His mother shook her head when he suggested the idea.
“Ants love picnics,” Eric insisted, “and they’ve never been to one.”
“Okay, smart guy,” his mother said with a laugh. “Just be careful you keep the top on.”
Eric bolted to his room, grabbed his ant farm, and ran out to the van, holding his pet insects close to his body with both arms. He liked to take his ants outside as often as he could. Because they had always lived in those tunnels of dirt between glass, Eric imagined they liked to see the grass and flowers where other ants lived.
After they arrived at the park and his parents had set up the picnic, Eric opened a can of pop and sat on the corner of the blanket with his ant farm, watching his insects. By the time the food was unwrapped, however, Eric saw a handful of wild ants marching toward the family’s meal.
His grandfather took off a sandal and started swatting the ants, but Eric interrupted before he could finish. “No! They didn’t do anything wrong!”
Eric grabbed a Dixie cup and scooped up the remaining ants, catching six of them, and brought them over to his ant farm. “Don’t worry, I’ve got a good home for you,” he said into the cup.
He carefully turned the bolt that held the top of the ant farm in place, opening a narrow slot. Eric picked up the Dixie cup and slid the few ants into the encased dirt, then turned the bolt to lock it. “Here’s some friends for you,” he said to the little colony.
Within seconds, he saw two dozen colony ants working their way forward. The newcomers were still bunched together, when the colony surrounded them on both sides and attacked. Eric didn’t have time to react before the new ants had been swarmed and killed, their bodies left atop the dirt while his old ants dug their way back down.
Eric’s mother always warned him to stay away from certain places, because he “wouldn’t be welcome.” He finally understood what she meant.
Jeff Fleischer is a Chicago-based author, journalist and editor. His fiction is most recently published in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row literary journal, Steam Ticket Third Coast Review, Pioneertown, Zoetic Press Non-Binary Review, and Indiana Voice Journal. He is also the author of non-fiction books including Rockin’ the Boat: 50 Iconic Revolutionaries (Zest Books, 2015), the civics book Votes of Confidence (Zest Books, 2016), and The Latest Craze: A Short History of Mass Hysterias (Fall River Press, 2011). He is a veteran journalist published in Mother Jones, the New Republic, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, Mental_Floss, National Geographic Traveler, and dozens of other local, national, and international publications.