MYRMECOPHOBIA

by Tom Chelmowski © 2003

Jeremy sat at his kitchen table looking at the newspaper.

Images whirred through his mind. He had spent last evening with Ingamar sitting on his verandah, joking.

The professor had phoned asking Jeremy to join him that evening, but when Jeremy tried to beg off Ingamar became insistent.

As Jeremy settled into the rattan lounge chair on the verandah Ingamar brought two heavy glasses of thick, amber colored beer.

The evening started with small talk. How are things at the university? Howís Marcy? Howís the teaching business? But something seemed to be bothering Ingamar.

Jeremy probed deeper. "Whatís on your mind professor. You look troubled."

Ingamar took a long drink from his glass. "Jeremy, I think the earth is in serious trouble."

"I agree with you there buddy," Jeremy said, "global warming, terrorists, chemical additives in the milk, crop circles. Itís just gotten completely out of control."

Jeremy remembered the dark look that came over Ingamarís face. Jeremy had brushed it off as Ingamarís dislike for his caustic brand of humor.

"No. I mean theyíre already here."

"UFOs, Youíve seen a UFO?"

"Ants Jeremy," Ingamar whispered. "Ants."

Jeremy leaned forward. This was going to be a good night, he thought, Ingamarís been into the sauce again.

Jeremy pulled a serious face. "How long are we talking about?"

"On Christmas Island it took them less than 2 years."

"Theyíve taken Christmas Island?"

"They invaded Jeremy. Completely destroyed, no exterminated, the indigenous omnivores."

"Ants?" Asked Jeremy.

"Ssh."

"Completely?" Jeremy whispered.

"I think it was a test bed."

Jeremy looked at Ingamar trying to fathom where this conversation was headed and how he could help prolong Ingamarís joke.

"Wait a minute Ingamar," Jeremy said, "Theyíve been here for millions of years. Why didnít they pull their coup during the last great whammo. When the dinosaurs got zonked. That would have been their big chance wouldnít it?"

Jeremy took a sip of his beer and leaned back. That should take the wind out of his sails for a moment, Jeremy thought.

"No, I donít think the mother ship had returned yet."

"Mother ship?" Jeremyís eyebrows went up.

"From Zoltan."

"Oh, Zolton. Of course."

"No, listen, its worse than that," said Ingamar. "I believe theyíre holding humans hostage."

Jeremy kept his face serious and nodded his understanding. "Abductions. Yeah, I know."

"No Jeremy, hostages, here on earth."

"Hostages?" Jeremy struggled for composure while a smile stretched across his face. "For what?"

"To use them as agents Jeremy. For their cause."

Jeremy looked into his beer glass to take his eyes off Ingamar and took a deep breath to control his voice. He wasnít going to let Ingamar have a victory that easy. He respected Professor Johnson, and they had had many engaging conversations on this verandah. But this, thought Jeremy, must be some attempt by Ingamar to test his composure.

"How can an ant hold anyone hostage?" Jeremy had difficulty pronouncing the words with a smile pulling at his lips.

"They donít have to hold a gun to your head," Ingamar said. "What if you knew your house was infested with them, and you knew that if they donít get the right message, theyíd eat your dog? Or your daughter?"

"Now your suggesting that they communicate with humans. Ingamar, are you off your medication?"

"No," Ingamar said. He looked down at the floor and shook his head. "Look, a single muscle cell in your hand cannot hold that beer glass, right? But with all the cells in all the muscles all controlled by your nervous system." Ingamarís eyebrows went up. "You see?"

"So ants canít communicate, but the ant hill can?"

Ingamar glanced into the window of his home. "You make fun of a very serious thing," Ingamar said.

A cartoonish picture of yellow zigzag lighting bolts emanating from an ant hill, like a Dick Tracy wrist-radio, made Jeremy chuckle. Ingamarís winning, he thought.

Ingamarís annoyed look helped Jeremy regain his composure.

"Radios? Or are they telepathic?"

"Not telepathic, said Ingamar. Then he whispered, "Chemopathic."

"Chemopathic?"

"Look, they use pheromone to mark trails to food donít they? Why not to communicate wants, needs, urgency, commands to attack?"

Jeremy nodded, mentally conceding that point. If pigs can communicate with pheromones, why not ants.

"Okay, okay. Where do you think these hostages are being held?"

"Cambridge."

"Massachusetts?"

"MIT," Ingamar whispered again.

"MIT?"

"Shhh. I think MIT is in cahoots with the little buggers."

Jeremy shook his head. This was the best he had heard from the old man in a long time.

"Okay Ingamar," Jeremy said, "you win."

"Win? No Jeremy, Iím serious. Donít you read the papers. MITís made a scad of miniature tanks for them."

Jeremy remembered sitting on the verandah looking at the scientist trying to decide if he had truly gone off his rocker.

"Not much longer than an inch," Ingamar held up his thumb and forefinger, "but robotic."

"Robot ants." Jeremy smiled. "Arenít regular ants good enough. Havenít your read Flanging verses the Ants?"

"Ah, but imagine a factory turning out thousands and thousands of little Abrams tanks, but for ants."

"Youíre right Ingamar. With itsy-bitsy cannons. I told you buddy, you win." Jeremy took a deep breath. Tomorrow morning was going to come early.

"Ingamar, thanks for the beer." Jeremy stood and placed his glass on the table. "I had a great time, but I need to head home."

Ingamar reached out and grabbed his arm. "Think about it Jeremy," Ingamarís voice quavered, "think about it."

"Okay bud," Jeremy said. He stepped down from the porch and turned to wave to the professor standing alone on his porch.

Jeremy walked silently across the grass toward his car. That was the last time Jeremy saw Ingamar.

Jeremy read the headlines again.

"Skeletal remains of two people found in Dr. Johnsonís home. Police are looking forÖ" The story was accompanied by a picture of the front of Dr. Ingamar Johnsonís brick bungalow surrounded by police cars and barriers of yellow tape.

x x x




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