Sarah woke up gasping for air. She’d been having the most peculiar dream. Its details were already slipping her mind, leaving nothing but a vague sense of unease. Something about… animals? Bugs? Whatever they were, they had several more legs than she.

Bristling faintly at this injustice, Sarah hit her still-ringing alarm and ran to the shower. Its warm jets washed away both sweat and unease. She emerged clear-headed, the dream forgotten.

Sunlight streamed over her suburban garden and through the kitchen window as Sarah prepared breakfast. She stuck two pieces of bread in the toaster, and grabbed a jar of jam from the fridge, ready to twist it open, when —

‘Eww! Ants!’ she yelled. Indeed, making their way through the jar’s contents were a dozen or so tiny black ants. ‘Mum! The jam’s full of ants!’ No answer. Mum must still be asleep. Never mind. Sarah threw the jar into the bin, and went back to the fridge. Ants were crawling around the purple circle of jam jar residue. It looked like they’d made it into the Vegemite as well. Sighing, she threw away the other ant-ridden spreads. Ah well. She’d just make an omelette instead.

The fridge was flung open again, and Sarah grabbed two eggs as the frying pan heated on the stove. She cracked them against the bench top and broke the first egg over the frying pan. But instead of a dripping pillar of eggwhites, a flailing stream of ants poured out.

Sarah screamed and dropped the egg. Its flimsy shell shattered, revealing more ants. How did this happen? Why was her egg filled with ants? How did they get there?

As if in answer to her question, the other egg cracked open too, its shell fracturing under the pressure of a thousand ants pushing outwards. She screamed again, her voice equal parts terror and confusion. An awful sizzle reached her ears, and she looked down. The ants from the first egg were burning on the hot frying pan. She watched in horror as they squirmed over it, searching for escape as they were slowly cooked.

She panicked and reached for the tap. She aimed it at the ant-covered eggshell on the bench top and squeezed the nozzle. But instead of delivering its high-pressure jet of water, all it delivered was a high-pressure jet of ants.

The ants shot out of the tap and rebounded against the hard marble counter, spraying all over the kitchen. Other ants continued to pour out of the two eggshells, and were slowly making sense of their new environment. When they’d left their eggshell, they had been an unorganised mass of insects. But now they were forming orderly lines and crawling off the counter and across the floor towards her.

‘Mum! Mum!’ Sarah cried as she backed away from the ants. ‘Mum! Ants! Everywhere!’

‘Sweetie? Are you alright?’ her mum’s voice echoed throughout the house. It was weary, still carrying the midnight cobwebs of sleep, but a note of alarm was beginning to tear them away. ‘Is everything okay? I’m coming down now.’

‘Come quickly!’ Sarah screamed. She grabbed the phone off the wall and dialled her dad’s mobile. ‘Dad? Dad?’ Sarah sobbed into the phone as he picked up. ‘The ants… they’re everywhere… they’re coming closer!’ The ants had covered the marble counter and had started to spread out across the floor.

‘Dad? Dad!’ she yelled, but no one replied. Instead, the quiet hum of the phone line was broken by a dull scratching noise, the faint sound of something brushing against plastic. Her eyes widened with terror as she slowly pulled the phone from her ear and looked into plastic grill covering the speaker. Something… something was moving inside it. As she watched in disbelief, a slow trickle of ants began to climb out of the phone. The sound of a thousand tiny ant-legs moving in unison was broken by her mother’s bounding steps down the hall. ‘Sarah? What’s going on?’

‘Mum!’ Sarah ran to her mother and collapsed in her arms.
‘The ants… they came from everywhere… we need to get out of the house!’ ‘Shhh, shhh, shhh. It’s going to be okay. Just breathe. Everything’s fine.’ Sarah’s mother hugged her tight. ‘We’re going to be just fine.’
‘We’ve got to get out,’ she protested.
‘Hush now, Sarah. It’s fine. What are you worried about? Ants are harmless. Ants never hurt anyone. The ants are our friends.’

An icicle of fear stabbed its way deep into Sarah’s heart. ‘Mum… are you…’ her throat closed up. A lone ant crawled across her mum’s face.

‘Shh. Everything’s going to be okay,’ her mum said, in the monotonous voice of the already-dead.

‘No. No! They’ve gotten to you too!’ Sarah screamed and pushed her mum away, escaping the maternal embrace. The old woman started and her eyes widened in surprise as she lost her balance and fell. Sarah’s mother crumpled as she hit the floor, and as each limb thudded into the hardwood, it disintegrated into a mass of ants. Like a sandcastle hit by a soccer ball, her mother’s body decomposed over the course of a second into its millions of constituent ants.

The ants swarmed over her mother’s clothing. ‘Join us,’ they whispered with their tiny chittering mouths.

‘Never!’ Sarah screamed as she ran towards the door. Ants were still pouring out of the phone as it hung from the wall. The now million-strong swarm of ants was slowly spreading across the floor of the house, roiling in its shiny blackness.

Sarah fumbled with her keys as she reached for the doorknob. But instead of grasping its cold metal solidness, her hand plunged through the doorknob, which disintegrated into another disguised mass of ants.

‘No!’ The ants were crawling all over her hand. Panicking, she blindly swung her hand against the wall. Once. Twice. Three times. The ants were crushed, or thrown away by the force. Ignoring both her pain and the last few ants, she backed up a few paces and ran against the door, savagely battering it with her shoulder. The door flew open and she ran out of the house, the swarm of ants following behind her. She sprinted towards her car, eyes filling with tears of fright as she pulled the door open, scrambled in, and locked it. She turned the ignition and the car sprung to life with a reassuring growl. Flooring the accelerator, Sarah was pushed back as the car roared and shot down the street, leaving the house of ants far, far behind.

Sarah fearfully looked back. Nothing was following her. She felt a brief moment of relief. The road was long and straight, and the ants had been left far behind her. She flicked on the radio as she sped down the Pacific Highway’s welcoming stretches of asphalt. Only static came from the radio. Her brow furrowed. Strange. Triple J must be down. She hit the button for preset 2. Again, only static. With a terrible feeling of dread she pressed the third, fourth and fifth buttons, but nothing. Nothing except static. She looked down, and, as she knew was inevitable, saw a dozen ants slowly crawling out of the radio’s speaker vents.

Something in her broke. She screamed again in terrible fear. The steering wheel dissolved into ants beneath her grip. More ants poured through the radio. The glove compartment burst open under the pressure of a thousand ants. They crawled out through the air-conditioner vents and marched towards her. She slammed on the brakes and reached for the door, but it wouldn’t open. The light grew dim as ants covered the windscreen and windows. She was still yelling, but the ants had used this opportunity to crawl into her mouth. Gagging in fear and pain she buckled over as her vision went black and –

Sarah woke up gasping for air. She’d been having the most peculiar dream. Its details were already slipping her mind, leaving nothing but a vague sense of unease. Something about… animals? Bugs? Whatever they were, they had several more legs than she.

Her limbs flailed within the white bed sheets as an orderly ran over to help her up. This wasn’t her bedroom. Where was she? Everything was white, like some sort of hospital. The orderly wiped sweat from her brow and took a clipboard from her bedside table.

‘Sarah Browning?’ he said, his brown eyes examining the monitor above her bed. She looked back, too shocked for words.

‘Welcome back. You’ve been out for a few days now. You seem to have suffered some kind of stress attack midway through your exam period, and became delirious. We think you’ve had a fever of some sort, which broke a few hours ago. It’s good to see you awake again.’

She looked around, taking in the new surroundings as the sound of rain falling on the rooftop rolled around her. It all came flooding back to her — the biology exams, the endless weeks spent hunched over insect anatomy diagrams and branches of the evolutionary tree…

‘Oh, uh… thank you. It’s good to be awake,’ she said slowly, brushing sleep from her eyes and struggling to sit up in her bed.

‘Just take it easy. We’re going to keep you here for a few more days while you get your strength back,’ he spoke over the rainfall. ‘Could I just get you to sign this form?’

She took the pen from his hands, and they sat without talking while she filled in her details and wrote her signature. ‘Nice bout of rain we’ve got,’ she offered, as the sound of drops hitting the roof kept its steady pitter-patter.

He looked back at her and put his hand on her brow. ‘It’s… it’s not raining,’ he said, pointing to the golden sunlight streaming through the open window.

She froze in fear. ‘Then… what’s that sound?’ she said, as both slowly raised their eyes to the rooftop, their gaze filling with dread.

The pitter-patter crescendoed; became thunder. The roof began to shake. Chips of plaster crumbled and fell. A single frozen second, and then the roof fell in under the weight of billions of ants. Billions, trillions — no, far more. The walls disintegrated into ants, the table disintegrated into ants — the bed, floor and heart monitor all dissolved into ants, and Sarah and the orderly were left clinging to each other in terror as the world went black around them –

I write fiction and code. Australian moved to Austin, Texas.

I write fiction and code. Australian moved to Austin, Texas.