I’ll try a shortstory I wrote several years back for “Mercury Silver”, our collection from 8 different authors that has so recently got a lively and sweet review from BestChickLit.
They came across the deserted farmstead some time during the morning. The Brazilian sun came down at an angle, heating the red dusty earth just enough to be strenuous. Grey stalky clumps were all that was left of the grassland. Trees stood bare and bleeding, even their bark stripped off. The flowerbeds were bare. Not a single bird perched in the trees. A scene of devastation.
They entered the house with caution. Rosa Lina Callas, her shaki field outfit prettily complementing her glossy black cascade of hair and olive skin tone, scouted ahead. Denham Wolverhampton’s pensive gaze followed her. He wasn’t quite sure whether he ought to be protecting his petite native guide.
Seconds later he knew he should have. Her scream rent through the eerie silence. Wolverhampton hurried to follow her through the house and found her in the kitchen. At least, what used to be the kitchen.
There was nothing left on those dry white bones. One of the skeletons, in disjointed pieces, lay at the door, its hand still stretched out as though trying to reach the handle. On and around the chairs in the breakfast nook lay the scattered bones of children. One was on the shelf by the window, as though trying to get to higher ground. In the pantry was the other adult – probably the mother – her bones mixed inseparably with those of the baby.
And in the middle of the floor lay the bones of the dog. Stripped clean.
A dance with death. That was what had taken place here. Rosa Lina looked up at Wolverhampton, the tall British scientist who had arrived to study what had happened to this poor family. He was an entomologist, and while the obvious evidence of terror and devastation seemed to fascinate him, he was really here to study the habits of that horrible hive – the Army Ants.
“Once they start,” Rosa Lina told him, “they don’t stop. We avoid them when we have enough time. If we don’t get the warning…” She shrugged expressively and gestured to the scene.
“There’s a legend,” said Denham.
“Ah, yes,” agreed Rosa Lina. If anyone should know, it was her. She was Mayan. “They say the army ants can be controlled with the Death Whistle. A whistle cut from the finger bone of a child who died by the ants. It is nonsense.”
“The whistle is kept in the museum in Guaxupé,” Denham pointed out.
“It is nonsense,” she repeated.
Rosa Lina was the ideal travel guide for the mysterious scientist. She knew the land like her own square patch of balcony in town. She had grown up here; but her Spanish was excellent, as she had been picked out as the most intelligent in her class and had received a merit grant in order to study at the University. She had picked languages, as she was a sensible girl and could see that tourism was a way to keep her mother and father, and several younger brothers, in moderate cashflow while the family battled on in their daily fight for survival. Their patchy hut at the forest edge had been traded for a small but nice suburban duplex.
This assignment had come from the University itself. Accompany this scientist in his search for social insects, for his doctoral thesis. And like all Caucasians, he had this fascination for the local superstitions. As though there were more to them than his own voodoo at home in UK – just because they were foreign to him.
She led the way out through the back door, away from that terrible scene of annihilation. There was eerie silence; not a cicada, not a single grasshopper far and wide. The jungle lay green and unperturbed, but the usual symphony of birdsong was gone. The ants had killed everything that moved.
Where were they now? She led the way into the forest, against her own instincts. The mad scientist, highly thrilled that they were so close, pushed past her and followed the trail of small skeletons – husks of insects, bird droppings, feathers where the ant birds following the swarm had become its next meal. Rosa Lina trailed warily after.
It would indeed be nice to have some means to control that menace, she thought. Perhaps DDT would do it. Someone ought to fly a helicopter over that army and strew poison.
“Rosa! Look what I found! The bivouac!”
Rosa Lina froze. “Senor, don’t move. They don’t see you if you don’t move!”
The mad scientist didn’t seem to heed her warning. “The bivouac, Rosa! Want to see what their nest looks like?”
She bolted. Her hiking boots pounded on the soft forest ground. She saw more than heard – for the ants were stealthy – the swarm behind her, next to her…
by 8 different authors
has been described as a “box of truffles”. Here is the review for this P’kaboo shortstory collection:
Mercury Silver: A Collection of Short Stories by 8 Authors
For me the stand out stories were Betwixt and Between by Lucy P Naylor, which was disturbing but delightful and charmingly written and Going Home by Lyz Russo, a chilling little tale that uses the short story genre to its full potential. Both had the air of the supernatural about them, which appealed to my gothic tastes. Having said that, all the stories have an air of magic and mystery, even if it’s just the funny little circumstances that life can throw up.
An easy book to dip in and out of and a crazy mix of writing styles, Mercury Silver is totally worth a punt.
Or find more stories here: