It didn’t start with an atomic war; it didn’t start with bodies crawling out from the earth. It wasn’t Captain Tripps, from some Stephen King novel. It certainly wasn’t some government fuck up that caused the release of some black cell virus. Honestly, I wouldn’t give the government that much credit.
When the zombie apocalypse started, it began with ants.
Sounds stupid, right? Wait, though; hear me out, and I promise it will all make sense. Our records are understandably a bit shady, but here’s how it happened as best as we can tell:
In the waning months of 2014, “Ant Killer Pro!” was released to the market of consumers on late night television for the “Low, Low Price!” of 29.99. It guaranteed to not only kill ants, but to leave a residue that would keep them away from your home forever. FOREVER! MONEY BACK GUARANTEE!
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
Not only would it keep ants away from your home forever, but the other pests that preyed on them or ate their bodies- spiders, flies and the like- would also consume the toxin and NEVER- EVER- COME BACK!
Now, I want you to keep that in mind for a moment. I’m going to tell you another story, and then we’ll get back to the ants.
I want you to imagine a little girl. Make her look any way that you want her to: blond hair, black hair; white, Chinese, black. It doesn’t matter; just make sure that she’s a little girl. Now, imagine that Little Girl’s parents aren’t too well off. They’re a young couple, and while they do their best to be frugal and buy cheap, they still find it hard to make ends meet. Like most young parents starting out, though, they can’t resist a bargain. After all, most parents know that Pampers are better than Huggies, but if you can get 33% more Huggies diapers at two- thirds the price? That’s a no brainer.
With that mindset, it’s easy to understand why Little Girl’s parents chose to eat where they ate one average afternoon: a somewhat seedy, hole in the wall Japanese joint that was advertising Asian chicken wings at five cents apiece. Little Girl’s parents were stoked at their good fortune. Lunch dates were luxuries that they couldn’t really afford, but at five cents a wing? That they could do; that was a bargain.
The family of three had a grand time. They ordered thirty wings, and managed to eat twenty one of them between them. Mommy and Daddy even went so far as to splurge on a happy hour beer at $2.50, which they shared. The remaining nine wings were wrapped up in tin foil made to look like a swan, meant to be enjoyed as a late night snack later that evening. It was a wonderful day filled with laughter and the almost forgotten sense that the problems of today weren’t so bad; tomorrow would be better, for sure. Little Girl had been on her best behavior, and that had allowed Mommy and Daddy a brief reprieve to feel young and carefree again.
What Mommy and Daddy didn’t know was that the chicken wings weren’t chicken wings; they were pigeon wings. And not just any type of pigeon; they were dirty, city pigeons. The type of pigeons that had already managed to survive any number of poisons and traps laid out by local exterminators; pigeons that had survived every assault, shrugging off the effects of the inept trappers and bulking up their avian immune systems every day. The one trap that they couldn’t avoid?
The owners of a seedy Japanese restaurant in a seedy neighborhood that advertised chicken wings at five cents apiece.
The bait that the owners used? Tempura puffs laced with arsenic, strychnine, and a variety of other flavorful poisons that hailed from the land of the Rising Sun. The pigeons ate’em up in droves, and died with little bird smiles on their beaks while they shit their innards out. A daily gathering, a quick plucking of feathers by an experienced hand, and into the fryer they went.
Now here-here- Late Night Buyer, is where our stories converge.
Having eaten their fill of fried pigeon, Little Girl and her parents returned to the small apartment that they rented. The neighborhood was a bit run down, but Little Girl’s parents had done their research. They were poor, not stupid, and had found a friendly- if somewhat dilapidated- complex within walking distance of the local military base. Filled with mostly military guys in their early twenties, the complex could get a bit noisy at times, but all of the residents were friendly enough. And besides, Little Girl’s parents must have thought, we’re surrounded by soldiers; can’t get much safer than this, right?
Little Girl’s stomach was full as she labored up the stairs to their little apartment, bloated to the point of pain. She didn’t say anything, though, because she didn’t want to ruin The Good Day. She was holding Mommy’s finger, using it to assist her up the stairs. Mommy was patient about it because she couldn’t pick Little Girl up; her right arm was full of the carryout bag from lunch.
Little Girl misplaced a step, canting to the side and almost stumbling as she heard a cheerful cry from Daddy. Daddy had walked ahead of them, walking easily up the stairs with her monkey face backpack slung over his shoulder. Shocked as she was by the abrupt crow, Little Girl liked the sound. Daddy was great at everything- He loved her and played with her, and she loved and played right back- but he didn’t laugh very often. He spent more time worrying about his friend Bill, and how he was going to pay him.
As she crested the final stair, Little Girl saw the object of Daddy’s sudden happiness: a small brown box covered in labels with complicated bars, sitting on the door mat to their apartment. Daddy opened it up, ruffled through the sponges of white popcorn, and came out with a metallic bottle covered in letters. Little Girl didn’t know this, but the label proudly proclaimed “Ant Killer Pro!”
$29.99 was a lot to spend for Mommy and Daddy, but this stuff was the best! What Mommy and Daddy didn’t know was that- if things had stayed the same- the product would have been recalled in the first few months, with nothing more to show for it but a handful of lawsuits involving cancer and radiation poisoning. They’d made the splurge, though, deeming it necessary. Old and run down as it was, their apartment had an ant problem. Little Girl was covered in ant bites from the waist down; red, angry things that she scratched bloody no matter how much Mommy trimmed her nails.
But Daddy was happy, and that made Little Girl happy. He wasted no time twisting the nozzle, and began spraying the toxic poison around the floor boards and corners where the ants had a tendency to congregate in their meandering lines. It had been a Good Day, and despite her aching stomach- the lining of which had begun to erode- Little Girl went to bed easily that night while Mommy and Daddy gnawed at the cold take out that they had brought home with them.
Little Girl’s belly felt much better the next day; she couldn’t feel it at all, in fact. But she was bored, and boredom was far, far worse than pain. Mommy and Daddy were both home from work, and she was exploring the small balcony that served as her backyard. Little Girl didn’t mind the small enclosure; to the contrary, she liked the porch. It was her play place. It was a bit crowded on that day, though.
Like most young couples in their first apartment, Mommy and Daddy had a tendency to put tied bags of trash on the balcony. The black community dumpsters were simply too far away to walk down all those stairs. Little Girl didn’t mind that her space had been invaded; it was quite the opposite. The tied generic Glad bag had produced a new curiosity. A corner of the cheap plastic had torn open, letting some of the trash fall out, most relevant of which was a handful of pigeon wing bones that had been consumed under the guise of chicken wings. Even better than that, though? There was a thick line of ants working their way back and forth across the floor to the half gnawed bones.
Unlike most children, Little Girl loved ants. I couldn’t have told you why, and she probably couldn’t have, either. But the myriad bite marks on her legs that so concerned Mommy and Daddy? They weren’t from being bitten while sleeping in the comfort of her own bed; they were because Little Girl would stuff handfuls of ants into her pockets when Mommy and Daddy weren’t looking. Once again, I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe she wanted to bring them home; maybe she wanted pets that Mommy and Daddy couldn’t provide.
But that day on the porch, the ants were something else; something a little different than she was accustomed to seeing. They were bloated, bigger than normal, and their tiny march was much faster than usual as they swarmed back and forth over the desiccated pigeon bones. Little Girl was immediately entranced, and reached a pudgy hand out to pluck a few up and place them in the safe confines of her pocket for later examination.
From what we understand from rumor, though, is that these weren’t normal ants anymore. What the infomercials for “Ant Killer Pro!” never mentioned to the consumer was that- in the first day after consumption- these tiny, itty bitty bugs became aggressive enough to put Africanized bees to shame.
To the best of my knowledge we don’t have much in the way of scientists anymore, but the general consensus from news mongers in those last few days of civilization was that the chemicals killing the ants somehow combined with the poisons on the scraps of flesh clinging to the pigeon bones. Those toxins merged. There was a reaction, and then there was an infection.
As Little Girl reached her hand down the trail of ants didn’t respond as it should have. The line didn’t scatter in a thousand different directions, leaving her to grasp her reaching fingers at the few that she could grasp. No; the ants attacked her.
They swarmed over Little Girl, climbing up her stocking legs faster than she could shriek. I’d imagine that she jumped up and down, trying to shake them off, but- one way or the other- she eventually ran from the patio and into the concerned arms of Mommy and Daddy. Her parents did their best to brush the ants off, I’m sure, but did nothing but provide a living bridge to the mindless, poisoned creatures swarming over their daughter. The tiny insects ran across their joined arms, biting, stinging; injecting the random and unforeseen composition of poison and venom into their bare skin.
Mommy and Daddy would follow the same course as Little Girl, but Little Girl is the one that could- by scientific terms- be called “Patient Zero;” the rough equivalent to Typhoid Mary.Little Girl’s name was Maggie, and she was almost four years old.