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THE FIRST ONE by Michael Wade

I got the digging part off the Internet. You can use spray or bait, but I don’t use poison on my land if I can help it. I read how in Texas they just dig ’em and fling ’em. You want a big sharp shovel. You go out a morning with no wind, before it gets hot and they get too active, and you slide the shovel right up under the hill. 

Then you fling the whole thing downwind, hard as you can. Let it fly apart. See, when they get separated from the queens, they just run around like fools til they die. And that takes care of that hill. 

Anyhow. I don’t want you to say nothing to nobody about the rest of this, T-Dot. All right?

This morning I’m down at the dam end of the pond and there’s the biggest nest I’ve seen. The hill was two foot high or more, three foot around. It’d take three or four shovels full to get it and after the first one I knew they’d be riled. I’d need to move quick.

I slide that shovel under and lift.

There was a face under that nest. Bone-white. Wide as the shovel. Great big black eyes and a narrow chin and nothing but a line for a mouth. And then something like a claw, like a crab or lobster but big, comes up below the chin and rubs over that face, like it’s trying to cover itself with dirt again. That claw kept rubbing like that, feeble-like. Them eyes looking right at me. 

It won’t no Halloween mask. It won’t no skull. It won’t nothing human or made by no human. It won’t like nothing I ever seen or you ever seen, neither. Clean and alive. No ants on it.

I don’t know. What I do know is that whole time I stood there, holding the shovel and froze cold like it was January, looking at that face and that claw rubbing over it, not one single fire ant touched me. You know I shoulda been covered up. They shoulda eat me alive. Why didn’t they? What was wrong with them?

It won’t no white rock. It won’t no damn grub worms or no mole that was moving in that ground.

It’s ten o’clock in the morning, T-Dot. And you know I ain’t touched a drop in thirty years.

What’d I do? Well I laid the shovelful gentle right back over it and I got in the truck and come here.

I’m going to let it be, that’s what. I reckon it ain’t hurtin’ nothing. Though part of me thinks I should’ve hit that face with the shovel hard as I could.

Something stopped me. Scared as I was I halfway felt sorry for it, the way it tried to cover itself again with that big claw. But them eyes. They won’t like no animal, or no human. Looking right at me. I got to thinking what if I miss with the shovel. Or what if that head is hard as it looks, like bone, what then? 

I don’t know if I done right. That thing controlled them ants, somehow. They didn’t touch me. Maybe it controlled me, too. That’s what I thought, right before I covered it up, just like it wanted me to do.

I couldn’t think of nobody to tell but you. I just felt like I ought to let somebody know. Just a feeling. In case…forget it, T-Dot. 

Forget it. Forget I said anything. Now I think about it, it prob’ly was a rock, crawlin’ with ants, the sun throwin’ funny shadows. That’s prob’ly all it was.

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