by Ben Yekelchik
They move like ants. Up and down and back up again, scurrying into their hiding holes with some purpose I never know. Each one of them wears a green bowl turned upside down with black straps securing their head snug into position. Their green coats and slacks, a size too large, flap in the wind.
The ants stomp around in the mud, hoisting their large sticks to their shoulders. Clutching their sticks so firmly I can see their white knuckles shine, they lean their heads forward, close one of their eyes, and boom goes their sticks as smoke floods out. And just as quickly they duck back down into their hiding hole.
In the distance I hear a roar, one of those bigger sticks they have working constantly; they never seem to stop, like they don’t need sleep. I brace for the explosion that always comes — sometimes it hits the ants and sometimes it doesn’t. But there is always that eerie silence that follows. Everything stops in these moments: the trees stop swishing from side to side, the wind stops swirling around and around, and all the ants seem to freeze in place, their heads turned away. It seems like this moment hangs for an eternity. I barely feel like I’m moving, but just as quickly as I make this realization, everything returns back to normal. The trees begin moving their green heads around, the wind enters my ears with a rush, and the ants commence to scurry.
Flying along one of the rifts the ants had built, I hear flashes of conversation between the ants.
“Weather’s the same today, huh?”
“Orders of the day just arrived from HQ.”
“Send a message to the third calvary requesting a report.”
Nobody seemed to pay any attention to me. They remained focused on the horizon, looking out of their large hole with squinted eyes, discerning something that was invisible. The black rings around their eyes made them look like they were bulging out, as if they were trying to escape and run away to some distant place.
I push out my gray arms as the wind hits me from the back, pushing me ever higher. The paper attached to my leg ripples in the wind as I peer out towards the treenline, where a familiar group of withered trees lay close to the ants. There could have been no more than 4 trees huddled together, so close yet so far from the rest of the forest. Their black branches twist and contort from their charred bodies, like they’re reaching out in a shared agony, pleading for me to lift them up and take them with me. But I know that could never happen. Their roots had bound them to their fate a long time ago.
I could see I was approaching my destination — a hilltop lying far behind the antholes. Landing in my metal home, a piece of bread sat waiting for me, which I attacked eagerly. I heard the stomps of the boots of one of the ants as they approached me. Taking my leg, they undid the red string that held the paper. Glancing over the paper, the ant scrunched their eyebrows before quickly pulling out a different piece of paper from a stack laying on a table nearby. Scribbling something down on the paper, they folded it and rolled it up, which they proceeded to tie to my leg, this time with a black string. Taking me by the legs, I was released back outside, pointed towards the way I came. I heard a rumbling boom in the distance followed by a few quieter booms. Letting out a misty breath in the cold air, I lifted myself slowly off the ground, flapping back towards the antholes.