill it yourself.”

He started screaming, demanding I come in and save him. When that didn’t work, he cried, begging me. Save me, save me, buggy, buggy. I stood outside the bathroom door calmly, repeating to him over and over again, “I’m not killing it.”

“Mommmmmy!” he started calling. “I want Mommy!”

If his mother had been home, she’d probably have finally come to his rescue. “Mommy’s at the store, Brandon. You’re welcome to wait though. Or just pick up a book and squish the ant yourself.”

“NO! Pleeeeeeaseee! Kill it! KILL IT!”

I walked away. I didn’t say another word, I just walked away.

He heard me go, and his screaming and crying got louder and more shrill. He screamed again. He said things I couldn’t make out, partially because he was halfway across the house, and partially because he was blubbering so much that he wasn’t making any sense.

Then I heard it. The sound I had been waiting for. A loud WHUMP of something heavy and flat hitting the bathroom tiles and then the squeak of the door opening and the scamper as Brandon sprinted out like the devil was after him. He jumped onto the sofa and covered himself with pillows.

“See?” I said, “You did it! Don’t you feel better now?”

He didn’t say anything. He just sobbed and hid.

I went into the bathroom to clean up the ant. He had dropped the biggest, heaviest book he could find on it, some fantasy novel Lisa had been reading. I picked it up to see what was left of the terrifying “buggy”.

“Holy shit.”

Jesus, it was a big. An orangish brown-looking monster of an ant, about as big as my thumb. There was a weird pattern on its back, like a series of pale yellow dots. It was crushed, but still struggling to drag itself away, only its thorax was mashed to the floor. I held the heavy tome over it, ready to put it out of its misery, and for a second it seemed to turn and– did it look at me?

I dropped the book. Then I dropped it again, just for safe measure.

Looking at it again, it was not like any sort of ant I’d seen in the house before, and it made me really uneasy. Where had it come from? And worse, were there more like it? I shivered at the thought of those things crawling in the walls. Good on Brandon for killing that behemoth. If I’d known how big it was, I would have been less inclined to make him do the deed himself, but I felt proud of him for taking care of it nonetheless.

Grabbing my phone, I took a photo of the ant before wadding up some toilet paper and wiping it off the floor and book and then tossing it in the bathroom trash. Then I went and consoled Brandon in his pillow fort.

“That was a big ant!”

“I know!” he sniffled.

“I’m proud of you for killing it.” I petted his head gently. “I didn’t know they got that big around here.”

“It was going to eat me!”

“No, buddy,” I sighed, “our ants don’t eat people.”

After Lisa got home and I helped her unload the groceries from the car and get everything put away, I told her about Brandon’s run-in with the monster ant.

“It was big.” I admitted. “I’ve never seen one that big.”

I showed her the photo on my phone.

“Jesus.” She stared at the picture. “I’m calling the exterminator.”

It was two weeks earlier than usual, but I didn’t disagree.


The next morning, Brandon woke me up, bursting into our bedroom screaming what was quickly becoming his catchphrase.

“Buggies! Buggies!”

I was still mostly asleep, so I groggily rolled over and brushed him away.

“Come on, buddy, just kill it yourself. You can do it.”

“No!” he shrieked. “Buggies! Lots of them!”

Oh shit.

I jumped out of bed, my mind whirling with thoughts of more ants like the one in the bathroom the day before, all crawling all over our house. I pulled on some pants, looking around my bedroom, wondering if there were any in there with us right then.

Nothing.

Brandon ran out of the bedroom ahead of me, leading the way. He turned the corner into the bathroom and started up his shouting again, “Buggies! Buggies!”

I breathed a sigh of relief. A line of small, normal-looking ants were crossing from somewhere behind the radiator on the far wall, past the tub and up into the trash can. Just a procession of ants, moving with odd determination. What were they doing?

“Buggies!” Brandon shouted.

“Oh. Right.”

I grabbed a book off the counter and started squishing. The ants scattered, running in their typical confused patterns. The ones that were on and in the trash can continued their march through, disappearing somewhere behind the sink. Within a few seconds, the parade dissolved into chaos with several dozen dead ants and the rest retreating or gone.

Brandon was hopping around in the hallway in a panic, but he settled down quickly. I took him into the living room and got him set up with a bowl of cereal before going into the bathroom and cleaning up the dead ants.

We definitely needed that exterminator. I had never seen the problem so bad before.


Monday I went to work. It was a school holiday, so Lisa and Brandon got to sleep in and relax, but my office was still open, so I took the opportunity to go in early with the plan to get out early and go home and take Brandon to the park for an hour or so. It was a beautiful day.

Around Noon, I called the exterminator to see if he could stop by the house later that day and spray for the ants. We’d been using the same exterminator for the past several years, so he knew us by name knew we’d be calling some time soon. I told him that we’d had a run-in with a new type of ant. Something bigger like I’d never seen before. I told him how Brandon had squished it and I’d even gotten a picture of it.

“Can you text me the photo?” He asked.

“You bet.” I opened the picture on my phone and sent it his way. “Just FYI, that thing was about as big as my thumb.”

“Hang on, I’m looking.”

I sat there, the phone to my ear, waiting for him to express his shock at how big the ant was.

“Mother of God,” I heard him exclaim.

“I know, right?”

“No, you don’t understand.” His voice sounded weird. I’d known him for years now, and he’d never sounded that… frightened. “This ant. Are you saying you killed it?”

“Brandon squished it with a book. Why?”

“Get your family out of that house, right now.”

I felt a chill run over my entire body. “Are these ants poisonous? Is that a fire ant?”

He didn’t answer me. His voice seemed to be trembling. “Call your wife. Tell her to grab your son and get out of there.”

“What’s going on?” my arms were starting to tremble. I felt a wave of panic and confusion wash over me. “Is it some sort of infestation? Are there more like that in the house?”

“No. There’s only ever one like this.”

“Then what’s the prob–”

“You never kill it.”

“What?”

“You never kill this ant. If you do…”

“What? What happens?” I had my work phone in my other hand, desperately trying to dial Lisa’s cell phone number but at the same time my head was in a fog, and I wasn’t sure if I was punching the right numbers or not. On top of that, she has a bad habit of not answering her phone when I call. I don’t know why, she answers every other call, but when it comes to me, I always end up having to leave a voicemail.

“Every colony has a queen, you know?”

“Yeah, was this a queen?” Lisa’s phone kept ringing. Come on, pick up. Pick up!

“No. This is more like the king.”

“I’ve never even heard of a king ant.”

“I’m not saying it is a king, just– look, get your family out of the house!”

Lisa didn’t answer.

I called the landline. It rang and rang and then I heard our voicemail intro and slammed my phone back in its cradle in frustration.

“I’ve got to go.” I told the exterminator.

“Go.” Was all he said.


The house was eerily quiet when I pulled up. Only the sound of our air conditioning unit broke the silence. My stomach was in knots, but even with the confused thoughts rushing through my head, I could sense what was wrong. There were no birds chirping. No squirrels making noises from the branches of the trees.

Everything was dead silent.

Sitting out on the lawn was Brandon’s bicycle, tipped over. No, that was okay. He often left it like that when he had to run inside to use the bathroom or got called in for lunch. There’s nothing ominous about a tipped-over bike.

The front door was unlocked. That’s okay, I thought, Just another sign he ran inside for some reason.

Standing in the front hall where Brandon and Lisa’s shoes were, I called their names. Nobody replied.

The living room was cold. Lisa usually ran the air conditioning on hot days like that one until the inside was a reasonable temperature, then she turned it off. Nobody had turned it off this time.

“Honey?” I said loudly as I instinctively turned off the AC. “Brandon?”

Our cat, Sebastian, was lying in the middle of the living room.

Or rather, Sebastian’s bones were.

He had been picked clean. Nothing left but tufts of black and white fur and his skeleton.

“Oh my God.”

I ran then. Ran into the dining room, where the two of them had abandoned a lunch of soup and sandwiches. The table was covered with a swarm of black ants, just a carpet of moving bodies as they picked apart the sandwiches and carried the crumbs off.

The moment I entered the room, the army of ants dropped what they were doing and converged, pouring off the table in waves toward me. I’ve never seen anything like it before. They just tumbled over each other to get to me.

I felt a scream lodge itself in my throat, and suddenly knew the terror that Brandon had felt when he had seen these “buggies”.

Crazed and panicking, I stomped through the tiny attackers. They swarmed over my shoes, even as their brethren was crushed beneath them. They moved so fast. Oh God, they just kept coming, tearing at the fabric and laces and up toward my socks.

I ran through them. Just charged through, shouting at the top of my lungs even as I felt them on my ankles and calves, swatting at my legs as I tried to keep them off me but prevent them from getting onto my hands. One giant Gulliver versus hundreds of Lilliputians.

Somehow, I made it through, to the other side of the dining room, and into the kitchen. Ants were crawling up the legs of my pants, but I crushed them with my hands, never stopping to let the rest catch up. A dozen or so continued to pinch or bite at my ankles, and I tried to mash them against the insides of my shoes as I ran.

In the far corner was a small fire extinguisher. I didn’t even know if it worked, but I planned to find out. Pulling it from the wall without stopping, I held it up as I continued to retreat into the back hallway, reading the instructions.Jesus, don’t let it be a fucking Mensa test just to use this thing. No, okay, there was just a pin I had to pull, and then it was ready to use.

The tide of angry ants skittered across the kitchen floor. There weren’t many, just a hundred or so. Just the leftovers of the ones who’d stuck around to loot the lunch from our table.

Something bit me near the back of my knee, but I ignored it. I angled the nozzle of the extinguisher at the mass of little fuckers and with a roar, squeezed the handle, dousing them in white foam.

Their assault was slowed by the cloud of chemicals. The entirety of the attacking force got a good dose and with relief I watched as they reacted with confusion and then (hopefully) agonizing death. Within seconds, every last ant had stopped moving.

I reached behind me and pinched the one on the back of my leg, squeezing it til it popped. “Fuck you.”

Lisa and Brandon. Oh God, please let them be okay.

I found them in Brandon’s room. Lisa had tried to keep the ants out by stuffing clothes under the door, but the ants had gotten in anyway. What was left of her was curled up in a fetal position in the middle of the room on a blood-soaked rug. I guess the ants had found her harder to pick clean than the cat. They’d given up halfway.

When I saw her, I fell to my knees, crying and horrified. My stomach was a knot and I vomited before I even realized I was going to.

A noise from the closet brought me back to my senses.

“Brandon?” I whispered, still afraid that I hadn’t seen the last of the ants. “Buddy? Are you in there?”

I crept past Lisa’s remains and pulled open the closet door slowly, fearfully.

Brandon was propped up against the wall, seemingly unharmed. He just stared off into space, his mouth hanging open, his body slowly rocking back and forth.

I stood between him and Lisa. I didn’t want him to see his mother’s corpse.

“Oh God, buddy.” I whispered, kneeling down to try to get him to look at me. “It’s going to be okay. We gotta get out of here.”

He made this noise, like a gurgling sound.

“Brandon?” I leaned forward and touched his arm.

And then I saw the way the front of his t-shirt was moving, and the dark, wet stain. And then I saw the ants. The ants in the far back of his mouth, and the ants that crawled out from under his eyelids, and the ants that started pouring out over the neckline of his shirt with pieces of his insides.

And I ran.

I ran out of that house, just got in my car and fled.


I don’t sleep these days. There’s ants everywhere. I don’t know if they’re still hunting me.

I kill them every chance I get. I don’t take joy in it, I do it simply for self preservation. So far, they haven’t tried to fight back. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever saw another one like the one in the bathroom that day, whether I’d let it live or kill it and run the risk of invoking their wrath again.

I think I might kill it. For Brandon.

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