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Davis, Jerry - Halloween Ants

By Benjamin Flores,2014-06-11 23:22
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Davis, Jerry - Halloween Ants

     Halloween Ants

     ? 1999 by Jerry J. Davis

     Brad Anderson awoke suddenly, sitting straight up in bed and

     staring forward into the dark with wide, horrified eyes. He'd

     dreamed that he'd killed and eaten his wife. Throwing the sheet

     off, he stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom, turning on the

     light and looking at his pale, shaken face. What is wrong with me?

     he wondered. He stared into his own eyes through the mirror,

     searching for some sort of answer. Instead of seeing himself he

     was reliving the horrible dream, seeing the shock and dumb terror

     on his wife's face as he plunged the knife in, cutting her flesh

     like he would a deer or some poor farm animal, feeling a dark

     hunger as he bit into it like a rabid carnivore. She screamed and

     screamed as he ate, dying a little bit at a time. The sound of her

     screaming still seemed to ring in his ears.

     His heart was hammering in his chest, and there was sweat

     beaded up all over his forehead. For God's sake, he thought, what

     is the meaning of this dream? Brad splashed water in his face,

     dried with a towel, and paused to give himself a once-over in the

     mirror short blond hair, trim mustache, sloping shoulders, baggy

     eyes then walked back into the bedroom, turning on the light and

     looking at the bed. The bed was empty, his wife gone. He stared at

     it, trying to sort out his thoughts. It must be anger. He did feel

     anger, a lot of it that and shock. Shock that it happened. Shock

     at the nerve of Dale McKinney, who lured her away. Shock that

     she'd fallen for such a phony, a sleaze.

     Brad turned off the light and against his will he walked

     across the room to the north window and pulled the curtains aside.

     Dale lived five houses down and on the other side of the street.

     The windows were dark. His wife, presumably, inside. Sometimes he

     wished he had the nerve to borrow one of Randy's hunting rifles,

     the kind with the big fat 'scope, and just pick the jackass off as

     he walked by a window. Or better yet out at the golf course

     while Dale was giving lessons. Blam! Right through the chest.

     He could deal with his anger towards Dale. It was an easy

     emotion to understand, especially considering the situation. But

     the dream about his wife it disturbed him. It made him wonder

     about his mental health.

     Brad rolled back onto bed but was not able to sleep. He

     shifted from his right to left side and back, over and over every

     few minutes. Finally he gave up, and went downstairs to the living

     room and turned on the television. A John Wayne movie was on one

     of the cable channels, and he sat and stared at the images and

     sounds, letting the television turn off his mind and the ugly

     thoughts within.

     Later, with the sun shining through the windows and across

     his polished hardwood floor, Brad awoke to the distant sound of

     his alarm clock going off upstairs. The coffee was on automatic,

     brewing away in the kitchen. The smell made him feel better, and

     he got up and walked stiff-legged into the bathroom to take a pee.

     He dimly remembered the nightmare, but was able to shrug it off.

     Things like that didn't matter much in the daylight.

     Brad stepped through his weekend morning routine. Shower,

     shave, dress, then retrieve the Saturday paper and scan the

     headlines while he sipped his coffee. The house around him was so

     quiet. It was their dream house, one that Janice was thrilled

     with, that made their relocation from Concord, California much

     less traumatic. Brad had been an outstanding supervisor and his

     company needed a manager for their new huge shipping depot in

     Arizona this was their chance, with his doubled income and

     prestigious job, and this new big house that he and Janice were

     supposed to fill with children. That didn't happen, and now she

     was gone and it was only him, the cat and the dust motes that swam

     in the shafts of morning sunlight. The cat didn't like him, and

     avoided him at all times unless the food dish was empty. He hadn't

     even seen it for the past few days for all he knew Janice had

     come and confiscated it.

     Opening the paper, Brad found the headlines held bad news.

     Two more people were missing. This time it was Bob and Dana

     Mueller. Like so many people in this small community, Brad had met

     and was familiar with these people. Bob was a big, beefy,

     country-western type who worked down at the local hardware store,

     and Dana was a little redhead with a big attitude who worked with

     some computer firm over in Phoenix. That brought the total to six

     missing people in two weeks. The Dickson police were appealing to

     the state for help, and even thought the paper didn't say it, it

     was obvious the authorities thought it was a serial killer.

     Brad put the paper down and finished his coffee. He was

     hungry this morning, much more than usual. His stomach felt

     hollow, empty, and it was making noises. Normally Janice would be

     preparing breakfast. A dark thought crossed him she probably was

     making breakfast right at that very moment, five houses down the

     street.

     He stood, and picking the coffee cup up, he threw it. It

     bounced off the wall and the carpet but didn't break. There was no

     satisfaction in it. Still feeling dark and hateful, Brad exited

     the house through the back door and out the back gate, walking out

     onto the golf course path toward the clubhouse.

     Along the way he came across several balls of ants. He

     kicked at one, and they scattered. They were large, frightening

     ants, all black and orange. The locals called them "Halloween

     ants." The town's claim to fame was that they'd been overrun by

     them. The ants were desert natives, and all the new unnatural

     plants the lawns, the trees, the hedges and flowerbeds were a

     boon to them. It was all food, more than nature had intended, and

     their population had exploded. Being that Dickson was an upscale

     bedroom community for Phoenix, some important people had been

     angry at the ants for eating their grass and flowers. A company

     called Nupoint Chemical was invited out to test some of their

     experimental pesticides on the hapless bugs, which prompted them

     to form in these large, disgusting balls. Brad had tried once to

     step on one, but he only killed half of them and the other half

     crawled onto his shoe and up his ankle. Like wasps or bees they

     had stingers, and several of them got him before he could brush

     them off. His leg was swollen for hours, and he never tried it

     again.

     He reached the clubhouse and walked into the small coffee

     shop, and heard half the conversations come to a sudden halt. He

     looked around at the familiar faces and none would make eye

     contact. It was because his wife, Janice, was sitting with Dale

     McKinney in a booth toward the back. Everyone there knew what was

     going on.

     Janice, her long blond hair pinned back, was dressed in

     shorts and a nice blouse. She had a sharp nose and long eyelashes,

     and a solid muscular build. Even though she was aware her husband

     was standing several feet away she pointedly ignored him. Dale,

     who was a tall, lanky man with a stylish three-day beard, had the

     balls to smile and wave. Brad felt himself flush. His face and

     neck burned. He walked quickly over to the table, and Dale stood

     up and faced him.

     "I have nothing to say to you," Brad said, and turned to his

     wife.

     "I'm the only person you get to talk to," Dale said,

     stepping in front of Janice.

     Brad lunged, swinging, but the others around them quickly

     grabbed the two and pulled them apart. The club manager hurried in

     and took Brad by the arm, leading him toward the door. "What are

     you doing?" Brad demanded.

     "I'm kicking you out."

     "You're kicking me out?"

     "You have no business coming in here and causing trouble!"

     "I'm causing trouble? It's your goddamn golf pro sitting

     there with my wife."

     "I don't think she's your wife anymore. You should go out

     and find another one." The burley old guy pushed him out the door.

     "You don't come back until you're calmed down."

     Brad cursed at him and then walked angrily away. He couldn't

     believe it the club manager was on Dale's side! Like Dale had a

     right to anyone's wife, anyone he chose. Brad felt they were all

     against him, all of them, everyone who was sitting in the coffee

     shop. He wished he had a machine gun. He wished he could mentally

     snap like some disgruntled postal worker and step in there and mow

     them down. Then he'd cut them up into little pieces, fry them in a

     big pan and eat them. Just eat them. Gobble them down like a good

     steak, with eggs on the side.

     As he walked down the path back toward his house, he heard a

     group of kids signing in their backyard. It was to the tune of a

     Christmas song, but the words were oddly changed:

     Joy to the world, my teacher is dead

     I bar-be-cued her head

     Where is the body?

     I flushed it down the potty

     Round and round it goes

     Oh round and round it goes…

     Oh round, and round, and round it goes…

     The children's song disturbed him, just like his own

     thoughts disturbed him. He wasn't merely angry with those people.

     He wanted to eat them. It was a genuine desire, not just a

     fleeting thought. He wanted to butcher them like cattle and chop

     them into steaks, especially Dale and Janice.

     Jesus Christ, he thought. Where is this coming from? He

     stepped over a ball of black and orange ants and passed his back

     gate without stopping. Abruptly he changed direction and headed

     across the fairway, walking over to Randy's shack. He needed to

     talk, and Randy was the closest thing he had to a friend out here.

     In the back of his mind, a niggling little thought persisted:

     Randy had a gun collection. Randy had let him borrow guns in the

     past. Try as he might, Brad couldn’t get this thought to leave him

     alone.

     Halfway to Randy's shack, Brad stumbled upon the oddest

     thing he'd ever seen. There were two snakes right in the middle of

     the fairway, both mottled brown and looking to be of the same

     species, and they were eating each other. They had swallowed a

     good portion of each other's tail. As he stood staring at it,

     there was the sound of an automobile horn, and Brad looked up to

     see a van driving right down the fairway at him. Brad took several

     steps out of the way and the van drove past, running over the

     snakes. It was a white van with a government seal on the door

     panel: The Environmental Protection Agency. Brad continued on his

     way, wondering what that was all about, wondering why the hell

     they were driving all over the golf course. Randy would be pissed.

     Randy, the greenskeeper, had a shack on the back nine, right

     beside a pond and a large sand trap. As Brad approached the pond

     he felt an overwhelming wall of humidity. They community was

     pumping a lot of water into all the lawns, ponds, and swimming

     pools, and the Arizona sun did it's best to dry them out. Phoenix

     and the surrounding suburbs could no longer brag about the

     benefits of their "dry heat." Brad walked around the shack to the

     door and found it closed and locked. Feeling let down and

     disappointed, he walked around the shack, looking up and down the

     greens for a sign of Randy, and he spotted the man walking out

     from the trees, heading toward him.

     "There was a van running around on your grass!" Brad called

     out.

     Randy nodded and waved. He was in his fifties, with long

     black hair that he kept in a ponytail, and a ruddy, weatherworn

     face. He was dressed in his usual faded jeans and a tee shirt. "I

     know!" he called back. As came closer, Brad noticed the man had an

     unhappy expression and a haunted look in his eyes. He also looked

     a bit pale.

     "What's going on?" Brad asked him.

     "They confiscated the Nupoint stuff. You know, that

     experimental stuff for the ants?"

     "Really?"

     "Yeah, they took it all." Randy wasn't looking at him. He

     was looking off to the side, his eyes unfocused.

     "Why did they take it?" Brad asked.

     "Didn't say," Randy said. His voice had a soft, faraway

     quality to it. "I suspect they discovered the stuff wasn't as

     harmless as Nupoint said it was."

     "Was it killing the birds or something?"

     "It's not a poison. It's an enzyme. It made the ants turn on

     each other." He finally looked up at Brad, his eyes suddenly

     focused. "How are you feeling?"

     "Depressed. Pissed off."

     "Janice hasn't come home yet?"

     "I don't think she ever will. I got into a fight with Dale a

     few minutes ago." He related what happened at the clubhouse coffee

     shop, omitting his bizarre cannibalistic urges.

     "How does that make you feel?" Randy asked.

     "It makes me feel like … like borrowing one of your guns and

     blowing the bastard's head off!"

     "And then what?"

     "Well, blow her head off, too."

     "And then what?"

     Brad gave Randy a strange look. "And then have myself

     committed, I guess."

     Randy nodded slowly, his eyes going unfocused again. "I know

     what you mean."

     "The really crappy part is I still haven't had any

     breakfast, and I'm starving. You wouldn't happen to have any of

     your rabbit jerky around, would you?"

     Randy gave him a sharp look. "No!" He saw that Brad was

     taken aback, and he softened his voice. "No. I'm not going to make

     any more. I think the rabbit is … tainted."

     "Oh, come on! Everyone in town eats your jerked jackrabbit.

     It's great!"

     Randy shook his head, looking down. "I'm sorry. I don't have

     any." He took a few steps away, then paused and turned around.

     "I'll talk to you later," he said. "I have things I gotta do."

     "Do you need some help?" Brad asked.

     "No." Randy's tone was flat. Final. He turned around and

     walked away.

     Brad watched him go, then wandered off in the opposite

     direction. He had no destination in mind. Not wanting to go home,

     and unable to go to the clubhouse, Brad roamed the golf course at

     random and tried to ignore his empty stomach. Maybe, he thought, I

     should have brought my clubs. He watched other golfers as they

     drove and putted. One particular couple caught his attention a

     slightly overweight blond woman and her husband, people he'd met

     but forgotten their names. They looked to be in their late

     thirties, and healthy. The woman looked good. She was wearing

     shorts and a half-shirt, and he could see her belly button. She

     had some meat on her, and a little padding not much, really

     and nice, full breasts. Watching her, his mouth began to water.

     His stomach growled.

     They drove their balls down the fairway and then took their

     clubs and walked. Brad followed, keeping to the side by the trees.

     They noticed him following, and kept glancing back at him

     nervously. Brad thought about approaching them, maybe asking to

     see an interesting club. He could use it on their heads, and once

     down, pull her half shirt up and

     Brad realized what he was thinking, and he turned away in

     horror. But he was so hungry. She looked so good! He could imagine

     biting down hard, then pull away, ripping the flesh. It would be

     so hot and succulent in his mouth, so alive, so … Brad looked down

     at his hands, which were shaking. He made fists of them and put

     them to his face, pressing hard. His hunger was a knot in his

     midsection that was twisting tighter.

     He turned back toward the couple, who was openly staring at

     him now. He started toward them and he saw the woman back away.

     The man looked startled, and he fumbled in his golf bag, reaching

     deep, and yanked out a large black pistol. Brad paused,

     hesitating. The man pointed the gun at him and fired. Brad turned

     around and ran, and the man kept firing.

     Brad heard the bullets they made whistling sounds as they

     passed him. When they hit the trees they made a sound that was a

     cross between a whack and a sharp crunch and bark would fly off.

     He ran blindly, leaping over fallen limbs and punching his way

     through underbrush. He broke out into another fairway and kept

     running, continuing on far after the gunshots had stopped.

     At the end of the fairway was the south boundary of the golf

     course. Brad stopped his running, and chanced a look back. People

     were scattered all over the place, standing still with clubs in

     their hands, and they were all staring at him. Just standing and

     staring. Then the man with the gun broke through the underbrush

     and out onto the grass. He began firing the gun again, but not at

     Brad he was firing at people at random. They scattered, running

     in every direction, and the man with the gun picked the people he

     was closest to and chased them. More gunshots sounded.

     Brad took the main road and walked quickly away from the

     golf course. A few blocks down was Dickson's only shopping center,

     with a post office, a grocery store, a salon and a gas station.

     There had been a bookstore but it had closed down, as no one

     seemed to read anymore. Brad made his way to the phone booth at

     the gas station and called 911. He was still panting from his run.

     Gunshots were still booming through the air from the golf course.

     A tone sounded in his ear. The telephone said, "All circuits

     are busy. Please try your call again later." Exasperated, Brad

     dialed again and got the same response.

     The gas station attendant stepped out and looked down the

     street toward the golf course. She was a short, slight woman with

     a squinty look in her eyes. "What's goin' on down there?" she

     said.

     "Some maniac shooting the golf course up," Brad said. His

     third try on the phone failed and he gave up.

     "Who is it?" the attendant asked.

     "Don't know his name, but he's from around here." Brad

     looked at her, and she looked good. His mouth began to water, but

     he caught himself and turned away. "I can't get a hold of the

     police."

     She didn't answer she went trotting off toward the golf

     course. He watched her go, eyeing her thighs in her tight jeans.

     His mouth wouldn't stop watering. He abandoned the phone booth,

     taking several steps after her, but he heard another gunshot and

     stopped. Turning around, he saw two cats racing across the parking

     lot, and one caught the other one and it erupted in a fight.

     Beyond the fighting cats was the grocery store.

     He walked toward it, feeling desperate, hoping to God that

     if he would just eat something something other than human that

     these insane impulses would go away. He had to walk around the cat

     fight. It was vicious; one had the other by the throat, and they

     were rending each other with their hind claws. There were little

     droplets of blood all over the pavement. He hardly even glanced at

     them, as his main purpose in life at that point was to get though

     those doors and find some food.

     Inside the store it was quiet. There were several customers

     in the store, along with the employees and the management. He

     caught eye contact with one of the cashiers, a tall buxom brunette

     with big hair, and she didn't look away. She didn't say anything,

     either, just stared at him with glassy eyes and no expression. She

     didn't look good to him, but he had the impression that he looked

     good to her. As he took a cart and walked down an aisle she

     silently abandoned her register and stalked him. Brad passed a man

     with an empty grocery cart whom stood motionless, moving only his

     eyes. His hands had a death's grip on the cart handle, his whole

     body tense. Brad watched him warily as he passed, feeling the man

     was ready to pounce. The man's gaze shifted from Brad to the

     checkout woman and back, keeping perfectly still, acting like he

     was camouflaged and that no one could see him as long as he didn't

     move.

     Brad made it around a corner only to be faced by the

     butcher, who stood on the outside of his counter and sharpened a

     huge knife. He looked up at Brad and locked eyes with him, never

     pausing in his knife sharpening. Brad edged past him, and passing

     the meat section. The butcher followed. Forgetting about food,

     Brad decided he'd better get out of there. It was an

     eat-or-be-eaten situation and he was outnumbered.

     Ahead was a big guy he was huge! who had a demented

     expression and appeared to be drooling. He turned his cart so that

     he blocked Brad's way, and just stood and stared at him with

     bugged-out eyes. His mouth was open and he was biting his tongue.

     He grinned at Brad.

     Brad made a quick left down the junk food aisle only to find

     two women had their carts side by side at the far end, blocking

     him in. He continued down the aisle until it was apparent that the

     ladies were not going to move. Turning around, Tom found the big

     guy and the butcher had him blocked at the other end, and behind

     them was the checkout woman.

     Brad continued toward the two women at the far end, gaining

     speed until he was trotting. Either they were going to move their

     carts or he was going to ram them. Their expressions became

     alarmed, and they moved to one side but left their carts where

     they were. Brad rammed their carts with his, making a loud crash

     and sending the carts and the groceries tumbling. The women hissed

     and snarled at him as he scrambled past. He leaped over a chain

     and past a register, but slipped and landed hard on the worn

     linoleum. As he got to his feet, he saw people running toward him.

     The manager, the other checkers, the women with the carts. The big

     guy. They were coming for him, all with grim faces and a dead-eyed

     look, and Brad turned and sprinted for the door, banging into it

     and shoving it open. He was out before they could reach him, and

     his feet pounded the pavement across the parking lot. The cats, he

     saw, were no longer fighting. One was dead and being fed upon by

     the other.

     Just before he rounded the corner he looked back, seeing a

     few of them standing in the parking lot staring back at him, but

     none were pursuing. As he passed the gas station and headed down

     the street where he lived, his running slowed to a jog and then he

     abruptly stopped. He bent forward, hands on trembling knees, and

     fought to catch his breath.

     As he stood there panting, his thoughts became clear. The

     whole town seemed to be going nuts, but how could that be? How

     could the town be going crazy? He thought about it, trying to

     reason it through. First the dream, and then the insane thoughts.

     Then everyone seemed crazy to him predatory as if they were

     sharing his sudden cravings for human flesh. Brad decided that at

     some point his mind had snapped. The emotional strain of losing

     his wife to that bastard, that self-important, smug, swaggering

     jerk … his brain couldn't deal with it, his subconscious rebelling

     against his conscious mind, because his conscious refused to allow

     himself to commit murder no matter how justified he felt.

     Brad straightened and resumed walking up the street, feeling

     the insanity, seeing through it like a filter. No one had actually

     chased him at the store. They may have been staring at him, but it

     was probably because he was acting so crazy. It's me, he thought.

     It's all me. It's in my head. I probably scared the shit out of

     that poor guy and his wife. He was firing at me in self-defense.

     Even now, looking around the sunny neighborhood around him,

     things looked strange. He felt like he was viewing the world

     through glasses that were the wrong prescription angles were

     distorted, and people's faces their expressions he perceived

     them wrong. A mother and her children washing their car peered at

     him through beady, hostile eyes. The little girl, staring at him,

     licked her lips. An old man with his small white dog on a leash

     smiled as Brad passed, and the smile was full of menace. This

     isn't real, Brad told himself. It can't be. But his knowing this

     didn't change what he saw. Knowing he was sick didn't cure him.

     Brad picked up his pace. He had to get to a phone and call

     the police, have himself put away. He wanted them to put him in a

     place where he could get well again. I can get better, he told

     himself. I can start over again.

     A few yards away from his house he came across three large

     brown birds, cactus wrens with long sharp beaks, and they were in

     a little group on the grass picking at another of their kind. The

     other bird lay on its back, wings spread, legs still twitching.

     They were eating it alive.

     He stared at it a few moments. This can't be happening, he

     thought. I'm hallucinating. Birds don't eat each other, do they?

     He watched them pulling out organs and ripping off shreds of

     feather-covered flesh. The birds glanced at him warily, but stood

     their ground. Brad felt the hollowness in his own stomach, felt

     his need to eat. The birds were acting so wrong, he decided it had

     to be a hallucination.

     If I'm so crazy I'm seeing things that aren't really there,

     he thought, then I'm crazy enough to do anything. He looked over

     at Dale's house, and felt the full weight of his stockpile of

     hatred and anger. There are dozens of witnesses who'll testify how

     crazy I've been acting. Even Janice would agree to that in front

     of a jury.

     Brad passed his house, continuing down to Dale's. He

     approached the front door, stepping over a pair of lizards that

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