We surrounded the pit with our backs to it and held hands. It looked odd. As if we were making a circle but backwards. Ethan came closer. We wanted him to stay away but the strange circle just made him more curious. Mom always told me that if I don’t want to be noticed, I should act normal. I guess she forgot to tell me that sometimes, when you’re afraid, you don’t think right. We should have stayed away from the pit and then Ethan probably wouldn’t have even noticed it. OK, maybe he would have picked on one of us, but we were used to that. He was in our class but looked a lot older. Danny always said that he was probably held back like eight times but I said that if that’s right, then he should be in the army by now. Simon, who was really smart, said that kids were afraid of making him mad because he is always irritated, because he didn’t have any parents and he was living with his older sister and that there were stories about her screaming at him all the time and even hitting him. Danny and Simon held my hands really tight. Out of fear, not love. Maybe fear is a kind of love? Ethan stopped next to us. “So, what do we have here, my darling little children?” he rubbed his hands together, like some witch. I never understood the enjoyment in playing the bad guy. Once, when he was passing near our house, I came out to the balcony, yelled “good” three times and hid behind the blinds. I thought maybe I could remove the evil spell off him with a counter spell. He stopped, looked up and called “Asshole, I’ll get you at school tomorrow” and kept going. The next day he hit me on the head and I realized my spell failed. Maybe he needs to kiss a frog.
“Go away” I said, holding Danny and Simon’s hands even tighter, “there’s nothing here.” He became serious and came closer to me. It was always like that. Even in the movies, after the bad guy would laugh, he would become serious all of a sudden. He put his face right up to mine and whispered “did you say something, worm?” I wanted to say something back but the words were stuck in my mouth. I felt Danny trying to pull his hand out of mine. I was probably hurting him. Ethan took a couple of steps back. “I’m gonna count to three. If you don’t back away and let me see what’s there, I’ll…” -he thought for a moment what to do. We stood and waited for Ethan to decide what he wanted to do to us. He thought of it and clapped- “then I’m gonna punch you, one by one. And I’m not telling you who’s first.” He said while looking at me. We didn’t look at each other, but just by feeling both Danny and Simon squeezing my hands I knew they were not going to move. Ethan walked away a little, grabbed a stick and sat on a large rock. “One” he yelled. No one moved. We stopped breathing. Mothers with strollers were walking by, but must have thought we were playing. “Two” he said. I think he wanted us not to move. It’ll be more interesting this way. “Let’s run, he’s going to beat you up” Danny whispered in my ear. “He’s just a coward, and besides, don’t worry because my brother is going to kick his ass” I whispered back loudly, so Simon could hear it too. Truth is, my brother, who was two years older than I was, was also afraid of him. He didn’t know I was using his name to build up confident. Maybe Simon had an idea? He always had ideas about how to save our asses. But maybe now Ethan made him freeze. “Th-“Ethan dragged out the word, trying to torture us- “rrr”- “we’ll let you see what’s in here but you can’t touch it.” It was Simon. It was a pretty simple idea actually. I didn’t believe he would go for it, but at least Simon bought us some time to breathe. “You’re gonna let me see what’s there”-Ethan answered with a scary look on his face-“and if I feel like touching it I will and if I don’t, I don’t. How’s that?” Well, this wasn’t exactly what Simon had in mind. But Simon jumped in front of me and said OK. I looked at him, annoyed, but from his look I realized I had no choice. Danny calmed down a little and let go of my hand. Danny and Simon stepped aside. I was left standing alone. I was going to move but wanted to make it clear that he can’t touch it. Ethan came closer, slowly, and stood in front me. I looked up. He was much taller than I was. I was thinking to myself that, with a built like that, he was probably sorry he couldn’t beat someone up every day. “So, worm, did you not get it? Or would you prefer that I beat you up first and then see what’s there?” I moved aside slowly. “Don’t touch it” I mumbled. I was actually hoping he wouldn’t hear it. But he did. He grabbed my ear and pinched it. “What are you up to? Don’t touch what?” But then he saw it and let go of my ear.
So now Ethan too knew about our secret. An anthill. For about a month now, since Danny found it, we’ve been coming every day to see the ants building their home. It was huge, not like the little ones you can step on accidentally. They were taking grains of sand from the woods by the garden and bringing them here. It was a line of ants, carrying grains. They were building this high mount that was in the shape of an almost perfect sphere, going up and then lower in the center. It looked like in the old cities when they barricaded before a war. Danny, who used to collect apricot pips, would come to class with like ten apricots every day. His mom used to think he ate them. He would hand them out in class and then collect the pips. He would always keep one though, and we would cut it up into little pieces and put it by the line of ants so they would have something to eat on their long journey. They were regular ants, not at all special. The kind of ants you could step on, like five at a time, and not even notice. In the last few days the ants’ home was nearly ready and only a few ants were still bringing last grains of sand. The rest was busy searching for food. Danny kept following this one large ant with wings. We called it “the flying ant”. But Simon looked it up in the encyclopaedia and told us it was their queen and that it laid eggs and that the other ants, who were called “workers”, took care of them. Danny was a little sad after it disappeared for a few days and decided to call it “NapNap” because it was always napping. Simon calmed him by saying that ant queens didn’t leave the nest much. They were busy giving birth to “workers” for the nest and a few new “queens” as well. The new queens would leave the nest to mate with male ants and form new nests. I asked if “NapNap” was the queen that formed this nest but he said that after forming a nest, the queen will chop off its own wings because she doesn’t need them anymore. “So how come “NapNap” has wings?” I asked. “She is the queen of the next nest” Simon said and left, because he was tired of explaining things to me.
At recess he asked the teacher if after the feminist revolution people will have queens too, that will control everyone and fly off to form new kingdoms. But the teacher just laughed and said it was a bit early for that. Simon suggested we play by the pit every day and this way we can guard it from people stepping in it accidentally. Every day we used to put our bags at home and go down to play near the pit, until the evening. During the day, at recess, we’d sneak out through a hole in the fence and go to check on it. We were at recess now. Ethan wasn’t at recess because he didn’t even come to school. Truth is he only came to school when he felt like it and that wasn’t often.
“An ants’ nest?” -Ethan didn’t believe it-“you idiots. This is what you were making such a big deal about? Stupid kids. I thought you were protecting some treasure.” Ok, so he didn’t care about the ants, maybe he’ll go then. Or he’ll do it out of spite. “And you were worried I’ll ruin it for you? I have better things to do. But I will tell your entire class that you three are a bunch of geeks who play with ants at recess.” Fine, let him tell. It’s not as if we had a lot of friends in class anyway. Just don’t ruin the pit. But you could never tell with him. He could still wreck it, just out of boredom. The bell rang. We went back to class. Ethan went in and wrote on the board in big writing: the three geeks play with ants. The teacher came in and asked me to erase the board. It was calculus and Ethan got bored pretty quickly. He was like a small child. All he’s going to think about now are the ants, until something else will enter his head and then he’s going to forget about them altogether. Simon, who was sitting next to me, said we should find something else to occupy him with. In the middle of class, Ethan said he had to use the bathroom and disappeared. When he didn’t return I said to Simon that he might have changed his mind and went to wreck the pit. I told Danny quietly that we should take turns in going out to check the pit every couple of minutes. I didn’t want Simon to go out because he was good at maths and we could copy off of him later. Danny went out first. He came back with a big smile on his face and told us Ethan was playing soccer with the big kids. “Great” Simon whispered, “He’s already thinking about other things.” I relaxed and finally started listening to the teacher. I waited a few minutes, so the teacher doesn’t suspect anything, and went out. It was getting chilly outside and the sun was being hidden by clouds. Winter was coming. Simon explained to us that the ants were working really hard now to build all kinds of underground tunnels and gather plenty of food for the winter. Ethan really was playing soccer and when he saw me walking past the fence he said: “What’s the matter worm, you skipping maths too?” I smiled and kept going. I got out through the hole in the fence to go check on the ants. I got to the pit but something seemed odd. The ants were rushing and running around in every direction. Even “NapNap” came in and out several times, probably to give orders to the worker ants. Maybe Ethan came past, maybe the ants felt that he wanted to do something bad to them. I didn’t know what to do. I’ll go back and talk to Simon. It started raining all of a sudden. That was not good for the ants. They were busy building their nest and I wasn’t sure they managed to build enough tunnels or gather enough food. On the way back, near the hole in the fence, a big puddle was forming. Water was coming from the school drains. The puddle was so big that water started to flow from it towards the garden, like a stream. The water was pouring into a tunnel in the sand. I started walking along the tunnel. It led me to the ants’ nest. It was in its path. The queen that set this nest up made a mistake. But it couldn’t have known. Even Simon wouldn’t have noticed it. The distance between the puddle and the pit was about the same as the distance we ran today in gym class, when we did the sprint. I had to go get Simon.
I walked into class soaking wet. The teacher turned towards me and asked me where I was. I didn’t answer and walked over to Simon. I whispered “the ants are about to drown in the rain.” We took our bags and signaled to Danny to join us. The teacher yelled: “Where do you think you’re going?” we stopped. I looked at Simon but he didn’t have anything to say. I didn’t know who was worse, the teacher or Ethan. “If you leave class now, you’re not allowed back in until the end of the year and your parents are going to be invited to school to hear about this.” OK, so the teacher was worse. Simon pointed to his watch, showing me there were only ten minutes left before class was over. We sat back down. “And I want the three of you to come to me after class” the teacher said and kept solving the equation on the board. I prayed for the remaining ten minutes till the end of class. I asked god to stop the rain and give the ants enough time to hide deep inside the pit. I drew a little map of the puddle, the tunnel and the pit. Simon said we had to block the tunnel in the sand. Bell. We ran outside without talking to the teacher. Never mind, Simon will come up with a good excuse before next class. On the way I explained to Danny what had happened. He asked if I saw “NapNap” and if she got wet or drowned in the puddle. I told him she went out for a bit but went straight back in and was probably hiding in one of the tunnels that the workers have dug out for her. It calmed him down, even though I didn’t know if that was true or not. The rain kept pouring. God didn’t listen to me. He was probably busy planning something bad to do to Ethan for what he had done to us today. We threw our bags near the hole in the fence. Danny rushed over to the pit, to see if “NapNap” was ok. I showed Simon the puddle. Water was already running in the tunnel. We shouldn’t have stayed in class. But it wasn’t too late. Simon said we should build a barrier out of sand. This way we’ll stop the water and if the water passes the barrier, we’ll build another one closer to the pit. But where we are going to bring dry sand from? “The ants were bringing grains from the woods” Simon said, “there must be some there.” We ran to the woods and between the trees we discovered a pile of sand left from the construction works they did in the garden. We each grabbed as much sand as we could hold in our hands. But by the time we got back the sand was wet from the rain and was useless. Danny found a few plastic bags and we started filling them with sand from the woods and pouring it into the tunnel. We also gathered bits of wood and large stones to build a wall. Danny, who used to help his dad fix things around the house, told us where to pour the sand and how to build the wall. We were almost finished when it started getting dark. But the rain was getting stronger still. The tunnel had already filled with water and became a small stream. We were wet and muddy. We could barely hear ourselves over the rain. Simon was shouting at Danny to go home and bring a flashlight. Danny was worried that once his parents saw him like this they wouldn’t let him come back out. But Simon said we had no choice. Danny asked that if we see “NapNap” that we would pick her up and put her in a bag so that we could later let her out and she would build a new nest. I told him that without a flashlight I’m not sure we’d be able to recognize her, so he ran home.
The water reached the wall and stopped. Simon and I jumped with joy, not paying attention to how soaking wet we actually were. Someone came running. “Danny” I called. He stopped. It wasn’t Danny. He came closer. “What Danny, worm?” Ethan looked at the wall and asked “what’s this?” if we tell him he’s going to ruin it. Actually if we don’t tell him he’s going to ruin it anyway. What should we do? “It’s a wall that’s stopping the water from reaching the ants’ nest” Simon said. Ethan looked at the wall and then back at us. “Smart, huh? You call this crappy pile of sand a wall?” a trickle of water was already starting to break through it. Simon and I quickly grabbed some sand and rocks to try and stop it, but it didn’t work. The sand was soaked and could no longer hold the water back. Ethan stood there and stared. He seemed serious all of a sudden. “I think it’s going to collapse soon” he said. “We need to build another one out of dry sand, want to help us?” Simon asked. I couldn’t believe it. Asking Ethan for help? And with trying to save an ants’ nest, no less. He’s probably going to punch Simon now. Ethan looked at me. I’ve never seen him this serious. He said “I’ll build the wall but I want you to dig tunnels so the water could go in different directions.” I stood there, staring at him. “Hey worm, what are you doing just standing there? Start digging.” I looked at Simon. It was dark but I think he was smiling. There was no time to be surprised. Maybe my spell, from the balcony, was finally working. We gave Ethan a bag and started digging tunnels. Ethan was strong and filled the bags with huge amounts of sand. Every time he emptied a bag of sand into the tunnel, he would stop, look at us, and call “oh-oh-oh” like a monkey, while thumping on his chest. Simon and I laughed. I told Simon that maybe he should help Ethan with his math tomorrow. Danny hasn’t returned yet. His mother probably stopped him from coming back out. It was really hard to see anything. When will this rain stop? We were getting tired. We could barely move, our shoes were wet and muddy and our hands were hurting from digging tunnels. But Ethan was energizing us. He became sort of a commander and kept yelling at us so we won’t stop. The wall was getting bigger and bigger. It became a small structure, with pieces of wood and rocks sticking out of it. Our tunnels were also helping in diverting some of the water in different directions. Meanwhile the first wall we built collapsed and water was slowly reaching Ethan’s wall. I looked at my watch. It was almost nine o’clock. Our parents probably rang the police by now. Maybe the cops will find us and give us a hand with the wall. Although, grownups don’t usually like ants. They think ants are yucky and tiny and that if you can accidentally step on them then they’re worthless.
Once I said to Simon that maybe we are also like little ants in a world of giants, constantly busy with trying to build our nest. Simon said that in that case, where are the giants? I told him that maybe we are so small and they are so huge that it’s just by chance that one hasn’t walked past our nest yet. He laughed.
Our tunnels helped a little bit. Water was really going in different directions, but the main tunnel was so big, that most of the water kept going straight in it. The second wall was ready. It was almost as tall as we were. Ethan found a stick, stuck a piece of paper on it and jammed it on top of the wall, like a flag. He called to the ants “that’s it, you can sleep in peace now” and came over to check our tunnels. I said to him “your wall is like the great wall of China” and he laughed even though he didn’t understand. But the water current got stronger again. We didn’t have the energy to even stand anymore. We stood quietly in the pouring rain and watched. Ethan was so quiet, I wanted to hug him. Simon looked sad. I asked him what was wrong and he said that unless the rain stopped, even Ethan’s wall will fall. We didn’t have the energy to bring more sand and even then, it probably wouldn’t have done any good. The water filled the canal. Hitting the wall and going back with more power. Like those soldiers trying to bring down the city walls with big logs. Ethan, who realized he was too quick to celebrate, started screaming at us to bring more sand but we couldn’t move. He managed to run on his own a few more times but then got tired and went to stand at the other side of the wall, to see that water wasn’t going through. I kept thinking about mom and dad who were probably worried, but I wasn’t sure what I should do anymore. “No! Shit” Ethan called. Simon and I ran to him. A trickle of water has managed to penetrate Ethan’s wall. This is the end. There were only a couple of feet separating between the wall and the nest. “We have to save NapNap” Simon yelled. “But we can’t see a thing” I told him. The water won. Ethan’s wall was now leaking. A small stream was heading straight for the nest. Ethan screamed “stinking water!” jumped into the tunnel and started kicking and splashing water everywhere. Simon and I stood next to the nest. We put our hands over the opening to try to stop the water. I held my fingers tight so the water wouldn’t go through. Water came. Our hands didn’t really help. They were too little. A stream of water got into the nest. I could imagine all the little ants running around like crazy inside their tunnels, trying to escape. Maybe a few of them stayed with “NapNap”, trying to protect her.
I saw a light in the distance. It was Danny with a torch. He was wearing dry cloths. His mom must have dressed him and then he escaped. He saw Ethan screaming and didn’t understand what was happening. He flashed the torch into the pit. Water has already gotten in. “NapNap” Danny was calling into the nest. Ethan didn’t even look at him. He was too pissed off at the water and was busy jumping in the tunnel. Danny jumped into the water-filled tunnel, searching for “NapNap”. Simon and I came closer too. Now, with Danny’s torch, we could see everything. The pit has already filled with water. I looked back at the fallen walls and the tunnels, they seemed ridiculous now. What made us think we could beat this thing? Hundreds of dead ants were floating out of the nest. Just like a real battlefield in those history programs I saw on TV. But they didn’t have a hospital to take care of the wounded. It seemed like a few of them were still alive, struggling to get away, but there was no way for us to help them. Simon pulled Danny back, away from the rising water flow. “Let’s go” he yelled “she’s dead. Come on, nothing we can do” but Danny got back in and started digging inside the pit, pulling nothing but mud and dead ants out. All those cute worker ants we’ve been following for days had turned into corpses flowing in the river that covered their pit. They were so smart and productive but they couldn’t do anything about the water. It was like an earthquake is for us. Even though we’re smart and Simon is really good in math, I’m not sure we could escape the earth breaking in two and swallowing people in. Danny started to cry. He was soaking wet again and was now going to be in trouble with his parents. I also wanted to cry. Simon sat down, holding his head between his hands. Ethan went quiet and was staring at the water, hypnotized. It was sad how someone as smart as Simon or as strong as Ethan couldn’t beat something as stupid as a stream of water. I helped Simon up and we went to get our bags.
Half way there we heard Danny “NapNap, NapNap. She’s here. I found her.” We turned around and ran back. Danny grabbed a small ant, gently, by its wings. It wasn’t necessarily “NapNap” because there could be more than one queen to a nest. But for Danny’s sake I hoped it was. Even if it wasn’t, there was no way for us to know. Simon gave him a small bag and he put the ant inside it. We all got closer to the bag. Danny shined the torch on it. “She’s moving” he called with ecstasy. It must have managed to fly a little bit, enough to save itself from drowning. Need to let it rest. Maybe it was sad because all of the little workers were now lying dead in the tunnel. “Great” Simon said “close the bag and take it home and tomorrow we’ll let it out in the sun.” “Ethan, we’re going home” Simon said “our parents must be worried.” Ethan didn’t have parents to worry about him. He could only go back to his big sister’s yelling. He was in no hurry to go home. Danny shined the flashlight on him. I thought I saw a tear running down his cheek but I’m not sure because it was raining and it could have been just a drop of rain. He walked towards Danny, looking kind of odd. He grabbed the bag out of Danny’s hand, threw it on the ground and stomped it. “NapNap” was squashed and its wings broke into pieces. “No NapNap. They’re all dead” Ethan said, as if to himself, turned around and walked off. Danny picked little NapNap body up. Took it to the pit and laid it on the flowing water. Its body was now with the rest of the ants. Now, dead and without wings, it looked just like all the others.