's 2020 Horror Write-off:

Great Ants

Submitted by Tiffany

There was a giant anthill just outside my hometown. Maybe the biggest in the country, although I don't think anyone submitted it for any records. Folks used to say it granted wishes.

I don't think the adults ever really took it seriously, but every generation of big kids would pass on the legend to the next generation of little kids. Town was founded after a settler's horse died on top of the hill. A B-list movie star got his start after wishing for fame on the anthill. Some of the rumors conflicted. Maybe it was a demon who only granted evil wishes, or maybe it was a lost god who wanted to be worshiped, or maybe it was a nice alien who just really liked ants.

The method was consistent, though. You took some bloody meat to the anthill - a lot of meat. Most of a large animal, not a hamburger. You put it on top of the hill and waited for it to be so covered in ants you couldn't see it anymore. Not a long wait. You whispered your wish to the swarm, and a while later, you'd get it.

In my senior year of high school, several of my friends - who were really more friends with each other than me - decided to try it out. We all chipped in to buy a load of beef from a local butcher. I was expecting we'd just get a funny story out of it, but Farrah - the ringleader of the whole thing - wished she'd always have enough money, and sure enough, she started finding cash in odd places, and it added up really fast. She moved to a real city for uni like most of us did, but we still call her up occasionally when we need a favor, and she's always happy to help.

A week later, we came back with a second load of beef - this one paid for entirely by Farrah - to watch a second girl make her wish. She never told me exactly what she wished for, but, well, shortly after that, her stepfather went missing, and she seemed extremely satisfied with it. I'd already gotten the impression that he was abusive, so it made sense.

We all agreed that Kate should get the third week's wish. Once the ants entirely eclipsed the meat, she wished she'd been born with a better body. For whatever reason, though - maybe the wish was beyond its power, or maybe it didn't like that we were coming back again and again - it didn't take. Kate got sick and we got scared. There was no family history of anything; it was out of nowhere. After a day of wilting and two terrible bedridden weeks, Kate passed.

People started talking more about the anthill then. Some blamed it for Kate's death, and the more sober-minded ones provided natural explanations for that blame, like she'd gotten bitten without realizing it and caught some obscure disease. Apparently, a local exterminator caught wind of it, and he fumigated and leveled the hill, "free of charge". (The town committee paid for it anyway.) For a couple of years afterwards, he changed his slogan to "we don't just wish bugs would disappear, we make it happen". I think about that sometimes, in the context of declining insect populations.

We've all gone to see the clearing where the anthill used to be. There's a tree there, whose base was originally partially buried by the anthill. There's writing on that part of the tree, and the skeptic's explanation is that it was put there after the fact by vandals, but I think that the ants wrote it, bottom-to-top. I can't read the bottom part, because it's in several different languages - I think Indigenous ones. But the top part is in English, and it's a list of types of bug. The final four added? Leafcutter. Tarantula Hawk. Silk Moth. Green Stink Bug.

By the way, I don't think that my hometown actually panicked because Kate died. I think they panicked because of the incident at her grave. One morning, a couple of weeks after the burial, dirt was flung everywhere, and both her coffin and her headstone-with-the-wrong-name were destroyed. It looked like a bomb went off; the papers reported that a bomb did go off. Maybe one of us did it, out of respect for her memory, but the obvious read is that she finally got her wish. I think that's what really upset people.

Every so often I come back to visit the spot where the anthill used to be, and I bring an offering with me. I always wish for the ants to come back, but the meat just sits there and rots.