In a rotted greenhouse deep in the overgrowth of The Girl’s yard, ants march in lightning bolt single file. With her video camera, battery long dead, she tracks the line of creatures, narrating with her best nature documentary voice.
“Some children,” The Girl says, “but not me, fear ants. Ants are marvelous. They live in big families, called colonies, and always work together.”
The Mother, moving a blanket of kudzu aside, steps out of their home and into the forest of their backyard, shouting for her daughter. The Girl, grown accustomed to the temperamental behavior of her parents since the solar flares began, has learned to tune out the sound of her parental unit and continues to track the ant line uninterrupted.
The Girl says, “I once saw a video, before the power outages, of ants forming a ball so they could float like a raft to survive a flood.” The Girl reaches for a small baby food jar, and inside are two ants circling the glass. “These two are special and must be kept separated from the others.”
The Mother’s voice cracks like thunder as it beckons for The Girl once more. The Girl pauses her camera, sits it and the baby food jar on the greenhouse floor, and slinks towards the calls of The Mother. The Mother stands knee-deep in overgrowth, wearing the same browning nightgown she’s been wearing for weeks.
The Girl follows The Mother into the darkness of their home. All the kerosene lamps and candles have been extinguished, and the curtains have been drawn. It reminds The Girl of predator dens.
The Father hunches over the kitchen island with his back turned to them. He sobs in fits and starts.
“Honey,” The Mother’s voice is like a dried-out riverbed, “your father and I have been talking…”
The Father chokes on snot and tears. The Girl asks The Father if he is all right, but he does not answer. The Mother continues, but The Girl doesn’t register what she says. Instead, her eyes are drawn to The Father, now walking towards them, and his waterlogged face. In his hands are two red glasses. The Father places the glasses on the kitchen table, and The Mother takes a seat, motioning for her daughter to do the same.
The Girl asks The Mother what is in the glass.
“It’s going to fix everything,” The Mother assures her.
The Father chokes on tears. The Girl looks to him, hoping his face will reveal some answers, but none are there. The Girl reaches for the red glass and brings it to her nose. She inhales deeply. The contents are bittersweet and remind her of the soil she often digs through for earthworms after a hard rain.
The Girl returns the glass to the table and pushes it towards The Mother. The Mother pounces, shoving the glass back towards The Girl, demanding she drink. The Mother’s lizard-like stare made The Girl’s spine do a dance.
“It will make everything right as rain.”
“It’ll fix the sun? Fix me?” The Girl asks.
The Mother nods.
“Is this because of what…happened…to the others?” The Girl asks. “Mr. Feldermen? Grammy and Grampy?”
The Mother insists that this is not the case, but her eyes betray her.
“It was an accident,” The Girl pleads, “I meant to separate them from the rest. I have the special ones separated now.”
“We don’t blame you. Do we, hun?” The Mother turns to The Father, but he does not meet her gaze. Instead, he springs from the table, darting towards the kitchen island, where a third glass sits. He brings the glass to his mouth and throws it back without hesitation.
The Mother screams before rushing for her husband.
The Girl looks to The Father. His eyes are ancient and parental, and they communicate without words. The Girl flees from her chair. She rushes out the door and makes for the greenhouse. Her sanctuary.
A blood-curdling scream emanates from the house, ricocheting off the trees before settling as a hum in The Girl’s inner ear. The Girl looks to the ants she keeps in the baby jar, and they’re no longer orbiting. One lies on its back, shriveling into itself. The other is pacing hysterically.
The door to the greenhouse explodes open, and The Mother looms in the entrance, gripping the red glass tightly in hand.
“We are going to drink…together…”
The Girl’s back becomes tree-like rigid, and she shouts, “No!”
“Drink!” The Mother leaps towards her offspring, grabbing hold of The Girl, trying to force the glass to her daughter’s lips. The Girl swats the glass, sending it crashing to the ground. Glass shrapnel assaults mother and daughter but neither registers the pain.
The Girl, baby food jar still in hand, crawls past The Mother and runs to the far corner of the yard, where she takes a seat in the dirt and the kudzu.
The Girl does on purpose what she had done before by accident. She thinks of The Mother and the ant still alive in the jar. She imagines the two creatures forever tethered by an invisible psychic strand, and once the connection has been made, The Girl crushes the frantic ant between her thumb and the glass bottom of the jar. The popping squeeeeench sound the breaking body produced sends tingles of satisfaction racing up The Girl’s jawline.
The Girl registers the meaty thud in the greenhouse followed by pregnant silence.
The Girl observes another line of ants in the dirt, long and winding, passing a grain of food like communion.
She pictures the ants and the surviving entirety of humanity in her mind’s eye. She imagines the two groups tethered before taking her thumb, pushing down hard, and raking across the line, ending their world in carnage.
One by one.