Chapter Thirty – Near Greenbriar State Forest, Tuckahoe, West Virginia
Two weeks after Marine Gunny Sergeant Marvin Gilbert and Mike Murphy joined the group; they made first contact with the ants. As they sat around an early morning campfire savoring the taste of fresh coffee and the smell of frying bacon, Buttercup ran into camp yelling, “Ant! I was out looking for mushrooms and sassafras roots and spotted one down by the creek.” Buttercup was almost out of breath. “I think it saw me but I can’t be sure.”
Theopolis glanced at Gunny Gilbert over the smoky fire. “Just one ant?” he asked.
“I didn’t stick around to see if there were more I saw just the one and ran.”
“Theopolis stood and walked over to the alarm, the big tin can hanging near the communal tables. He rapped the can with the small metal rod attached to it. Within minutes, the entire commune gathered around him.
“Buttercup spotted an ant down by the creek,” Theopolis stated. “She only saw one but there may be more.”
He waited for the muttering to die down before continuing. “I think everyone should head for the cavern for safety just in case.” He turned to Gunny Gilbert. “Will you take your platoon and stand ready?”
Gilbert shook his head. Although Theopolis and the commune did not like authoritarian ways, they were finally persuaded by Gilbert that some type of organizational structure had to be formed if they were to respond to an attack by the ants. With Gunny’s knowledge of military structure, they organized the camp into platoons and assigned each platoon a leader and gave each a particular mission.
Some platoons were led by women and assigned the duty of moving the children and noncombatants to the safety of the large cavern they had chosen. A squad of that platoon was detailed to stand by with torches to light the diesel fires in a semicircular pit in front of the cavern. Other platoons were assigned defensive positions. Some squads were broken down into bola throwers, while the best shooters were assigned as crossbow people. Others were integrated into supply and logistics, carrying extra bolts, diesel cans, and so forth. The three main defensive platoons were lead by Theopolis, Gunny and Jackie Hopper. The community consisted of one hundred, thirty-two members.
It took very little time to move the children and women to the cavern. Gunny had insisted they practice by making dry runs. His persistence had paid off. The three defensive platoons were arranged in a semi circle approximately thirty yards outside the entrance to the cavern.
Tension was high. Theopolis could feel the nervousness in the air. It was a beautiful clear morning with a gentle wind and the acrid smell of burning wood dominating the area. He could hear nothing, not a sound. It was if the birds and animals were holding their breath and waiting patiently for something to happen.
“Over there!” Dennis shouted, pointing to the woods to their left. As they watched a gigantic ant crawled into view. The ant was closest to the platoon led by Gunny Gilbert. They watched as the creature slowly crawled forward. It acted as if it was unaware of the humans waiting to intercept it. It suddenly stopped and reared up its ugly head, its antenna sweeping back and forth, searching for the sight of prey that smell had told it was in the area.
At a signal from Gunny Gilbert, Jackie Hopper rushed forward and swung his bola in a blur around his head. He suddenly let go and the bola flashed the short thirty yards to where the ant was still standing. The bola hit the ant and wrapped its steel cords and iron balls tightly around its body and legs, tangling the legs and causing the ant to fall over. The giant creature fought against the tight bonds but could not break the powerful cables. It thrashed and attempted to gain its footing but continued to flop down unable to move.
Gunny rushed forward another ten yards and fired his crossbow bolt into the abdomen of the creature. The giant ant jerked when the missile penetrated and started to convulse. Within four seconds it was dead.
“Hot damn!” Miles yelled. “Four seconds. That’s even faster than we hoped.”
“What have you got in that stuff?” Gunny Gilbert asked. He had never seen or heard of a poison working so fast.
“Trade secret,” Miles smiled.
“There’s another one!” someone yelled, pointing back into the woods. A second ant was rapidly approaching the group standing around the dead ant. It didn’t look as if it was going to stop. Two crossbow men fired their bolts at the giant target. One bolt missed and hit the ant on the head and spun off into the woods, the second struck the ant in the abdomen. The ant stopped immediately and went into convulsions. It also died in less than five seconds.
They waited for several hours for more ants to show up. By noon, Gunny suggested they post guards around the campsite and hope for the best. He insisted there be a minimum of two people per guard post. They could not afford it if a single inattentive guard allowed one of the monsters into the camp.
They had proof that the bolas worked and that the poison did its job. They did not know how they would react to a swarm of the creatures attacking all at once. The next day they found out.
Following the trail of the two dead ants, several of the giants slowly approached the area where they were killed. Unable to move the ants, the commune had no recourse but to leave them to rot. The scouting ants smelled the small amount of pheromone released by the dying ants and quickly returned to their nest for reinforcements.
By noon of the following day they returned in numbers. Thanks to the demands of Gunny Gilbert, they were spotted well before they made it to the campsite.
They repeated the moves of the day before, herding the children and noncombatants into the large cavern and posting the three platoons in position. Several dozen ants charged up the hill. As soon as they were within range, bolos were thrown and tangled their tough cables around the lead ants. The giant creatures were brought down immediately. As they thrashed in an effort to rid themselves of the bolas, bolts were fired into their abdomens. The tangled ants died quickly. This process was repeated until nearly a hundred ants lay dead. The ants continued to advance, climbing over the dead bodies of the others.
“Into the cavern!” Theopolis shouted, waving his arms to signal a rapid retreat. The men and women fled for the safety of the large cavern, jumping over the small semicircular ditch with a wooden trough full of diesel in the bottom. As soon as everyone was safe, Gunny signaled for the torchbearers to light the diesel. The diesel lit quickly and started to burn, throwing up a yellow wall of flames.
The giant ants approached the fire but did not attempt to penetrate it. From behind the wall of fire, they shot crossbow bolts into the massing ants. They were no more than fifteen yards away so the bolts could not miss. Dozens of ants collapsed in death throws. One ant, moving faster over the pile of bodies, fell and rolled into the flames. The body immediately caught fire and the flames spread to the other dead ants. In no time at all, the giant wall of ant carcasses was burning in a fierce blaze.
They had to retreat inside the cavern to escape the burning heat of the roaring flames. The smell from the roasting ants was nauseating. After an hour of steady flames, the fires started to die out. When they approached the smoldering barrier, they spotted half a dozen ants milling around. They quickly dispatched them with poison bolts. It was another hour before they felt safe enough to leave the cavern.
From the remains they judged that at least two or three hundred ants had died in the assault, most of them burned by the spreading flames. Their plan had worked to perfection. Had they been caught out in the open, or unprepared, it would have been a different story.
“As soon as the coals cool down we need to rake the ashes away from the fire pit,” Theopolis stated. “We’ll need a clear field of fire if they come again.”
“Hey!” Floyd shouted from the other side of the burned pile where the remains of several ants were merely cooked and not burned. “This here taste like crab legs.” He held up one of the giant ant legs that he had broken open. From inside he had pulled the cooked meat and was stuffing it into his mouth.
“Why not?” Buttercup grinned. “They’re like giant land crabs.”
“Maybe so,” Gunny stated. “However, those beast have probably living off human flesh and I for one don’t even want to think of eating humans, even second hand.”
Floyd turned pale and threw the ant leg back into the smoldering fire.
“We now know we can beat them on our terms.” Theopolis looked at the survivors. “On their terms it could be different. But, and there’s always a but, we used a lot of our diesel on that one fire and our food is running short. We have no choice but to make a supply run to one of the towns.”
“I think we need to pick a special squad of our best bolo throwers and best bow shots to make the run,” Gunny added.
“You volunteering to lead the squad?” Angel asked.
Gunny smiled and shook his head. “You guys took us in when we needed it, we have to pull our weight. I have the most combat experience here, except for perhaps Jackie, so I am the logical choice.”
“We’re gonna need more chemicals for the poison also,” Miles added. “And some more cable to build more bolas.”
“More rods too,” Grady chimed in.
“I have an idea for some Molitov cocktails also,” Miles returned.
Theopolis held up his hands to stop the sudden flood of ideas. “We need a lot of things. Get your lists together and we’ll go over them. May be we need to send two scrounging teams into town instead of one.”
They next day they pulled out with the old truck loaded down with scroungers. They figured they could easily find more vehicles and they would need them to carry the supplies they intended to get.
On the outskirts of the small town of Lewisburg, they halted and scanned the area with binoculars. Nothing moved except a flock of black birds. They saw no sign of the ants on their trip from the campsite nor did they see signs of other humans or animals.
Seeing no sign of activity, they stopped at an auto dealership and picked out several large panel vans and redistributed the scroungers among the new vehicles. Each group had a list of items they were tasked to look for. They gave themselves three hours to find what they could, then they would meet at the first stopping point.
Theopolis knew there was a Wal-Mart Super Center on the northern end of town and it would be a good place to start their search. It was better to scrounge from one large place than a dozen smaller ones; both to save time and cut down on the danger.
Over the next three hours they filled the trucks and had to go back for a third van to carry the items left over. They also discovered a dozen people living in terror among the buildings and finally coerced them into joining them. Many of them knew of other survivors hiding in government buildings and other locations so by the time they were ready to return to the campsite, they had to commandeer a small bus to transport them. Some people simply refused to leave what they considered a secure position. The only thing they could do in those cases was to tell them how to get to the campsite and to have them tell others they may meet.
“I can’t understand where all the ants went?” Theopolis asked. They had safely made it back to the campsite and the women were organizing sleeping arrangements for the new commune members.
“Perhaps there is so little food left in this area they’ve moved on to better hunting grounds,” Gunny replied. “It would take a lot of food to maintain an ant colony the size of those monsters.”
“Yeah, and we know where there’s plenty of food,” Jackie Hopper replied. Everyone knew he was referring to the major cities with populations above a hundred thousand or more.
Angel looked at her friends around the fire. “What’s going to happen when all their food sources are gone?”
“What do you mean?” Buttercup replied. “Surely the government will get rid of the ants before long.”
“What government?” Jackie Hopper spat. “The government don’t exist any more. Last I heard they all got ate.”
“I think the military will eventually do something.” Theopolis reached over and hugged Angel. “They just got caught with their pants down like the rest of us. As soon as they get their act together I’m sure they’ll destroy the ants.”
Gunny looked into the coals of the small fire. “Question is, how long will that take. If these monsters are multiplying as fast as regular ants do, and I’ve seen their mounds on my pappy’s farm, they’ll be millions and millions of them before long.”
“Our biggest problem will be when, not if the ants are gone,” Buttercup returned. She was a lot more intelligent than most people gave her credit for. “If they stick around long enough to wipe out humankind in the big population centers, what happens then? Do they come looking for us? Do they start eating all the animals on the planet? Do they eat all the grain and vegetables they can find. What happens when all that is said and done and there’s no food of any kind left for them to eat? Do they just up and die?”
No one had given much thought to the long-term effects of the giant ants so her questions caught them off guard.
Over the next five months she got no answers to her questions. During this period of time the refuges to their little commune continued to grow. There were no more attacks by the monstrous ants near the campsite. Scavenging teams encountered foraging ants in the towns they visited but quickly overwhelmed them. The population grew to well over a thousand members.
Almost exactly five months to the day after their first attack by the creatures, their luck changed… and it was not good.