DULOSIS

Winner of the 2012 Lit POP! Fiction Award

Transcribed from:
Beaulieu, Braydon. “Dulosis.” Matrix Magazine (2012): 29–31. Print.

I scramble over dry leaves and eroding pistachio shells in the cracks between patio stones. The concrete is cool from the autumn breeze and its dust clings underneath my tarsal claws. A thin grey film. All stones pepper away through the passing seasons, like dandelions. Locks of hair. Seashells I stole from a surf shop in Morocco. I smuggle my plunder back on a wide white boat and hide it in the cherry wood chest under my bed, in the linen closet, in my backyard shed. Scurry back out into the chill to check for more treasure.

Mulch and moss cling to my claws. The stones smell of beer spills and alfalfa.

My promenade leads me to a sugar trail. I trace it and find a muscular ochre ant with yellow mandibles dragging a dead spider beneath the sunbathing chair by the pool. She does not smell like the patio stones, but of pumpkin latte and tobacco. She cannot smell me. I rolled in the moss and mulch to eradicate any lingering orange peels and pistachio. That and the carcass of another dead ant. Whose home will be the source of this week’s meals. Mmmmm.

I follow this juicehead as she lugs her loot home for the family. Look at those savage jaws. So unclean. Yellow-brown mottle. I wonder if her collection agency offers dental coverage. This redneck probably brushes her teeth with dip. Nicotine suds foaming into the sink. I imagine her name is Billie Jean or Annabelle or Marylou or Bobby Jo Hutchins. While she’s busy with her labour, I sneak in close and chew the face off the spider. Tastes like salty peanuts.

Bobby Jo Hutchins leads me right to her nest, which is about one inch tall and made of the finest tour grade sand. The crows on my stowaway boat were always cawing about different sands for their below-deck bunker shots. Needs to be soft enough to swallow the egg a bit, but be firm enough to dig into. And pretty, too. White like cocaine. Or clean teeth. Bobby Jo stops at the base of the hill and tidies a few stray grains. Before I follow her down into the tunnels, I kick more sand back across the patio.

Nice place. The walls are smooth and the floor has been carved into a cobblestone pattern. Classy, like I’m walking down the streets of Paris or Dijon. Maybe I should light up a cigarette, hop on my Vespa, and head to the boulangerie for some baguettes and café au lait. I could call everyone mon cher and kiss them on both cheeks and visit Mona Lisa once a week and piss in the Seine when I’m drunk. In Chaucer, ants are referred to as pissemyres because of their urine smell. I don’t smell of urine. We have running water and lavender body wash these days.

Step one: light up a cigarette.

Step two: look inconspicuous. Take a couple drags, check your watch. Bend over to tie your shoe. Hotwire the red scooter and putter-putter off.

Step three: park, dismount, and strut into the boulangerie.

The whole place smells of bread crumbs and chocolate chips. The boulangerie’s been decorated with framed photos of opening day in 1884, reopening after the fire in 1933, serving Celine Dion in 2001. A group of large cinnamon-red ants sits at a table with their legs tucked under the checkerboard tablecloth, in heated debate over the superiority of Olympique Lyonnais to Paris Saint-Germain. The small black ant at the counter dries mugs and twists her antennae at the argument. Her mandibles twitch. This wispy thing, she could never be a queen.

“Je voudrais un café au lait et un croissant, s’il vous plaît,” I tell her.

“Naturel, fromage, chocolat?”

“Naturel, s’il vous plaît. Avec du beurre.”

“Américain?”

“Canadien.”

“Your French is very good,” she says. She takes my croissant naturel out of the display with a set of stainless steel tongs and puts it in a stainless steel Häcker oven. “Take a seat. Je vais vous l’apporter quand c’est fini. Deux minutes, okay?”

A newspaper beckons me from the table beside mine. Its headlines read “TROIS TUÉ PAR BÂTONNETS AU FROMAGE EMPOISONNÉ” and “PSG NEUTRALISE OL AVEC VICTOIRE 2-0” and “NOVEMBRE INFILTRATION DU COLONIE 569-A76-788F2S-33239-Z8: Reine dit, ‘Nous devons renforcer notre population active’” and I swipe the headlines from the table, instead of from my neighbour’s porch or a grocery store checkout line.

Two tables over, the big red ants are using salt and pepper shakers to re-enact plays from the PSG-OL game. One of them turns to me and asks, “Vôtre salière et poivrière?”

I hand over my shakers and continue reading today’s Le 569-A76-788F2S-33239-W9 Gazette. The barista comes around the counter to their table. One by one, they open their mandibles and she regurgitates banana nut muffin crumbs into their maws. Trophallaxis. Goddamn disgusting. I call her over once they’ve gone back to their salt-and-pepper soccer.

“I’ll take mine on a plate, s’il vous plaît. Une assiette.”

She nods and the oven chimes. My croissant naturel à la 569-A76-788F2S-33239-W9. Served on a blue plate with butter in an eggcup, and a white mug of café au lait. Mmmmm.

The cinnamon-red ants’ play-by-play bores me, so I read the piece on the poison victims. The other piece is on war. Screw that. There’s enough war on television, don’t need to read about it too. The cinnamon brutes stand up; I lay the paper down on my table and call after them.

“Eh, aren’t you guys going to leave a tip?”

 Two of them look confused. “Morton?” they ask their third.

Morton translates. Another red ant in the corner lowers his spectacles. Morton’s friends crack their tarsi and sniff. The barista hides behind the counter. I hear the lock click in the register. Morton steps forward and says, “When was the last time you ever tipped one of the raid children?”

“Right. Sorry. Forgot my manners.”

Morton’s antennae narrow, but he turns and throws his legs around his friends’ shoulders. One of them takes a drink out of a silver flask on the way out. The barista sits at my table and says, “You’re not from this colony, are you? You smell like you are, but you’re not.”

“You could tell?”

She swigs from a mug of chai latte and thumbs crumbs into her mouth. Her thousands of ommatidia dull in the darkness of the tunnels. She asks, “How did you get in?”

I roll the paper up and tuck it under one of my forelegs. “I killed one of the red ants earlier and rolled myself in what was left of the carcass.”

Step one: bait the prey by impaling a maggot on a rose thorn. Snap the end of the thorn to act as a barb. Fan the writhing, faceless thing’s putrid scent toward the patio with a petal.

Step two: hide.

Step three: wait until the prey attempts to remove the maggot. Approach from behind (beware of reflective surfaces). Pounce. Bury your mandibles into the flesh between the prey’s head and thorax. Throttle until dead.

Step four: chew the prey open, lengthwise.

Step five: roll yourself in the prey’s carcass. Congratulations! You’ve taken on another colony’s scent.

“That’s disgusting,” she says.

“So’s not tipping your waitress, but those gingersnaps got away with that. What’s their deal, anyway? Raid children?”

She says, “Didn’t you read that paper?”

“The article about the cheese puff poisoning.”

I chew this clipping from Le 569-A76-788F2S-33239-W9 Gazette:

NOVEMBRE INFILTRATION DE LA COLONIE 569-A76-788F2S-33239-Z8

Reine dit, “Nous devons renforcer notre population active.”

Ce lundi, la Reine Suzanne II a annoncé l’infiltration de la colonie 596-A76-788F2S-3329-Z8. L’infiltration est prévue pour dans le courant de novembre, quand la récolte subit ses dernières étapes de stockage. L’infiltration est estimer à recruter environs 345,000 nouveaux travailleurs pour la colonie 596-A76-788F2S-3329-W9. « C’est un moment crucial dans le développement de notre culture, a dit la Reine. C’est impératif que nous ayons assez de mains-d’œuvre pour prospérer sur ce patio. » La Reine Suzanne II a aussi exprimé ses sentiments pour la dissémination de notre culture et civilisation à autre colonies. « L’espèce Polyergus est le summum du développement de la fourmi. C’est notre responsabilité d’enseigner le Formica. »

Dr Robert Chauvin (Q-7461), un professeur des études sur le travail à l’université W9, pense différemment. « Cette idée que nous sommes supérieures à nos voisins et cousins est m----. Supérieur d’abord qui ? » En 1998, Chauvin était la source de débat concernant l’homosexualité dans le royaume des insectes. L’Armée Royale a lancé son appel officiel pour l'inscription soldat deux heures après le discours de sa Majesté. La date limite pour le registre pour cette campagne honorable est le jeudi 1 novembre.

Continué sur A3

Par Frank Woodington (N-0012)

Le 569-A76-788F2S-33239-W9 Gazette

I cough on my café au lait. Those fuckers. “So that’s why you. You. You’re.”

“One of them,” says the barista. “I was taken as a larva in one of these infiltrations. Raid child. That’s me. And every other ant here who isn’t le couleur de canelle.”

“Red ant’s burden, eh?”

“Je m’excuse?”

“Never mind. Where do they keep the larvae?”

She takes my plate and empty mug behind the counter and washes them in the small sink. The water cascades over the dishes. I’ve already scavenged every crumb, but my saliva still smears their surfaces. She says, “No one except the nurses know. The pupae are accessible, though. You can’t get into their caverns, but you can slip your antennae or forelegs into these sleeves and touch the ones in the isolettes close to the incubator walls. Red soldiers guard the maternity wings.”

She closes the boulangerie and we light cigarettes and scoot on my stolen Vespa to the hospital tunnels. The air is steamy-warm here and stinks of runny dung and shaved coconut. We lean the scooter against a polished wall and walk into the incubation viewing room.

On the opposite side of the dragonfly wing window, hundreds of eggs pulse in clay isolettes.

“Dans quelques semaines, all those eggs will have – euuuu, éclos. What is the word?”

I cup my tarsi and make a motion of something falling apart. “Hatched?”

“Hatched, okay. Oui. Bientôt.”

“So doesn’t the queen just lay more eggs?”

“She can, that’s not the problem. Their species, the red ones—they can’t do anything but fight. They can’t find food or even eat it on their own. Something about their mouths. So they steal larvae who’ll grow up and do it for them.”

I stand on my back legs and slip my front four into the sleeves in the glass wall. They coat my tarsi in wet slime. Mucous-lined spiderweb sleeves. Hot new item at Gucci and Versace this season. I lift the closest pupa in my arms. The nametag on the side of her isolette reads, “Elizabeth Diane May (T-7747).” I turn her translucent body over and see two protrusions from the back of her thorax. Wings breaking through exoskeleton.

“Hey, look. This one’s going to be a queen,” I say.

The barista’s thousands of eyes widen. She presses herself against the venous dragonfly window. “Quand ils trouvent ses ailes,” she says, “ils vont la noyer dans une flaque lors de la prochaine pluie.”

“They’ll drown her in a puddle?”

“They’ll chew off her face and drown her dead, monsieur.”

Step one: find a nurse.

Step two: steal her face and keys.

Step three: stay calm. Do not shuffle your tarsi. Do not breathe audibly. Do not speak. Infiltrate the maternity ward of the anthill. Locate the isolette of Elizabeth Diane May. Unlock the isolette and wrap the baby in a towel. Cradle her in your arms and steal out. Ignore the barista when she asks, “C’est quoi ce bordel? Merde!”

Step four: scurry.

I burst out of the top of the anthill in a flurry of the finest white bunker sand, out into the sunlight. Dodge the soldier that dives at me. Skitter across the patio as L’Armée Royale pours forth from the mouth of the tunnels and swarms after me. After me and Elizabeth’s cocoon, five by five, hurrah, hurrah. Must save this pupal princess. Soldiers fill the crevices between patio stones. Moss and mulch are beaten flat beneath their tarsi.

They surround me. Strike. Rip the pupa from my legs and pin me face down on the concrete. One soldier grips my head between her mandibles. Their blades shear off a bit of skin. The soldier giggles. Squeezes harder.

Two soldiers toss Elizabeth’s cocoon back and forth, smoking cigarettes.

A general brings her face inches from mine. Her compound eyes reflect thousands of tiny Tonys, fracture me into segments. She says, “Par la puissance de Sa Majesté la Reine Suzanne II—vive la Reine!—vous êtes chargé d’enlèvement d’enfant et l’assassinat d’un fonctionnaire medical.” Her mandibles fly into a frenzy of clicks and clacks as a shadow passes over her troops behind her. “La peine encourue pour ce crime est la décapitation.”

Caw.

Caw, caw.

Albino crow swoops down and pecks the ant holding me. The lieutenant explodes in a splash of jelly and exoskeletal shrapnel. Queen Suzanne II’s general reaches for her rose thorn spear, but in a flash of white feathers and a gulping noise, she disappears. Killed in the line of duty. The other soldiers throw thorns and pebbles and walnut shells; some of them scatter. I hear harried shouts and the rustle of gargantuan wings. A distinct smell of cabernet sauvignon and piss. I think the piss emanates from dismembered ant corpses, but realise after a moment that I’ve wet myself, the stain spreading across my crotch. The leviathan’s shadow falls on me. I roll over. In its beak rests Elizabeth Diane May, pupal stage. The crow cocks its head, swallows, hops backward twice, shakes out its wings, and ascends to the clouds.

I am a pismire.

Step one: get in the shower and scrub yourself with lavender.