Anthony Picardi: Fiction: April 2020

My Southern Legitimacy Statement: I moved to a small farm on Virginia’s Eastern Shore in 2004 on which I put a conservation easement. The community of woods, pond, fields and salt marsh will be forever protected from the ravages of development and industrialized chicken farming flooding in from the north. I practice diversified agriculture like a traditional southern subsistence farmer, raising oysters, soybeans, wheat and corn along with song birds, black bass, honeybees, mushrooms, frogs, and hundreds of other insects and weeds.

I fish and crab in the ‘creek’ and hunt deer in the woods in accordance with all regulations, of course. It is possible to survive on a small farm these days with a high degree of self-sufficiency save for gasoline, ammunition and the occasional electric freezer. Mostly, however, I consider myself southern in that I ACT like a southerner – there is always time to say a few words and have a conversation before getting to business. There is no political issue more important these days than the matter of how to outsmart our increasingly sagacious population of nocturnal white-tailed deer.

the wall

by cindi camponotus

  1. the refugee

a pavement ant staggered into our guarded entrance the other day.  she was waving a white flag and asking for asylum.  we have never gotten an asylum seeker.  strangers are usually eaten.  the queen asked me to investigate.  the refugee was shaking and agitated.  i decided to hear her story.  

first let me say that my recent reports have put me in the way of criticism on account of capitalization and punctuation. now that i am a published ant, i have no time for naive questions, so please explain to my fans that i can only push down one key at a time.  folks shouldn’t criticize what they can’t understand.  

i interviewed the officer in charge of immigrants at the colony gate. 

cindi- ‘officer, how did this red ant sneak so close to our entrance without becoming lunch question mark’

officer- ‘she was waving her t-shirt and asking for asylum or something. said she was the victim of the pinkfaced persecution of prowling pernicious parasites.  i don’t know about asylums, mam, but she had some big words so i arrested her and threw her in a cage. there are others like her staggering around at the border’ 

i could see she was tetramorium – a class of hairy red ant given to flightiness, low intellect and loose morals.  i am a broad-minded ant but am wary of redheads running drugs into our colony or worse.  they could pollute our genetic purity.  they may copulate with our dimwitted drones and produce some kind of purple queen.  

cindi- ‘why come all the way from the pavement asking us for asylum question mark’

cinder- ‘your honor, mam, my name is cinder.  i am a tetramorium from the sidewalk.’  she became hysterical and started screaming, ‘help … the raiders are coming…the raiders are coming… get out now exclamation point’

cindi- ‘calm down pet.  tell us your story.’

cinder- ‘we began to have visitors.  they were pink-faced and kind of skin-headed.  they lurked, taking notes. they said they were tourists. more and more sisters didn’t return from foraging.  we got suspicious.  the pinkfaces spoke our language with accents.  like, ‘’ve vill give to you yobs, yes.  many, many yobs.  so many good yobs. ve vill make eu safe egin. oh, so many vonderful, vonderful yobs.’’  it sounded like they had a labor shortage wherever they came from and were recruiting us.’

cindi- ‘so you have tourists with foreign accents promising jobs. didn’t that make you suspicious question mark’

cinder- ‘more than that.  after a few sisters limped in – beat up and bleeding – the mystery of the pesky pinkfaces and disappearing sisters make it to the queen.  the sisters had been abducted and put into brain-reprogramming by pinkfaces.  they were being made into slaves and worked until they died.’

cindi- ‘didn’t it occur to you that these pink-faced tourists may be members of the strongylognathus clan of slave raiders question mark’

cinder- ‘not then. but the queen believed that they were up to no good.  she called them all kinds of names like ‘social parasites’ and ‘deplorable despicable dishonest dead-beats’.  she told us to stop all pinkfaces at the border and to build a wall around our colony. the wall had to be vertical and topped with greenbriar thorns.  it had to have slots made from twigs so we could shoot venom between them.  it had to be as high as a pubescent mugwort.  our soldiers argued that no ant colony was ever protected by a wall. and that ants can climb vertical surfaces. but then rumors spread and more and more workers became convinced that the slave raiders were coming to spread disease and psychedelic drugs.   

cindi- ‘did you build a wall in spite of your military’s objections question mark’

cinder- ‘yes.  it was impossible to resist. spontaneous demonstrations popped up. ants were chanting, ‘build the wall, build the wall, build the wall exclamation point  more and more sisters were abducted even as they worked on the wall. the queen couldn’t resist the populist panic.  she had no alternative.  she was afraid she would be torn apart by a mob of fear mongers. the wall was almost completed when i got abducted by a pinkface wearing a red hat.  i escaped by squirting formic acid at her pink face which blew off her hat and confused her.  mam, they are coming for us and they will come for you too. i know it. you need to run now… or build a wall… or raise an army and attack… or do something exclamation point’

  1. the wall

cindi- ‘ok, ok’, i said, ‘let’s see this wall and reconnoiter the situation.’ i convinced our terrorized refugee to lead me to a bush overhanging her colony. i was curious.   i had never seen an ant-wall.  from our lookout we beheld tetramoriumville surrounded by a wall with crenellations and sentry posts. thorns stuck up along the top.  hairy red ants patrolled the battlements. their abdomens bulging with formic acid.  it was like a scene from your macbeth, boss – a castle in the scottish highlands surrounded by a fortified wall.  the surrounding green meadows waved rhythmically.  

‘yikes’, exclamation point, i exclaimed.  

the meadow was marching to tetramoriumville but this was not a real meadow. we were witnessing the attack of the slave raiders.  the soulless slave-making strongylognathus raiders were marching rank upon rank in platoons and battalions.   thousands of pale pink ants holding blades of grass vertically in their mandibles were advancing like a tide of green across the pavement. it was mesmerizing and stomach-churning. we were terrified. i regurgitated lunch. we froze to our overhanging branch. 

they surrounded the wall.  strongylognathus attackers started climbing up to us.  we crept up higher.  the raiders only went high enough to hang over the colony and drop down into it.  on the ground, the slavers threw down their grass in front of the wall and climbed up and over, ignoring the sprays of formic acid from the defenders who couldn’t fit their abdomens through the slats and direct their spray sideways.  pinkfaces sprayed the colony with copious amounts of highly concentrated alarm pheromones.  the colony erupted in panic.  there was pandemonium among the tetramorium.  the defenders rushed to the opposite wall and piled up against it.  strongylognathus soldiers waded in and carried off my refugee’s sisters.  those that resisted were held down and torn apart by slavers.  all the time, the slave raiders were shrieking, ‘lock them up. lock them up. lock them up…exclamation point’  

a few tetramorium ants managed to make it over the wall but most of these were kidnapped by strongylognathus raiders and hauled away.   

boss, i have never seen such a feckless defense.  weaponized fake pheromones spread such confusion that the defense was impotent, incompetent and ineffectual. there was nothing for us to do, hanging on as we were, overhead in the bushes.  it was a sad, sad scene.  we were one carpenter ant and a tetramorium refugee against an army of strongylognathus slave raiders.  we returned to my colony. 

  1. the rebellion

i reported to our queen. she was appalled and upset lest the same thing happen to us.  she tasked me with an additional mission that was far more dangerous.  i was commanded to lead a small party of wee-too sisters to the strongylognathus stronghold and mount a counterintelligence operation that would destroy it and exterminate slave raiders in the neighborhood.  

you remember, boss, that ‘wee-too’ means ‘women emancipated everywhere – together overwhelming omniscience’.  in an earlier report, i explained how the wee-too movement evolved over millions of years as colony sisters developed the courage and laid down the legal and evolutionary foundation to liberate formicidae females from hopeless haploid drones.  this made our eusocial community great again. 

i assembled a tiger team of wee-toos.  we were black-faced. we travelled by night to blend in.  within sight of the strongylognathus stronghold we went incognito with pink-face and pink body suits.  we mugged a few dozen sentries, tied them into pretzels and stole their red hats. we wore rose-colored sunglasses.  

we penetrated to the reprogramming chamber.  there we beheld row upon row of captive tetramorium ants in the thrall of a single strongylognathus ‘slave master’ wearing a huge red hat who bellowed phrases into a loud speaker.  these were followed up by a dispirited loud groan from the ranks, like this: 

master- ‘clean latrine’

slaves- ‘yes mam, yes mam’

master- ‘stash the trash’

slaves- ‘yes mam, yes mam’

master- ‘want some food, don’t be rude’

slaves- ‘yes mam, yes mam’

master- ‘punch out protest’

slaves- ‘yes mam, yes mam’

master- ‘cage the children’

slaves- ‘yes mam, yes mam’

master- ‘lock her up’

slaves- ‘lock her up. lock her up. lock her up.’

it went on and on until the slaves fell into a rhythmic trance. they milled about in little circles.  there was a strong smell of fake pheromone permeating the chamber.  we left before we puked.  our squad spread out.  no red-hats were doing any work.  it appeared that they didn’t know how. they just stood around and watched with baleful puckered mandibles while the slaves self-organized into work crews that did everything from cleaning to tending the queen to bringing in forage. they fed all the larvae, many of which were tetramorium captives who were destined to be brainwashed.   

we re-assembled. our plan was to use the strongylognathus’ own apartheid system to destroy them.  we sprang into action.  we accosted a dozen tetramoriums that still had some light in their eyes and convinced them they could escape if they stuck together.  we brought tiny bags of strange smelling pheromone with us unlike anything you could smell in the strongylognathus colony so it would be ignored by the red-hats.  strapping the bags to their abdomens, wee-too sisters lead our first escapees to a safe hole far away in the pavement.  the scent trail was strengthened by each new escapee. they blazed a private perfumed path to freedom.  the rest of us continued to recruit tetramoriums and send them along the scented trail.  red-hats thought their slaves were just going out to forage.  but the emancipated tetramoriums never returned.  

after a few days, we had a constant trickle of asylum seekers. the colony had visibly shrunk. the tetramoriums sang as they marched out of apartheid and followed the freedom pheromone. 

singing freedom marchers: ‘follow the freedom scent. follow the freedom scent.  all god’s insects gonna march away to freedom when they follow the freedom scent.’

tetramorium sisters heard the singing and slunk off to join the march.  the tenuous trickle became a refugee river.  we no longer had to recruit parenthesis which was good because we ran out of freedom pheromone sacks close parenthesis.  our squad of wee-toos watched from an overhanging bush as former slaves abandoned their jobs and crept away.  soon all we saw were groups of red hats wandering around aimlessly.  they were starving.  by the time they realized that their labor force had absconded it was too late.  they had no energy to give chase.  starvation was made worse because the last of the tetramoriums emptied the storerooms – they believed they were going on a picnic.  the next day, the few strongylognathus still alive were collapsed on their backs groaning, ‘i am so hungry, feed me, feed me’.  

we gathered up as many red hats from the dying colony as our squad could carry and headed for home.  passing by the emancipated tetramoriums we noticed they were hard at work creating a new queen.  they would be ok… for a while.  

  1. the alliance

boss, our counterintelligence operation against the strongylognathus was perhaps the most effective implementation of active measures ever.  we exterminated an entire colony of inquilinists who never knew what hit them until it was too late. but our work wasn’t done. the queen wanted to guarantee that our colony would never fall prey to inquilinist spies who would pour into our community and attack us with fake pheromones.  we needed a preemptive offense.  we needed higher powers.  we needed powerful allies. we needed… diplomacy.  

the trick to diplomacy is to get different species to cooperate, because it is in their self-interest to do so, without one party being eaten by the other.  it is called symbiosis and is more common among animals and plants than your scientists can ever imagine.  the queen commanded me to create a symbiosis that would rid our country of all species of slave raiders. 

i went in search the notorious ‘ant-bane’, aka colaptes auratus, to see if we could strike a deal.  this was dangerous.  northern flickers eat ants all day long. i hid behind a leaf at his roost and spoke him with my gravelly disembodied man-voice.  it is a favorite trick of mine.  when folks hear a voice in the woods, they assume it is god talking. we worked out a deal in which his flock would look for a circle of red hats in the grass. in the middle of the target he would find a colony of tasty strongylognathus which they would tear apart and then feast on the inhabitants.  in return for this highly specific market research, he was to stay away from the environs of the persimmon tree wherein we reside.  

this is working.  we have exterminated all species of slave raiders within a week’s march.  that is as far as we can march carrying all those red hats.  boss, i may ask you for a ride on the golf cart so we can extend our geobiological hegemony to parts unknown. let me know if you want to join this symbiotic community.  there may be something in it for you in the way of greater lepidopteran chrysalis survivorship if we protect them from parasitic ichneumon wasps.  you decide. being so smart, you probably don’t have anything as stupid as a bunch of red-hatted homo sapiens carrying children off to cages or brain washing your neighbors with indoctrination chants.  but if you should chance upon this, i suggest a dose of diplomacy.  because it appears that walls are an evolutionary dead end.  

factually reported and respectfully submitted as per agreement by 

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cindi camponotus,

official holly point farm investigative reporter

Author: Posted by Dead Mules