Part Five: Waking Up
Waking up, Terry thought something was different. He could see that the landscape before him had changed, quite considerably. He also noted that he was swinging back and forth in what, he was beginning to deduce, was a glass jar.
His deductions, having taken some time to occur, had brought him up to speed with Gwinny, who was, he also now noted, standing in front of him, shouting her head off.
“Wake up, you stupid ant, WAKE UP!”
“Er,” Terry managed. They were indeed in a glass jar, accompanied by a panic-struck stick insect, a bay leaf and some cotton wool. He tuned back into the monologue streaming from Gwinny’s mouth: “… why did you go to sleep? Now this sodding human’s packed us in a sodding jar with a sodding stick insect and a sodding bay leaf and there’s sod all we can do about it!” The honeymoon period’s over then, thought Terry, before beginning a long, confused apology.
The apology was still continuing when the swinging motion stopped and they were transferred, very carefully, by some enormous pink fingers, into a tank in a warm, dimly lit room that appeared, for some reason, to have a colourfully lit fir tree in the corner.
By now immune to further changes in circumstance, Terry and Gwinny set about exploring their new habitat, as did the still panic-stricken stick insect. “I’m sorry, Gwinny, I didn’t know I was so tired.” “Oh that’s alright, I’m equally to blame,” she relented. “Anyway, we’re here now – why don’t we have a look around?” So they did. Curiously wondering over piles of cotton wool, partially soaked in milk, further bay leaves and artfully arranged pieces of bark, they stumbled on a very surprising sight indeed. There, on a large leaf, lay the Queen and her children.
“What the…” exclaimed Terry, as the Queen looked away, whistling, and did her best to pretend she hadn’t seen them. “Wait, Terry, let’s not start a war. There’s only one tank, and we all have to share it. Let’s be the bigger ants,” said Gwinny, though the irony of who was literally the bigger ant wasn’t lost on her and she giggled despite herself. She picked up a piece of the milky cotton wool and carried it over to the Queen.
“I thought your kids, I mean, their Highnesses, might like this,” she said gently.
Not knowing how to arrange her face, the Queen said she was thankful and accepted Gwinny’s offer. Looking and feeling very contrite, she wasn’t sure what to say, but thought she’d attempt some conversation, saying “I think this human is something of a collector,” to which they all grimly nodded. Terry wasn’t quite as ready to bury the past, thought, and asked the Queen why she persecuted Talkers.
Leaning forward, fiddling with her forelimbs, she said “I understand. You need answers.” And she proceeded to explain that, generations ago, there was a brother and a sister who could talk. This ability led them to fall out: the brother thought they should try to find a way to teach the colony to talk, but the sister thought that they were the Chosen ants, and the power should stay with them. She assumed power and banished her brother to prison, but didn’t realise that he had had children, who could also talk. When she discovered he had family, she undertook to eliminate them all, but didn’t succeed. “And, generations later, I have done my best to continue her work”, then, hanging her head, she added “but I may have been gravely mistaken.”
“OK, I’ve got it. I don’t want to dwell on the past anymore ,” said Terry, “I want to think about the future, because the reality is that we are family, and I think we have a lot of mending to do. And the first step is to teach that colony to Talk.”
Gwinny thrust her head between them, dusted her shoulder theatrically, and reminded Terry that they were, more specifically, a royal family.
“So that’s what I intend on doing, as soon as I can find a way out of here” continued Terry. Looking at Gwinny, he feistily asked, “are you with me?” to which she nodded vigorously.
Turning back to the Queen, he quizzically asked, “are you with me?” at which she raised, possibly for the first time in her life, a little smile. Which turned into a big smile and, looking at her children, proudly said, “we’re with you.”
“That’s settled then! But there’s one thing I don’t get: how did your great grandmother put her brother in jail after he’d copulated? Copulation Means Extermination – we all know that.”
“Of course, you don’t know,” said the Queen, looking like she had some very good news indeed. Terry sat there rigid, eyes bulging in anticipation.
“Talkers don’t die.”
“We don’t die?”
“We... Gwinny and I… can live?”
The thought struck him not with joy, strangely, but with a slight anguish. “But all this time! I thought it was hopeless and I accepted that it would never happen. And I was prepared to die in order to do it. And now…” Terry didn’t know what to feel. The same doubt and fearful confusion that he’d felt when he met Gwinny came flooding back even stronger. “But I can’t…”, now weeping.
“Yes you can. And you will… and, frankly my dear, it will blow your mind. But,” noticing Terry’s face turning crimson, “enough of that now…”
Then quite a different doubt entered his mind: “But, my father didn’t survive – he died after copulation.”
“Ah, I heard about that – natural causes, Terence. He died of a heart attack.”
“It’s Terry,” he muttered, abstractedly, as he looked at the fire place, and then at Gwinny, bathed in the amber glow of the flames and heard the humans shout something that sounded like Happy Christmas, before bursting into a rather pretty song about some merry gentlemen. He felt merry indeed, now, actually, very merry indeed…
Images artfully crafted by Catalin Ardeleanu.