There was an ant, of no particular renown or distinction. He lived in an ant colony with his thousands of brothers and sisters. He, like many, spent most of the day venturing out into the world to retrieve food and building supplies for his colony. Early one morning, he came across an item so large, he couldn’t carry it alone. It was peculiar and unfamiliar. But something about it told him that it was extraordinary and would be useful to the colony.
The object was massive, and it was heavy, even for the strength of an ant. The ant called some of his siblings to help him lug it back to the colony. He couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Part of it was hard and molded. Part of it was shiny and gleamed in the sunlight above his head. Part of it was rubbery with little pads sticking out of it.
He and the others carried it back to the colony and laid it in front of his brothers and sisters. They all puzzled over what it could be. Various packs of ants were investigating the strange pieces and parts of the object. A group of the ants stood on top of a large circular pad at the top of the item. Suddenly, the entire colony floor was bathed in light, and a loud melody erupted from a collection of holes in the plastic.
The colony hummed with excitement. The ants swarmed all around the object as it showed an ever changing display of lights. They danced on its smooth silvery surface that reflected a million shades of a kaleidoscope. It captivated them, as they squirmed and shuffled from one mysterious surface to another. Then, as if by accident, the object began to rumble and roar. It shifted from one side of the colony floor to the other. In the tumult, it knocked a pile of ants onto a green pad near the mouth of the object that stopped the rumbling. In its place was a booming noise that the ants did not understand except to fear. But it was loud and clear in the small cavern of the colony.
“Jimmy? Hello? Hello? Are you there? Where are you?”
The ants all froze as a fuzzy crackle flowed out of the object, capturing the room. For a few moments no one moved. Just as suddenly, the noise ceased and the object grew dark. The light show ended and despite the frantic movement of the ants bustling on top of it, it could not be roused. It was tired and needed to rest.
It was decided that the ants should leave immediately for an expedition to the spot where the object was found, to try to gather more splendid things for the colony to enjoy. A regiment of two-hundred ants was commissioned and sent off into the world, with the object-finding ant in the lead. He smelled the air and tried to retrace his steps, one scurry at a time.
The ants following him had started to grow impatient until they found it. There, lying in front of them, was a wonderland of treasures for them to take back. The colony was growing, and the thousands of brothers and sisters had been joined by a cacophony of cousins, aunts, nephews, and strangers. These treasures, however, would be enough to amaze them all.
He sniffed and poked around the area. It was all centered around one large tree that stretched into the sky like an insurmountable tower of oak and greenery. Next to it sat a behemoth that the ant could not recognize. It was boxy, but rounded, and the side that faced him looked as though it were covered in large veins that had long since lay dormant.
He searched the area, trying to find that one new object to take for his own. He followed one of the tree’s roots as it poked out of the ground. Roots often led to more treasures. Then, he found it. Tucked beneath one of the root’s sinews, he pried the warm object from the dirt. It shone in the sunlight. It was the most unbelievably smooth thing the ant had ever felt. Round, metallic, almost flawless, he rolled it back toward the colony. Its honey-colored reflective surface made it hard to sense or see around it, but he knew it would be worth it.
The rest of the colony fussed and fawned over the various spoils the regiment had brought back. Young ants piled underneath a strip of metal. Workers began immediately taking the stretchy strips of black and building them into the walls of their home. But the ant who led the expedition stood above them all with his gleaming champagne-colored toy.
It was empty in the middle, just enough to give him a small measure of privacy when he laid it flat on its side. He would trace the inside of the circle with his antennae, letting its smooth, lustrous finish tickle his senses. It did not have the dazzling impressiveness of his first find, but it had a quiet simplicity that won him over.
It was decided then and there that there would be still another expedition the next day. That there was more to be had, and that the colony could thrive and prosper with even more materials to both delight and protect them. In the meantime, all of the ant’s brothers and sisters turned over each new treasure to plumb its hidden depths.
Nothing jumped back at them like that first object, but each had its own secrets. The metal octagon had a twisting middle, a flow of grooves with bits of dirt caked on. A little transparent chunk of some hard material had little black strands, almost like a spider’s silk, running through it. Even his own shining rounded prize seemed to have some imprint on the inside. Some little wisps, lines that faded in the darker parts of the colony, tickled the treasure’s interior.
The next day, the ant went out again, this time with three-hundred of his fellow brethren, determined to bring back even more useful, interesting items for the family. He caught the same smells, and when he saw the towering oak tree in the distance, he knew he had once again found the source of all their wonderful goods. But when the regiment advanced to the spot, they were all shocked by what they saw.
The area was picked clean. No more crumpled cuts of metal or plastic about. Nothing soft or luminescent to catch their eye. Even the behemoth with its bulging veins was gone. How, he didn’t know, but the site of all their glory had been captured before they could get another bite at the apple.
The other ants started shoving him. He had led them on a fool’s errand. He must have forgotten where it was. But he was sure. He knew the scent. He knew the tree. The tree, that was it. Before they could overtake him, he ran to the base of the tree and chased down the same root that had led him to yesterday’s prize. He followed it to the same expanse of sinew he’d found before. And there, in the clump of tightly spun oak and unforgiving dirt, he found one last treasure to bring back. It was different than all the others they’d seen.
It was still big. Large enough that he had to strain to yank it up out of his resting place. But it felt different. It was cold, and yet somehow spongy. It felt familiar but similarly alien to him. It had the strangest scent on it, the remnant of something intoxicating, but at the same time blended with the hints of something repugnant. At the top, it was hard, like the solid pieces of the first object they’d found. It had an opening at the bottom, quite unlike the rest of the object. He poked his head in, and called the others over to help him carry it back.
The team carried the mystery object back to the colony, where it was placed in the middle of the floor, right where the first item had rested. The ants again swarmed all over it, crawling on the supple surface that covered most the item, poking along the hard covering at the top, or exploring the strange opening at the bottom, poking deeper and deeper into its tiny crevices. All of sudden, something overtook the whole group. They began biting and tearing at his prize.
Destroying it piece by piece, the swarm started to rip it apart. They worked around the solid cover on top, cutting into the yielding cushion that comprised most of it.
This was his punishment. It had to be.
Instead of prizing his find as they had with all the others, they were going to render this one a useless pile of shreds. They trust their faces into it, over and over again, coming out with a different chunk each time. Soon, all that was left were a few pale scraps and one long solid piece, as white as an egg, invulnerable to their powerful mandibles. Even then, they would gnaw on it, teaching him a lesson never to mislead them again.
The ant retreated to the glistening circle he’d found the day before. Shamed, he kept himself from the other ants. He tried to remind them of his old glories. The vast swaths of goods he’d helped them find. He gathered some of his brothers and sisters and dragged out the first object he’d found back into the center of the colony floor. He invited them all to dance and play as they had when it first arrived. Again, they felt out its grooves and the bumps on its surface. Some of his siblings had the wherewithal to find the round button again. The object sparkled, resplendent with the flashes and noises that had entranced the colony the first time.
The ants jumbled and fell on the silvery face of the object, watching their shadows grow and shrink on the walls of the colony. It had stopped making noise, but its colors still painted the inside of the colony in shimmering light and hues. The ants filled each groove, each jut, each indentation in the mold, overwhelming it with their presents.
One crowd of the ants toppled over onto one of the pads, this one with strange markings that looked like one of their legs. The object began to make noise again. A loud whir rose up from the pit behind the holes in the plastic. The ants froze, much as they had before, at the unintelligible sounds that the object began to emit.
“Hello!? Jimmy?! Jimmy is that you?! … No…it can’t be you. Who is this? Who the hell has Jimmy’s phone?” The ants stood paralyzed, not knowing how to react to the mysterious noises now bubbling up through the object. There was a long moment of silence. “I hope you know he’s gone, you sick bastards.” The noises from the phone began to sound strained, small chirps and the sounds of air being sucked out punctuated each break in the silence.
“What kind of an unfeeling, soulless asshole takes somebody’s phone from the scene of an accident and doesn’t even bother to call an ambulance?” The noises stopped sounding so clear, so defined, and devolved into what sounded like calls, the sounds birds make as they flew over the plains, warning each other. “How could you? How could you, you bastards. He was my husband. He was all I had in this world. And now he’s gone.And if you had spent one second of your selfish lives thinking about that he might still be here!” The object let out a long wail, the sound of large animal that had fallen and injured itself. “I miss him so much. I miss him and you didn’t do anything to-”
The object went dark. It stopped making noise. It stopped bathing the walls of the colony in twinkling displays. The ants writhed around its face, its hard exterior, its pads, to try to bring it back to life, but still it lie dormant beneath them. After some time, it was decided that the item would be destroyed, its parts used to reinforce the colony.
Quickly, the ants began to harvest each piece of it. The monument to the ant’s skill and good fortune was being taken apart before his eyes. With ruthless rigor, they picked off each tiny fleck of plastic. They opened its bowels, revealing a bouquet of sharp gleaming metal joints and squares, amidst a garden of skinny vines, colored and slender and clumped together.
Before they could all be demolished and stripped, he grabbed a piece of one of those vines, wrapping it up in his mandible. He scurried back to his only remaining find, the gleaming circle that he’d uncovered the day before. He tucked the vine under the base of yesterday’s prize, burying it to where no one could find it but him.
He again traced the grooves on the inside of the ring. He felt the smoothness, the flawlessness of it and rested his head at the base, digging his leg into the ground and feeling the vine beneath the dirt. A lone souvenir from his find. It soothed him. It calmed him as his brothers and sisters turned everything else into dust.
It was over.