| Elise regarded the interior of her new cabana with a critical eye. She’d spent the entire morning dusting, mopping, straightening the rented furniture, and removing a particularly nasty pattern of stains in the porcelain sinks. Her forehead glistened with sweat, and she ran a finger across it. It came away dripping and she wiped it carefully on a paper towel, then used the make-shift rag to blot at her face. Only 11:00 and it was already getting hot. She wondered if she would ever get accustomed to the tropical heat.
She sighed and looked at the phone. Roger would be hard at work, making deals, approving details of the resort’s construction. He probably wouldn’t have time to chat with his wife. So she was stuck in this sweltering little hut, while he was cool and comfortable in his air conditioned office. Not for the first time, her thoughts turned bitter as she remembered the huge favor she was doing for her husband. His company wanted him to transfer to Brazil and oversee the construction of this resort. There were no real choices, only duty. She sighed again. Elise had liked her job in Phoenix, but Roger’s work had always been more important.
She looked around for something else to clean, something to make the day pass, to make the house a little more like a home. Then she noticed the insect on the counter, scuttling slowly toward the plate of uneaten toast. It was an ant, she realized, though she’d never seen such a large specimen. Its body had to measure nearly a full inch in length. It was black, but with subtle purple striping on its fat little abdomen. The insect moved with purpose to the toast, tore off a crumb, and retreated to a small crack in the baseboard.
Elise shook herself, as if to dispel a minor enchantment. The bugs couldn’t be allowed in her house. Under the sink, in the cabinet, was a spray can of insect killer. She hated using it inside. The stuff was poison, after all. But . . .
She froze. The ant was back, trundling along toward the toast in a purposeful way. Carefully, she moved one finger above it, like a god of old with a will to smite.
Her finger came down, crushing the striped abdomen flat with a tiny spray of juices. Snake-quick, the ant twisted to lock those oversized mandibles on her finger.
Elise cried out in surprise and sudden pain. The ache was intense, and she stripped the insect from her finger, flinging it back to the counter where it writhed in its own agony. The pain persisted, like a pinpoint of fire. She realized that the ant must carry some minor type of venom. The struggling ant on the counter moved more slowly, and then stopped.
Elise sniffed the air. It was suddenly full of a pungent aroma, like onions and blood. Nasty creature, she thought, and used another paper towel to wipe it from the counter and deposit it in the trash.
Another ant came through the crack. Then another, and another.
Her eyes went wide at the sight of those gigantic insects streaming onto her kitchen counter, and she moved back a few steps.
There had to be over a hundred of them now, and they lined up on the counter edge, facing her, and going very still.
Elise froze as well, her blue eyes staring into hundreds of obsidian black orbs. A chill ran down her spine, as she realized she may be in actual danger. She imagined this many ants biting her, their jaws piercing her flesh, driving hot spikes of pain through every exposed inch of skin. She wondered if that much venom could kill her, or just leave her wracked with agony.
The ants remained still and silent as they regarded her with malevolent interest. They almost looked like tiny action figures, made of shiny plastic instead of chiton and pulsing fluids.
She remembered the can of pesticide, under the counter that was now covered with ants. She moved toward it slowly, hoping not to goad the insects into motion. Her hand reached the cabinet door and she pulled it open slowly.
An antenna twitched.
She stopped, heart beating wildly. The ants were so near she could smell them, but the shiny blue and yellow can was just six inches from her hand. With a sudden movement she snatched it and stepped back.
Her bare foot came down on something that crunched. The smell of onions filled the air, and she turned to see another line of ants still streaming up from under the door.
Elise screamed, and mashed her throbbing finger down. The poison sprayed out, hitting the ants at her feet. They writhed and curled, but only when hit directly. She sprayed and sprayed, turning in circles as the ants boiled toward her. A choking fog of insecticide filled the cabana, and still she sprayed, screaming in a strange mix of terror and fury.
The ants came on, remorseless in their determination to reach her unprotected skin. But the poison was too much for them, and they curled, one by one, in the rictus of death. Soon they were all still.
Sobbing with relief, Elise put the can of spray on the counter. It made a tinny sound on the hard countertop, and seemed much lighter now. The air was thick with sweet-smelling poison, but she welcomed it, preferring the toxic cloud and the feeling of slow suffocation over the white-hot bites of her tormentors.
Then an ant crawled under the door. She grabbed for the can again and shot a stream toward it that rapidly faded to a sputter. The ant curled, but the can was empty. Another ant came under the door, and she looked out the kitchen window. A great line of boiling black was advancing on the house, its front churning and seething with insectile rage.
Her jaw dropped open and she howled.