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Empress of Ants
At eight, I was an empress; dominating civilization isn’t hard when your subjects are ants.
It started when my friend Shani and I would play out at recess. We would often discover ant hills and be fascinated by their tiny habitats. We wanted something like that for our own. One recess, Shani and I found an ant on a dandelion and decided to keep it. We kept Dandelion in a water bottle cap we found. It was stocked with minimal sand, grass blades, and a droplet of water (leftover residue from the water bottle itself).
The tiny habitat raised suspicion among my classmates, and a brunette freckled girl whose name I can’t remember whined, “Mrs. Wright! Gretchen brought an ant inside!” Mrs. Wright seemed apathetic to me bringing an ant inside; she was probably thinking it was the better option as opposed to what I could have brought in if I emulated the actions of classmates before me with dead birds and denim pockets filled with caterpillars fresh from cotton nests. I kept Dandelion inside of my desk where pencils were to be placed (to ensure he didn’t misbehave). But within the hour, Dandelion had escaped to somewhere in the depths of my messy desk regardless.
At home, my fascination with ants grew. I began settlements in barren locations with no ants to be found. I would move collected ants I scooped up from other ant hills to the new locations all of nationalities: red ants, brown ants, and black ants. I imagined they were the orders of the Queen to go and search for new land. Most would wander off, but if you kept a close enough eye on them, they’d eventually settle and start piling together a new home. Then I could start maintenance work. I dug trenches around the settlements to make sure thunderstorms wouldn’t turn it into a lost civilization (I had not considered that the flood-catchers wouldn’t capture ALL of the rain water). I gently coaxed weeds to surrender from the soft dirt in the yard. They were replanted in the blank dirt for aesthetic purposes as well as to provide shelter. If it was mid-spring, I pinched the ends of honeysuckle, pooling it into tiny orbs of sweet nectar supply for the hill. On occasion I could collect sap from tiny bruises on trees and add that to the pile. At some point the ants would get sick, and I would appoint a Shaman to be in charge of creating cures with juniper berries, wild onion, and juice from flowers. Shops opened up and trade began booming. It expanded to trade routes to other colonies, including the red dirt hills that were steps away for me, but dangerous journeys for the ants. Being the kind leader I was, I would allow ants to ride back and forth between the trade routes to make their living.
The economy was simple: I created a barter economy between the multiple settlements, which was later changed into an economy based on rocks as currency. The rocks came from the remains of what used to be a gravel driveway. The leftover rocks lined each side of the pavement. The best ones were buried beneath the dirt. I created quarries where the rocks could be harvested. It was then when the difference between anthill social classes emerged. I helped ants from smaller colonies to dig from their quarries to save time and collect money needed for tax time (in accordance to the laws of the Queen). I imagined the ants were beginning to get quite sick of paying money to the Queen. Some colonies would give their harvest as opposed to rock currency, but it would deplete their own storage of supplies. Soon the ants of the settlements began to plot (except for the larger ones that sat on large quarries and could afford to pay the taxes with ease). Uprisings began in the strip of brick sidewalk where the Motherland was, and larger hills mysteriously collapsed. Eventually the colonies were given their freedom, and power was surrendered to me, the new Empress of the Ant Colonies.
One afternoon after school, my dad came home from work. He got out of his white Buick and walked towards me, squinting. He asked what I was doing.
“Playing with ants,” I said.
He snorted. “I don’t understand why you’re so fascinated with ants,” said my father, “they’re not that exciting.”
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