by Aaron R. Steinmetz

After my twin brother and I parted ways, he went to one of his high school senior drinking parties, and left me alone so I could hang out at the apartment and wallow in my own little depression. Friday nights really suck when you're single.

I was still out of breath when I deposited my jacket on my bed, but by the time I reached the kitchen I was glad when I saw that I was alone in the apartment. Only, I wasn't alone. In fact, I was outnumbered a thousand to one. From the empty box of donuts in the trash can, up the counter wall, across the counter and up the kitchen wall to an imaginary hole behind the glassware cabinet ran a thick line of serpentine ants.

I shook my head and closed my eyes. "And the blows just keep on coming."

Exploring the kitchen I found them spreading around the sink, zigzagging in and around the silverware, and my skin began to crawl at the thought of them invading my stash of cheap macaroni and cheese. I checked. Fortunately for me there are some things even ants won't touch. I picked up the phone.

"Hey, Mom."

"Hi honey!" Mom sounds perky whenever I call her at work. I guess cutting people's hair gives her some kind of thrill or something. "How did things go with Sandy?"

There weren't any on me but I still felt the need to scratch imaginary ants. "I'll tell you about it tonight."

"Ah. Okay." Moms have a way of understanding you better from the sound of your voice than from anything you actually say.

I scanned the counter watching an ant blindly follow the ant in front of him. "We have a bit of a problem, Mom."

"What's that, kiddo?"

"Well first off, my car broke down again, but Dad and I'll work on that. I called you 'cause we've got ants all over the kitchen." Remembering that ants find their way by following the scent of the ants in front of it, I licked my finger and slid it through a gap in the line, and then smiled when the ant before the gap began to search around, lost without his guiding line.

She groaned, and after the groan I heard the sound of scissors snipping away. It always amazes me that Mom can talk on the phone and cut hair at the same time. "I saw a few this morning. I knew they were coming."

"What should I do?"

Basically, Mom told me to spray down any ants I see with Windex and then head down to the store and pick up something called Grant's Ant Control System. So I picked up the bottle from the hallway closet, switched it to "mist," and I headed back into the kitchen to meet the enemy on my own terrain. Staring through squinted eyelids over the line of ants, I let out one spray dead center. They began to writhe and wiggle in the acidic ammonia, and then, individually, they slowly stopped moving. I smiled. I let out another spray. They scattered. I smiled wider. Switching the nozzle to "stream," I started picking off individual ants one at a time. My lips formed a menacing, toothy grin. They fell, one by one.

* * *

As I was walking back from the store with Grant's Ant Control System, I passed my car, dead on the side of the road. Running my hand across her as I strolled by, I muttered, "Don't worry, honey. We'll figure out what's wrong with you. And we'll get you home."

My mind wandered as I thought about the ants I had killed earlier. I pictured them exploring the battlefield in sullen silence hoping to find their fallen comrades. But those creatures' corpses were all wadded up inside a paper towel at the bottom of the empty trash can, and I smiled as I imagined them sending out a scouting party to the bottom of the trash can, not only to find that their ample food supply was gone, but also to see the ant graveyard, to look upon the twisted bodies strewn about the bottom of the wastebasket, and run home screaming.

So when I arrived at home, I was actually pleased to find that more ants had wandered out onto the counter. . .

"It was awful, sir! It was horrible! It was the most gruesome thing I've ever seen!"

"Calm down, soldier." The sergeant ant patted down the young ant cadet with his twig-like arm. All around them, wounded ants were nursing their pill bodies, each recounting the day's battle.

"They're all dead, sir! Every one of them! Some of them were so mangled and torn to shreds, I could barely tell them apart!"

"Come on, soldier, we're ants! We can barely tell ourselves apart when we are alive! Now I need you firing on all cylinders, soldier! We may have lost this battle, but we will win this war!" The sergeant addressed his whole platoon. "We are going to fight! We are going to win! We are going to drive out the Mile-High Menace or die trying!" The troops cheered and whistled. "Now, who's with me?!"

The cadet pointed four of his arms to the sky with a look of sheer terror. "HE'S BACK!!!"

The ants scattered.

I pulled out the little ant hotels and began setting them up strategically around the kitchen. "Come on little boogers. I've got a snack for ya!"

After I finished putting them all around the kitchen, I picked up my Windex bottle, put the nozzle to my lips and blew across it. "Judgement Day is upon you, my little insect vermin. Pre-pare. to. DIE!" I danced around the kitchen, waving my Windex bottle back and forth, letting fire streams of liquid death, raining down acid on my enemy.

Turning around and holding the bottle against my belt, I cracked open the dishwasher just in time to hear one ant telling another he had found the perfect hiding place.

"We're all hiding in here." The minute voice snarled and snickered. "The Mile-High Menace won't find us in here!"

In the scant lighting I could barely see inside. So I flung open the door and heard the tinny screams of hundreds of ants, and I saw them crawling all about the dirty dishes. I laughed menacingly and slammed shut the door. Switching the dishwasher to hot wash and heat dry, I started the dishwasher going. I pictured hundreds of ants being thrown and tossed about in the thunderstorm of water, and eventually falling, falling, falling down into the whirlpool where, screaming in agony, they hit the scalding hot water being sucked down the drain to their mutual demises.

Glancing over my shoulder, away from the dishwasher, I saw the stove, and cruel smile formed on my face. I switched one of the burners to high and waited until the circular burners were glowing red. Using tweezers, I picked up individual ants and began dropping them onto the burners, and each time their little bodies burst into flames, I laughed and laughed.

Scouring the kitchen for anymore hiding places, I pulled away the breadbasket and saw three ants congregating together, hiding out of sight. A larger ant was facing the smaller ants.

"Sir, sir, he's back! And he's on a rampage! What are we gonna do?!" The young cadet looked around for any other survivors who could use their hiding place. Another ant stood next to him, breathless, suffering from ammonia burns.

"All right, cadet, I have an idea. This vicious monster must be stopped and I know how. Listen carefully, cadet, because this plan will work only if you follow my instruction to the letter."

I picked up a butter knife from the drawer and lowered it onto the sergeant's body, splitting him in two.

The cadet screamed, falling backward. He frantically began scurrying away from his mutilated commanding officer. Turning away from the gore, he faced his ammonia-burned comrade just in time to see me crush him with my index finger.

He looked up at me in desperation. "Please." There were tears in the ant's eyes. "Please, I have a new wife waiting for me back at the mound. I just want to get back to her."

I began to take sympathy on this poor ant. "What's her name?"


I looked at him. I saw something familiar in his eyes, and then I realized he was just a good ant who got mixed up in the wrong crowd. He deserved better than this. I told him to go back to his mound and convince them not to battle against the Mile-High Menace. He scurried off.

Once the ant was safely away, I pushed the breadbox back against the wall and turned back to the battle.

A group of ants were piled on themselves, slowly dying in a pool of ammonia. "The pain! The pain!" One ant shook his head, wailing. "We were wrong to battle the Mile-High Menace! Only now at this dreadful hour do I realize our mistake! And it's too late to save us now!" They all simultaneously collapsed on each other.

Satisfied with my work, I pulled down a box of macaroni and cheese and plunked it down on the counter. Pulling out my mac and cheese pot, I filled it with water and set it to boil on the counter. I stared at the water, waiting for it to boil.

The cadet ant scurried hurriedly across the dirt, anxious to get home. He soon returned to the mound, entering through his little dirt hole to his own little dirt bungalow where Sandy was staying, waiting patiently for his return the battlefields.

But the young cadet was sorely mistaken. Sandy wasn't waiting for him. The young cadet arrived home to find that Sandy had occupied it with her new husband. She had gone out and fallen in love with some ant from college. A stronger ant. A better looking ant. An ant who could give her all the things he couldn't because he was just a scrawny little ant nerd with little ant-sized glasses whose ant nose was always stuck in little ant-sized books. Never mind that he was an ant who actually cared about the girl-ants in the mound and that he would always take care of his mates and never smack them around like the jock ants do. No, that poor young cadet was a "nice" ant. None of the female ants want nice ants. That poor young cadet left his little dirt bungalow lower than he had ever been in his pitiful little life.

The noodles were done, so I pulled it off the burner and grabbed my strainer. As I strained the noodles, I was sure to let the boiling hot water land on every ant I could see in the sink. I watched them twitch to death in the water. I watched them slip down the drain. I wasn't laughing anymore. Abandoning the pot of noodles on the counter, I crossed the kitchen and sat at the dining room table, and I lowered my head into my hands. The table was fortunately devoid of ants. Well, except one.

I saw the young cadet slowly amble up to me. He looked up at me. "Please squish me. I have nothing left now."

I sighed and leaned back against my chair. And looking down at the dejected little ant I shook my head. "No. You're not going to give up now. There are more ants in the mound. You'll find the right one soon enough."

The young cadet rolled his beady little eyes. "Right. Sure. The right girl could be just around the tunnel."

I waved my hand slowly at the ant in much the same way my father does when he's talking to me. "Now, now, you're just upset. It'll wear off."

"Look, I've been alive for days. There are more days behind me than I've got before me. I don't have much time left. I'd rather just end it now on the battlefields in honor than die alone in the mound."

I snorted. "Honor. It's not worth dying for." Turning back to the ant, I raised my eyebrows in much the same way as my mother does. "Go home. Sleep on it. I promise things will look better for you when you wake up."

"All right." The sad, little ant turned and crawled away from me. Rolling my head back, I stared at the ceiling, letting out a long, slow sigh.

So I guess I should take my own advice. I don't want to. I just want to curl up and let the life drain out of me. I wish I could get lost on some massive counter where my own mile-high menace could drown me in Windex. But that's not gonna happen. And I'm not just going to curl up and die. I've got more years before me than behind me and it would be too much of a waste to end it all now. Especially over a girl. So I'll just try to sleep it off. Yeah. I could really use a nap right about now. That'll help. I guess.

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Attack of the Mile-High Menace, 2 April 2003