Bogleech.com's 2013 Horror Write-off:
"Death of a Hive"
Submitted by Mr. WeaselMy hive of common Arizonan fire ants was an obsession that began in
grade school. Starting off as a fifth grade science experiment (one
that got me 3rd place in the fair) but continued till today. Every
single ant in my colony is descended from that initial queen, a fat
red thing that I affectionately named Dorothy. I dug her up in my
Uncle's backyard, saving her before he called the exterminators. It's
hard not to refer to these ants, my constant companions through the
lonely years, in personal terms.
Now, four generations of Dorothy's royal bloodline and six increasing
large and complex terrariums later, the hive was massive. The current
queen I dubbed had June. I worked at the local community college now,
studying entomology (of course), specializing in myremecology. Custom
formicariums sprawled up the wall of my tiny house, branching tubes
connecting the different hive rooms to the central open air terrarium.
Inside was the food and water sources and also the tiny model Native
American village my younger sister made for the cage in an art class.
The upper edges of the cage had a double barrier of petroleum jelly
and talcum powder to keep them from escaping.
I first noticed something was amiss when I was refilling the food dish
and spied in the far corner a gang of ants congregating in the corner.
Crouching down to eyelevel I saw what seemed to be a group of soldier
ants herding a smaller group of soldiers and workers into the very
corner. They numbered around twenty but I wasn't completely sure. It
took a few moments before I realized the group was moving oddly slow
and stilted, their exoskeletons looking faded and splotchy.
I watched curiously as the soldiers corraled these seemingly sick
individuals in the far corner near the feet of a solemn looking apache
warrior. Both of us watched on, the indian stoic and I in scientific
interest, as the soldiers would pass over the sick, nipping at their
legs and antennae with their strong pincers to keep them together.
This odd behavior was fascinating, the insects quarantining the sick.
I had set up my webcam on a tripod to record this anomaly and project
it on my laptop, voicing my observations onto a small microphone when
I noticed a flurry of movement on the screen. I stared at the somewhat
blurry video, unsure what I was watching. Turning around in my swivel
chair I went eye level again and stared.
The screen hadn't beeen lying, the herding soldiers began to attack
the sick ants en masse, tearing off legs and antennaes. Scissor-like
mandibles cleanly and effeciently snip head from thorax, tearing apart
their abdomens. The indian and I watched in silence as the massacre
continued, the sick ants offering very minimal resistance to their kin
murdering them. If I hadnt known better I would think that they were
an encroaching foe from another colony and not their siblings they
were tearing to shreds.
The killing lasted for only a few minutes but it was enough to reduce
the ants to a pile of chitin and a weird white fuzz. The soldiers,
done with their grim task, left the killing field and slowly returned
to their tasks within the hive, coated in the gore of their brethren.
Using a small spoon I reached in and scooped up a few spoonfuls of
remains, pouring it into a specimen jar for a closer look. Scraping
some of the remains onto a slide I slid it under a microscope. There
under the bright light I saw among the tiny viscera and chitin shards
what looked like a white fuzz, possibly a fungus of some kind. I knew
some tropical ants were prone to infections like this but didn't think
it would reach Arizona already.
Cleaning out the rest of the decimated ants I collected the remains
up, storing them to show to the head of the biology department,
someone who knew about more about fungus than I.
Two days later I noticed that the pile of murdered, infected ants
reappeared. Apparently the first group wasn't the the only ones. I
started to record these instances after the third increasingly larger
pile appeared, always at the feet of the silent Native warrior. It
would happen every other day, the herding and marching of sick hive
members to the execution site. Perhaps it was an attempt to contain
the spread, futile as it seemed.
I felt a sense of remorse and depression as I watched my hive slowly
tear itself to pieces over the first week. It seemed the hive was
going to exhaust itself at this rate. I had June's sister queen safely
at the college, knowing I could restart the hive after clearing the
formicariums of the fungal scourge.
At the start of the second week the piles suddenly stopped appearing.
Instead I noticed that the majority of the ants were fuzzy off-white
with infection. The totality of soldier ants appeared infected, only a
few dozen or so workers that attended, seeming unmolested, to Queen
June and the grub hatcheries.
The fungal ants, after extensive observation, appeared to continue on
their normal tasks except for that they no longer ate the protien feed
I placed in their cage. They no longer seemed the need for outside
nourishment. An examination of a darkened cage revealed their new food
source. Previously empty tunnels and rooms had be repurposed, warped
into fungal gardens of the same white fungus that thrived in the
bodies of my beloved insects. The rooms ressembled the fungal gardens
of leaf cutter ants and termites, behavior completely foreign to the
common fire ant.
This discovery made me sit in my chair, staring at Queen June for
hours. I couldn't wrap my mind around the implications of this,
behavioral and intelligent manipulation of the hive to a new
objective. I knew it was impossible but I could almost feel the
pleading stare of June tiny black eyes. The fungal ants were getting
closer and closer to overtaking the hatchery.
Another week and the fungal rebels have taken over completely. The
slow jerky movements a contrast to June's frenzied twitching. The
royal ant was the sole uninfected. Two days ago I watched as white
coated soldier ants held down June and surgically amputated all but
her front two limbs, crippling her. Now she was being farmed, pure
untainted eggs taken from her by stiffly moving workers to the
hatchery. The hatchery was the only room besides the 'throne' room not
coated by a fine covering of white fuzz, the forms of ants barely
decipherible against the walls.
This was why I stood with an industrial size bottle of bleach in one
hand and the phone in the other. My colleague had just called. He was
fascinated by the samples I had sent him. He said something about the
resemblence of the fungus to neurons. I don't care.
Tilting the container over the edge of the terrarium I dumped the
bleach, pouring a flood down over that damned native american statue,
washing away the white coating hiding it. I watched impassively as I
drowned them. Genocide was as simple as a bottle of cleaner. As I
shook out the last of the jug I froze, staring at the rim of the glass
cage. There, through the jelly and talcum powder was a cannal, a
highway of white fungus.
Dropping the jug on the floor, ignoring the flood of bleach racing
through tunnels and rooms, killing everything. I followed the highway
of mold, stretching down the wall of the cage and wall of my home. I
stared in growing alarm when I realized where the trail ended. There
on my opened window sill were three wasps, yellowjackets.
Moving close I saw them, those poor vespid bastards, chewing down on a
collection of fungal ants, all lined up in a row for easy pickings.
They flew away as I tried to smash them with a college textbook, the
three wasps fleeing out out harms way and into the damned world.