Tuesday 1 September 2015

Short Story 2015, Third Prize Himanshu Goel

Paraponera Clavata

“I could have been home in my blanket watching ‘True Detective’ but instead I’m stuck here in the middle of this merde! jungle.” Emma Marceau screamed it out somehow, which wasn’t easy in her present condition.
Emma and her husband Robert Sharma were in a camp in the rainforests of Nicaragua. Robert was an entomologist, his wife wasn’t perfectly fond of insects. The bumpy ride in the Jeep to get here didn’t help things either.

“Emma, you know this is my chance to get some work done. If I can find the specimens I need for my research it could be revolutionary in entomology. Besides this place isn’t so bad, we have clean sheets and decent food, you really can’t get better than this in expeditions. “Robert replied as he studied his journal consisting of diagrams of various specimens.
“I don’t like this place, and this pitiful excuse for a camp is making me claustrophobic.” She curled herself up in their small tent.

He knew it was a bad decision bringing her along, maybe if she took some interest in his work then she would have behaved differently. He decided it was time that he did something to spark up her interest.
“Come on, we are going outside.” He pushed her back upright. “You won’t get claustrophobic in a forest”.
“The guide isn’t even here right now” reluctantly she got up helped by the push of her husband. ”Alright, alright I’ll come.”
The jungle never failed to impress Robert, wilderness untouched by humans, yet.
“I know a place you will love. It’s not far from our research base.”
He helped her traverse the forest, it wasn’t easy to walk in forest full of poisonous leaves and fruits, but they were wearing Biopro suits protecting them against poisonous intruders but one can never be sure in a jungle like this.

She did love the place, sprinkles of shades of every kind graced this part of the forest, something only nature can fabricate. A smooth rock there seemed to invite them to settle themselves down.
“I knew you would love it.” He said as they settled down. “We have two hours before it gets dark”.
“Maybe this place isn’t so bad” She said as she leaned on to him. For a moment the thoughts of insects seemed to disappear from her mind.

“Pass me the Bisleri, Robbie”.
As she reached out to grab the bottle she swatted an ant away from her hand and it landed in front of Robert. He noticed the ant for a few seconds and suddenly grabbed her hand.
“Honey, we need to go. NOW!” He supported his disoriented wife to her feet, she had never seen him so shocked.
“I’ll explain when we are back safe in our camp” He rushed her back up, walking swiftly through the muddy forest.
She wanted to know what had got him so tensed but followed him without inquiry, the terror on his face was genuine.
‘AHH! I think I bumped into something” her feet hit something in the mud.
“We don’t have time for this baby” but curiosity got the better of Emma and she rolled over the mass with her shoes.
Her hand holding his went cold and clenched tighter.

“Robbie, Robbie!” He turned around and looked down at the dead body covered completely in mud, his worst fears were confirmed. The couple looked down at the disfigured body, it appeared to be a young male from the area but it was impossible to recognise any features or make any assumptions. The face was mutilated and swelled beyond recognition, dozen bite marks with blood pouring out thickly from the cuts. The right shoulders and arms were bulging making an ugly contrast with his left side. Whatever did this was satisfied with the face and half a torso. 

“I want you to listen to me carefu-“
“Who did this, what can do-“Emma screeched out barely able to stand still.
 “Calm down, okay! I need you to calm down.” He talked to her as he observed the body carefully examining the bite marks.
“Paraponera clavata, more commonly known as bullet ant. One of the deadliest creatures in the world, one bite can cause 24 hours of unbearable pain and bulging of the wound area. This man seems to have been bit by a whole nest of them, must have died instantly after a dozen bites. He isn’t from our research camp, might be a local gathering supplies.”

“Mon dieu! The ant on my hand.” she realised the reason behind the look of terror in his eyes.
“I don’t understand, can insects be vicious like that, butcher a living breathing person?” She turned her face away from the desecrated corpse.
“No, normally they won’t.” he stumbled. “Bullet ants are found in very few places in the world, Nicaragua is one of them. We took samples from a nest not far from here, I didn’t know the ants would be intelligent enough to notice. We shouldn’t have messed with this jungle, we have put everyone here at risk” he grabbed her hand firmly. ”Our lives are at risk”.
 Hundred metres from the corpse a bullet ant was lingering in the mud, slowly creeping up towards the pair. 

 “We can’t run now, that will alert the ants even more.” The ant was a few steps away from Emma, releasing a pheromones trail for others to find him.” We will need to walk carefully and quickly.” It climbed on her boots, it sent out an infrasonic signal to call out the others. ”Don’t panic if you see them, the more they see you move the more dangerous they will be.” The ant climbed through her suit towards her neck, that’s when the couple saw the little devil ant creeping on her neck.
She went still, more still than she had ever been in her life. She remained rooted to the spot unable to move a muscle, imagining her body swollen like that man’s.

Robert rolled up a sleeve over his hand, slowly moving towards the ant. “Stay still, don’t make a noise, don’t breathe.” Slowly his sleeve covered hand was approaching the ant, he knew one wrong move and it could have been… he couldn’t even bring himself to imagine the horror.
Away from the couple a colony of ants were walking on the trail left by the ant that had sent the signal, dozens of ants swarming like a black cloud in the muddy green of the earth.
He squeezed the ant in his fingers till he could feel the insect squish under the pressure. It’s just an insect he thought, a deadly insect set out to kill everyone.

They slowly picked themselves up and began walking towards the camp, every step more careful than the one before. Robert looked back and saw the black swarm of ants advancing towards them, the ant he squished was leaving a trail of pheromones for its companions to follow. It took him a second to realise what the black swarm was.

“Remember I said slow and steady”
“Well, we’ll have to run, RIGHT NOW!” he grabbed her elbow and pushed her to run.
“But—“she saw the black swarm. They darted through the murky forest as fast as they could. The black cloud of killer ants was gaining momentum and would soon outreach them.
“THERE! The pool will slow them down.” The pool as he called it was a huge muddy puddle off-track from the way towards the camp.
They sprinted for their lives towards the pool, the swarm reaching closer by the second.
“We’ll need to jump.”
They were two feet away from the edge and the swarm a few feet away from them.

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