Magic Words

I wrote this years and years ago. Later, I sat down on a stone wall in a tony neighborhood in Baltimore to wait for a bus, thinking about nothing other than the weather—it was a late spring, the sky was all but cloudless—when I realized that the stones were swarming with ants. I quickly stood up, and brushed many, too many, off my pants. I knew what I had done. I laughed, and started walking.


I fall asleep on a park bench. What a long day it’s been. I wake up to a dull itch all over my body. I think, this is what I get for falling asleep on a bench. I scratch at my side, and in my hand: ants. Everywhere ants. I am being eaten by ants. I can’t get up; they’ve already done with most of my legs. I am going to be eaten away by ants.

As they chew at me I think, why couldn’t something have taken me whole, all at once? But there are no whales swimming between the buildings, waiting to swallow Jonah. No bengal tigers, orange striped, royal, ready to leap from office doors and dispatch me in one great kill.

No. I’m being eaten by ants. They take one pincer-full at a time. There must be millions of them, and as many other kinds of insects under the bench absorbing the flow of blood. I look up and down the street, hoping no one has noticed. Who but a fool would be eaten by ants?

I feel a tap on my shoulder. “Aren’t you?” she asks, “I’ve been dying to meet you.” She’s beautiful. Of course she’s beautiful; I’m being eaten by ants. She tells me how much she has looked forward to meeting me. “Why thank you,” I say. Please don’t notice, please don’t notice, please go away.

Then a man in a suit. “There you are, if you could just sign the contract, the advance money will be wired to your account.” My account? Advance money? I’m afraid to sign. Do I still have hands? I would look, but what would I see? Ants, ants, everywhere ants.

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Brian Brennan

I am a writer and a teacher. I have lived in Philadelphia, Binghamton, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Northern Virginia. I have sailed on the ocean and flown over the North Pole. I write fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

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